So what was I trying to prove? I earn just as much as my husband—who, incidentally, can cook circles around me. Yet here I was clamoring around the kitchen searching for nonexistent ramekins as if my life depended on it while he was in the bedroom napping. "This is your project," he said. "You're the one who wanted to feel more comfortable in the kitchen." He was right. I'd gone into this thinking that I could rid myself of my inherited belief that cooking is a loathsome chore that prevents a woman from fulfilling her rightful destiny. Since I was free from the pressure my mother felt to prove her worth in the kitchen, surely I'd be able to rediscover the playful and, yes, even sensual side of cooking.

A part of me hoped to emerge from the dinner party running through a proverbial field of daisies with a strainer in one hand and a dog-eared cookbook in the other. This did not happen. I greeted my guests with a sweaty, flushed face at 7, and spent the next hour toiling away in the kitchen while they sat in the living room drinking wine. My gnocchi buckled and stretched when I dropped them into a pot of boiling water and soon resembled drowned baby mice. I divided them into mercifully tiny portions of four dumplings a person, then cringed as I watched my good friends choke them down. Halfway through the next course, my Culinary Institute friend gently offered suggestions for ways that I might properly reduce the sauce for the Chilean sea bass the next time around. But she praised my salad! And everyone at the table gobbled up every trace of those pots de crème. By the last hour of my dinner party, everyone was too dizzy with Riesling and Pinot Noir to remember that my cooking had been anything short of wonderful.

Everyone except me, that is. I realized that maybe cooking a four-course dinner will never be as much fun as eating one. Maybe the most luxurious thing I can do in the kitchen is to simmer a homemade tomato sauce with fresh rosemary, oregano, and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. Then, when it's time to sit down for dinner, I'll toss a salad, set the table, and pour that tomato sauce over a steaming bowl of gnocchi—premade gnocchi that I bought, frozen, at the store across the street.

Cara Birnbaum is a writer who lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.


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