"I can't think of anything that would make a couple happier than for each one to do what he or she wants to in the kitchen." --Bob Staples
Men, we are told, are cooking more. Therefore, are women cooking less? Once the icing is on the first cake or the initials souffle has risen, is kitchen duty still fun or is it a chore done grudgingly, if at all?
If the pattern Bob Staples and Barbara Charles have developed can serve as a guide, the answer to these questions would be that both cook less than they would individually and enjoy it more. Each pursues specific interests, which dovetail for harmonious meals and a week of wide-ranging menus.
"Bob invariably does salads and all the barbecue stuff," Charles explained during a lunch recently at the couple's Capitol Hill studio-home. "He doesn't like desserts, so if we have any, I do it. I make the bread, too.
The meal they served went as smoothly as a tennis rally by a well-practiced doubles team. Bob served a beautifully roasted, moist capon that he had cooked on an outdoor spit-barbecue. After the return, Barbara hit a strong forehand: oatmeal-molasses bread with - to use a term from the baking trade - a great crumb. Time for a lob: Bob tossed a salad that included homegrown tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. The put-away was Barbara's deft treatment of a rum-favored custard pie. It was perfectly placed and quite unreturnable.
Game, set and leftovers to Staples and Charles. There was even a little California chardonnay remaining for a toast.
"We both cook what we like," Staples said. "We're lucky, though. Not everybody's preferences are as well defined as ours.
He, it turns out, has a passion for making sandwiches and relies on her bread. She likes to cook from recipes, using the leftovers, "Use up the scraps" Staples said. "It's my Prussian background coming out." Their teamwork even extends to the garden that is planted alongside, behind and on a second-storey deck of their townhouse. Charles does the planting, but credits Staples with remembering to do the watering.
Perhaps their joint efforts work so well because they are an extension of a professional partnership. Like Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter and a few other Washington couples, Staples and Charles live and work at home. The first floor of their townhouse contains the graphic design offices from which the pair have created exhibits such as "America On Stage" for the Kennedy Center, and "Aspects of Art and Science" and "We The People" for the Smithsonian Institution.
She is the concept and research specialist. He is in charge of design and engineering. In addition to conceiving and mounting exhibits for museums and business corporations, Staples collects 19th-century graphics and Charles has been a leader in the fight to save and preserve carrousels.
Both of them worked for the legendary designer Charles Eames and his wife, Ray, in Venice, Calif., where the atmosphere of the Eames "factory" made a deep impression. "Their work was their life," Staples said. "It was all they did. But you never had the feeling of a dreary office. No one gobbled a fast-food lunch. There was a small kitchen that produced what was wanted. They thought nothing of entertaining the famous with a picnic on a blanket in the back yard.
Their own enterprise demands a heavy commitment to work and Staples sees "living above the store" as a mixed blessing. "It's super if you've worked late to just go up and barbecue something. But as you're already at home, you usually don't realize it's time to quit until you're hungry. Then you want something fast.
For evening meals when time is limited their choice is often pork chops, fish fillets or cannelloni (prepared ahead and reheated). Charles also keeps a stockpile of homeground and seasoned hamburgers in the freezer and enjoys preparing other traditional standbys such as chicken pot, and macaroni and cheese casserole. Good cooking and an insistence on fresh, top quality ingredients, make them distinctive, both agree. They shop regularly at the Eastern Market and have been supporting Shelton's, a new local market nearby.
They have created an open, airy kitchen dining area at the rear of the second floor. It is very much a work in progress with a door frame exposed here and a window frame scraped but not yet painted. Staples turns to home improvements "between crises." What he has crafted thus far functions very well and is in keeping with a deliberately relaxed life style. (When they dine out, which is rare, they are likely to choose the Sunset on 11th Street SE over a fancy restaurant.) His barbecue grill is just outside on the deck as are a selection of herbs and banks of strawberry plants. The grill has an electric spit roasting attachment Staples uses to cook birds as large as a 15-pound turkey.
Inside, tall storage cabinets of light wood form a wall to close off the food preparation space, but a good-sized pass-through counter is an effective link to the rest of the room. Some gems from Staples' period graphics collection decorate the walls, while various offbeat antiques - unmatched antique spoons or a lunch counterstyle sugar dispenser - are explained with a quip. "When we found out our taste was too good for our bank account," Staples said, "we also discovered we take perfect comfort in eclecticism."
The round dining table seats eight and is equipped with directors chairs. A smaller table nearby, also round, holds a realistic sculpture of a platter of spaghetti and meatballs. This table is used for drinks and appetizers or for coffee after meals.
This arrangement has been forced on them to some extent because a drill press still occupies the space that might be their living room. But it has paid an unexpected dividend. More and more Staples and Charles find themselves entertaining clients with home-cooked business lunches, often at the insistence of the client.
"Some clients do seem to set up their schedule so they can be here at lunch," Charles said, not at all displeased. "It's fun, it really relaxes people and it saves time. There are not a lot of restaurants near here and those we might go to, you have to wait. It's easier just to come up here."
So Charles may slip out of a conference, duck upstairs for a few minutes and put a quiche in the oven to be ready half-an-hour lter. Staples will have the salad ready and simply toss it with the dressing. Or, in summer, the menu may be a cooked-ahead ham and several cold salads. Dessert will be standing by, needing only a final garnish and freshly ground coffee is already in a filter, waiting only for boiling water.
The pass-through provides a funnel for conversation as one or the other deals with these details. It's easy, except, as Charles noted, "After I put a quiche in and return to a meeting, I really watch the clock."
