Saturday 8 February 2020

Why I hate cooking now, Thermomixes and choice

I’m not sure where to start. I only know that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. Too long. And so here I am writing. Not apologising for not posting a damn thing for over a year. Not feeling guilty for neglecting my need to get things out of my head and onto a page. Not being hard on myself for procrastinating the shit out of anything that wasn’t necessary to day to day living just right at this moment in time.
Partly, I want to write about the book I’m reading.

The other things buzzing around in my head are as follows: 

  • moving to New Zealand (after 10 years of trying)
  • reaching my 10 year goal and not knowing what to do next and (oddly) being ok with that
  • having arguments over the phone with my manfriend with a thirteen hour time difference and then lovingly resolving those arguments and realising that we’ve got this more than we ever thought we had before
  • adulting according to society by completing paper work to meet deadlines for the pet transport of my dog while also making sure I don’t just eat cereal for dinner while organising rent, bills, getting a car and a place to live
  • staying in touch with friends old and new and negotiating a new job
  • wondering how I got so horribly unfit that my dreams of being a good surfer again and someone who is active seems insurmountably unattainable
  • realising that my previous love of cooking and its inherent expression of love that I weaved through my cooking for others dissipated two years ago and now I resent it every day
  • being unattached to the outcomes of anything I set my mind to
  • feeling lost in terms of how to start doing the things I love after putting so much of that aside for the best part of two years
  • mothering, listening, the mental load and the division of labour at home
  • how I’m going to find an outlet for all these things above.

Clearly, this blog can’t contain all those thoughts.
Sometimes, it’s better just to start where you’re at.
Let’s start with the book.

It’s got a neon green cover. I’ve been meaning to read it since it came out. Friends had read it. I’d perused through it a few times in the library. Podcasts were listened to. There’s no reason that I didn’t read it before now. Except maybe, in the odd way that books can arrive in your life just as you need them. This one had to wait for certain aspects of my life to catch up before I fully clicked with all that the author had written about.
Sometimes books are just waiting for us to begin.

When I arrived back in New Zealand, this time with the knowing intention that this was final and I was not leaving this time round, I stayed in a house bus with fuschia pink and the same neon green colouring as the book. Set on the top part of a rolling hill leading down to my friends’ section of land, my favourite Karioi mountain was blocked from view but I could see their new house build, Jess’ stunning English country garden planted up and could hear their son Alistair’s sweet five year old voice outside my window while he trapped cicadas to listen to them buzz in his cupped hands.

I was thankful every day of being there. Not simply because it was free accommodation. In fact, that became less than secondary. I was thankful for the space, the time, the lack of outside influences and noises and lights and hassle that came from everywhere else when I lived in Dublin.
I could hear birds and insects rather than buses and traffic lights. I went to bed when it got dark at 9pm and woke up when there was a buzz outside early morning.
The time to make tea and drink it before it went cold. The space to take a few breaths and write a gratitude list. The chance to get my hands in the sandy soil and pull out creeping weeds, mulch up around feijoa and fig trees and sweat under the sun. Breaking every day down into its simplest tasks was an enormous relief after last year.

The aspect I cherished the most, however, were the relatable, thoughtful and inquisitive conversations we had at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Politics, land, energy, soil, tree planting, favourite desserts, bushfires, climate grief, travelling, personalities, how we met stories. No topic was off limits and it was such a beautiful and nourishing time. No tv, no clock, no interrupting messages from our phones to intervene.

Many times, myself and Jess talked about domestics, motherhood, goals and choice.
As a mother of a five year old with Nathan, she is calm, loving, dedicated and nurturing. Alistair innocently told her the other day that he never wants to leave and just wants to marry her. He imitated her tone of voice to tell a play mate that he could jump and roll down the hill, “if you feel safe” and it warmed my heart. The greatest aspect of Jess’ parenting and our conversations, is the realism.

