The first time my Sweetie and I had a tiff, it was because he got all up in my grill. I was hosting dinner for a few friends at my apartment, cooking up some meat and veggies on my patio Weber, when he actually nudged me aside in a not-so-subtle attempt to take charge. As we jockeyed hip-to-hip over the flames, there flashed between us the early sparks of a loving domestic power struggle.
In my first marriage, I had been in charge of the kitchen, the grill, and the groceries. As a working single mom with a preschooler, I was in charge of everything. I chafed, at first, when my then-boyfriend began to maneuver his way into my cooking space.
And yet — as a working single mom with a preschooler (let’s add the adjective “exhausted” here) — I was no fool. Yes, there may have been some minor control issues at play, but I wasn’t blind to the fact that here was a man who was not only willing to make dinner for my son and me; he enjoyed it. Preparing food relaxed him. I was harried and distracted and feeling lucky if we had enough clean underwear to last the week, and this culinary hero would swoop in after work, roll up his shirtsleeves, don an apron, and cook us food. No, I was no fool. I married this man.
Today, that preschooler is a ravenous, 6-foot-1 high-schooler, and we have a hearty-eating grade-schooler at home as well. I long ago ceded control of the kitchen (and the grill and the groceries), at least for everyday meals. And I admit, I don’t hate sitting down to a gorgeous dinner that I didn’t lift a finger to prepare.
But in the past few years, my Sweetie and I have entered a new phase in our culinary relationship: the Jill-is-now-a-food-and-nutrition-editor phase. I have found that, in my role at Experience Life, merely having a grammatical grasp of recipes contributed by our Confident Cooks isn’t sufficient. Sharing the healthy-eating recommendations of our Nutrients experts without trying them out myself seems journalistically negligent.
Which means I am in the kitchen a lot more often these days. Mostly I do what I call “food projects” — whirring up a jarful of Melissa Joulwan’s Paleo Mayo, or making a batch of Angela Liddon’s Endurance Crackers. Or I’ll experiment with new-to-me foods like smoked mackerel, which I now know is a handy way to add a shot of omega-3 and vitamin D to my lunchtime salads, and techniques like spiralizing, which lets me swap in nutrient-dense zucchini noodles for refined-grain pasta.
I haven’t nudged my Sweetie out of the kitchen just yet. It’s awfully nice having a personal chef. He even takes requests, and has added a few Confident Cook–inspired recipes to his repertoire, including Michelle Tam’s Kalua Pork and several dishes from Allen Lim’s cookbook, Feed Zone Table.
Since he travels a fair amount for work, though, I do get to flex my meal-prep muscles now and then — which I’ve (re)discovered entails a lot more than executing a recipe. On a recent Sunday morning, finding myself the sole adult in the house for the next eight days, I sat for an hour with a cup of coffee, a stack of cookbooks, and several crumpled-up grocery lists and would-be meal plans. It’s not easy plotting out a week’s worth of nutritious, affordable, relatively easy-to-make dishes that also appeal to the resident 9-year-old. Especially when I’m so out of practice.
I inevitably fail at least once during each week at the kitchen helm, like the night I presented the kids with Baked Chicken With Minted Chimichurri — one of my favorite Rebecca Katz recipes — but had neglected to accurately gauge the internal temperature of the bone-in thighs. As she spit out her not-quite-done chicken, my daughter burst into tears and cried, “I miss Dad!”
Usually by day six or so, I hit my stride and dinners start coming together more easily. I even think, “I should offer to start cooking one or two nights a week.” (I also assure myself that I’m still the better griller.) But then my Sweetie comes home and takes his comfortable station at the stove, where he proceeds to create midweek feasts that I am far too lazy to attempt.
As he hands me a glass of wine and tells me to go relax while he makes dinner, I let go of my culinary ambitions. For now, anyway, I’ll let him claim the title of our family’s confident cook.