With the stress of working on a building site in Malawi, Africa, the early mornings and 12-hour days, the thing I most look forward to each day is cooking dinner. It’s my “me” time—my time to be alone and daydream. Away from all the meetings, all the problems of village politics, lists and spreadsheets of building materials and budgets and a truck on the fritz. I turn on the music and zone out as I chop onions, make dough or stir sauce.
So when my friend Emily arrived from England to help us with the project, I was unsure how I’d feel about another cook in the kitchen. I’m sort of a loner when it comes to cooking and I’ve always attributed this to the fact that I love cooking so much that I don’t need help. But after a few evenings cooking dinner together, Emily and I were having a wonderful time, listening to the same music I’d be listening to if I had been alone and the hilarious conversation and jokes and reminiscing about our days at university were almost better than my solitary daydreams and thoughts, which almost always stray back to project problems or what we should be doing tomorrow.
So why was I still wishing I was cooking dinner by myself? After several nights of cooking together I cringed as she used a small serrated knife to scrape onions out of our non-stick pan, re-chopped tomatoes that I felt were not small enough for guacamole and instructed her on just how I thought she should be chopping potatoes for fries. I knew I was being annoying, I just couldn’t help myself.
One night, Emily was sautéing some garlic for red sauce. I leaned over her shoulder, peaked in the pan, and saw that the garlic was turning golden brown, on the cusp of burning. I said, “Hey, maybe you should add the onions and a bit more oil, the garlic is starting to burn.” And then the slight kitchen tension that had been mounting all week came to a head (in a very English and civilized way). She simply said, with a bit of a sarcastic smile, in the way that only a dear friend you’ve known for years can, “Maggy, it’s fine. You go stand over there.” Roughly translated: I am making this damn sauce. You are not. This is how I make sauce, so let me get on with it!” Then the penny dropped. I am such a control freak in the kitchen. I like cooking alone because I like doing everything the way I like it. This behavior needs to be corrected. I vow to change.
The other night we were starting to prepare dinner and I was interrupted not once, not twice, but three times by long phone calls, preventing me from being in the kitchen overseeing dinner preparations. While this did cause some anxiety for me, I walked inside after that third phone call and dinner was plated and ready to eat. Emily and Andy had grilled sausages and mixed them with a tomato-and-onion sauce and had prepared green beans, cabbage and sweet potato fries. The vegetables may have been a little overcooked, but the meal couldn’t have been more delicious. Lesson learned. Stop micro-managing and sometimes…just get out of the kitchen!