Making Room for Another Cook

I am a bride in final countdown mode, and boy is it a peculiar place to be. On the one and (most obvious) hand, it's absolutely thrilling and exciting, to arrive at an emotional time and space that threads one's ever-evolving hopes and aspirations for long-haul partnership into a neat little package called a wedding day; on the other hand, it's positively terrifying for this long-time single gal who's run her own show into Year 40, to make room -- in her heart, her kitchen and her daily life - for another.

Over the past few months, I've been processing many of these themes; some days, I get it -- the whole recipe of love and partnership -- like I understand a pie dough or a curry; other days, I get frantic, my vision gets blurry and I have no idea how to cook this thing called marriage.

When it's just you and the other person in your cocoon-for-two working through pre-wedding dementia, the situation seems contained and manageable. And then, just like the March wind, the high drama blows in, and you are suddenly on stage, for all eyes to scrutinize. There are parties, presents and parading; my goodness, I've become a princess.

"Please register somewhere," my mother pleaded with me last fall, when she heard I was considering charitable donations in lieu of wedding gifts. I've never been one for material things, and so this business of getting lots of presents was a concept that took some getting used to.

"It's the one time in your life people will shower you with gifts," she explained. "Let it happen." In the spirit of keeping the peace, I agreed, and now, I can attest, getting gifts is a lovely embarrassment of riches.

As a veteran thrift shopper and trash picker, I am somewhat unfamiliar with the idea of new furnishings and housewares, particularly for a new life of domesticity.

As a cook, I typically buy only what I need for my kitchen, often with a focus on simplicity and minimal space. A nutmeg grater and a new colander are higher priorities to me than matching dishes, for example, and do I really deserve hand-blown champagne flutes?

In this process of being gifted and feted, I have thought about what it means to be starting out in one's kitchen -- whether you're just married, newly divorced, fresh out of college, new to town or suddenly empty nested. Taking inventory of your baterie de cuisine (i.e. kitchenware) is a way of taking inventory of the rhythm of your life.

In my kitchen, the tools have been exclusively self-serving. Never before did I ever have to account for the needs of another cook, and boy was I sideswiped recently. The knives I own are 11 years old; I bought them before going to cooking school. It is a motley assortment, one that has been part of my travels, my relationships, my culinary journey in life. It includes an 8-inch chef's knife, a serrated knife, a steel and a boning knife. My paring knives have come and gone, and that's okay.

One day, Mister Groom comes home with a five-inch serrated knife. It's a good brand, one I like, and he's very excited about his purchase.

"What the hell do you do with a serrated five-inch knife?" I asked in a very surly tone.

"Well," he replied, "I like a small serrated knife. I like to cut salami with it, maybe cheese."

"That's it?" I barked. "I would never buy such a knife."

I know, I'm mean and awful. It took a while, but I finally understood that Mister Groom did exactly what he should be doing -- which is to help expand my kitchen horizons. Baby, this ain't no solo show no more; this is a joint operation. Two cooks, two hearts, one home.

I like the knife. And even if I didn't, so what. I like him better.

Share your starting-over kitchen stories in the comments below.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 23, 2007; 10:13 AM ET Kitchen Musings , Relationships
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Kim, this blog has me teary! Nothing sweeter - and more maddening at times - than joining your life with another.

My only life-joining kitchen stories came in the humor involved of what each of us grew up accepting as the "right" way to do things, i.e., where to store an onion - in the fridge or the pantry, are dishes done immediately after a meal or at the end of the evening, what constitutes the correct way to make a meatloaf, etc.

In the last eight years, we've each adopted some of the other's habits, and have merged several practices until we're left with our own set of kitchen traditions. I wish you a lifetime of happiness, as you to the same both in and out of the kitchen!

Posted by: Washington, DC | February 23, 2007 1:33 PM

I too am 40 but have been sharing my kitchen for 14 years. It's my domain; I cook, he cleans. I'm no neat freak, but I am particular about where he puts my things away. We recently moved from Maryland to Central PA, and our starting-over kitchen involved setting up a whole new room. Thankfully, a larger room with a place for everything.