One part of that realism that we threw ourselves into was the topic of cooking, how we both used to love it and happily spend hours in the kitchen cooking for our men and friends and selves and now, the last few years, we both fucking hate it.

We still make the healthy, dairy free home made pesto with our hand held blenders. And it still tastes amazing. But we both want to clock someone over the head with the blender. We budget and meal plan and make food from scratch. We boil pot fulls of potatoes from the garden (her) or the market (me) and turn those spuds into something beautiful with a homemade mayonnaise or a fresh herb-seasoned omelette or a mild curry with freshly steamed jasmine rice. We bake muffins and make energy balls and think about time and money and health and dietary requirements and preferences. And we’re both fucking sick of it. Over it. Hate cooking.

And we’re both equally devastated.

How did this happen? We both talked about the point for a long time. When her son was born and when me and Carlos moved in together. When cooking changed from a creative expression of love and pleasurable food to a day in, day out expected chore that was sapped of value for its sheer ordinariness.

When Carlos and I first started dating, we went to a small park with a little pond where his dog Vera could swim in to cool off. It took us forty minutes of cycling in the Spanish heat to get there, I realise now, but at the time I looped in and out of the cycle lane users with abandoned ease as we made our way there. I had gone to the market before and smelled about six mangos until I had found two that were tropically perfect. I handmade granola with toasted coconut furls. I whipped coconut cream to a cloud and blitzed vanilla and maple through it all to make vegan compotes for our lunch. Quinoa salad with fresh avocado, lemons and vine tomatoes with ripped fresh basil leaves on the side. I played music as I spent all morning swaying around my kitchen lovingly stirring, whisking, dicing, assembling and neatly packing all the various elements of this romantic meal for two.

Looking back, I didn’t need Carlos to be amazed at all I’d done. I had no expectations as I swanned about the kitchen that morning. I just loved going to the market and having the time to cook for those I loved. I even put the same amount of love into making food for myself back then. It was bliss.

When I took the lids of the various containers, his eyes widened and he asked questions about what was in each tub. He was appreciative and expressive. And then he ate the vegan mango compote and announced, “wow, that’s amazing!” and instead of being uplifted with my previous people pleasing barometer, I just smiled because not only had I made someone I love happy with my food but I had also made myself happy with the time and care and joy I got from making it.

Fast forward two years. We’ve just spent a six month winter in Ireland eating dinner on the sofa with both dogs while watching Netflix followed by an entire cup of peanut M&M’s he gets for free from Facebook. I’ve come home from another shit day at work to our hyper dogs only to drop my shit (stuff) on the bed and bring them outside for a walk straight away. I try to relax and breathe but all I can do is keep an eye on both dogs as they run around and look on in dismay as people have littered along the canal side walkway as far as the eye can see. I’m trying to think of what to make for dinner. Again.

You see, in saving money, we budget our shopping list severely and I have to decide what to make for dinner, that’s not vegetables with rice or vegetables with pasta or vegetables with noodles. Again.
There is no discernible difference in the meals I make anymore. Sometimes it’s soup but then it’s soup with vegetables and some rice thrown in to bulk it up. There are some mixed dried herbs in there. Sometimes, if I’m feeling adventurous, I throw in a table spoon of apple cider vinegar. Go wild! It’s Groundhog Day in the kitchen. We buy a near identical shopping  list every weekend and then I try to make something nutritious and affordable with what we’ve purchased and every day that I sit down to eat on the sofa in our tiny cottage, I mindlessly put the food into my mouth and chew and get annoyed at Carlos that I have to remind him to say thank you.
“I forget” he says.
“I’m always thankful that you cook” he says.
“Then why don’t you say ‘Thank you’? Why do I always have to remind you?”
“You know I thank you for your food and for cooking. You always make amazing food”
“Then why don’t you ever say it’s amazing anymore like you used to?”
“This is just what happens, love. When you’re in a long relationship, you don’t need to say those things anymore”
“Well I need you to say them, so say it”
“Thank you”

And now I feel like a needy asshole.


