"just as we never ate together, neither did we sleep together"
September 18, 2017 3:11 AM   Subscribe

Do couples that cook together, stay together? [slGuardian]

I noticed, after a while, that the elaborate dinners were only prepared for an audience, and that when it was just the two of us, we mostly ate burritos with our hands as we watched television programmes about the bottom of the ocean.
posted by threetwentytwo (95 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
If food be the music of love, cook on.
posted by fairmettle at 3:30 AM on September 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

The first man I ever loved, 24 to my 18

Don't do that.Don't believe anything they tell you.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:50 AM on September 18, 2017 [12 favorites]

They stay together if there's enough room in the kitchen so that if there's more than one person in there they're not getting in my goddamn ... Uh... their way all the time.
posted by LionIndex at 4:15 AM on September 18, 2017 [46 favorites]

no true love is when you both have the same ideal set of pizza toppings
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:20 AM on September 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

I hate having someone buzzing around in the kitchen when I am trying to cook anything more complex than a stew, it really puts me on edge.
posted by biffa at 4:32 AM on September 18, 2017 [15 favorites]

Good lovin' don't last, good cookin' do.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:35 AM on September 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

...The piece is actually more about EATING together than it is COOKING together, though.

And thirding the "I can't cook with anyone else in the kitchen with me". A well-meaning friend once was hanging around in my kitchen to "keep me company" while I was preparing something for guests, and she kept on having to move out of my way because she was standing right where I needed to be, and after about five minutes she saw that my shoulders had crept up towards my ears and said "you want me to go sit in the living room, don't y-"


...Another friend hovered outside the kitchen while I cooked, simply watching for a while; at the same time, his then-girlfriend was sitting at my dining room table trying to fix my wine bottle opener. My friend looked from me to his girlfriend and then chuckled and said that "this is like two entirely different zones of 'don't fuck with me, I'm working' going on here."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:43 AM on September 18, 2017 [25 favorites]

....Hit "post" too soon:

My father and my brother are also the same way. Which lead to a moment of high comedy one Thanksgiving eve, when my brother was hosting; my parents and I went over to stay the night before, and were doing a little of night-before-the-feast prep.

Three strong-mined independent chefs, sharing one kitchen.

My father and brother got into an intense debate about the spice makeup of the brine for the turkey, and meanwhile I was snarking at them to shut up about the damn sage and get out of my way so I could peel the damn carrots, sheesh....and meanwhile, my mother and sister-in-law had cracked open a bottle of wine and were sitting at the table, watching the show and laughing. I think my sister-in-law even considered making some microwave popcorn.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:47 AM on September 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

having RTFA'ed I think that's a terrible clickbait title for a personal essay about the intimacy of sharing meals and creating food for a partner.

My wife and I don't cook together. We take turns cooking for each other, but we stay out of each other's way when one of us is running the kitchen. Still, we take pleasures in introducing each other to dishes. She taught me about the simple joys of steaming an artichoke and dipping its leaves in lime and butter, and of sliced radishes with a bit of salt. I take pride in her saying that she's usually indifferent to roasted zucchini, but she loves it when I do it. She got me into the habit of making batches of soup and freezing it as a reserve for a lazy weeknight. I introduced her to the ease of homemade aioli.

If, as the author asserts, there is an alchemy and particular evolution to a couple's mutual diet that reflects on their relationship, our is about service and continuously finding ways to surprise and delight each other.
posted by bl1nk at 4:53 AM on September 18, 2017 [28 favorites]

I generally hate having someone in the kitchen - but the exception is my immediate family: mum, sisters, probably brother.

Mum especially. Doing a Christmas lunch with her was a bloody delight, it was like a cosmic ballet we were so attuned. We are both excellent cooks, and I learnt so much from her growing up.

Cooking with someone who knows what they're doing - and who you probably subconsciously inherited your kitchen layout from - is wonderful. You are both operating from the same assumptions and priorities. It amazed me how much time we saved.

But my wife and I? Nah. She can't really cook for nuts, and the last thing she wants in there is my presence, which alone carries perceived criticism. And I find her... not operating from the same assumptions when I cook with her.
posted by smoke at 4:54 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

And people wonder why the Samaritans are busy at Christmas.
posted by biffa at 4:54 AM on September 18, 2017

EmpressCallipygos -- the first moment when I, as a child, learned that multiple chefs in a kitchen was a bad idea was when I was a child, and we had my grandmother live with us for a few years. There was a Very Significant Birthday for my father coming up, and my mom was trying to make something nice for him, but my grandmother (her mother-in-law) would insist on remote controlling and micromanaging each dish throughout the day. Because obviously, my mom didn't know her son as well as she did. Obviously, my mom didn't have as many years of experience cooking. Obviously ... I couldn't take the tension anymore and left.

Then at some point, the roast was in the oven, the desserts were chilling in the fridge, the scraps were cleaned up, and there was a reason for an hour long pause so everyone retreated to their corners. My mother came up to my room, took off her apron, sighed, and said, "do you know what the Chinese symbol for 'discord' is? It's two women in a kitchen."

I never fact checked my mom on that assertion, but it comes to mind whenever I cook with a group. Someone has to be the dictator, everyone else is just a tool that they control with their voices. All else leads to tension within easy reach of sharp and hot implements.
posted by bl1nk at 5:00 AM on September 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

Do couples…stay together?

Generally not, no. There's not a secret magic trick to making relationships last. Most pairs of people people just aren't compatible enough.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:15 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

A couple of years ago (as a New Year's resolution, actually), my sweetie and I decided to cook more and with more variety. It was mostly but not entirely because there's nowhere good to eat near where she works, so she wanted to be able to bring in nice leftovers as lunches. So now, every weekend, we make a couple of large dishes together, picking them out of cookbooks we're particularly fond of. The recipes are not always something super-elaborate (although occasionally we will do that), but they are usually more complex than just "throw stuff in a pot" type things.

It. Is. AWESOME! We're eating better and tastier food, we're spending less on eating out, we've become better cooks, and it's a fun way to spend time together. We pick out the dishes together, and we generally divide up the tasks in some way (e.g., "How about I chop up the potatoes and onions while you prep the sauce?"). Sometimes we do it head chef / sous chef style with one person nominally in charge of a particular dish, more often we'll just work together. Very occasionally, when one of us is super-busy, the other one will just cook everything as a present that week, but we actually prefer to do it as a couple at this point.

I realize not everyone has the time or the inclination for this, so I'm not saying it would be like that for all people. But as one data point, I honestly didn't think I was someone who would have the time or the inclination for it, and it turned out to be great.
posted by kyrademon at 5:21 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Well... people who enjoy doing things together will probably stay together, yeah?