The other funny-ism is that every time his mom comes to visit she oohs and aahs over all of my "gadgets" and marvels at what would I do with them all. She has many of the same kitchen items she's had since SHE got married!

Wishing you many years of blissful kitchen-sharing and gadget-accumulation, dear! Looking forward to reading about all the details when you return. Cheers, meg

Posted by: Meg in PA | February 23, 2007 1:38 PM

Hi, thanks for your help on yesterday's chat... my fiance and I made turkey dumplings together and they were delicious. I just started living and cooking with my fiance a few months ago, and we have our differences... I'm very much a stickler for following the recipe exactly, while he likes to improvise and come up with new things. "But what if it's not RIGHT?" "So what, if it tastes good?" and that kind of thing. So we're trying to come to terms where I don't get annoyed if he starts experimenting, and he doesn't get annoyed if I flip about the exact measurements of ingredients... it can be tough but we are successful and having fun together so far.
Regarding the dumplings, the beer did help in more ways than one... halfway into making the dough I realized that I don't own a rolling pin (how did THAT happen???). Fortunately we were able to improvise... I grabbed an empty beer bottle and started rolling the dough with it! However, it has given me second thoughts about whether I want to register for presents (I am leaning on the "I have enough in my tiny studio apt. already" side too).
Anyway, thanks for the recipes and advice, and I hope you and Mr. Groom have a fab wedding!

Posted by: Turkey dumpling | February 23, 2007 2:44 PM


Posted by: Anonymous | February 23, 2007 3:27 PM

I'm coming up on three years of married life, and what strikes me about the marriage-kitchen connection is the way you can open your cupboard one day and think, "Who knew I'd ever keep -that- stocked in my kitchen?" It's sort of a metaphor for marriage in general, I think: your partner introduces things into your life, and your cabinets, that you never would have thought to bring in on your own. Some you may never get (unsalted peanuts?! Why bother?), others you can't imagine you'd lived without (who knew rice pudding was the perfect food when you're sick?). It's what makes partnership--and cooking--interesting. You take different people, different ingredients, put them together and find they're better together than they were on their own. Happy wedding, Kim, and bon appetit!

Posted by: Somerville, MA | February 23, 2007 3:30 PM

I come from the other end of the spectrum. I am actually just starting out building up my kitchen, and it is such a hassle. I want to buy everything, but I can't afford anything, and it's so hard to convince myself to save up for one good piece rather than buying the cheap boxed set that comes with so much more. Plus, sometimes it's hard to know what is good, what is essential, etc.

P.S.: Kim, Best Wishes!! (And Congratulations to Mr. Groom - he's very lucky.)

Posted by: WP Reader | February 23, 2007 3:34 PM

I found that merging our kitchens was the most difficult part of moving in with my fiance. I'm very particular about where I store things, and how things as done, but I knew I was marrying the right man when he gave me free rein over the kitchen.

The one part I still struggle with is that I want to cook every night, and I occasionally have to either let him cook, or let him take me out.

Posted by: Kay | February 23, 2007 4:02 PM

My husband and I have been married 9 months now (after several years living together) and we still can't merge graters or colanders. I just don't get his plastic colander and plane grater and he can't stand my box grater or metal colander. I think it's hilarious. The gift process did help us a lot, in that we often had an excuse to throw out both our old sets of something and get something we both liked - for example we replaced my Corelle dishes (he thinks they feel fragile) and his cracked ceramic (I thought they weighed a ton) with nice Noritake stoneware that we both love. Cutting boards and knives were an issue for us too - I've learned about serrated knives and wood cutting boards from him and he's getting used to my smooth knives and plastic. We still have our favorites but we're learning.

Posted by: SPC | February 23, 2007 4:20 PM

Oh, I so completely understand this. When Organic Guy and I merged lives, whenever he did dishes, I would start getting stressed, wondering where my "stuff" would end up. I guess I started going on about my "stuff" (which is pretty much anything kitchen related) too much one night, because he said, "Okay, let's go" and tossed me my coat and grabbed his. Go where? He's kicking me out? What? We ended up at a restaurant supply store, where we looked around and finally bought some great high-temp spatulas, and a steaming cup for our espresso maker, and a few other things. We got back home, he ceremoniously washed everthing, laid it all out on the counter, and said "NOW it's OUR stuff." We've been building Our Stuff ever since, and I've finally been able to learn how to share the kitchen.

