On New Year’s Eve day 2006, I threw a bundt cake pan at my husband in a fit of rage. I love my husband – I loved him then, and I love him now – and I still threw a pan at him. Ten years later, I don’t feel bad about it. Not really.
Let me back up.
My mother-in-law wrote a cookbook. It’s not published in a traditional sense, but that fact is irrelevant. It’s an assembled collection of favorite family recipes perfectly typed, spiral bound, and passed down with love and affection, and from what I’m told, completely without judgment or expectation. Thankfully, my mother-in-law didn’t write the cookbook just for me; she wrote it for all of her children, and the cookbook came as part of a packaged deal in my marriage: you want the husband, then (hurray!) you get the cookbook too.
No newlywed is intimidated by this. Who doesn’t want to receive a well-loved book filled with recipes titled Kiah’s Favorite Chocolate Chip Muffins, Kiah’s Favorite Chicken, Kiah’s Favorite Applesauce Cake? (My husband’s name is Kiah, can you tell?) If they say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, well now I had the key! And had I been a more confident and mature 21-year-old (child) bride, I might have appreciated the book for what it was: a book of special family recipes and memories. But I wasn’t confident; in fact, I was deeply insecure and particularly certain I couldn’t measure up to everyone’s favorite cook, who has special dishes for literally every occasion and detailed instructions on how to make it so-and-so’s exact perfect favorite.
What I came to believe during my first six months of marriage – or more accurately what I had come to fear - is that if I couldn’t whip up special Saturday morning pancakes to exact perfect favorite standards then I would have probably failed as a wife, which means that I would absolutely fail as a mother, and my husband would wish he’d married someone else, and my thus-far non-existent children would be depressed and dysfunctional and the utter failure of my family would be entirely my fault. But mostly it would be the fault of that damn cookbook, that impossible beast of best-loved everything and perfect happy food memories haunting my kitchen and torturing my soul.
(Sometimes I am dramatic).
Now, I think it’s tempting to believe that my husband was projecting onto me some kind of impossible domestic standard, and my insecurity came out as a result of him setting this ridiculously high bar, but that’s not true. I was young and felt wholly unprepared for “real” adult life. Over the years, I’ve learned that often the most impossibly high standards and pressures of perfection are ones that come from within. I wanted to be perfect at marriage, and I was desperately worried that I was coming up short.
Like any new marriage, my husband and I were working to blend our lives together, and it was hard. We grew up in different families and had different perspectives about how to establish our own routines and habits as a new family unit. He wanted to hang bold red curtains in our bedroom, and I wanted sheer white ones. He wanted to put the dining table near the front door of our small one-bedroom apartment, and I wanted to put it near the back. He wanted a super annoying cheese grater, and I wanted one that was practical and easy to use (this one isn’t open to interpretation — we now own both — mine objectively is better). Often in these types of disagreements, one of us would reference the way things were done when we were growing up: “My mom always used to…” or “As a kid, we always…” These points of reference helped us share why we were thinking about a certain household task or decision in a certain way, and normally it helped me understand my husband better, but when it came to the kitchen, those statements rubbed me the wrong way. Instead of providing a helpful point of reference, I felt like he was lording my own doubts and inabilities over me. When it came to kitchen related tasks, I was consistently amazed that I could love someone so much and kind of want to kill him at the same time.
Which brings us to New Year’s Eve day 2006:
In the “Requested Recipes and Memories from Mom” cookbook there’s a recipe for an Apricot Rum Cake (listed in the Holiday Traditions section under “New Year’s Day”). My husband and I were heading to a dinner party, and he thought it would be fun to bring the Rum Cake. Now, in defense of this cake — which is about to get a terrible reputation — it is delicious. Prior to serving it, you set a ladle of rum on fire and pour the flaming rum over the cake. It’s a family favorite (obviously), and it’s super festive. To his credit, my husband was not asking me to slave away on New Year’s Eve day fulfilling his request. He wanted to make the cake together, and that’s really where the problem occurred.