As for the contingent who prefer to cook alone, if your partner understands that and gives you space to do things your way, that's also good for a relationship.

I don't think there's anything special about cooking or eating together; it's just one of the many daily activities of living with others that we need to navigate. It's hard to stay in love with someone you don't really get along with.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:37 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

When someone wants to help me cook, I ask them if they want to do food stuff or metal stuff. Food stuff is peeling, chopping, slicing, rolling, crushing pepper, whatever. Metal stuff is opening cans, putting water on to boil, making sure the colander is clean for when we need it, and so on. This really helps. Still, though, when they need something new to do, it's me that collects everything they need and puts it in front of them.

I dated someone, briefly, whose contribution included coming to the kitchen just as the food was ready and asking why there wasn't a salad.

Someone else would come up behind me and hug me while I was cooking, pinning my arms at my sides for however long it seemed was necessary. I had to eventually resort to using, "I have asked you not to touch my body in that way. You don't have permission to touch my body in that way" type language before it stopped.

All this to say, my dream kitchen has a mezzanine at one end with a very comfortable couch on it. You can go there, and you can stay there, and eventually we will eat.
posted by tillermo at 5:40 AM on September 18, 2017 [11 favorites]

Betteridge's Law can be cruel sometimes.
posted by Sangermaine at 5:42 AM on September 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

There was one woman I did a fair bit of cooking with - half the time it was an exercise in compromise, me trying to Get It Right and her alternately trying to get it done or implement a random spur of the moment idea. The other half where we just dropped the cooking altogether was more fun.
posted by Dr Dracator at 5:43 AM on September 18, 2017

we mostly ate burritos with our hands as we watched television programmes about the bottom of the ocean.

But this sounds lovely?
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 5:54 AM on September 18, 2017 [35 favorites]

no true love is when you both have the same ideal set of pizza toppings

no it's when you hate the other's pizza toppings and then no one's pizza gets stolen.
posted by corvine at 6:02 AM on September 18, 2017 [18 favorites]

I mean, if my husband said to me "do you want to just pick up Chipotle for dinner? Also there's a documentary about our amazing undersea brethren that I really want to watch" I think it would sound great even though I don't love documentaries? He's an excellent cook and he does cook normally but if he said this literally every night it would be okay with me. I don't think the issue is "burritos and shows about the ocean are bad" or "you have to cook together", I think it's always a question of whether you enjoy the same things, and most especially, whether you enjoy doing them together even when no one's watching.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 6:03 AM on September 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

Later this week I'm moving from a flat with a kitchen that is standing room only for at most two people with their arms at their sizes, to a house with a kitchen big enough for a bloody dining table at one end, completely out the way of the counters (several!) and sink. This is going to make the difference between cooking with my partner being... difficult (and cooking with anyone else, impossible) and being able to put together a meal with even those of my friends with the worst spatial awareness. I cannot wait.
posted by Dysk at 6:04 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

But this sounds lovely?

It does sound nice, and it's a way of doing things together, which is generally a good thing in a relationship.

We mostly take turns cooking, rather than cooking together, but it is still a shared effort and something we enjoy.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:05 AM on September 18, 2017

"If I’m brave enough to identify the through line here, at the small compromises that add up to unhappiness, I know it is not the men in my life but I who chose them...We consent to the wrong life in small ways, less by what we say than what we don’t, maybe less by how we behave than by the behaviour we accept."

Creating and enjoying meals together can be a way that willing and empathetic partners enter into a project and share both its labor and its many levels of meaning. Laboring alone to make all of the rhubarb compotes and squid risottos, and hoping, in vain, that they are seen as much more than meals, is quietly corrosive to that partnership.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:10 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Families, too...when I was a kid one of the iron-clad rules my parents had was if you were home when dinner was served, you sat at the dinner table and ate with everyone else, no matter what. I had friends whose families ate separately, and when I would visit it felt weird and somewhat alienating to take our plates down to the basement or wherever.

As for my wife and I, we always eat together, but she does most of the cooking (cleaning up afterwards, that's where I'm a viking) and aside from some occasional vegetable chopping support work she usually prefers it if I stay out of her way in our not-large kitchen.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:16 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, the key to cooking with other people is having a hierarchy (this is how professional kitchens handle this issue as well, so it's got a broad set of endorsements). If doesn't have to be involved, but it needs to be one person cooking, and the other(s) helping. So the person in charge can go "ooh, could you just chop this up for me?" or get some onions peeled, or put someone in charge of making sure the potatoes don't boil over or get overcooked, etc. Having people (friends) kitchen porter for you is lovely (at least once you've sussed their skills and know what jobs to give or not give them - even the worst cook can 'help' by tasting things for the 'taste and adjust' seasoning process, even if you then go on to quietly ignore their feedback) but there is little more awesome than hanging out in someone else's kitchen, sipping on a glass of wine or beer, occasionally stopping to clean some mushrooms, or chop some garlic, or lazily stir a sauce that needs to just come to the boil, while chatting, absorbing new ideas or techniques, and glorying in the anticipation and aromas. Possibly one of life's greatest joys.
posted by Dysk at 6:16 AM on September 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

We cook dinner for each other. Breakfast and lunch are your problem. Sometimes dinner is as brainless as setting a timer for some frozen glop. Occasionally my wife gets a wild hair and it's a production number. Me, I'm strictly short order greasy spoon, as witnessed by last night's migas. We worked together for a number of years behind a bar so we are fairly adept at staying out of the way. What we have pretty much abandoned is the pretense of sitting down at a table for a meal. Think Alamo Drafthouse style except not in the dark and substituting computers for the silver screen. We reached a compromise on pizza toppings and religiously avoid including dreaded comestibles in shared meals. It's been 39 years so this just might work out...
posted by jim in austin at 6:34 AM on September 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

After 20 months having a slow cooker in a box in the larder last week I splurged £2.32 on a skinny veggie slow cooker recipe book and unpacked the box while on a 'working from home' day. Ten minutes undisturbed prep, 6 hours of heating = tasty, healthy glop and positive response. I can see why people like them.
posted by biffa at 6:42 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

bl1nk: If, as the author asserts, there is an alchemy and particular evolution to a couple's mutual diet that reflects on their relationship, our is about service and continuously finding ways to surprise and delight each other.

This is a delightful way to express how any sort of shared experience in a healthy relationship should be.

