My parents-in-law had just arrived. Even though the last few days (weeks?!) had been exhausting, I was more than happy to welcome them for dinner on this sunny Saturday night.
Since I’ve joined the family, they have been the sweetest parents-in-law ever, generous and attentive, present but not insisting. In fact, they are quite the opposite, always conscious (sometimes even too much!) to not disturb our daily lives, proposing to come only for a coffee so that we don’t have to cook for them, when they always receive us with some delicious food prepared with much love, sometimes days in advance. No way I wasn’t returning the favor: even though I am not pretending to be Jamie Oliver, I can manage to get a few good and heartful meals on the table, and it was a pleasure for me to prepare and share with them some of my classic recipes.
The plan had been made in the morning, the grocery shopping in the afternoon. I had everything I needed, I was ready for the show. At 6pm, when I heard the knock on the door, I knew exactly how things were supposed to unfold. But you know, life. You can make as many plans as you want, you know how hard it is to exactly stick to it. However, at that point, I still thought I could make it happen the way it was planned.
I first started to cook the rice, measuring it, transferring the rice to the small pot, adding the water, turning on the heat, putting the pot on the backburner. One thing done. Next.
Oh, yes, I need to remember to talk to people too, and make sure they are having fun before moving on to the next task. Oh, they don’t have anything yet to drink. Boyfriend, where are you? Oh, there you are. Please can you help me serve the wine? Oh, they prefer beer. Here you go. Oh, yes. The bottle opener. There. Cheers!
Okay, moving on. Now time for the orange and Dijon mustard sauce. Get everything out of the fridge, measure ingredients. Take the pan out, turn on the front burner, put in the butter. Let it melt, and add on the ingredients, one by one, stirring to make sure nothing sticks. Looks good, I can stop stirring for a while I’m thinking to myself, it would be a good timing to prepare the asparagus. So I do that. Take another pot out, pour in some water, put it on the second back burner, and turn the heat on. I start cutting the asparagus, and stop, because I remember I need to stir too, so I stir, and start cutting again. And then the rice starts boiling, so I turned down the heat. And stir. And go back to cutting the asparagus (and starting to wonder if I am really efficient when multitasking, but no time to follow that train of thought, I have to get back to stirring the sauce).
Shoot. I forgot to start cooking the fish. The brown rice takes 45 minutes to cook once brought to boil, the sauce about 20 minutes and the asparagus 3 minutes. The fish needs about 15 minutes on the grill, when baked in foil. I need to get that done fast. I need help. Again, my boyfriend is called in reinforcement. Can you take care of the barbecue sweet love? I’m going to prepare the papillotes right away.
Remember to stir the sauce. Okay done. Take out the fish, red onions, olives and capers. The foil paper too. Oh, and the olive oil. Ok stir again. Should do something about the rice too, right? So I stir the rice a bit with a fork. Back to the papillotes, fast. Chop everything. Shoot, the water for the asparagus is boiling. No big deal, turn off the heat, will take care of that later. Priority number one is to finish up those damn delicious papillotes. Put everything in foil, close it up in the proper way, call boyfriend in rescue and assign him the barbecue task.
Ok back to stirring the sauce, that’s under control. Can finally finish up the cutting of the asparagus. Remember to turn the heat back on. Water boiling again. Asparagus cut. Put the asparagus in boiling water. Done.
A little break. Let’s use that time to cut the bread. Start cutting the bread. And take the butter out of the fridge so it softens a bit. Go back to cutting the bread. The cat jumps on the counter to eat the butter. Take it off, wash hands, go back to cutting the bread. Check in with the boyfriend to see how the fish is doing. Great. Asparagus are almost ready, do not forget to stir the sauce.
Hum. That smell. That smoke smell. The smell of something burning. Shoot. The cake. I forgot the cake. Because yes, baking a cake was part of the perfect host plan. But I forgot the cake, and now it’s burning and I am not the perfect host anymore, but I have no time to follow that train of thought too, because damn it’s burning and I need to act fast. So I grab the oven mittens, and take the burnt cake out of the oven.
As fast as a cheetah and as wise as a monkey, Wiggo, the athletic cat, seize the opportunity to jump on the counter, still hoping to get a good bite of that piece of butter. I drop the cake and catch him before he does too much damage.
Hum. That smell. Again. That smoke smell. Before I can really address the cake issue, I have to take care of the rice that is also starting to burn. Shoot. Take the pot out of the burner, make some space on my already full kitchen counter to pose the pot of burning rice on it, and try to recuperate the part that is still not burn. As I am doing so, I hear the gulping sound of…what? Damn. The sauce. I didn’t stir the sauce. And now it’s as heavy as gravy. Turn the heat off, and try to stir it. And see at the same time that I forgot to turn off the rice burner. Shoot again. What am I doing? Putting my house on fire would be the cherry on top at that point.
Oh yes. The last burner. The asparagus. It’s been definitely more than three minutes now, so I guess we’ll be eating the vegetables as we were eating them fifty years ago: overcooked.
That meal is a mess. I feel like crying, when the boyfriend comes in, über proud of the fish that is perfectly baked. At least we got one thing done right tonight. So we finish cutting the bread, prepare the plates with the fish and some lettuce left in the fridge, forget about the sauce and move on. And for dessert, it’ll be ice cream (you can be sure I always have ice cream in my freezer).
And we finally sit down. And what we are eating doesn’t really matter. It is far from being as good as what my mother-in-law prepares for us, but that moment we share together is more important than the content of our plates.
What explains my failure tonight can be summed up in a very simple way: too many burners on. That’s the Four Burners theory. The idea behind it is that everybody has four burners: health, family, friends and work, and that you can only turn on two at a time. It implies having to make choices in life, it means you need to prioritize.
I hate having to choose. I prefer to be very optimistic, and keep on believing I can have them all turned on at the same time, and that I can even add on top of that, with a cake in the oven. Just like I did on that night when I hosted dinner, I believe I can be a Master chef, believe I can have it all.
My boyfriend knows better, he focused on the fish, and got it right. I need to stop wasting time turning on all the burners, and accept, even though I hate to admit it, that I am only human. Otherwise, I will, for sure, burn myself sooner or later.