Another problem, a minor one, is one of esthetics. As Staples prepared coffee, water from the kettle spit and spurted in several directions. "This kettle," he observed, "was designed by a designer and bought by a designer. It's beautiful. But it doesn't work. It spills. The trouble is it cost so much I can't get rid of it."
Several Charles and Staples recipes follow. OATMEAL BREAD (Makes 2 loaves) 1 cup rolled oats or uncooked oatmeal (not instant) 2 cups boiling wter, plus 1/2 cup warm water 2 teaspoons salt 1 tablespoon vegetable shortening 1 to 2 packages yeast granules 1/2 cup molasses 7 cups white flour, approximately (stone ground preferred)
Pour 2 cups boiling water over oats in a large bowl. Mix in salt and shortening and let stand until liquid cools to lukewarm. Meanwhile, stir yeast and a teaspoon of molasses into 1/2 cup warm water. (If using standard all-purpose flour, 1 package of yeast is enough; add another half package or more with heavier flours.) Let stand for 5 minutes.
Pour yeast mixture into lukewarm oats along with molasses. Stir in enough flour (5 1/2 to 6 cups) to make a stiff dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead in another 1 to 1 1/2 cups. Knead for at least 10 minutes. Clean mixing bowl and grease the interior with shortening. Form dough into a ball, roll it around in bowl to coat the surface. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until double in size, in a warm place.
Grease two pans (each 9 1/2-by-5 1/2-by-2 3/4 inches). Punch down dough, knead briefly and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Form into two loaves and place in pans, seam side down. Let rise for about 1 hour, or until at least 1 inch over the pan. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for about 1 hour and 15 minutes; or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool on a rack. Use for toast, for sandwiches or by itself. BARBARA CHARLES' "NESSELRODE" PIE (Makes 1 pie) 1 prebaked 9-inch pie crust 1 envelope gelatin 1/4 cup water 2 cups light cream, scalded 2 eggs, separated 1/4 cup sugar, plus 6 tablespoons Pinch salt 1 tablespoon dark rum, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract Bitter chocolate, chilled
Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small bowl. While cream is heating, mix egg yolks and sugar together with a pinch of salt until mixture is lemon colored. Transfer to the top of a double boiler and place over simmering water. Add heated cream and stir until custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Off the heat, add gelatin. Allow to cool in a flat dish, or place container in a bowl partially filled with ice cubes and water and stir until custard thickens and is ready to set. Beat the egg whites in a mixer until soft peaks form, then gradually add 6 tablespoons sugar. Fold egg whites into custard along with rum or vanilla. Pour into pie shell and even the surface. Place in refrigerator to chill for several hours ro overnight.
Shortly before serving, scrape shavings from chocolate with a knife or vegetable peeler and sprinkle them over the pie. Pie Crust 5 1/2 tablespoons vegetable shortening 1 cup flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon milk 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons cold water
Sift flour and salt over shortening in a mixing bowl. Use a pastry blender or two knifes to cut ingredients together. Add milk and 2 tablespoons water. Combine, adding more water as needed, to form a dough. Roll into a ball, wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Roll out cold dough into a circle larger than a 9-inch pie plate. Fit dough into plate, puncture all over with tongs of a fork. Cover with foil wrap and fill the shell with dried beans. Bake in a preheated 425-degree oven. Remove foil and beans after 10 minutes and continue cooking for 2 to 4 minutes, or until golden brown. BOB STAPLES' ROAST CAPON OR TURKEY
"Spit roasting seems to preserve more of the moisture than oven roasting, but you can't stuff a bird the same way. I use fruit and vegetables that produce moisture, anything in the refrigerator that's tired or tattered, apples cut in sections or celery tops. I'll use celery salt if there's no celery.
"For a 5-to-6-pound capon, I cut up three peaches and an apple and put them in the front and back cavities along with celery salt, salt, pepper and about 1/4-stick of butter. I pulled the skin back over the cavities and tied the whole bird rather tightly and cook it on the spit over a drip pan with a medium-hot fire. To keep the bird from getting sunburnt, I melt half a stick of butter and add several generous dashes of Tabasco and baste it every 15 minutes until the butter is gone. It's done in 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
"I've never done a supermarket chicken and when I tried a 20-pound turkey, it just didn't stay together. Anything up to 15 pounds works fine." BOB STAPLES' SALAD FORMULA
"I like a green salad. I prefer Boston and romaine and I add bean sprouts now and then for texture plus whatever is in the fridge: raw cauliflower, leftover steamed beans, broccoli or peas, cucumber, green pepper, mushrooms. I use chick peas sometimes and tomatoes fresh from the garden but never in the off-season. Sometimes I'll add pecans or walnuts, but I don't do them all together. It shouldn't become a vegetable salad. Lettuce should cominate. If it doesn't all the vegetables tend to sink to the bottom of the bowl.
"I use olive or vegetable oil - or a mixture - for the dressing, mixing it two or three to one with vinegar, plus 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard. If I need lemon peel for something else, I'll use lemon juice, I add salt and pepper, possibly some celery salt, and herbs. Basil's my favorite.I'm not too big on dill and I'll use parsley and chives if we have them. I stir them in with a fork, just start tasting and adjust until it seems right.
"Then I slice half a medium onion and marinate it in the dressing for half and hour. It gives the dressing flavor and seems to remove that harsh bite from the onion. I don't dress th salad until I'm ready to serve it because the lettuce wilts."