There's a lot of forgiveness involved in cooking. Sometimes, before even switching on the stove, you have to look past your pantry mistakes with kindness. The grim starch-to-sauce ratio; the anchovies double-up (their tiny jars somehow always hidden); those lemons you were ready to risk your life for but promptly forgot about.
The source of blame is clear when you live alone. But in a lockdown, things between food and your household can get complicated.
Thankfully, like dating or the stock market, there's a pattern to the chaos. And whether you're sharing a kitchen for the first time with a housemate, parent or a romantic partner who has never seen the 10 am crisps-eating part of your life —chances are, you'll move through five distinct stages.
Sure, these are based on dating. But in a pandemic, every relationship can suddenly feel (too) intimate in a small space. Here's how to survive each stage.
The first quarantine meal
Otherwise known as the 'honeymoon' stage, this is when you're getting to know each other's kitchen personalities. You might marvel at your heavily tattooed housemate's ability to julienne, braise, or make the dough rise. Likewise, your retired mum might be surprised that, after years of independent living, you are capable of boiling an egg without messing up.
Dr Susan Campbell, who coined these five relationship stages, notes that in this phase, we are cushioned by a sense of newness and will turn a blind eye to each other's flaws. Understandably, this phase is short.
One to two weeks after lockdown. It crosses your mind it could last forever. (See: your 20s sharehouse kitchen)
In corporate speak, this is where the 'growth opportunities' occur. In dating terms, they're known as 'wake up calls'. This might be the time you notice your tattooed flatmate doesn't scrub (your) pot after braising those rustic dishes. Or when one person in the kitchen relationship reveals a heartbreaking hatred of butter or mayonnaise.
Here, Campbell encourages us to resist 'protest behaviour' (ie. hide that braising pot, freeze out your anti-butter partner). Instead, try to express your needs with vulnerability.
"We can't always know each other's food trauma. So try to be gentle. Do our dishes. And use those goddamn scrubs."
Did your kitchen partner shun your egg and mayo sandwich because they're mean? Or did their mum used to make huge vats of mayonnaise-y salads with tinned fruit and chopped frankfurts that lived in the fridge for days and wept milky tears until the family finally finished the whole thing?
Bottom line, we can't always know each other's food trauma. So try to be gentle. Do our dishes. And use those goddamn scrubs.
Three weeks + of surviving under the same roof, without casualties
Beloved American food essayist M.F.K Fisher writes, "Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken". The other, one might argue, is our Solo Eating Habits. We don't truly know what we're made of until you've seen each other drink things out of various jars, serve Doritos for dinner or live days on nothing but tinned tuna.
At the stability stage, you've learned (and sometimes love) each other's flaws. You've found a few favourite meals to put on the 'mid-week rotation'. And, according to Campbell, you "naturally start to take each other's needs into consideration."
Together you'll make cookies, bake bread, start pickling. You'll also sometimes be deeply bored.
Until the end of lockdown, or you lose your will to cook, whichever comes first.
When Fisher imparted her wisdom on the magic of eggs and frugal cooking, it was at the height of World War II food shortages. Once-wealthy households went back to basics, and rationing became commonplace. Yet her central message isn't to 'scrimp', but to somehow save our capacity for joy in trying times.
"We're also attempting to do is blend our cooking histories together — sometimes aligning our values in this rare kitchen dance."
The kitchen often becomes a place of refuge in times of uncertainty. We might try pickling and sourdough-making, but what we're also attempting to do is blend our cooking histories — sometimes aligning our values in this rare kitchen dance.
At this stage, we might look to the future and start asking big questions like: "Where should we go for our first meal, once this whole thing is over?"
Any time now, hopefully.
Written originally sans quote marks, Campbell describes the 'bliss' stage as essentially similar to the 'romance' phase, only now you actually know each other. Dirty dishes, odd eating habits, unusual food trauma and all.
And while Campbell's helpful stages may give us something of a roadmap to our kitchen relationships, it is Fisher —in her wartime classic — that seems to nail the idea of 'bliss' best.
"With our gastronomical growth will come, inevitably, knowledge and perception of a hundred other things, but mainly of ourselves."