Because truth be told, I know he appreciates me cooking and meal prepping. But also because it’s taken me this long to realise that I’m not losing my mind; I’m realising that after close to thirty years of not letting patriarchal systems and expectations dictate my life, those systems have nonetheless parasitically creeped in and infected the one thing I hold more dear than all else: my completely lacking-in-expectation joy in expressing love to others through my cooking.

Why in a modern, cohabiting relationship did it take a standoff from me after a month of living in our new place for him to learn when the bins go out, where we keep the spare toilet paper and where the teabags go? Why did I need to ask him and remind him at least four times in one week to hoover the floor when he never has to remind me once to make the shopping list or cook the dinner?
Why has he still not figured out if cardboard goes in the recycling bin or the compost?

And then I started reading the book. Clementine Ford’s Boys will be Boys and the rage within me rose higher on each page turn.

Let me be clear, before we moved in together, Carlos cycled with me back home, forty minutes out his way, to make sure I got home safe.
He would ooooh and ahhhhh over a slice of toast with avocado on it if I made it.
He used to go the bakery around the corner to get pastries and coffees, come back and set the table and give me a hug before the pancakes I was making were even ready.

He’s my greatest supporter when I have a job interview or a wobbly moment of self-doubt.
And even now, living together, he offers to take the dogs for an extra walk before going to bed and tells me to go ahead and relax and he’ll be home soon. When we go to the supermarket together for groceries, he packs the heaviest items into his backpack so that I don’t have to carry so much. He cracks the best jokes when I’m stressed, holds me accountable for my choices, goes to my favourite Vietnamese restaurant even though he’s probably sick of going there so often and always has my back.

So why am I so friggin enraged when he doesn’t do the laundry/hoover/take out the bins/wash the dishes/make a shopping list/remember to give the dogs their meds/put the toilet seat down/rinse down the shower/fold the laundry when it’s done/turn off the tumble dryer/put out the bins on bin day/take the bins in once they’ve been emptied/remember the vet’s opening times/cook?!

Mindless, unaware, patriarchal society structures my friend.

I’m tired
I forget things easily
You’re so much better than me at doing that
It’s easier for you
I do other things for us

These are not new sentences to this one relationship and they are also not unique to my relationship alone. Talking to any of my female friends in hetero relationships and the exact same issues appear.

And as a modern, feminist cis-gender woman, I do not want this dynamic and to speak out about it only to find that the next layer to this ingrained structure is a long, repetitive, tiring, cyclically unsatisfactory tennis match where inevitably neither he nor I get what we want.

He ends up feeling that his inputs to the relationship are not “good enough”.
I end up feeling that if I want something done right, as a modern woman, I better do it myself.
Only catch? The whole point was I didn’t want to be the one doing it. I didn’t want to remember/cook/clean every goddamn thing.

As it turns out, Clementine Ford has discussed and experienced the same structures at play in my relationship and she experiences the same frustrations even though she too is in a relationship with a similarly clued in, feminist man who is aware of gendered roles and still unknowingly sinks into them.

So my love of cooking is gone. Markets and food blogs and photography and writing and inventing dishes. All gone.

But I want it back.

Enter the Thermomix, a contraption I had up until now associated with rich Instagram influencers with nothing better to do, as parodied by the hilarious The Katering Show

Jess invited me to a demonstration at her house. We watched the high revolution blade make icing sugar out of raw cane sugar in two seconds.

It’s blitzed through a whole chilly and a thumb end of fresh ginger in two seconds as if an old Indonesian lady had been pounding them in a pestle and mortar for the guts of an hour.
And when I say two seconds, I’m not adlibbing; the digital timer on the interactive screen told us so.
We made vegan ice cream in two minutes and steamed kumara curry with homemade cauliflower rice that wafted throughout the kitchen in twenty three minutes. I shit you not.

