Nachos and Green Tomato Salsa

canning jarsMy husband is getting ready to attend a play with friends. I am happy to stay home and putter, but he hesitates with keys in hand, looking around the kitchen with a concerned expression. “I may not be home in time for dinner.” One of the many perks of our empty nest is that occasionally I find myself blissfully alone. “I know. I will be fine.” He opens the fridge. “There may be some leftovers.” “I told you, I will figure something out.” He says, “You ate all the Wheat Chex last week.” Now I am annoyed. “Go! I will cook for myself.” He snorts and leaves. I go off and hermit around my workspace until hunger drives me back to the kitchen. I peer in the refrigerator, the freezer, the pantry, the refrigerator again.

My husband is truly gifted at cooking. I am not. This was established early in the relationship. On our first date he made a picnic lunch with teriyaki pheasant. A few dates later I burned a chicken concoction and we went out for pizza. In the first year of our marriage we attempted to trade off, but when my husband started graduate school, he took over. He said he wanted a “creative outlet.” We were both relieved.

It is hard to know what came first – my profound lack of aptitude or my subsequent lack of interest. One usually follows the other. For years I have sat on a stool at the edge of the kitchen island, watching my husband intently, trying to figure out the difference between us. We are both smart. We both love to eat. Perched there, eating scraps of food out of prep bowls, I have discovered clues. My brain thinks in geometric lines, taking apart and putting things back together in a linear process. If the points are not perfect in my quilt blocks, I remake them until they line up. I think: what is the most efficient way to go from point A to point B? What are the steps to achieve a specific result? My husband’s brain thinks like a lava lamp, organic, he perceives a million details at the same time. He chops and stirs and sautes this and roasts that. He senses temperature and color and somehow five dishes appear at the same time. If something doesn’t taste right he adapts the other ingredients to balance. He thinks: what flavors go together? What recipe fits the weather?  

Today I decide to make myself nachos. I find chips, pre-shredded cheese and an old piece of steak which I chop up and layer on the top. I turn on the broiler and can hear my husband’s voice in my head telling me not to burn them. In fact, why not use the microwave?

Our children grew up in a home where Dad was master of the kitchen, not just cooking, but preparing gourmet meals that people came to rave about. Dinner at our house was a culinary adventure and we loved entertaining as a family. I tried to feel that my contribution was bringing home the bacon rather than frying it up in a pan, but the referenced woman in the commercial could do both and look sexy. I worried that my lack of domestic proficiency diminished my value as a wife and mother. One Mother’s Day this was reinforced when the boys came home from Primary presenting a project they had made in class. It was constructed of two paper wheels held together by a brad. The top wheel had a window revealing tiny messages and pictures underneath. The title read: “My mother does many things for me!” and when the child turned the wheel, the captions below read “She bakes cookies!” “She makes dinner!” “She washes my clothes!” “ She meets me after school!” To which my little son gleefully confessed, “I told them that my mom doesn’t do any of those things!” My older son shook his head thoughtfully. “No, no she doesn’t.”  

I also faced incredulous clucking from other women assuring me of my “luck” in finding a man who would “help out” and cautioning that I had better “hang on to him” as if my inability to time an egg threatened our long term prospects. At first I would defensively explain that it all evened out, that he had a surly disposition and I cleaned the toilet. Eventually I just surrendered and shrugged. I had been judged by the dial-a-good-mother wheel and found wanting.

I don’t burn my nachos but they look boring so I dig through a pile of jars created from my husband’s new hobby, small batch canning. I find something green and chopped and open it. It smells like salsa. I taste it. The hacienda heavens open and choirs of mariachi angels sing. It is delicious. I dump it all over my nachos and devour them.

In his book, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, Andrew Solomon shares that most parents love their children at birth, but must learn over time to accept them. He says that “love aspires to acceptance” and that most parenting happens in the grey area between what we try to change in those we love and what we choose to celebrate as it unfolds. I believe this applies to how we view ourselves as well. Learning when to develop and push ourselves and when to simply be ourselves is an ongoing challenge. There are so many bad habits I know I must fix – my selfishness, my dental hygiene, my matchstick temper. In comparison, I can shelve the less urgent deficiencies, ignore the lists of shoulds catalogued by others and even revel in the quirks that make me who I am. My children may appreciate a mother who can make sock monkeys dressed as literary characters just as much as a mother who knows that Honey Nut corn flakes and strawberry yogurt should not be used to bread chicken nuggets. In the words of the very wise Queen Elsa, I am going to let it go.

Later that night, when my husband comes home, he asks what I ate for dinner. I tell him nachos which actually required use of the oven. Then I say, “So that green stuff I found in the pantry? It is amazing. I ate the whole jar.” He lights up. “It is green tomato salsa. The neighbor brought us all these green tomatoes and I made up the recipe in order to use them.” I assure him that it was the best salsa I have ever tasted. And that I never take his gifts for granted. He wonders if he will be able to replicate the recipe again. I say, “I am sure you will come up with something.”