I can't help but be sad for the writer. She yet has much to figure out.
posted by slipthought at 7:06 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Then there can be made a case for this being impractical for various interpersonal destractibility issues and an understandable dislike for emergency room visits.
posted by sammyo at 7:23 AM on September 18, 2017

They stay together if she doesn't eat the whole pie we made without saving me a piece.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:30 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about this on and off; there are people I'm able to share a kitchen with, and I think a lot of it comes down to power. In all cases that I've been able to cook with someone, it's been pretty clearly deliniated who is the "head chef" - either I'm the one in charge and they yield to "I will chop things as you need them, and I'll step to the dining room to do that so I'm not in your way," or I am the sous-chef and they are in charge. An old boyfriend and I excelled at that - we would cook enormous multi-course feasts for friends on occasion and that was always how it worked. Sometimes he had head-chef duties for the whole meal, sometimes I would; and sometimes we would split up who would "take charge" for a given dish.

Having one person in charge as "head chef" during two-person cooking is really important. But not easy. Not everyone can totally give up decision-making like that, especially if they're an active cook; the definition of "diced onion" can change from one chef to another. And the head chef also has to trust the sous-chef sometimes, and let go some control of that element in the sense that maybe the basil will not be chopped exactly the way you would if you were doing it yourself, but past a certain point it actually doesn't matter and the job is still done. the whole issue of cooking with someone introduces some interesting dymanics in power, detail, and control.

And now add the power dynamics inherent in a romantic relationship on top of that and things get complicated even further.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:35 AM on September 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

I think the moment that my fiancée realized that I was serious about our relationship was when I sang to her (to the tune of Just What I Needed by The Cars):

I don't mind you coming here
And de-alphabetizing my spices

It was mostly symbolic; I actually very much mind her de-alphabetizing my spices. Accordingly, I do 95% of the cooking in our relationship (and 100% of the dishes; I have never found a romantic partner who washes dishes to a standard that I consider acceptable).
posted by Parasite Unseen at 7:52 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

OMG, people keep their spice rack alphabetized are the worst.
posted by peeedro at 7:57 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Alphabetic spice racks? That's horrible. The right way to organize a spice rack is by groups of related flavors, so if you're not quite sure what you need, you can sort of look around a bit in the general area where it should be, and if you need something specific, it's within a group of less than ten things that you can find easily.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 8:01 AM on September 18, 2017 [13 favorites]

> "OMG, people keep their spice rack alphabetized are the worst."

How on earth do you find spices when you need them?
posted by kyrademon at 8:01 AM on September 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

>Do couples…stay together?

Generally not, no. There's not a secret magic trick to making relationships last. Most pairs of people people just aren't compatible enough.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:15 AM

uuhhhh, eponysterical i guess
posted by tivalasvegas at 8:01 AM on September 18, 2017 [8 favorites]

Food is such an intimate way to connect with people. I once turned down a good dating opportunity with someone who's vegetarian, because I'm not into that, and I knew that it would just be an endless source of frustration.

Also: when I was little, my father posted the following Momma cartoon on the refrigerator: when Tina hears that Momma is coming over, she puts up a sign in the kitchen that reads "occupancy by more than _1_ person is dangerous and unlawful." It remained there for my entire childhood, and my mother never got the joke. To this day, I don't even clear the table at her house because I'll do it wrong.
posted by Melismata at 8:04 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sharing food with loved ones has always been a key component in maintaining relationships in my experience. Not much of a stretch really as I'd argue it is hard wired in us to share meals. When I cook for my family it is (just about) always about sharing a love that I am not always able to express.

But in regards to actually cooking together I'd say it depends. Some people really seem to relish it and work well as a team. I'm always amazed by this and perhaps a little jealous. I loathe being distracted while cooking and I'd say our relationship's longevity (20+ years) is based on the fact that my partner knows to stay out of the kitchen when I'm cooking. So early on we developed an understanding (rather than a compromise) - I'm happy to cook every meal if I'm allowed to do so on my own, with occasional help. It works for us but I like cooking and see it as an expression of creativity and love. I have no idea how couples who hate cooking and hate eating together do it.

no true love is when you both have the same ideal set of pizza toppings

True love is when you recognise your pizza toppings don't overlap and you get your own pizza but still enjoy eating the different pizzas together. You can always share the wine.
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:05 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I hate having someone buzzing around in the kitchen when I am trying to cook anything more complex than a stew, it really puts me on edge.

My wife and I have learned to measure our success in the kitchen not in how we prepare meals together - we both seem to prefer to cook alone - but in our ability to both be in the kitchen at work at the same time without getting in each other's way. So I might be putting together the kids lunches while she makes her breakfast in the morning; or one of us is cooking dinner while the other is perhaps doing some baking or somesuch. It's that ability to dance around each other to each accomplish an independent project - anticipating the timing of being able to access a needed cupboard or utensil drawer, or being able to bend out of the way just enough to allow your partner to do so while not interrupting your own task - that provides its own kind of fun when doing it well.

We do work well together when it is time for the dishes, however.
posted by nubs at 8:06 AM on September 18, 2017

How on earth do you find spices when you need them?

Herbs and spices are reliably abandoned in the last place I put them, including but not limited to worktops, tables, on top of the radio and when very confused in the freezer.

It's the seasoning equivalent of the Dirk Gently Zen school of navigation. I may not end up with the seasoning I intended, but I will often end up with the seasoning I need.
posted by Vortisaur at 8:09 AM on September 18, 2017 [7 favorites]

The right way to organize a spice rack is by groups of related flavors

It pleases me to know I've been doing this the right way for so many years. Now if only I could remember to return them to the spice rack after I finish cooking...

I cook, the beau doesn't. I enjoy cooking alone, where it doesn't matter if I make a mess, or where I can lick the batter bowl without anyone noticing. But now that our kitchen is a little bigger, I don't mind having him around. Mostly, it means he sits at the kitchen table and does the tedious tasks for me -- grating cheese, chopping vegetables -- or he's at the sink, rinsing and washing up after me.

I try to wash as I go, but sometimes, there's three pots on the stove and the sauce is splattering and the other pot won't thicken, and the oven started buzzing, of course. That's when I really appreciate the extra set of hands and the foot or so he has on me to reach the tall cabinets.
posted by PearlRose at 8:13 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

> "... groups of related flavors"

I honestly don't even know what this is supposed to mean. Where does dill go? What tastes like dill other than dill? How about mustard powder? Allspice goes next to what? I wouldn't even know where to put mint. I guess asafoetida and garlic powder could go next to each other, maybe onion powder, but what else? Does basil go with oregano so you can make pasta sauce easily or with radhuni and nigella so you can mix the berbere without fuss? If you group cumin and cumin seeds and coriander and cardamom and cardamom pods and curry powder and garam masala and turmeric and ginger and tamarind and crushed chilies and fenugreek and mustard seeds and cinnamon sticks together as "Indian spices", wouldn't you have to start alphabetizing to find something specific anyway? I AM SO CONFUSED.
posted by kyrademon at 8:20 AM on September 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

My partner and I met while we were both working in a library. We keep the spice racks alphabetized.
posted by asperity at 8:31 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

to go with the author's style about relationships and sharing food ...