Best wishes, and congratulations!

Posted by: Organic Gal | February 23, 2007 4:23 PM

My husband and I just celebrated our 10-year-anniversary. When we first started out together, we were *really* starting out together. Our kitchen stuff was made up of a some wedding gifts (Henckle knives!), my parents for-camping-use-only pots & pans & silverware, and some assorted odds and ends. And when we set up the kitchen we almost had a fight over where to put things! Under or over counter? By dishwasher or by stove? Ultimately it comes down to this: unless you are pinching pennies or struggling for space, let him buy what he wants and you buy what you want. When it comes to the big stuff, make the decision together. The bigger problem is how to get two butts in one small kitchen!

Wait to you get to merging the CDs and book collections.

Congrats to you both.

Posted by: Lyria | February 23, 2007 4:28 PM

I couldn't agree more with Somerville. And she said it better than I could.

Congrats and here's to more years together than you have spent apart - the best things in life are worth waiting for...

Posted by: in CA | February 23, 2007 5:03 PM

Hi Kim-
Best of luck on your pending nuptials and spending your life with Mr. Groom! I can appreciate your perspective on so many levels: your contentedness in the kitchen, your analytical side, etc. I think many of us cooks/chefs like to have things "right" by our own vision of what that means and after 15 years with my partner, I've really had to work at stepping back and not sweating what is usually small stuff. I like that I've learned to be patient by being with someone who is in many ways my opposite. To that end, his type B has really modulated my type A so we're a definite A-/B+ team, depending on the situation!

As English teachers in Japan, we first started living together in a postage stamp of an apartment. Food had to prepared with just two burners and a rice cooker. Needless to say there was no microwave or dishwasher and only a toaster oven in which I baked cookies, tarts, and even roasted a chicken one Thanksgiving. We also got into the habit of having a very American breakfast of oatmeal most days. Years later he still makes us hot cereal every weekday so that mine is waiting for me when I come home from the gym. I love it because it shows his love for me, and is delicious, comforting, and good for me at the same time. He loves what I make for dinner and doesn't give me too hard of a time when I tackle drawn out kitchen projects on week nights that should have been attempted on the weekend!

Sometimes I have to hold my tongue when we're cooking together. But after sharing with him a recent NY Times article (He Cooks. She Stews. It's Love.), I was happy to hear from him that I'm not the kitchen tyrant that I sometimes perceive myself to be. Yes, I may have carved out the kitchen as my domain, but I always tell myself that preparing and sharing food are an act of love for me. It gives me enormous pleasure to share my efforts and know that they're appreciated.

Posted by: Sean | February 23, 2007 5:05 PM

Kim- congratulations! Many "guy" gadgets seem foreign, but are actually quite useful. I have learned that I need to ask about the new stuff because it might have a special purpose or cleaning need that I don't know about.... Oops.

WPreader- look at thrift stores and antique shops. I got my first set of dishes at a thrift store and I still use them! My favorite egg beater and a mixing bowl came from antique shops. How a kitchenaid mixer bowl is an antique, I don't know, but it was worth the $7 in frosting alone!

Posted by: DeenaJR | February 23, 2007 6:51 PM

WP Reader, if you have a car, check out yard sales this spring. You most likely will find brand new small appliances and gadgets that have never been used. I've also been lucky finding new stuff at fund-raising yard sales. And don't forget to check Target's sales fliers.

Posted by: Don't give up. | February 25, 2007 3:31 PM

As a still somewhat newlywed I can relate to your story so well. The example that sticks out in my mind is my husband insisting that we register for an electric can opener. Of all things to take up counter space in a graduate student's apartment! I still can't get the silly thing to work, my manual one does the job every time!

Posted by: Amyfp | February 25, 2007 6:33 PM

Kim, congratulations on your upcoming nuptuals!

As my lovely wife and I approach 10 years of marriage and 15 years of being together, I offer two key suggestions for kitchen bliss: quickly determine who uses the kitchen or certain areas the most and the year test.