Pandora spends most of her time tinkering with bits of words, fabric and yarn. She lives in Chicago with her husband and a pug. She has two grown up sons who have many adventures.

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13 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    “There are so many bad habits I know I must fix – my selfishness, my dental hygiene, my matchstick temper. In comparison, I can shelve the less urgent deficiencies, ignore the lists of shoulds catalogued by others and even revel in the quirks that make me who I am.”

    I love this, Pandora! What a great story teller you are. And a lot of wisdom here too. Too often I suffer from massive guilt for not being the perfect woman who keeps a perfectly tidy house. (When my husband comes home at the end of the day, usually the place is a mess with kids’ toys strewn about. When I come home and my husband has been with the kids, everything is usually as neat as a pin. How does he do that?) As you say, focusing on other more important deficiencies is probably wiser.

    Welcome to Exponent, by the way! I am so excited to read more posts from you.

  2. Emily U says:

    This was fun to read, Pandora. I love how concerned your husband was about what you’d eat for dinner. That just seems so romantic to me.

    I like how you framed the task of discerning what we want to change about ourselves, and what we choose to accept, or let go. You’ve given me something to think about.

  3. Atlantic Toast Conference says:

    It’s funny to see my own marriage reflected in this post! My husband loves cooking; if left to my own devices, I’ll subsist solely on Diet Coke and Wheat Thins. We’re gender roles non-traditional in some other ways, too, and sometimes I wonder what our kids will think. I remind myself that there’s no One True Divison of Family Chores, and this is a good reminder to not fix what isn’t broken (because you’re right – there’s too much that IS broken!).

  4. Liz says:

    I loved this! I feel this way about crafts – I have perpetually felt like a deficient mother (and Mormon) for my inability to make something that is aesthetically pleasing. Never mind that I also abhor the process and thinking about going into a Michaels practically gives me a panic attack. I think I’m going to try to follow your pattern and just stop caring – just let it go. I give myself far too much anxiety thinking about the Mormon woman I *should* be rather than the Mormon woman that I just *am.*

  5. Corrina says:

    This was witty, enlightening, and relatable. Thank you, Pandora, for such a great post!!! I look forward to reading more from you.

  6. Em says:

    People are amazed that my husband does his own laundry. I am terrible at doing laundry — I shrink things, I leave them to get wrinkly and smelly instead of promptly moving and folding etc. etc. If you do something badly enough people stop asking you to do it. Also I’m not the one who wears his underwear. He likes having clothing that is fresh and unwrinkled. So we take care of ourselves. He also does the cooking when we have parties. I take care of the day to day, but I am not the hostess with the mostest, so if he wants a party, he does the inviting and the cooking.

    I think it is really hard to let go of other people’s expectations. I thought of that in a throwaway remark at the women’s broadcast, in some anecdote a woman’s house (who had small children) was referred to as being ordinarily tidy or spotless. I thought of my constant battle against entropy, and I work at home with no children around. If I can’t keep it spotless under those conditions, I never will. But I feel bad every time I hear about how perfect people’s houses supposedly are.

  7. Jenny says:

    Love the story! I can definitely relate to this. I am horrible in the kitchen, but my husband loves to cook and can. At first I tried really hard to fulfill my gender role and be the perfect wife and mother. I love how your story points out how much more enjoyable life can be when you divide household duties based on strengths and weaknesses rather than preset gender roles. I have found that that works a lot better for us. I especially love the idea that acceptance of yourself lies somewhere between embracing the things that make you who you are and changing the things you want to change. I spent too may years trying to love being in the kitchen and now I realize that that’s just no me. Wonderful post!

  8. The beginning of your marriage sounds a lot like what I’m experiencing now in the first couple years of marriage. It is nice to know that can subsist. Lovely post, Pandora, dearest. (P.S. I had never heard “The Cherry-Tree Carol” before you sang it at the retreat, but I have since listened to it roughly 329874932874 times.)

  9. Heather says:

    What a delicious love letter.

  10. Melody says:

    Thank you for this lovely picture of your world. We need lots an lots of examples of marriages and roles and how they can be varied and beautiful and workable. This was my favorite line, “I had been judged by the dial-a-good-mother wheel and found wanting.” Brilliant! Thanks again and welcome to Exponent.

  11. Mel says:

    Amazing story teller is right!

  12. Brooke says:

    Marvelous. Thank you for this post, Pandora!

  13. Pandora says:

    Thank you so much for the kind words and for sharing your own stories and insights. This community is so vibrant and thoughtful, I really appreciate your warm welcome!

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