my first serious girlfriend and I never really cooked for each other. We both lived in separate cheap, grubby apartments that we shared with other roommates. Neither of us knew how to cook properly. My only cookbook was a small paperback of Craig Kilborne recipes that were dated when I started university. The oven in my apartment went on strike about six months into our residency, and we were too afraid to bring it up w/ our landlord in the event that he'd blame us for breaking it (I suspect that may be true, but it was never clear who the culprit was). Her apartment was a continuous state of squalor and communal idleness. People were always coming and going -- pre gaming, after partying, and just hanging out. The table in the eat in kitchen was covered in ashtrays, week old newspapers, and a jar of sea monkeys that had been overcome with algae. My only memory of cooking at her apartment was making fries and warming up gravy for people who were playing videogames in the living room. In my place, my roommates and I would host parties that would run all night, and, as dawn approached, I'd cook up a pan of scrambled eggs and then fry some garlic and re-fry some Chinese takeout rice that we ordered earlier in that evening, and I'd serve that to people before we kicked them out to the buses and subways.

I dated someone else briefly after that. She'd come over to binge watch HBO with me, and sometimes she'd bring some banana bread that she had made with another friend, and I felt jealous for that friend.

The first person that I ever lived with was an engineer, and we worked out the system of alternating cooking nights. She was more regimented, I was more freeform. She had more consistent dishes, mine tended to evolve. The only time we cook together is Thanksgiving, and we developed a spreadsheet to time dishes and arrange for turns of who got to be in charge. Both of us collected cookbooks and would spend weekend evenings, reading recipes off to each other, trading them the way some other couples would trade off articles in The New Yorker. I still think of that sweet potato dish that I make as 'hers' even if it's from another cookbook. She discovered it first. We are no longer together, but we're still friends and we go camping together, but we don't share meals. We'll heat up a pot of water to boil and split to cook our food separately. We still co-host a Thanksgiving, but it's at her place, and I just bring my dishes to her dining room.

There was a period of dating after that -- no cohabitation, but I remember dishes that different partners and I would share with each other once things proceeded to the point where we'd be invited to other's home.

I had moved to a one bedroom then, in a cheap apartment with no dining room and a tall butcher block that was both kitchen island and, with the addition of a couple of stools, a dining table. A simple roast chicken for one. A pizza that someone else and I took turns shaping and topping, to share while snowed in on a blizzard. My mom's chicken adobo for when another relationship was about to end, but I didn't want her to go without sharing this one last bit of comfort.

The first dish that I ever cooked for the woman who would become my wife was a breakfast of garlic fried rice and scrambled eggs. The first dish that she ever made for me was scotch broth. Left to her own devices, my wife would just eat peanut butter and banana sandwiches for days. She appreciates a good meal, but just isn't interested in putting labor into cooking. So we've settled into this nice dynamic where I cook most of the time, put away leftovers, and manage kitchen inventory. She loads the dishwasher. We split unloading. I keep her in homemade granola and peanut butter and mayonnaise. She gives me prompts for menus when I'm being indecisive or uninspired. "Maybe a fish thing? Do you remember that tuna sauce you made for that pasta dish that one time?" When we have people over for dinner, she'll toss together a salad that we can keep in the fridge undressed, and she assembles trays of cheese and olives while I focus on the entree and sides. We ask our guests to bring desserts because neither of us can be bothered.
posted by bl1nk at 8:32 AM on September 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

Alphabetizing spice racks makes it easy to find the spices, and I already know what flavours go together, so I don't need to group things (we're also really good about keeping spices stocked).

My wife and I definitely instinctively follow the "lead cook / support staff" role assignments, but I think there's an equally important distinction to be made with "recipe book vs. just wing it" types of cooks. She's a book person, I'm a "turn leftover stuff into food" person. So it's pretty easy for me to slide into a support role when she cooks, but I can be a bit of a tyrant/weirdo when I cook, and sometimes it's easier just to let me improv than to try to have me explain what I have in mind when I don't have anything in mind yet.
posted by Shepherd at 8:36 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Alphabetized spice racks sound like a dream, but my current reality is putting them in the pantry where we can't see the labels because it's not like we use most of them often but where's the cinnamon and why do we have three jars of nutmeg and we should really organize these one day it would be so much nicer. Today? Nah, later.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:36 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

bl1nk's story reminds me of when my wife and I were first dating; things got serious on our fourth date when I invited her over to my place so I could cook dinner for her. Which impressed her; she hadn't really dated many guys who cooked.

Anyways, I was doing some meat on the BBQ and because my grill was rather small, I had the garlic bread in the oven, and I asked her to keep an eye on it while I went in and out to check the meat. Because we were both a little distracted with each other as well, the garlic bread didn't get checked and burnt to a crisp.

Fortunately, I had another loaf around, so we didn't lose that aspect of the meal. And...well, let's just say we're still married 16 years later and sometimes laugh about the burnt garlic bread.
posted by nubs at 8:40 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Grumpybearbride and I are able to share the stove without issue. It took a long time and many grumpy outbreaks to get here, but it has become critical bit of relationship infrastructure. The underlying themes of any healthy relationship, IMHO, are trust and teamwork. When two people with knives are taking up 30" of flaming cooktop, those are must-haves.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:41 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

The kitchen is MINE. I will share it with my daughter, because she is an excellent sous chef who only has to be taught to do something one time and she's got it. I don't share it with my son, because he's just USELESS in there! Also, he doesn't enjoy it, so I'm happy to have him sit at the island and talk to me while I'm cooking. Same goes for my husband. Just useless to me in the kitchen...unless I need something from the tops of the cupboard shelves.

But they're all really, really good at appreciating my cooking and making me feel like I've done something special and awesome for them when I feed them delicious food. And they clean up afterward! Win-win!
posted by cooker girl at 8:46 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Where does dill go? What tastes like dill other than dill?

With caraway, and other things that go in slaws and bread, but not sauces.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:48 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Craig Kilborne recipes
Craig Claiborne?
posted by soelo at 8:52 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Allspice goes next to what?

With the other baking spices (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc).

Y'all would hate our spice cabinet, which is so awkwardly shaped the only way to get everything in is to organize it by container size and shape. So in our kitchen you have to know that paprika is in the tins we bought in Budapest (and mustard is in a different tin we bought in Norwich), but cayenne is in a little container on the left, and cardamom is with the tall skinny glass bottles in the back where they won't cause catastrophe if they get knocked over. Those Penzey's gift boxes people keep buying us are behind the paprika. The dry rub we use for pork is behind that. Basil is in the freezer, as long as it was actually in stock the last time we tried to buy it.

