I’ve written a bajillion words about my mother, many of them composed and over-composed, all of them furiously typed, deleted, then typed again in an attempt to tell our story, my story of who I am through knowing her.
This is, and has been, a daunting task, one that I’m never sure I’ll get right as memories shift with maturity, perspective and often, lately, a reprieve from having to write about them at all. It is in this break from “examination” that I’ve realized that I all had to do to channel my mother was stand in front of a stove.
When I was growing up, a typical dinner in my mother’s house was chicken (cooked in the microwave) with some sort of easy sauce (usually from a mustard-colored packet or by mixing ketchup with shoyu) and rice (made by directly pouring a cup of rice into a cooker, adding water and pressing the “cook” button). When my mother married my stepdad, upon his request, frozen vegetables were added to the repertoire, though they never made it to my plate or my mother’s.
Now that I am co-habitating and sharing cooking duties with my man (i.e. no longer making meals out of frozen fake-meat products, cans of soup, crackers and dip tubs), I feel compelled to actually cook things that are reasonable dinner items (i.e. things that my boyfriend thinks are reasonable dinner items), like a protein, a starch and something green and healthy looking. Last Thursday’s menu included chicken drowning in a sauce described on the bottle from which it came as “Tastes from India,” served with, you guessed it, rice (cooked on the stove though!) and asparagus (at my boyfriend’s insistence—to me, all this creates is another pan to wash and adds an extra few minutes to when I actually get to eat).
I used to give my mom shit for her rudimentary, sometimes rubbery, dinner choices; I knew that other kids, with other mothers, were getting homemade tomato sauce for their spaghetti and pot roasts on Sundays. Now, however, I get it. After working all day, all I want to do is walk through the door and get to the point where I can decompress. Comfortably. But first, I have to eat. Cooking is not a meditative exercise; it’s a means to get food into my belly, my blood sugar levels back to normal and thus my mood resembling amicable so my boyfriend and I can converse outside of grunting and muttering “uh”s.
The last two meals I’ve made were sloppy joes and BLTs—also quick, also from my mother’s recipe box, also things that make me happy for those two reasons. Sometimes the zen after a long day comes dripping with mayonnaise, wrapped in bacon and smattered with nostalgia.
(Above: My mother, not in a kitchen.)