I tried to remain calm. “I’d like mayonnaise on both slices of bread, please.”

My husband, Paul, thought I enjoyed sitting at the kitchen island, barking out food preparation orders to him.

But I didn’t. I just wanted lunch.

I recently had a second knee replacement surgery. This means being somewhat off my feet for at least a month. I say somewhat because a physical therapist was hustling me down the hall and up a few stairs a few hours after the procedure. An hour after that, I was headed home.

My recovery period does not involve lying around all day eating bonbons.

I’m not supposed to “overdo it,” but I am supposed to do a series of exercises three times a day, meet with a therapist several times a week and practice walking with the aid of a walker.


Although I have little free time between all this and the icing that must follow every exertion, I’m still bored out of my mind.

Cooking is one of my hobbies. It’s also my major job in the household. So it’s not easy for me to have to sit and tell Paul how to make a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.

Paul contributes much to the smooth running of our home. He does all the laundry, even the occasional ironing. He takes care of the finances and the vacuuming and the cats and dog. And although I am the “head gardener,” he digs the holes and mows the lawn.

He drove one of our cats, Leo, to the emergency veterinary clinic in Lewiston during a blizzard in January.

The one thing he does not do is cook. He never did much grocery shopping, either, but since this is my second surgery this year, he has become more proficient at it.

Cooking, however, remains the bane of his existence.


I vaguely remember that when Paul was single, he would make grilled cheese sandwiches, fried eggs and hamburgers for himself. But I have to acknowledge that he rarely seemed to do so. We ate out a lot during our courtship.

Luckily, I liked to cook. Plus, I believed that food and health are inextricably related. I aimed to cook tasty, mostly vegetarian fare, and taught myself how to do so. (My previous signature dish was teriyaki chicken wings.)

Just because I enjoyed cooking didn’t mean I always wanted to do it. Preparing supper after a day at work is a task, not a recreational activity. Whipping up a batch of muffins on a snowy afternoon is, on the other hand, my idea of a good time.

I also enjoy making food for special occasions. On Christmas Eve, for example, I bake a French meat pie (tourtière) using ground turkey (we don’t eat red meat), as Paul’s mother traditionally did. I relish using local, seasonal ingredients, including those from my own garden. When the first Maine wild blueberries appear, a pie is sure to follow from my kitchen.

Right now, I am doing none of those things. For the first few days, we subsisted on canned soup and Lean Cuisine. In addition to his many other fine qualities, Paul is very gracious about heating food up and serving it to me when I am incapacitated.

Once I could sit at the kitchen island for at least 15 minutes (my knee feels better if extended on an ottoman) and my mind was working more clearly, we progressed to a hybrid model. This consisted of actually composing a meal from frozen and boxed ingredients, such as rice pilaf, popcorn shrimp and peas.


As I directed Paul from my perch, I felt bad he had to do an activity he really disliked. But why did he hate it so much?

I think I can boil it down to “perfect carrot syndrome.” Cooking is messy and inexact, two things that make Paul quite unhappy.

If I ask him to chop up some carrots, he wants to know how many and how big. Those are not unreasonable questions, but, frankly, I just cut them up until they look like I think they should. They might be good-sized slices for a stew, but diced for a pot pie.

Sam Sifton, a food columnist for The New York Times, recently wrote a cookbook (“No-Recipe Recipes”) without measurements. I was fascinated by the concept. Of course, it includes no pastries or breads, because baking is one facet of cooking that is definitely more science than art.

But baking would not appeal to Paul because it can be even messier than dinner preparation. (Think frosting. Pie dough.) Cooking creates messes. A dish of broccoli in the microwave overflows and a sticky flood results. Potato peels pile up. Tomato sauce congeals in the pan.

Paul would rather be shoveling compost.


I am getting around more now, and can contribute more to meal preparation than giving orders. I even made a simple vinaigrette the other day.

And I decided I could chop up some fresh, local carrots myself, if I sat down while I did so. I wanted sticks, about 2 inches long, an inch wide.

Paul would have appreciated those precise directions, but I thought he deserved a break. Soon, I will be asking him to plant dozens of fall bulbs. I need to stay on his good side.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]

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