I have always pretty much insisted on putting dinner on the table myself. Even though my husband is a capable cook who, thanks to odd work hours, is often home to cook, I like doing it. I like dreaming up dishes on my commute and stopping at the market across the street from our apartment for the accoutrements I need for dinner. I like coming home at the end of the day and working out my feelings through chopping and stirring.
I like the whole process of cooking — I always have. Until, all of a sudden, I didn't.
I had taken a job that I thought would be wonderful: more responsibilities, more money, and a company with name recognition. It was a leap for me, sure, but it was also a dream.
Soon, however, I was swamped, drowning in work and, even worse, surrounded by coworkers and a boss who seemed amused that I was struggling. I began to sludge through the day, waiting for 6 p.m. to come.
A few months into the job, I stopped cooking. I let my husband cook, and I collapsed in bed. On nights when he was at work, a bowl (okay, the whole box) of packaged macaroni and cheese would sustain me. My "who cares?" attitude was buoyed by long hours and a mountain of work on my shoulders.
In the midst of this ennui, we took a trip to Southeast Asia. I knew I would still have to monitor emails and check in, but still — two glorious weeks away from work!
It was in the middle of the street in Hong Kong that my husband approached the subject of my job. "I can't watch you like this," he said. "We would figure it out."
I mulled it over, as scared of heading into the abyss of planned unemployment as I was of leaving something big and revered — something I thought I had wanted.
Our next stop was Bangkok, and I was still afraid of quitting. My husband booked a food tour on a motorized tuk tuk. We raced through the streets of Bangkok, stopping at food stalls, stuffing ourselves with locals-only Thai food, and moving to the next location.
One in particular stuck with me. It was a restaurant that served a kind of fried noodle indigenous to the neighborhood. I watched this woman, obviously a skilled cook, using only an open flame and a searing-hot wok. She deposited the ingredients — flat, wide noodles, a handful of chicken breast, an egg, some scallions, a few drops of fish sauce — in the wok, then flipped and flopped them as I stared, transfixed. I was convinced that the dish would char as the flames grew higher and higher.
The noodles were impossibly delicious — chewy, crispy, salty, spicy. We ate them greedily and then ordered another bowl, savoring the noodles' burnt edges. When I asked what the secret was, the cook said, "Nothing. They are simple."
I thought about those noodles, their maker, and her mantra for the rest of the trip. As I sat on the 17-hour flight back home, I turned to my husband and decided that I would quit my job. We would figure it out.
Back in our apartment, jet-lagged and starving, my husband suggested ordering a pizza — but no, with the decision made, the weight off my shoulders, we didn't need to.
I pulled some ingredients from the pantry — a can of white beans, some garlic, some pasta. There was a pack of frozen spinach in the freezer. That would do. Something simple to get us on the right track. Something easy was the perfect way to start.