The flavours were incredible, there was minimal prep and it was one container with one attachment. It was the first time in two years that I got excited about the smells in a kitchen and yet we were still making vegetables with rice but this time, it had flavour, there were new ingredients and none of the blunt knives, shitty pots, cracked steamers or slow ass blender blades of all my previous kitchens combined featured.

And yet I wasn’t sold. Me and Jess talked a lot. Did we really need a Thermomix to cook for us? Could we not just get some decent knives and do a short cookery course to get our kitchen groove back? Then two realisations occurred to us. Jess realised that as they’ve been building their own house, Nathan will often say to her that he thinks they need to buy a new electric saw/drill/cable/whatever and since it’s a tool he needs to save him time and do his job more efficiently, she doesn’t think twice and tells him of course.

If we are to cook efficiently in our domestic space of the kitchen, surely then we should have our own tools. Jess would never tell Nathan to get on with it and just make do and saw the wood by hand. Not that he would ever expect her to make do in the kitchen but Jess and I both realised that as women, even modern women, we expect ourselves to make do with the shit, sub standard ‘tools’ we have at our disposal to crank out at least one if not three meals a day, seven days a week. What?!

This Thermomix seemed to be combination of a steamer, hot pot, high speed blender, set of knives, timer, accurate scales and cookery book in one. Why the hell where we thinking about not getting one?!

I then pointed out the aspect of cooking I had grown to hate the most-the mental load-the one that French artist Emma illustrated so aptly in the Guardian. I’m halfway through cooking when I get a phone call or I’m late coming home from work.
One scenario is starting to cook and when Carlos comes home allowing the following conversation to ensue:
“Hey love. Great, you’re home. Can you finish dinner for me? I just need to call my Dad”
“Sure, what can I do?”
(Pause as I quickly task manage a list of requirements, cooking times, recipe measurements and steps in my head and tailor it to this situation)
“Ok, so just boil the potatoes, blend the pesto ingredients and boil the eggs. We can add some salad on the side when I get back”
3 minutes later, his voice trails down the hallway corridor.
Where’s the pesto? How many potatoes do you want? How long should I boil the eggs for? Cold water or hot water? Do we have stuff to make salad?
I tell Dad I’ll call him back. Mentally, it’s just easier that I do it myself. I will remain frustrated. He doesn’t understand what he’s done wrong. He was happy to help me and make dinner.

The Thermomix has an inbuilt scale with a ‘next step’ touch screen recipe built in. The instructions are clear and the timer sautés and steams and boils and simmers for you. This is the moment I realised that I may consider buying one. Because the mental load would disappear. I could, during the week, split the cooking 50/50 and just walk away. I could spend my weekends using a tool that helps me make pesto and nut milk so that there’s so much less horrible packaging in our home. I could create at the weekends with my time. The time I would make back with space in my head after the mental load leaked out and away.

Do I need a Thermomix to do that or simply keep reading the book and get Carlos to cook 50% of the time while I leave the house? Will I continue to be disappointed or jaded with my own cooking? Will I still need to manage the household simply because I’m a woman? Do I really need to buy a machine that costs almost $2500 NZD simply because I’ve lost the will to live in the kitchen?

I just don’t know. All I’m sure of is that my loving, practical, attentive, modern and feminist partner still falls into the same trap of expecting me to take the household management mental load on 24X7 and I find myself resentful in the kitchen making vegetables with rice and no flavour or sighing at a raised toilet seat or another half completed shopping list.

I think back to my modern parents and all the feminist and modern ideals they raised us with. I think to the regular conversations I have with my female friends about their identical predicament. I think back on the chapter I just finished in Boys will be Boys and I realise we have a very long way to go yet.

And a Thermomix isn’t going to magically solve the issue. Though maybe recognising that we are lacking in sufficient tools (including time, energy, creativity, money and hardware) could be the starting point.

1 comment:

  1. 👍👏🤗❤
    Where do I get myself one of those newfangled thangs?