Opinion | The deposed king regains his kingdom
I have never been good at sharing my kitchen. I prefer to be alone, I like my space and I like to work at my own pace
I am using this column to announce the best piece of news I have heard in a while: Our part-time cook and handywoman, A, has left—maybe for two months, maybe more—to get married. Now, I am as fond of her as everyone else at home and am grateful for her good-natured approach to life and work. But I could not be happier at getting my kitchen back.
You see, for most of my working life, I was king of my kitchen. I cooked when I felt like it and made sure there was always enough food in my fridge. I innovated, I learnt new ways of doing things, I used whatever was at hand and did not bother with too much planning, unless 15 or more people were due for dinner.
All that changed after marriage. Recognizing that we needed some assistance, I ceded some ground which, in some years, led to virtual annexation. I have never been good at sharing my kitchen. I prefer to be alone, I like my space and I like to work at my own pace.
The wife may not cook, but she has strong views about the kitchen. She likes everything organized and planned—for instance, pasting weekly school-lunch menus for the eight-year-old on the fridge, while I am likely to decide lunch on the day itself. Someone had to retreat, so I did.
When I heard A was leaving, I was at one level sorrowful. As I said, she is this amiable, affectionate young woman who kept the house organized and, with great ease, became a big part of our lives and vice versa. The wife and she had a close relationship, and there is much we learnt from her, from keeping a smile handy to dosa batter-grinding tips. The wife read out recipes for unusual foods—such as multigrain rotis and no-sugar, coconut flour cakes—and A implemented them. Thanks to both of them, our food diversified more than it might have if I had been in sole charge. I am not, you might have guessed, very open to suggestions. A, too, learned things from us, such as how to roast chicken and the need to always wear a helmet.
But I was also, as I said, happy.
It’s astonishing how much we in India depend—emotionally and otherwise—on domestic help. The wife has taken over the innumerable tasks that she once left to A, and the eight-year-old is trying—unsuccessfully thus far—to keep her room from appearing hurricane-hit. My mother appears more concerned about A’s departure than we are, offering every day to keep us supplied with food. While that is very sweet of her, I find it hard to explain to everyone expressing concern that it really is not a matter of concern.
After A left, and the weekend loomed, I found the fridge stuffed with food. As her departing gesture, urged on by the wife, she had cooked up a storm. To me, weekends are family time, together time—to watch movies, to cook, to cycle or to simply fool around (we are big on joint tickling sessions).
Fortunately, the food in the fridge was consumed. As a cool but sunny pre-winter Sunday dawned, I was eager to leap out of bed and re-establish my suzerainty over my regained culinary kingdom. After observing my enthusiasm with some scepticism, the wife—who I think is a little nervous at the prospect of losing her position as overlord—joined in. She plucked fresh basil from her kitchen garden and told me how to harvest her romaine lettuce without destroying the plants. I may be a reasonable cook, but I have no expertise with growing ingredients. With her time apparently well spent on Instagram and Twitter, she is quite the self-taught expert. Even our daughter now knows that basil flowers must not be used and older, thicker stems should be clipped to keep the herb fresh and fragrant.
In the event, we had enough for a Sunday feast—some egg-based fettucini, fresh pesto with our own basil, salad from our balcony, honey roasted chicken and potato wedges. When you have your kitchen to yourselves, your creativity gets a fresh boost. The wife pulled out the air fryer that I got as a gift three years ago—but never used—and quickly learned how to make potato wedges with almost no oil. With A gone, I was free to experiment with the roast chicken, which had fallen into a rut because I could not ever cook with her.
As we settled down to lunch, our neighbour walked over with home-made biryani. Ishrat aunty knows the eight-year-old loves her biryani and keeps her supplied. That took care of the wife’s need for advance planning. The biryani would be lunch or dinner tomorrow. I had made enough chicken, so it could be used for sandwiches.
The next day, my mother asked, shall I send food? No. At least chapatis? Before I could say no, the wife said yes. Some habits die hard.
Honey roasted chicken
6 pieces (legs and thighs) chicken
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 heaped tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tsp red chilli or paprika powder
1 tsp honey
Salt to taste
Rub all ingredients over the chicken and marinate for at least an hour. Cover with foil and bake at 160 degrees Celsius for 40 minutes. Open foil partially, up temperature to 200 degrees Celsius and roast for 10-15 min, basting every 5 minutes with the liquid that runs out.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.
He tweets at @samar11