Yes, I have to find every spice when my wife cooks.
posted by fedward at 8:57 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am a fine cook, but only one of my ex-bf's could cook. And he was a magnificent cook. Literally could make a spectacular meal from whatever he found in the fridge. Just this moment I am recalling his perfect fettucine carbonara. Heaven on a plate.

Being faithful and not body shaming me were things he couldn't manage, however, and we only lasted a year. Alas.
posted by droplet at 8:58 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Alphabetizing spice racks

Seems like a strange thing to do but we all cook differently I guess. I organise things by frequency of use and nature of use. Heavily used spices are kept on the counter in a lazy susan rack. All umami boosters are stored together with the salt and pepper in the cupboard. Specifically Indian spices (like amchur or hing) are kept together in another area and everything else is in a drawer. So different storage areas delineate the differing usage. The other way I determine the difference is by choosing to use different shape containers for various types. The scale of spice usage would not lend itself well to alphabetizing.

Where does dill go?
In someone else's house.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:05 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm pro-alphabetization. I've tried the "groups of related flavors" but there are some spices that bridge multiple flavor groups. Where am I supposed to put cumin? I put cumin in all the things.

If I had a bunch of recipes I'd data science the shit out of this.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:07 AM on September 18, 2017

Where am I supposed to put cumin? I put cumin in all the things.

That's why I put together spices that are used frequently closer at hand rather than away in a drawer.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:09 AM on September 18, 2017

Craig Kilborne recipes
Craig Claiborne?
I KNEW I'D GET THAT WRONG. That's what I get for writing MeFi comments in the dead minutes between meetings

Anyway, to the spice topic -- I also do non-alphabetical sorting, and it's roughly by recipe family. Like, the oregano, chile and epazote kind of sits near each other because that's what I pull for when we're doing Latin dishes, and there's another shelf that has the dried thyme, tarragon, and bay leaves, and it's not too far from the Latin shelf because sometimes I need the oregano too. Urfa chiles, dried mint, paprika, sumac has a different shelf. There's a shelf for catch all pie/dessert spices, like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc. but I also keep a second jar of cinnamon in the basket with All Things For Granola, so that when I do the weekly batch, there's just one basket to pull from the pantry to start the prep. Salt is in its own place.

Basically, that's the guiding principle for me. For certain dishes that use a lot of flavors together because they come from a certain region of the world (ie. Western Europe, Latin America, East Asia, Middle East, South Asia) I'll keep their seasonings close enough to each other that I can just grab them with one hand, and allow a few to float around as they frequently guest star in other dishes.
posted by bl1nk at 9:09 AM on September 18, 2017

The only correct way to organize spices is by frequency of use, and THEN by repertoire.

All other ways are wrong ways fit only for dens of iniquity.
posted by aramaic at 9:10 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

How do I find the spices? They're jammed into a double-decker lazy susan thing, with the stuff I use the most on the perimeter of the lazy susan. Irregularly-used spices and spice-adjacent things (cream of tartar, for example, or almond extract) gravitate to the centers. It's easy to find the stuff I use most often (because a spin will reveal it) and if it's not something I use that often, like whole cloves, I know I will have to look for it.
posted by which_chick at 9:11 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

> "... things that go in slaws and bread, but not sauces."
> "... baking spices (cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, etc)"

Oh, OK. So it's not actually grouping by flavor at all, it's grouping by most frequent use. Still not the way I would do it, but at least it's something that makes sense.
posted by kyrademon at 9:16 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Metafilter: Still not the way I would do it, but at least it's something that makes sense.
posted by Melismata at 9:19 AM on September 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'd call it more grouping by affinity than frequent use, because, say, while I only ever end up using cream of tartar when baking (snickerdoodles, mostly) I don't try to keep the cinnamon next to it, because the cinnamon gets used lots of other ways. When I had a more reasonably sized cabinet it was mostly that spices were found (wherever) and pulled out as used and then put away together when used together. In that way the spice cabinet was a little bit self-sorting, but I haven't had a reasonably sized cabinet in almost ten years so I've had to go to this size and shape thing. So the oregano used to be a bridge ingredient between the mostly Italian things and the mostly Mexican things, but now it's wherever the jar fits.
posted by fedward at 9:42 AM on September 18, 2017

Couldn't get past the clear indication that the author has poor taste displayed in the first two paragraphs.
posted by CheapB at 9:55 AM on September 18, 2017

Most pairs of people people just aren't compatible enough.

Homo sapiens' relatively short lifespan probably helps, though. If people lived 300 years, there'd probably be fewer couples growing old together.
posted by acb at 9:58 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

while I only ever end up using cream of tartar when baking (snickerdoodles, mostly)

Sorry for the derail but RL conundrum, just what the heck is cream of tartar and why is it needed in snickerdoodles?
posted by sammyo at 9:59 AM on September 18, 2017

> "I'd call it more grouping by affinity than frequent use ..."

I see what you're doing, but I don't think I'd be able to find anything ever without looking through ever single spice every time if I tried to do it that way. I use too many things in too many different combinations for that to really work.
posted by kyrademon at 10:08 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

what the heck is cream of tartar and why is it needed in snickerdoodles?

Tartaric acid, a byproduct of wine production, used with baking soda as a leavener. This combination is preferred in snickerdoodles over baking powder (which combines soda and an acid in one convenient form) because it also adds a mild, but distinct, flavor component.
posted by fedward at 10:11 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also, tartar is good in meringues. And, of course, you have to say it like a pirate. Can you give me the cream of taaartaaaar, please? That's the best.

As for cooking, my wife and I often split the dishes. I'll be in charging of the stuff on the grill, for example, while she handles the sides made in the oven. This avoids the whole, whose-in-charge issue and let's us develop specialties over time.
posted by oddman at 10:17 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Cream of tartar also keeps your homemade play dough from going bad, so stock up.
posted by Biblio at 10:19 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I organize my spices into three distinct groups: Salt, pepper and Tex-Mex...
posted by jim in austin at 10:24 AM on September 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

The idea of putting the chili powder and pepper flakes and Volcano Spice in three completely different places on the spice rack, despite the fact that they are all Spicy Things, is absolutely mind-boggling to me. I don't cook from recipes all that often - so if I'm making soup off the top of my head, I don't want to browse down an alphabetical list of every possible herb and spice, because I know that there are a lot of families of herbs and spices on my shelf that do not belong in soup.

Dill? Goes with the other green leafy herbs. Cinnamon? Goes with the baking spices. Yeah of course cinnamon can go in tomato sauce sometimes but it lives with the baking spices because 90% of the time when I need cinnamon, I'm gonna also be reaching for allspice or nutmeg rather than say oregano.

