“Mummy, when I get married, I’m going to choose a man who likes to do all the cooking,” declared my daughter Laura the other day.
Her assertion surprised me because we’ve recently made a very successful batch of cookies together. Her schoolfriends requested she bring more to school in her next day’s packed lunch. She also enjoys Let’s Get Cooking Club at school, which I’d hoped would set her on the right track to self-sufficiency in the kitchen.
It’s not that she’s hoping to marry a man like her father. In ten years of marriage, he’s only ever cooked me three meals. The first, on our second date, was a stew. I later discovered it was a blend of everything edible that he could find in his kitchen. Considering evidence I collected later, I had a lucky escape that night. Usually, a mutual friend told me, his was the typical bachelor’s fridge, containing only mouldy fruit, bought in a fit of resolve to eat more healthily but never actually consumed, and beer.
The second meal was a frozen supermarket ready meal. Maybe this was to stop me thinking that this cheffing lark might become a habit. Then, eight years later, came his third dish: a poached egg on toast, when I was ill with flu in bed.
The poached egg has recently become his signature dish – much as an X becomes the signature of a man who cannot write. More as a technical enquiry than with the intent of using it, he asked me a little while ago how the egg poacher worked. To my surprise, he was sufficiently intrigued to try it out. After many repetitions of the instructions, he finally mastered the art.
I was shocked. In our household, we have a pretty traditional division of labour: I do the cooking, the food shopping and the laundry, and he does the DIY. I don’t object, as it gets me off the hook for decorating, and he’s a lot better at it than me. So I wondered whether his embrace of this tiny corner of catering precipitates a subtle shift in our balance of power. Suddenly, I was no longer needed to cook his breakfast in the morning: he could make it himself.
Until this point, he’d always been proud of his lack of prowess in the kitchen, citing it as an indication of his descent from stone age man. Apparently, he-men evolved to operate only on a grand scale in providing food for his family, tracking down wild animals and dragging them back to his cave. After all that hunting, he’d need to receover his strength while the female of the species prepared his kill for the oven. He claims that’s also why he’s not good at finding things around the house – his glasses, his car keys, his slippers – because men are programmed to find big things far away – like mammoths.
It’s always amused my colleagues that the only phone calls I ever get from him while at work are requests to help him find things: his swimming trunks, his measuring tape, our daughter. And just last week I had another plaintive call from home.
“Debbie, I can’t find the egg poacher.”
It seems there’s no danger that I’ll be made redundant in the kitchen just yet.