Monday, December 14, 2009

The kitchen bitch vs. bitchy in the kitchen

Owen has claimed Isabel's Snuggie as his own, a practice we called "Indian giving" back in the day. They don't use that term around the schoolyard anymore, which is probably for the best. The Snuggie makes him look a little like Max in the Wild Things book, and I sometimes even think he acts more demanding and imperious when he's wearing his cape.

One quirk of our picky family is that everyone loves salad, so the other night we had feta salad with pita crisps out of Moro. It was fine; I was trying to diet. See wooden salad bowl in foreground. Didn't get around to setting a gracious table that night.

Yesterday, I roasted chicken with harissa and made the cauliflower with pinenuts, saffron and raisins, also from Moro recipes. I was feeling very disspirited and bored and cooking dinner seemed like a monumental drag and I decided it's because I've been picking the most boring, frugal, and easy dishes out of the book. There's little excitement in a conscientious work- and child-centered day if you eliminate even the cheap thrill of grilling a quail, or frying an imported chorizo. I am much less crabby when I try something new or fancy or challenging or exotic. 

This is why I took Dan Duane's side in Eizabeth Weil's New York Times Magazine story that all my friends were talking about a week ago. Let the guy go wild in the kitchen, I thought. Especially if you won't French kiss! (You have to read the story.) A pig's head and some squab are cheaper than a divorce.

But I had more sympathy for Weil after reading Hanna Rosin's Doublex piece today about culinary turf wars and the rise of the male "kitchen bitch." You can read it here. I know these men, the ones who have you over for big, showy dinners with pricey cuts of meat and Tuscan wines while the little brown wren of a wife quietly clears away the dirty glasses. 

I don't know what I would call my husband's kitchen persona, but this is not it. When I came back from Hawaii, the refrigerator was full of Oscar Mayer products, the super-cheap milk from Walgreens, and half-eaten jars of spaghetti sauce. Frustrating in its own way, but at least there are no power struggles over who's making Christmas dinner.

I started to wonder if I'm guilty of what Rosin and Weil complain about, of forcing my spouse to do the childcare while I pour my energy into time-consuming, show-offy cooking feats. On occasion, yes. But after some soul-searching, I acquitted myself. Almost all my cooking, ambitious or otherwise, occurs between 5 and 7:15 p.m. when I'm alone in the house with the children, helping with long division homework and listening to them fight. Cooking just keeps my hands busy; I'm available, but not idle. What else would I do? 

In other news, I just read a dark little book (physically little, not little in any other way) called American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell. If I had my own 2009 top ten list, this would be on it.  Campbell's stories are scary, precise and exquisitely written; the characters are meth addicts, salvage yard operators, and struggling Michigan farmers, so-called "ordinary" people but they're not given the usual, solemn "ordinary" treatment. It's funny and wicked and brilliant. Highly recommend -- but not for everyone. Definitely not for my mother, for instance. If you don't like dark, disturbing books, I would instead recommend Mennonite in a Little Back Dress by Rhoda Janzen, which I also loved, and is sweet, witty and altogether delightful.


  1. I just found my American Salvage to read! Cannot wait. Also, I love this essay and agree. Just ate strange salad and sardines on baguette with basil -- delicious, but I know it would have been better had someone been here to make it about 65% less healthy and garlicky and delicious.

  2. I lament the loss of the term "Indian giver," since it is a lovely dig at our grasping, perfidious government.

    Like "axe to grind," it has come to mean something other than its original definition and it upsets me to hear it used thus. It's no fun being a word Puritan.

  3. oh boy, i am ok with the men who pride themselves on their barbecuing skills, or some pasta sauce they've mastered, but i know those finicky superior-acting men cooks you're talking about and i cannot abide them.

    now, i know what you mean by 'gracious table' but i want to know if that phrase came from somewhere, alice? nigella? someone uses that phrase?

  4. Layne, you might want to read this:

  5. Sad! I was led astray! It seems so much better the other way.

    I stand by axe to grind, though, since that one I've actually read myself.

  6. I read the article from the link and it alomost seems that Dan's way of not engaging in this merriage is cooking long involved dishes that keep him in the kitchen, where he can't be bothered. Also, I think the main problem he has with his in-laws is that he's not allowed to cook there and he has built part of his worth and personality on cooking.

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