When you organize your canned goods, do you do it alphabetically and put pinto beans and black beans and chickpeas in totally different parts of the cabinet? No, you put them on The Bean Shelf.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:27 AM on September 18, 2017 [10 favorites]

Based on my own personal observations the only thing that couples that stay together reliably do is stay together.
posted by srboisvert at 10:29 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

When you organize your canned goods, do you do it alphabetically and put pinto beans and black beans and chickpeas in totally different parts of the cabinet? No, you put them on The Bean Shelf.

That's because I'm alphabetizing as follows: "beans, black. beans, garbanzo. beans, kidney. beans, pinto."

Also, our spices are in a bunch of uniform jars that we bought from jarsinbulk.com (not the site's real name) and labeled, because we had too much time one weekend a few months ago. But sme of them are labeled with fake names but alphabetized under their real names. For example we have saffron, alphabetized under S but labeled "posh spice". Bay leaves are labeled "bullshit", because they are. Cinnamon is labeled "synonyms", but my wife wouldn't let me label annatto as "antonyms".
posted by madcaptenor at 10:32 AM on September 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

Based on my own personal observations the only thing that couples that stay together reliably do is stay together.

They reliably don't die, unless you count couples where one or both members is dead as "together".
posted by madcaptenor at 10:32 AM on September 18, 2017

I organize my spices alphabetically once every 3-5 years, and then let entropy take over. When I discover I have 3 or more jars of cumin is when I decide to get organized again.
posted by TedW at 10:33 AM on September 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

Oooh baby
Let - let's stay together
Whether spice is A to Z
Or by themes in your head
posted by notorious medium at 10:35 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Alphabetizing spice racks makes it easy to find the spices, and I already know what flavours go together, so I don't need to group things (we're also really good about keeping spices stocked).

I'm seriously bad at alphabetic order and just as bad at finding anything based on its place in the alphabet so putting spices in any order is useless to me. Even if they are ordered, I never trust my ability to look in the right place so I end up going through every drawer in the spice rack anyway.
posted by octothorpe at 10:36 AM on September 18, 2017

Metafilter: for the dead minutes between meetings.
posted by datawrangler at 10:48 AM on September 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

The demise in my marriage, as well as the relationship with my mother and former in-laws, can easily be told in fables about food.

The warning signs came early. My ex-husband suffered digestive symptoms. He ate aloe vera and restricted his diet heavily. I shopped for him and begged him to see a doctor. He acquiesced and was diagnosed with proctitis. His flare passed and he resumed a normal diet.

I became pregnant. I was responsible for preparing the evening meals. In the run-up to my delivery, I prepared three weeks of meals and stored them in the freezer. All that had to be done was to thaw the meals, prepare rice or pasta, and serve. Also, as I was due near Christmas, I invited my parents to come and spend Christmas with us.

I delivered my child via c-section four days before Christmas. The child failed to gain weight in the early days so she was on feeding plan. I had to pump and supplement.

My mother cooked Christmas dinner. My child awoke and wanted to feed, so I spent the dinner time feeding my daughter. Forty-five minutes later, I could eat my own meal. I was given a plate without gravy. I asked my mother to get some gravy for me. She told me to get my own gravy. She wasn't invited back for a long time.

After my parents departed, I asked my ex-husband to prepare the pre-frozen meals. He asked constant questions and basically failed to perform the task independently. I started preparing my own meals less than a week after my c-section.

For a while after this we settled into a routine. I was preparing the evening meals, my husband was enjoying them. We would split a bottle of wine in front of the wood stove in our log cabin style home. Or, in the summer, we would BBQ on the deck and have our daughter toddle around and throw the ball for the dog.

Later we sold the log cabin to move closer to family. And this is when the family and the food fell apart.

We lived with my former in-laws for six months until we found housing. They did all the grocery shopping. The fridge was stuffed to the gills with food of various provenance, mostly purchased at Costco. Everything from underripe green bananas to spoiled food. The pantry downstairs had canned chowder that expired in 1999 (this was 2012). It was an unspoken shared arrangement to do the evening meals, with a variable number of guests. Often we would eat out. Sometimes we would be left to prepare meals for twelve or more based on a partial set of ingredients scavenged from the good or bad foodstuffs. I felt like I lived in a perpetual Chopped mystery box challenge. The mental gymnastics to cook were quite taxing. The best part about moving out was getting my own kitchen and controlling the food supply.

At this time my ex-husband started experiencing digestive symptoms again, and again started restricting his diet heavily. I still bought whatever foods he liked, including Manuka honey and other things he thought curative. Eventually, he landed in hospital with ulcerative colitis and had an emergency surgery to remove his colon after the drugs failed. And this changed all the things.

We made the diet change to accommodate his new colon-free status, and he was still willing to eat a variety of foods cooked in a variety of preparations. We resumed our evening family meals and weekend restaurant lunches. Life proceeded.

In the next year, my ex-husband had a second scheduled surgery to begin the process of reconfiguring his guts to eliminate his ileostomy bag. It was a substantial surgery. Two weeks after his surgery, and just about a week after he was discharged from hospital, I fell off my bike and broke my elbow and pelvis. I was not to bear weight on left arm for six weeks and left leg for twelve. I had a major mobility problem. I stayed in hospital for a week.

Three days into my hospital stay, the hospital food became unbearable. I had meals brought in from outside. My ex-husband never brought them. I ordered take-out, had my colleagues and former in-laws bring meals. I excused this as he'd recently had major surgery. Then I came home.

Still refusing to make the family meals, it was my job to see to it that we had groceries and that dinner was prepared, and lunch served for my daughter. I called the parent counsel and arranged volunteers to prepare my child's lunch and walked her to school. We ate a fair share of takeout, which I ordered. Sometimes I would make homecooked meals. I cut a crusty loaf with one hand, securing it with a lid from a cast iron enameled pot. I chopped vegetables in the food processor. I used a rented hospital rolling table to move plates and food from one place to another. I was constantly transferring from my wheelchair to other parts of the kitchen. The kitchen was small enough that using the walker in it was quite difficult, so I held on to the counters and hopped from place to place. I impinged my shoulder from the overhead motions. Time marched on.

My ex-husband, still suffering gastro-intestinal problems, was now starting to micromanage his diet again. He frequently supplemented with Ensure, and to be healthier he would start adding Vega shakes and other such issues. He prepared for the final surgery to remove the ileostomy bag, which happened five months after my accident.

Three or four days post surgery, he begins to supplement the prescribed hospital diet with his own shakes. He calls me in pain telling me he is dying. He is vomiting and now suffering a suspected gastrointestinal blockage. Attempts to place the nasogastric tube failed. He goes on bowel rest. They start TPN, removing all of the food. This keeps him in hospital for another week.

