I was never a child who baked or cooked alongside her mother with the matching apron, and the cute dusting of flour everywhere. I thought I had more important things to do, like listen to my Fisher Price plastic records or play with my friends, or read a book. In fact, the first time I actually cooked regularly was when I had to — when I was studying abroad for a semester and when I lived on my own my last year of college. And I served terribly exciting things like scrambled eggs with ham lunch meat or baked chicken breast with cooked frozen peas. Boring, bland, yes, but also terribly adequate.
And then there were all my pristine wedding cookbooks, full of promise and hope, that held out a life of excitement with cocktails and coq au vin and fancy sauces and things written in different languages. And I tried to splatter that Joy of Cooking book while I learned to bake gingerbread or make pasta; and when the spine began to break, I let it fall apart, because splattered and tattered, it meant something. It meant I was a cook. That I was a woman. That I could hold my own. And I know our mothers, in the wake of the Feminist movement, wanted so much more for their daughters than a life in the kitchen, that we could be “all that we wanted to be” — but the truth is, the kitchen needn’t be the place of slavery or stasis. It’s actually the place where daily life happens. And we can choose — in whatever vocation we have, in whatever capacity we work — to make the moments where we gather together meaningful or mundane, and even, to make the mundane meaningful.
Sometimes (and this is scary for me, the recovering perfectionist) learning to cook means you fail. Just this week — I made a meal no one really liked and there were tears and it ended with too much noise and bowls of Cheerios. You know, that happens as you put yourself out there — testing ingredients or trying to stretch the grocery budget, or even when we show up and are vulnerable with others. Sometimes it’s a great success and other times you just want to run away and hide and have a do-over. But the lovely thing about cooking and the lovely thing about family, is that there are do-overs. Every day is new. Forgiveness renews and refreshes and feels sweet and overpowering all at once. It’s scary to be vulnerable, to be brave and show up, but that’s the only way that we’ll really learn not just to cook, but how to suck the marrow out of life.
This month I’m writing on life Around the Table. I hope you’ll join me, cook with me, and invite others in to your real and virtual spaces.