Despite my insecurity, I was not a terrible cook or a bad baker. I had taken several home economics classes and to date had not screwed up anything in the kitchen too terribly. In some regard, I thought it might be fun to bake a cake with my husband. Baking is an adorable newlywed thing to do. This is the pep-talk I gave myself as I pulled out the family cookbook. I knew I was being irrational, and I did try to get over it.
Except I couldn’t.
I flipped open the book, and we divided up the tasks. The recipe read as follows:
- In small bowl, combine chopped dried apricots and 1/4 cup rum; let stand for 30 minutes. (My husband did this part).
- Heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously grease and flour a 10in bundt pan. (This was my job).
“The flour doesn’t really look evenly distributed around the edges of the pan …” my husband commented from across our tiny kitchen.
“I’m not done,” I replied. This was not the first of his comments. My memory on the previous ones is still fuzzy, but I’m fairly sure my annoyance at this point was not unwarranted. I think there was something about butter temperature … Maybe nut chopping technique … I was on edge.
“It looked like you were about to be done,” he said.
“Well, I wasn’t!” I continued to tap the edges of the pan trying to more evenly disperse the flour. I was starting to sweat.
“I think if you tapped the pan more like —“
“Stop! If I want your help I’ll ask for it.” I yelled this; my husband looked a little shocked.
“It’s just that when my mom used to make this —“
Oh no he didn’t.
I lost my mind. I yelled a lot of things about how I wasn’t his mother, and I was my own person, and I was perfectly capable of simple tasks like flouring a pan, and I don’t even know what other ridiculous rage came out of my mouth, but I waved the dish around as I spoke. Then, as a grand finale, I lifted that greased and floured bundt pan up over my head, and I chucked it.
“You wanna know MY New Year’s Resolution? I’m never cooking with you again for as long as I live!” I screamed. And then — because we had a very small one-bedroom apartment — I stalked out of the kitchen and into the only room with a slammable door.
Trapped in the bathroom, I didn’t really know what to do next, so naturally I burst into tears. I’d left my adorable husband standing in the kitchen fearing for his life because his crazy wife was flinging baking pans at him. I don’t use the word adorable lightly. My husband is so cute, and at 23 he was absolutely the blond-haired, blue-eyed, boy-band fantasy of every single one of my dreams, and I was the horrible woman who attempted to mar his perfection with blunt force trauma via bundt pan.
Full disclosure: I expected him to catch the pan, which he did. I didn’t actually believe that I was going to hurt him, but what if I had? I sobbed, vacillating between guilt and anger.
This was what a self-fulfilling prophecy actually feels like: My fear that my husband would regret marrying me and that I was the world’s worst wife were coming to fruition all because of that stupid cookbook.
Except none of this had anything to do with cooking or the cookbook and everything to do with me.
I mentioned that I don’t feel bad about throwing the pan, and that’s true. Not because I think my husband deserved it or I condone kitchen violence, but because that experience opened the floodgates to a whole host of issues I didn’t even know I was harboring. That’s not to say I pulled myself together and exited the bathroom a changed woman. I definitely did not, but throwing the pan was a landmark moment for our marriage. So much had been festering under the surface in those first six months, and over time we started working these issues out. We had the hard talks and shared more openly about our pain and fears and worries, and slowly, I began to learn what it meant to come together.
In over a decade of marriage, the bundt pan incident remains our most dramatic fight, and it was also the one that made me realize a family comes with many layers of expectations, and often the only way to meet them is to run, or sometimes crash, right into them. As I think about our kids now and who they’ll grow up to be someday, I often worry about the ways I’m teaching them to work out disagreements and resolve conflict. I hope they’ll learn from my mistakes and that, ultimately, my husband and I will model for them what good conflict resolution looks like. However, for the sake of their future spouses, if I ever pass down this recipe book, I’ll make sure to remove the one that calls for a bundt pan … just in case.