Some years ago, in the midst of an argument, my wife said to me,
“There’s more to running a house than making dinner.”
She was right, there’s no denying it.
I felt shame being perceived as such a domestic “one-trick pony”, but it also resonated in a different way, as something I rely on to such an extent that it was hardly surprising I should give it so much attention.
Food, or more specifically cooking, is what I turn to in times of emotional difficulty, which is a helpful strategy if you often struggle emotionally because dinner happens every day.
Last week, wondering how to stave off an immovable ache at my son leaving home to move into a flat in London, I turned to the kitchen.
You may not think it but, slow roasting a tray of succulent tomatoes with a slick of olive oil, a few sprigs of rosemary, and a splash of red wine vinegar can be surprisingly cathartic when you have no idea how to fill the son-shaped hole in your house.
Packing the car before he left, my daughter was reeling from an argument with her boyfriend.
“Lying next to each other on our phones is not the sort of connection I want.”
“There’s more to running a house than making dinner, right?”
Teardrops gather first in her eyes, then breach the defences and roll steadily down her cheeks.
I am sad for my daughter, but I can’t fix her relationships, and I’m sad for myself that my son is moving away when it seems like only yesterday I was in the garden spraying the hose into the sky so that he could stand underneath the falling water getting soaked to the skin and giggling uncontrollably.
I put my arm around my daughter,
“Let’s have a proper chat about it later when I’m back home.”
I am conscious of staving off powerful emotion on multiple fronts. My mind turns to food but all I have in my pocket are some dried sprats for the dogs.
When she broke up with a previous boyfriend I remember texting her from the supermarket,
“Can I get you anything?”
When I arrived home she was lying on the sofa with the curtains drawn sobbing into a cushion. The “pain au chocolat” I held in my hand was impotent.
During my own slow decline, I travelled all the way to the Scottish Borders for a week to learn how to make sourdough because everyone knows that bread is the most logical way out of clinical depression.
I’ve been thinking about where I learned this odd way of coping.
My mother, always at the epicentre of my anxious attachment growing up because I perpetually concluded that her persistent rows with my father were an inevitable precursor to her leaving, seemed to spend her life in the kitchen.
I think it was a safe space where she, like I do now, felt in absolute control of the cupboards and contents of the fridge regardless of what was happening around her.
We arrive in Clapham and unload in persistent rain.
The fancy new modular sofa arrives in several huge boxes.
My son and his girlfriend carefully remove the bits of furniture excitedly bolting their new life together while I root around in the kitchen for a knife and use it to collapse the cardboard stacking it neatly in the hall.
When it’s all done I say,
“I’m going to leave you now.”
My son puts down a huge cushion and comes to give me a hug.
“Thanks for all your help.”
“I made you some bread. There are two loaves so put one in the freezer and I also made you some tomato sauce. I’ve put it in your fridge.”
“Thanks. Are you sure you don’t want to stay for a cup of tea?”
“No, I’d better get back and start thinking about what to make for dinner.”