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GARY SMITH: This kitchen isn't big enough ...

Cooking with the spouse can be a half-baked idea

I'm going to throw out there that a lot of things in life are a lot better in the abstract than they are in real life.

Ferris wheels, for instance. Art Films. Running with the bulls, or, frankly, just about any contact with non-domesticated, dangerous animals up to and including skunks, possums and bats.

You define dangerous your way, I'll define it mine.

I'll also offer this: There are significant numbers of highly regarded activities that, in retrospect, just don't measure up to the hype. And it takes as brave soul, one not afraid to say the emperor has no clothes or smoked fish really isn't all that good, to set the record straight.

Of course, the line between courage and foolhardiness is often thinner than a straight-edged razor, also highly overrated when it comes to shaving.

For instance, I've come to the conclusion, at least on a personal level, that cooking with my wife is not as wonderful an idea as one might think.

Now before we get too far into this (or so far I can't get back out), it's not her fault. That won't be the first time I've ever said that about some situation in our marriage, and I'm sure it won't be the last, so this in an examination, not an accusation.

And it comes with the qualifier that, for many couples cooking together is a wonderful, relaxing activity, made better because it typically requires wine and doesn't involve children. Both pluses, at least occasionally.

For us, the challenge is that cooking together requires a certain compatibility of style and technique that makes for easy and graceful movement in the kitchen. My wife, for instance, is a free-form, efficient chef with an amazing ability to change on the fly and a firm grasp of cooking basics. And I ... stink. On toast. Except I'm not really good at making toast, since there aren't directions or a recipe I can refer back to and there's nothing on the box to tell me what to do. Mostly because there's not really a box.

Yes, for a person who loves improvisational jazz, fast-break basketball and road trips that start with "let's just head south and see what happens," in the kitchen I'm as flexible at uncooked spaghetti. Which, by the way, I can't cook.

It also doesn't really help that we're not blessed with the largest of kitchens, and I am, in basketball terms, a "space eater." Not that I'm a big person, but I do seem to be able to find the one spot that causes the most disruption and stand right there.

So while my wife is spinning and twirling around with four or five food-related things going on at one time, I'm setting a solid pick in the middle of the kitchen. And getting called for blocking. Or a cleaned up version of that.

See, the key is confidence. My wife cooks well because she has both confidence and talent. I cook badly because I have neither. On those rare occasions when I cook for myself, well, typically I don't. But if, for some strange reason I do and botch it up, so what. Scrape off the burned part, douse it in Sriracha and we're off to the races. And eating over the sink.

But the pressure starts to mount when cooking goes from being a solo activity to a tandem. At that point, not only am I responsible for not cutting off an extremity or burning the house down, I'm also somewhat obligated to generate something that I wouldn't want to give to the dog (but would probably, in a pinch, eat myself).

All of which means someone who knows her way around a whisk is operating side-by-side with someone who thinks "blanche" is Stella's crazy sister, but is fascinated by the intricacies of a salad spinner.

The end result is it all comes down to a division of labor. If I can't do much of the cooking, I can do most of the cleaning. It's not nearly as glamorous and the subject of fewer cable TV shows, but I've never caught my wife looking at me like she understood why Gordon Ramsey held two pieces of bread on either side of a novice chef's head and told her she was an idiot sandwich.

If I can't sautee, I can at least scour. And when it comes to cooking, that's about as real as I can get.

Commentary on 09/14/2018

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