At this time I remember spending a lot of time with my former in-laws as they helped care for my daughter. I was there for Easter, the party was due to start at 1. At 11 AM there was nobody there to prepare food. I made a meal for twenty with a fridge full of weird leftovers and half rotten food. The shrimp for the salad was scavenged from leftover pizza, the bread turned into the base of an egg strata. Fortunately for my former in-laws, they had a successful party with plenty of food.

When my ex-husband came home from hospital the whole thing fell apart. He refused to expand his diet again and complained vehemently about almost all family meals. The barbeque had cancer causing compounds. The vegetables could cause distress. Any ache or pain was allocated to improper food. I had to cook him a roast chicken every week, pancakes every Saturday, and shop every weekend or I didn't love him and he might die. He started eating every two hours or so, depending on some schedule he set, and often would not sit down with me and my daughter because he felt he needed to eat at some other time. He would start having cramps which he self-treated at onset by chugging magnesium, gatorade, and eventually soy sauce. He would scream for these items if he didn't have them and again I didn't care about him should I delay in providing them for any reason.

The last summer of our marriage, he worked at my former in-laws. My daughter spent the day there while I worked. Two or three times a week, he would call or text at 6 PM and tell me they were staying for dinner and wouldn't be home. Never in my life was I so lonely as eating at that table by myself.

The time I ordered a salad when he went out to eat, and he remarked that my food would kill him, my daughter piped up and said "your comments will get you a divorce". And she was right. Not long after, his verbal abuse escalated and I left him.

I gained twenty pounds when I left, mowing down comfort foods and takeout. Now I am building a healthy relationship with food again. The pleasure in eating and cooking has returned. I go to fancy restaurants, eat new foods, and enjoy life.

Any future partner of mine must, as a requirement, eat flexibly at restaurants, enjoy my cooking, and cook the evening meals sometimes. The joy and work must go both ways. Next time I want a true partnership in seeing to it that I get a decent meal.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:07 AM on September 18, 2017 [15 favorites]

I have a three-shelf spice rack so my spices are arranged "baking spices," "herbs," and "other spices," and then alphabetical within categories as God intended, and while I'm down with organizing spices based on frequency of use or flavor/genre families or kitchen location, I'm a little horrified by those of you discovering you have multiple jars of X spice open. (Like, in a "how does that even happen???" way.)

My husband is mostly not allowed in the kitchen while I'm cooking because he either tries to talk to me while I'm chopping, and I am clumsy so chopping is a 100% attention task, or he offers suggestions on how I could be doing things better and NO THANK YOU I WILL DO THEM MY WAY. (Absolute pet peeve suggestion: "You're using dried oregano? We have fresh oregano in the garden ..." THEY'RE NOT THE SAME THING! And no matter how many times I tell him they're not the same thing and I am not rejiggering my recipe to accommodate fresh herbs when I'm 90% through cooking it, he remains convinced that dried herbs are a poor substitute for fresh herbs in all situations.)

It is astonishing to me how different our kitchen intuitions are. I always pre-read the whole recipe and make sure I understand it and pull all the ingredients out. Every now and then I'm caught out because I thought the 9" pie dish was clean when it's in the dishwasher, but not often. He routinely starts a recipes without even reading the whole ingredient list, gets to step five, and discovers we have no brown sugar, no canned pickled hot peppers, and we don't own a stick blender anyway, and then he gets super-frustrated about it and I just cannot even a little bit understand starting a recipe without making sure you have all ingredients and tools first. He'll also get to step five and see "dried oregano" and think to himself, "oooh, I have fresh oregano in the garden" and LEAVE SOMETHING COOKING ON THE STOVE to go out and pick oregano which always takes twice as long as he thinks it will and he doesn't check how long he has before the next step so ALL THE TIME he comes back inside to a completely blackened omelet or whatever.

When we were first married we had a "one cooks, the other cleans" alternation before I realized I was getting royally screwed because I clean WHILE I cook (and generally minimize pots), so that when dinner's on the table everything's already in the dishwasher except the very last pan that was in use, the actual plates and utensils we're eating with, and the serving stuff, and generally I take 30 seconds to rinse the last pan or set it to soak and to wipe down the counter while all the splotches are wet. So cleaning up after I cook takes all of five minutes. My husband uses every pot in the house to make spaghetti, spills EVERYWHERE and doesn't wipe it up, and just leaves it all higgelty-piggelty on the counter with food drying on the unreasonable number of pots. I was like, "Wait a second, I do 90% of the dishes when I cook, and 100% of the dishes when he cooks!" so now we each do dishes on our own nights and I keep my absolute horror at the state of the kitchen to myself while he's in there acting like some kind of mad scientist with no OSHA standards. Also we have separate saute pans because I do not understand what he does to wreck my saute pans but we agreed it would be better just to not share anymore.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:15 AM on September 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

There is a post-script to my story. After I left my husband, I flew across the country with my daughter to visit my parents. We wanted one thing, which was high tea at a fancy hotel. I asked my mother to make the reservation. The day of the proposed tea comes along. Mom says they never returned her voice mail so we can't go to tea. I call the concierge and arrange our seating. The tea was nice. The bill comes. My parents didn't pay for my tea (after flying across the fucking country and paying for my divorce myself) and we split the bill. Mom wonders why I don't call.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:29 AM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Cooking together was probably my favorite thing to do with my husband. Unfortunately, having kids sets those small pleasure on fire for OH GOING ON FOUR YEARS NOW and dinner has become a whole terrible stressful thing compounded by our three and a half year old daughter eating nothing but pasta with butter and a side of fruit.

I know we can go back to cooking together soon, I do. Intellectually, this is a blip on the radar. Emotionally, I hate the time between 4pm and 7pm with something approaching self combustion.
posted by lydhre at 12:01 PM on September 18, 2017

Her: "Your sauerkraut smells like compost and you put hot sauce on everything because your taste buds are damaged."

Me: "Yeah well you burn everything you ever put in the oven and you overdo all the meat to the point that you might as well not eat meat."

10 years and we're going ok.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:36 PM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

I should put in a plug for the door-mounted spice rack that enables all that alphabetization. I love that it's adjustable and you can get shelves of different sizes, so that it's possible to have an oversize section for things like salt and chili powder that come in extremely large containers. No drilling required, so it's renter-friendly.
posted by asperity at 3:38 PM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

my dream kitchen has a mezzanine at one end with a very comfortable couch on it

My real-life kitchen has a row of vintage velvet theater seats along the wall opposite my worktop. Originally made for a university lecture hall, each seat comes with a little fold-away writing desk, just enough space for a glass of wine. My guests arrive, they sit down, we drink, we talk, I cook while they watch, and eventually we eat. It is an entirely satisfactory arrangement.

