On Food

by f

Masala Dosa, from Vandeindia.com

I haven’t always loved food as much as I do now. When I was a toddler, my mother played a VHS tape of the Bangles’ Eternal Flame on a constant loop. As soon as those ladies hit the high note, I’d open my mouth in astonishment and, oof, I’d be force fed another mouthful of whatever soggy rice mixture my mother made for me to eat that evening.

My father knew what was up.

“Picky eaters don’t always stay that way,” he’d say, when my mother would collapse from frustration after a difficult feeding.

He was absolutely right.

I experienced a crazy growth spurt the summer of fifth grade. I grew nearly a foot in three months. That energy did not come from nowhere. Suddenly my anemic diet wasn’t cutting it for me. I branched out and discovered many delightful things. Rice felt bland to the tongue as did the spice-less food my mother made — not her fault, of course; neither my brother nor I could handle the potent firepower of her unrestrained cooking muscle — so I branched out.

My initial revelations came from macaroni and cheese. Good macaroni and cheese, not the delightful boxed crap from my friends at Kraft. In the months when I realized I was dying for good food, I went looking for recipes. Good recipes that would nourish me, that would set my tastebuds ablaze a la the Ratatouille fireworks.

I found the Martha Stewart cookbook at our local Barnes & Nobles, copied it down onto the palm of my hand with a smeary Pilot pen. I’d never heard of some of the items on that list. I laugh at it now, but to that point, my knowledge of food was so limited.

I made the macaroni and cheese dish for my visiting family. The dish came out all kinds of stringy, and a little too buttery-rich, but it was a hit. My cousins loved the dish and though they make it a point to refuse whatever’s put in front of them — curse those picky eaters! — they ate their helpings and more. Their mother had never seen such a thing.

Galvanized by my recent success I started to experiment drastically. The problem with wanting to cook was that people tied my ambitions to some overarching domestic intent.

One of my mother’s friends — I call her S Auntie — said, “She’s learning to cook — for a husband.”

She meant this quasi-jokingly, but I took great offense.

For a while, that comment cooled me off to the idea of cooking, but once I went to college I realized that cooking was a real life skill. If I could not feed for myself, I would starve.

College opened a whole lot of culinary possibilities for me. I met and befriended restaurant owners. People knew me by name. I ordered food like there was no tomorrow, bankrupting myself in my quest to eat well. I eschewed cafeteria food and cooked what I could in my kitchen, except that wasn’t much because my friends too umbrage at my cooking. It was too elaborate, too smoky, too full of spices to eat.

After college, I came home and found myself too depressed to cook or do anything for a long while. Between the procession of guests through our house and my mother’s temper tantrums, I wasn’t allowed anywhere near the stove. Gradually, I came back — you couldn’t truly keep me away — and I started making my cooking less ambitious. More practical. I invested in cookbooks that allowed me to use whatever ingredients we were guaranteed to have at home to make good, edible food.

There are stories and stories I can give you about this special relationship. And I will continue to talk about them. My overall relationship with food, however, has been a positive one. I love food. When I see the world around me and the degree to which others grapple with food issues and loving what they eat, I feel incredibly grateful.

3 Comments to “On Food”

  1. I’ve also had reservations about being ‘too domestic.’ I LOVE baking. And what was just something I loved is now a necessity. But I don’t feel that I need to justify any of it. I enjoy it. I’m pretty damn good at it.

    No one’s ever implied that I was doing this ‘for a husband,’ but if they did, I would certainly set them straight.

    I expect my men to enjoy food and cooking, or at least make a good attempt at it. We will feed each other. Cooking together is very sexy.

    I love the image of your mother feeding you through shock-and-awe tactics. How right your father was!!!

  2. I’m generally too lazy to cook. When I do, it’s usually pretty good, though. :p At least, good enough to pass muster! :p Muster, mustard, get it? xP Well, I thought it was funny!

    Good post, F!

    I used to be a picky eater, too, but now I absolutely love food. I’m especially fond of meatballs. o.O; *isodd*

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: