Choreographing a Kitchen Happy Dance

1 · 05 · 21

All of our loving relationships are one kind of dance or another. We sway with our newborn babies. We dance with each other as adolescents; we dance a complicated dance with our parents at that time when we are trying to separate from the loving hold of a mother or father but draw closer when we need their love and comfort. We leap with new love (and hope we don’t fall when we land). We two-step; we waltz. We may eventually tango. Some of us sense the rhythm of another; some of us may struggle.

There are only two of us in our household: my adult son (who is a godsend to have around) and me. We are peas in a pod: both loving solitude and quiet throughout our day. We dance very different dances all day long. This has become accentuated since March, when we both began to stay at home except for “essential activities.” Fortunately, neither of us is burdened with Zoom meetings that disrupt our distinct, daily rhythms.

My son and I live rather independent lives, and that includes each of us preparing our own meals. Without the overhead of a daily commute and with fewer interruptions, we’ve each had the freedom to prepare more elaborate meals. My son has become as adventurous a cook as I have been for quite a while. The world is full of wonderful cuisines, and we traverse the culinary distances with curiosity and a bit of derring-do. Our adventures take substantial amounts of time and focus… and an investment in novel ingredients and tools.

You can probably see where this is going: There are four burners on our stove, one full-size oven, and just enough counter space for a large cutting board and a passel of ingredients. We now have a few pantries (not all in the kitchen; we’ve run out of space there) for such ingredients as spices and basmati rice from India, Peruvian beans and chili pepper pastes, grains and flours used in Scandinavian breads, Spanish rice for paella, Arborio rice for risotto, Japanese tamari sauce and miso, etc.

It doesn’t take much imagination to appreciate that we need a bit of real-time choreography—if only so that we don’t back into each other. And now, being as adventurous as we are, our preparations sometimes take two or more hours.

In other words, we are having a great deal of fun on these evenings: slicing and dicing, chopping and mincing, grating and shaving; sautéing and roasting, simmering and steaming, tossing and stirring. Our happy dances involve side steps while one of us pulls onions, carrots, and celery from the refrigerator or a break-forward, rock-back salsa move to avoid collisions. Our small talk may cover an alternative recipe for chicken stock or the merits of curly-leaf parsley vs flat-leaf.

We agree that all cookbooks and online recipes lie about how much time it will take to prep the ingredients before starting to cook. We note the latest examples we’ve encountered: Thinly slice two medium onions; mince three garlic cloves; coarsely chop two carrots; cut a head of cauliflower into florets; cube twelve ounces of boneless chicken breast; measure the amounts for five different spices; gather two sprigs of thyme and one of oregano; zest one lemon. Estimated prep time: 10 minutes. We laugh with a passionate-but-amateur cook’s nerdy sense of amusement.

A few days ago, my son was preparing South Indian mulligatawny soup. I was preparing navratan korma. He prepped his ingredients early in the afternoon, with the soup-making about to begin as I gathered herbs, spices, and fresh vegetables as the winter sun was setting. We have a rhythm to our cooking now, one that resembles the moves of two experienced dancers who can anticipate each other’s next steps without a word. No one leads; no one follows. Because happy dances are spontaneous and of our own creation. It is only the size of the dance floor that constrains our individual creativity.

Patricia

Patricia is the author of a wide range of essays that span narrative, persuasive, and informational approaches. She believes that most writing benefits from an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on knowledge acquired over decades of diverse learning endeavors.

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