Confessions of a Culinary Autocrat

Hello. My name is Desiree and I’m a Culinary Autocrat.

Let’s first define autocrat as I know it’s one of those words people think they know, but may not be sure. The purpose of this exercise is to bring awareness, as well as help those who are in denial to recognize it within themselves. 

Autocrat:  a person ruling with unlimited authority; one who has undisputed influence or power.

It took a hot minute to determine the exact noun I wanted to use to describe my condition. I first selected bully, but that is defined as someone who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker or in some way vulnerable. I am not cruel, insulting, or remotely threatening to anyone—it’s not in my nature. Dictator didn’t work as I’m not an oppressor—unless you ask any one of my kids, but that’s for another time. These two words alone are quite negative in connotation and I don’t think my condition warrants that kind of cynicism. 

The word autocrat seemed to fit perfectly as I do have unlimited authority in my kitchen and hold all of the power and influence as to what goes on there. Think of a chef in a restaurant. This person is in charge and decides on what is to be prepared and how. I am no different in my kitchen, but the concept changes when people around you aren’t employees. With that, I am using this post as a sort of confessional as I recognize that my autocratical ways may not always be positive. 

Herein lies my problem…I like things prepared or cooked in a certain way—my way. My argument is that I have been cooking for about twenty-five years and I think that gives me some authority. Right? I know I have made it far from fun to cook with me sometimes—okay, most of the time—but, there are methods to my madness. There are certain ways things are to be chopped, or diced, and there are specific ways ingredients have to be measured and prepared (see Alton Brown). There’s a science to the art of cooking and it ALWAYS matters how things are done.

I am confident in my abilities and know my limitations. I know I should use my powers for good and teach my teenagers, but I lose patience. I can show them how to use a knife, measure ingredients, and put everything together. The problem is that the next time they help, anything I’ve taught has vanished from their memory. I show them again—and again—and again. To watch them haphazardly pour milk into a measuring cup used for dry ingredients EVERY SINGLE TIME, rather than use one for liquids, makes me crazy.  Now I am done and my tone will discourage them from any future culinary exercises. However, I do need to ensure my kids know how to cook for themselves as they have to be comfortable in the kitchen, knowing all the tools to use, spices to add, and various ingredients that work well together.  Or, they grow up thinking it’s easier to open a box and just add water…with the wrong measuring cup, no less.

Now, cooking with your significant other not only shares responsibilities, but it’s an engaging way to bring you closer together. There are random conversations, laughter, and even some sensual taste-testing.  Michael and I have had some fabulous cooking sessions and it can, quite honestly, be very romantic. However, the days of us preparing meals together have been put on the back shelf—like some ingredient that is used on rare occasions, such as truffle oil or saffron. He knows how to cook and has prepared some delicious meals.  I have learned with him that I have to let go and let him prepare things as he wants. However, I find myself making little comments—not to insult but to suggest. At least that’s how I see it.

Now, cooking with your significant other not only shares responsibilities, but it’s an engaging way to bring you closer together. There are random conversations, laughter, and even some sensual taste-testing.  Michael and I have had some fabulous cooking sessions and it can, quite honestly, be very romantic. However, the days of us preparing meals together have been put on the back shelf—like some ingredient that is used on rare occasions, such as truffle oil or saffron. He knows how to cook and has prepared some delicious meals.  I have learned with him that I have to let go and let him prepare things as he wants. However, I find myself making little comments—not to insult but to suggest. At least that’s how I see it.

Things all came to head when he wanted to help and asked how I wanted some potatoes cut. They were going to be roasted in the oven, so it was important that they were all relatively the same in bite-size pieces to cook evenly. What started as a friendly argument over diced versus chopped turned into eerie silence in the kitchen.  I’m honestly not sure it was me being offensive or him being defensive—but, it’s been a while just the same. 

So, I find myself alone in the kitchen these days and I know it’s my fault. I have to let go my need to be in culinary control and allow my family to learn—just as I did (and still do). With Michael, I have to let him cook as he pleases, without my commentary (unless he asks, of course). I will add that I don’t complain about having to do all the cooking—the culinary autocrat in me is good with this. But, the kitchen being the most commonly used room in the house is a meeting place for families. I am exceedingly happy on those rare occasions everyone is home and standing around the counter as I cook—laughing and sharing stories. I even love it when just one person hangs out with me—until they ask to help.

I’m a work in progress. 

The Making of a Soldier’s Mom

We all know that mothers have an important job and we put in a lot time, work, and dedication. There are all kinds of mothers and everyone has one—it’s the most common denominator we all share. Being a mother of three has been a rollercoaster of a ride so far—thrilling, scary, and fun. Like with all parents, I want the best for my kids and hope they go off on their own one day to live happy, healthy lives. That time came for me last week with child #2—the first to fly from the nest. And just like the first day of kindergarten where mom is tearfully dropping their kid off at school, I tearfully did the same when my son left for the Army basic training. 

He swore in on October 1st with a ship date of November 13th. The excitement was overwhelming at first and then it turned to anxiety—but in a good way, if there is such a thing. I really only know what I’ve seen in movies and hearsay from others about boot camp. I understand the process of “breaking” the enlisted recruit and then building them back up again. This is why the process is tough and training can be grueling, but necessary nonetheless. However, this was MY son venturing into that atmosphere. The thought of breaking his spirit was distressing. The thought of breaking his bad habits…well, that didn’t worry me so much.

He is the one who could literally sleep all day and would now have to get up at 5 am. The one who would sleep on a bare mattress rather than put on sheets would now have to make his bed every single day. The one found in the kitchen quietly making a quesadilla at midnight would now have to eat when scheduled. He is the very one who averaged a thirty-minute saunter to a high school that was only a ten-minute walk away—and he will now be running miles. In short, whatever discipline is called for in basic training, he was the polar opposite. 

The remarkable thing is that he knew he needed the discipline and challenge. That alone makes me a very proud mom. He recognized the qualities of becoming a solder and what it would do for him. This was about realizing that life needs direction, even if you aren’t sure which way you’re going—you need to keep moving. He talked the talk all day long about his future, but now he was actually doing something about it.

It’s been a week since I said good-bye, with only a brief phone call to say he arrived safely. My thoughts are filled with how he’s adjusting to his new life, even though I understand he really hasn’t begun training yet. It’s the getting up and moving about with the rest of us day-walkers that he has to get accustomed to. And, he knows he will have to bury his sarcasm (yes, that’s from me), his smirk (probably from me too), and joking his way out of confrontation (yea, there’s a pattern here). For the most part, I can empathize with what he’s going through. The drill instructors do too, but they couldn’t care less about what his feelings are about getting up early or training—and they certainly don’t tolerate sassiness or dickering on how the day is structured. They have a job to do and know what it takes to get it done. They have a solder to make.

I have some basic training of my own to do during this time as I know my job parenting is done. I’ll always be his mother, but I understand that this is a new chapter in HIS life— and I will let him be the adult that he is. There is no need to interject my opinions and advice about his choices without him asking. I will be encouraging and listen with interest to what he’s willing to share. I will learn more about the intricate nature of the Army and all its terminology. And, I will write letters even though they will probably outnumber his ten-to-one. 

In short, I will be here knowing he is doing what he needs to do with his life. He knows he has my support, love, and encouragement—and care packages…the boy man is going to need his chocolate. 

HOOAH!