Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why Cooking Together is the Best Thing You Can Do as a Couple

Yesterday, CK and I celebrated his birthday. During the time when he is in Rome and I am in Malta, we have gotten really good at the whole long distance thing. I've had quite few people ask me how it is we're able to handle the distance, especially since it's been almost 1.5 years now. The truth is that the situation isn't always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, the distance gets to us. Sometimes, it feels like we'll be long distance forever. But the way we combat it is planning the future (be it trips or what it will take for us to be living together at the start of 2015) and using Skype during our time apart.

Skype has made long distance relationships so much easier to manage. We Skype daily and do things together that way: gaming, reading to each other, watching movies, doing our own thing while the other is working on something else, and cooking. Cacio e pepe was the first of much foodie fun we’ve done via Skype, and it’s brought me to the conclusion that cooking together provides a series of lessons in improving how you interact as a couple.

CK and I in Rome a couple weeks ago. (Yes, I've cut my hair...)
Photo's courtesy of CK's Mama Bear

CK is the first person that has consistently shown interest in cooking with me from start (prep) to finish (on the plate). Quality time is so important to me, and that it can be done in a tangible way that we can both enjoy has made our relationship so fulfilling. For years I made meals for my family, usually by myself (it was my responsibility at home when I wasn't at school or working), so imagine my surprise when someone insisted on being part of the process! 

I believe the reason why Meals with Morri has been so quiet lately has to do with the fact that I’m not cooking meals for others anymore. It takes out all the fun to make something when there isn't anyone to enjoy it with you or to say it's "blog worthy" (thanks, Mama Dazz). Since coming to Malta, I’ve cooked plenty, but the desire to make recipes and take photos just didn't seem so appealing anymore. But with overcoming homesickness and loneliness, I’ve started working with baker’s yeast again. I am healing from various fears that revolved around eating (like fried food and treating myself to dessert now and then), and I’m actually eating to thrive and not to simply eat enough. And finally, after months of being in a funk, making recipes with the aim to share it with the world seems like fun again.   

Cooking together is an amazing form of communication. I’ve struggled with being upfront with my emotions and what I needed, but you can’t be anything less than direct in the kitchen. You can’t say “Maybe I need you to crack some eggs” or “You don’t have to grate the cheese if you don’t want to even though I need it done and I'm currently sauteing the onions.” You can’t expect someone you’re making a dish with know that you wanted them to preheat the oven or get water boiling unless you let them know that’s what you want. A chef doesn’t expect their kitchen to be mind readers, and neither should you expect or be expected to read your partner’s mind. You also learn to honor your feelings without the need to justify them.

Another aspect of cooking together is honoring the support you give and receive, and understanding the balance of giving and taking. Sometimes that means there is a kitchen leader, where one of you calls the shots (gives directions), and the other follows and does what is needed as instructed. Having a gluten free blog doesn't automatically make me the leader all the time. In fact, when he makes me soup or takes over cooking when I'm stressed out or sick is the most amazing thing ever. From this balance of power I’ve learned it’s okay to be selfish and to say no once in a while, that you can and should make time for yourself when the need arises. Having the right to say no and not be sorry for it is a new commodity for me, and it also means giving you and your partner some slack to not having to be on all the time.

My motivation to posting also declined when a recipe wasn't just right...

I try to tell him how much I appreciate our time together in the kitchen as often as I can. I know he isn’t doing it because he thinks it will make me happy, and that is really important to the both of us. He doesn’t feel obliged, and it isn’t one-sided. He tells me how empowered he has become learning the art of gluten free (and vegetarian) cooking, making more things from scratch than he ever did before we met. And he’s transitioned from the stance that the ‘gluten-free’ aspect of the recipe has to taste like it isn’t. Like everyone new to gluten free cooking, we initially try to replace and substitute wheat/gluten in such a way that is has to look and taste and act like it isn’t gluten free, so now it isn’t ‘gluten free’ waffles or ‘gluten free’ muffins… just waffles or muffins. He doesn’t say “Hey! This is pretty good… for gluten free.” He says, “Oh my God, this is amazing” or “We should try it [this] way next time.” I cannot emphasize the importance of sincerity, and that is a very significant piece as to why our relationship works so well (both in and out of the kitchen, while we’re together and when we’re doing the long distance thing). Throughout the stress of finishing up grad school, living alone in Malta, and job searching for 2015, he helped bring back the spark in making amazing meals and enjoying good food. We have quite a list of foodstuff we want to make, and hopefully we can turn it into a webshow soon after I’ve gotten a grasp on filming and editing.  

One of CK’s favorite flavors in baked goods is lemon poppy, so we decided to make lemon poppy quick bread and drink margaritas over Skype. It was a combination of Ruhlman’s ratio for quick bread and this recipe. Neither of us had a zester, so we used lemon juice instead. He also used yogurt instead of milk, and he said that it worked really well. After singing him happy birthday and cheering as he blew out the tea light candle, we toasted with the margaritas and enjoyed our lemon poppy creations.

CK's photo of his Lemon Poppy Quick Bread

The moral of the story is that love doesn't just happen. True love isn't true because it's perfect: it takes work, communication, honesty, sincerity, and appreciation. If you want to improve any relationship, be it parent-child, partner-partner, sibling-sibling, friend-friend, or me-myself-and-I, try being in the kitchen more often and make something that you can enjoy together. 

Lemon Poppy Quick Bread / Muffins

120 g Brown rice flour
120 g Garbanzo bean flour
120 g Honey
1 tsp. Sea salt
1 tsp. Baking soda
240 ml Whole milk
2 Large eggs
120 g butter, melted (if salted, omit sea salt)
4 tbsp. or 80 ml Lemon juice
4 tbsp. or 28 g Poppy seeds

Preheat the oven to 350°F or 175°C, and grease the pan (a 12-cup muffin tin or a 9.5” pie pan) with your oil of choice.
In one medium-large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flours, salt [unless omitted], baking soda, and poppy seeds and set aside.
In another bowl, combine the eggs, milk and honey, and add the mixture to the dry ingredients.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the batter, and pour it into the pan.
Bake for 50 minutes to one hour, or until the top is golden brown and the knife is clean when you check for doneness.

Makes 1 quick bread/12 muffins, or 8 – 12 servings.

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