Having my wife’s family over for dinner is always… well, a thing. It typically requires several trips out to hunt for obscure ingredients – the farmers’ market, the fish market, the milled-onsite bakery that’s forty minutes’ drive away, the artisanal gin boutique, even the florist. The worst bit, though, is that we have to pretend we do this all the time, and that the whole production was thrown together at the last minute.
Why do we do it? Because Monica’s parents are picky as all get out. They’re both equipped with a serious sixth sense for the origins of ingredients, even if they’re tucked away in the deepest recesses of the meal, and they’re not afraid to demonstrate. “Is this cardamom pre-powdered? It doesn’t feel like it was ground today.” “Went for the canned pinto beans again, I see.” “You realise you can get quinoa from Tasmania now that doesn’t destroy Peruvian villages, don’t you?” You get the idea.
Luckily for me, I am actually a pretty good cook, and I do have an appreciation of quality when it comes to ingredients. I just feel like I have higher priorities than absolute, unadulterated perfection in any given aspect of my life. I do my best, and sometimes the critical remarks are helpful (no one wants to be out there destroying Peruvian villages). But there are some things I fall short on that I really can’t do much about.
For example, I have to work within the constraints of our kitchen. It’s a pretty good one, but it’s far from a professional-level layout. We really cleaned out our pockets with that latest round of the kitchen facelift, Melbourne not being the cheapest place in the world to install a Scandinavian oven, and haven’t yet gotten around to financing the kitchen island that’s needed for turning out the kind of elaborate fare the in-laws expect from us.
It’s crossed my mind that we’re bringing this stress upon ourselves by not owning up to how we normally cook, and trying to make this look effortless.