The first is that whomever cooks the most, should be the person who determines what goes where in the kitchen. When we first got married and bought our house, I couldn't follow my wife for 6 weeks. By the time I got to the kitchen, she had unpacked everything and to this day (nearly 10 years on) I can't find one of my favorite knives. Also, I spent four years complaining about where things were in the kitchen.

The year test is to go through your drawers and cabinets on a yearly basis and things you haven't used, take out. I move them to storage to see if we will use them within the next year and if we don't off they go.

Good luck.

Posted by: Foremanda | February 26, 2007 10:59 AM

In the kitchen, I'm the cook, but she's the baker, so when we merged housegholds, our kitchen collections were complementary as much as they were redundant. The one obscure item we both had that still makes us laugh is the garlic roasters. She had a small one, for one head; I had a larger one, for 3-4 heads. But they were the same round red clay domed contraption, just in two different sizes. I mean, How many people buy garlic roasters??

Posted by: Tony O | February 26, 2007 11:51 AM

we just had a discussion this weekend on how to load the dishwasher. Each of us has their own way. Gotta love it, good luck. By the way I agree a 5" serrated knife isnt very useful

Posted by: Chet | February 26, 2007 12:47 PM

This story is absolutely perfect for sharing, and in hindsight, is actually pretty funny. Many many years ago, I had what people like to call a starter marriage, and I moved into my then husband's home. His kitchen was a complete mishmash of useful and useless things. One day, I decided to get rid of the useless things, and began putting them into a box for the trash. Among one of the items I wanted to throw away was a plastic mixing bowl that had a rather large hole in the bottom of it, from having been placed on a hot surface. I could not think of one thing that it was fit for, and pitched into a box of trash. Later that day, my husband came home, and was very perturbed by my purge of the kitchen. He cried out that the bowl with the hole could be used in some way, and took it out to the garage so that it would not be thrown away. A few years later, we split up (not because of the bowl with the hole) and I moved out. A few weeks later, I returned to the house to pick up a few items I had left behind. I wanted a glass of water, so I went to the kitchen, and when I opened the kitchen cabinet, I was surprised to see the bowl with the hole had returned to the kitchen from its exile in the garage. I was gone, and it was back.

Posted by: twicewed | February 26, 2007 4:26 PM

When my husband and I set up housekeeping many years ago, it was his first domestic experience (I had been cooking for years) and he decided he was interested in the cooking styles of India. He bought every spice and ingredient in the market place and totally filled our pantry up. I was a little annoyed at having all "my" stuff displaced until I realized that there were a lot of lonely women out there that would be thrilled to share pantry space with a wonderful guy like my husband. So there you go.

Posted by: Judy | February 27, 2007 12:42 PM

I am THE only cook in the house - so I had complete control over how to set up the kitchen (and, he moved into MY apt.) When we registered I poo-poo-ed many 'trival' items (remote meat themometer, mini blow torch) that I secretly have wished at one point that I had. Don't tell him that!

Being in charge of everything is not all it's cracked up to be. Until he started doing the dishes in our new house (which has a dishwasher - i played dumb that i never used one) he was totally lost in the kitchen and couldn't find anything. Now I'm the one that can't find things after he's emptied the dishwasher. But everytime i get annoyed i stop myself to say - you didn't have to do the dishes - don't complain!

Posted by: She Cooks, He Doesn't | March 8, 2007 11:14 AM

Recipe for a Happy Marriage

1 cup consideration
1 cup courtesy
2 cupfuls flattery carefully concealed
1 gallon faith and trust in each other
2 cupfuls praise
1 small pinch of in-laws
1 reasonable budget, a generous dash of cooperation
3 teaspoon pure extract of "I'm sorry"
1 cup contentment
1 cup each confidence and encouragement
1 large or several small hobbies
1 cup blindness to the other's faults

Flavor with frequent portions of recreation and a dash of happy memories. Stir well and remove any specks of jealousy, temper or criticism. Sweeten well with generous portions of love and keep warm with a steady flame of devotion. Never serve with cold shoulder.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 12, 2007 4:46 PM

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