Sunday, March 6, 2011

Gendered Cooking

This week, I'm going "back to work."  In that I finally got a real job, doing real things, for real people.  This is really exciting for me, especially because I get to finally and formally renounce housewifery, which I dislike immensely, so I'm pretty excited.  It also makes me nervous because it means Mr. Barefoot will be doing more of the cooking.  I usually don't like to talk a lot about issues in our relationship, but I think that navigating a dual-chef household is really tough, and so I wanted to share how things are for me in our house.  He's welcome to retaliate, but I'll try to share his perspective as well.

Others would argue with this statement, but I'm not a control freak. I generally trust other people. I delegate. I let things go when they aren't that important. At home, the only place where I'm not good at this is in the kitchen. And that's because, about half the time, my husband is simply wrong. He just...does things wrong. He uses the wrong pot, the wrong cutting board, the wrong knife. He has this totally weird need to use everything that is smaller than he could possibly actually need.  He thinks this is more efficient. He'll use a paring knife instead of a chef's knife, and then refuse to use the chef's knife because he already got the paring knife dirty.  He'll cram something in the smallest pan to marinate, or to cook, even if that means the thing being cooked gets squished or crowded.

He also follows recipes either too strictly or too poorly for my taste.  This is a ridiculous thing to complain about - that he either cuts things into too bite sized pieces or not bite sized enough, and they are simply NOT HOW I WOULD DO IT.  Somehow, this makes me irrationally angry.  Regardless, I know how annoying backseat cooking is, so I try not to say anything, usually leaving the kitchen.  Which annoys him, because he gets offended that I'm making him cook and am not keeping him company.  Which in turn annoys me.

He's also remarkably rigid about menus - if I get home later than planned, and dinner is going to take awhile, I'll usually skip the elaborate menu plan and meal that will take 30 minutes of prep and 30 minutes in the oven to cook something quicker.  Mr. Barefoot does not stray from the plan.  If the meal takes 30 minutes of prep and 30 in the oven, well, dinner will be ready in an hour.  Have a snack.  Mr. Barefoot also doesn't always start cooking as soon as he comes in the door, and doesn't mind eating at 7:30 or later.  I mind it enormously and get very very cranky when I'm hungry.  If it's not clear already, I'm the problem in this relationship. 

My habits that annoy him?  I come from the "go big or go home" school of cooking - use the biggest pot that makes sense, use the large cutting board, use the space that you have available. Since he usually does the dishes, this makes him crazy, so I've tried to scale it back, but been largely unsuccessful. 

I also don't put things away as I go, and tend to leave everything out on the counter, perishable or not, until he goes to do the dishes later that night.  So he tries to combat this by cleaning around me as I cook, which results in one of the following conversations:
"Are you done with the butter/milk/greek yogurt?" 
"Are you done with the butter/milk/greek yogurt?"

"Then why didn't you put it away when you were done with it?" 

Nobody wins in these conversations.  If anybody is wrong, well, it's me.  I should put stuff away as I go, or while the meal is cooking.  I am simply not lazy enough to just make dinner from a box, but am too lazy to put the butter back in the fridge. 
One of the realities of our situation is that I've developed a system. I know what size pot works for a half-box of pasta, I know what I can fit in a casserole dish. I know if I'm chopping three types of vegetables I use the big cutting board and if it's just an onion I use the small one. These are systems my husband doesn't have down, because like it or not, I've been the one doing most of the cooking since we moved in together three and a half years ago.

So how do I let go of the control and let my husband develop his own systems without backseat cooking or fleeing the scene?  How do we deal with the differences in our eating schedules?  Also, even though the food he cooks is usually delicious, creative, and cooked well, I still can't stand to watch his process, so how do I avoid insulting him when I don't want to be in the kitchen? 


  1. I was laughing throughout this entire post, because I can totally relate to you. My husband is the one who doesn't usually clean up as he goes, but I'm the one who usually screws up the recipe by using too small a pot.

    The thing that seems to work best for us is to pick our battles. If one of us is doing something that is going to ruin the meal or the cookware, we say something nicely. If it's just a personal preference, we try to just let it go, especially if the other person don't seem receptive to suggestions at the time.

    Congrats on getting a new job!

  2. I'm sorry, I got lost at the part where you said YOU GOT A JOB!!!!! YAY!!!!!

    And, um, we have a dual-cook kitchen. So I can't help you with the rest of it. He drives me bonkers when he cooks for the same reasons as you, but I'm happy to ignore and get out, because what he makes is delicious. However, I am becoming psychotic about how he uses and cleans all our nice new cookingware. Grr.

  3. I admit to leaving things out after I use them (perishable or not, like you), and then to being annoyed when my husband comes in *while I'm still cooking/baking* and wants to move things around or put them away... and maybe even to snapping at him when he does that.
    BUT I've learned that he doesn't just do it because "he has a different system" than I do (though he most certainly does have a different (wrong) system), he does it because he's a weird control freak and it, like, pains him to see things disorderly. So I've learned to take pity on him--slightly--and put things away once the thing I'm making is in the oven, or in between stirring it in the pot. But I still make him leave when he comes in and wants to re-arrange things during the process, since he can't just hang out in the kitchen and not "fix it" while being surrounded by so much mess.
    This arrangement has been accomplished mostly by him getting used to the fact that I'm more disorganized than he is in the kitchen and by me feeling bad for the fact that he's really bothered by me being messy... mainly, that we've both realized that we're just going to have to tolerate a little bit of the other person being wrong if we're going to continue to live together. Which, of course, is our number one priority!
    And he does the dishes (I hate doing dishes!), which makes feeling bad for him a lot easier!