“The dishes!” I wail, glancing into the kitchen on my way to bed. “Why are there always and forever dishes needing to be washed?”
Dan replies kindly: “Because we use them.”
On Valentine’s Day, 2004, I kicked my brand new husband out of the house for four hours so I could make Chicken Parmesan as a surprise. To this day, I have no idea how a pile of chicken-topped spaghetti could possibly have taken four hours, but it’s fair to say I had no idea what I was doing. (The consistency of said chicken, which could have better served as packing material, agrees.) However, I so longed to make something beyond our standard fare of Campbell’s and Kraft. Surely, surely, with a little effort and the clucking, grandmotherly help of that red plaid cook book, culinary pleasure could be found in our dining room.
We ate Taco Bell the next day.
A lot changes when one moves to a country without fast food, though. When we first arrived in Italy, I mostly fixed packages of risotto mix and frozen chicken cordon bleu, and we picked up pizza a few times a week. However, I took mental notes each time we were invited to an Italian meal. One friend taught me how to make melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi; another gave me her recipe for amazing oven-roasted potatoes. I learned—thanks to my longsuffering husband—how to make cappuccinos, and I started auditioning new dessert recipes with his co-workers each week. I made a New Year’s resolution to learn how to cook meat so that people would rather eat it than use it as a doorstop. The next year, with a tasty repertoire of brining and braising techniques, I made a New Year’s resolution to make friends with vegetarian fare. I started jotting down menus and grocery lists for the first time in my life.
This year, my attention is drawn more toward my desk than toward the kitchen, but the process of cooking still engages my heart in a way I couldn’t have imagined six years ago. There’s something sacred in the challenge of planning meals to nourish my family’s bodies and souls while guarding our time and finances. There is mindfulness in rubbing fragrant herbs into a pot of soup, serenity in rolling pastry dough. Food preparation is no longer just a means to survival—it is a classroom, a laboratory, and an art studio. A love song. A risk, an exploit, a gathering of the usual five senses plus a few more. A thrice-daily dose of beauty to share and savor.
It is also, as reluctant as I may be to admit this, worth every single always-and-forever-dirty dish.