When we were first married we had a "one cooks, the other cleans" alternation before I realized I was getting royally screwed

I had that experience in my first marriage. I was a minimalist, and made a sport of cooking efficiently: here, I'll make the sauce in the same pan I used to sauté the vegetables, and now I'll whisk in the flour with the measuring spoon I've already dirtied, meanwhile the pasta's boiling, in a nice shiny pot I can use to serve it in; ta-da, dinner's done, isn't it tasty? And so little cleanup left for you, O my beloved!

My ex-wife embraced an entirely more expansive philosophy of cuisine; she delighted in challenging herself with complex processes and novel flavors, paying no more attention to clutter in the kitchen than she did in any other aspect of life. I'd walk in after one of her turns as chef and boggle at the way every inch of counter space appeared to have been used; saucepans heaped in the sink, knives and utensils scattered everywhere, spatterings of flour and oil and cream on the counters, on the walls...

There were many things about that partnership which simply did not work at all, but I do have many good memories of delicious meals we shared together.
posted by crotchety old git at 6:32 PM on September 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Where am I supposed to put cumin? I put cumin in all the things.

If you want to take a more scientific approach to bucket-sorting your spice rack, look at a flavor network. This Nature article even incorporates data from different cultural and historical cuisines. The cool thing about thisapproach is that it has some predictive value for trying new flavor combinations.

My preference is top 10 most recently-used spices to hand, the rest sorted by relatedness groups as I most frequently use them.
posted by Svejk at 1:11 AM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

What about spice rack by type? Whole spices, ground spices, dried herbs, powdered things, premixed powders, because that also sorts them into groups that will mostly be used at the same particular stage.
posted by lucidium at 5:12 AM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are very few people I can tolerate in the kitchen with me. My son, who cooks professionally; two particular friends who cook the way I do. THAT'S IT.

My husband thought he should "help" in the kitchen. Except, his idea of "helping" included questioning and arguing with everything I asked him to do. It finally came to a head when I asked him to prepare a pan a certain way for me and he argued about the pan I asked for, and then argued about how I was asking him to prep it, and I just snapped and told him to get the fuck out of my kitchen and stop getting underfoot, I had no need of someone second-guessing me when I was cooking. If I ask for something to be done a certain way, it's for a good reason!

He shut up, prepped the pan the way I asked him to, and has not set foot in the kitchen since. *BLISS* We eat together and have a great time of it. But cooking together will get him killed.
posted by MissySedai at 6:39 AM on September 19, 2017

The first time we ate terrible food at a neighbor's house I was five and realized just how great a cook my mom was and got interested. So we'd watch Julia Child and other shows and I'd stand on a stool and she'd explain what and why.

So when my dad left and mom was working all the time and fretting about feeding us I took over the kitchen. My little sister did prep and got interested and it was so good to see my mom be so pleased when she got home that we had dinner on the table. Just sit mom. Mom just glowed. We pulled off an exquisite Beef Wellington when we were 13 and 9. We stole the tenderloin. Things were that bad. We could have stolen a cheaper cut but if you are stealing, aim large. I could go out on the flood plain and illegally bag quail or a duck when I got home from school at three and we'd have it on the table by seven.

I think my ex married me largely because of my cooking. She's terribly underweight now.

So these days I'm teamed up with two other single parents who thought they could cook until they tasted mine. It was really gratifying when we first got together and their kids told me "This is incredible" and mine said "Yup. Daddy's the shit." Their mom's were "I don't think I ever want to cook for you. You'll just pretend you like it."

It's a big kitchen with plenty of room and the kids were interested so I did what my mom did with me and this year they started getting up early and having fantastic breakfasts on the table when I get home from a night of Ubering. I mean holy crap- an omelette with wild onions and wild carrots they pulled in the afternoon with the forethought that they would use them in the morning? Two over easy eggs with Hollandaise and pork belly between two crisp waffles with a tablespoon of sour cream. Just whoa. They are making shit up. I didn't teach them that. They made it up.

They are happy that I am happy and it makes me happy that they are happy because they want to return happiness to me. I retaliate with their packed school lunches. Cold lamb sandwiches with marinated mushrooms and onions and Swiss cheese on toasted foccacia. "Dad? The other kids ate half my lunch. They come after me like vultures. One bite I give them and they look at me like they want to eat ME! I'm going to have to like hide to eat. I'm really hungry. What do we got?"

I don't mind them in the kitchen. Love that comatose look when they are done and push away from the table.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:36 AM on September 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

They are happy that I am happy and it makes me happy that they are happy because they want to return happiness to me.

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:05 AM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Mr. Yuck: the early-access to the kitchen is also a reason why I'm into cooking myself. Although I think I got more from the neighbors' house than my mother's side - Mom taught me about ingredients and the basics, but she would hover in the door and get a little twitchy about us wiping up spills right away and such. Whereas the neighbor mom would clear out of the room when me and her daughter made cookies together, and gave us space to make mistakes and screw up and make messes, so long as we didn't burn the house down and would try to fix problems as they came up. More than one of our cooking sessions ended with me and my friend frantically running through her house swinging dishtowels around trying to fan smoke out of the air before her mom came home, but today, I am much more confident about trying new things in the kitchen because even if I fuck up a recipe, I know it's not going to blow anything up, really, and it's something I can laugh at later. That is a comfort zone that has been INVALUABLE.

It may also contribute to why I want people out of my kitchen while I cook - I get large and expansive and take up room, and make ungodly messes and they just get IN MY WAY dammit.

And about spice racks:

What about spice rack by type? Whole spices, ground spices, dried herbs, powdered things, premixed powders, because that also sorts them into groups that will mostly be used at the same particular stage.

I SORT OF do this. My spice "rack" is actually one shelf in a cabinet - and the spice blends are on one side, and single spices are on the other. Things tend to naturally fall into place based on frequency of use (I use a lot of cayenne and cumin, and a lot of the herbes de provence, so those are towards the front; the weird spice rub I only use for steak sometimes, and the garam masala and the turmeric, those go towards the back, and only get brought out if I'm making tandoori chicken or something.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:08 AM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, folks, I gotta say: spice drawer.

Not spice rack, not spice shelf.

Shallow drawer, labels on top, all things become easy.
posted by aramaic at 11:01 AM on September 20, 2017

Unless you're my mom, who bought a set of labels and a set of jars of uniform size and proceeded to label jars for spices she didn't actually have. Open drawer, see jar, don't see that jar is empty until it's too late.
posted by fedward at 11:07 AM on September 20, 2017

That’s only a problem if you’re buying the wrong spice jars. IMHO the best ones are flatter (more disk-like), not the old traditional upright-with-wire-bail style. Plus the disk-style ones don’t tip over.
posted by aramaic at 12:02 PM on September 20, 2017

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