I Stand Accused in the Kitchen

How will you keep time for writing? A fellow author asked me. You appear to feel obliged to cook for many. For my friend, typical meal prep takes fifteen minutes and it’s for her only. Lunch comes from a local Saturday farmer’s market and her slice of quiche serves dual purposes: I support Hannah, she says.

Peaches and Green Beans (from our organic gardens)

Peaches and Green Beans (from our organic gardens)

It’s a legitimate question, one I’ve asked of myself many times: is cooking diverting me from the art I needs be—am called to be—doing?

Yes, sometimes. It can be my way to hide and feel useful while ignorant how fear takes me afield. In other words, if I never have time to write, then I have an excuse for not getting a piece done and exposing it to others or sending it into a publisher. But I think that’s not the primary reason. There’s much more to why I cook. More than the money saved. More than being female or others’ expectations.

I assert cooking is an art. It feeds my soul as well as others. And, as I’ve experienced summer ebbing away, I need to recognize and explore its treasures.

In July I threw my garden crab apples into a huge pot with lots of sugar and they became a glowing jar of apple butter that I hand to a friend as I arrive at her home for a party. Or the golden spread becomes a gift at Thanksgiving to a teacher. Something precious is in the touch of love and my wonder at growth as my hands form gifts for friends. I can’t call this bottle of vinegar a mere product when my friend brings it infused with herbs of his garden. These gifts hold beauty. They are a type of art.

I fell into doing something different today than intended, but it does makes sense. I’d meant to revise my story—instead I fall to sorting recipes. It’s a ritual. It’s become autumn. There are losses I must speak of. I say good by to my loves of this summer. On the 3×5 card smudged with oil lies the memory of garden-grown peaches from my friend, sauteed with green beans I’d plucked from my backyard, and enjoyed with family visiting from afar.

The recipe for “Friend Bars” (clipped from the San Mateo Times) brings to mind one of the best events of this summer. The bars (made of pumpkin seeds, pecans, egg, wheat germ and honey) were eaten after a long day’s hike in Sequoia with my daughter and her husband. Afterwards we three, seated on logs, watched flames jump and wane, and talked—more precious than a cruise. The new recipe, now proven, gets added to a yellow binder.

Summer flees away, but I catch hold of her hem in remembrances of tasty creations. As I store away recipes I didn’t use (making an Indian corn-based cobbler left no time for the old-fashioned kind), it’s as if summer turns her smiling face to me as she waves good bye. She promises rest from her bounty and a sweet return. Stone-fruit or tomatoes will again turn soft and luscious. Basil will again offer her pungent bright leaves. Green beans will again hang on my big-leafed vines, readied for a pluck and snap.

Love people, cook them tasty food reads my bumper sticker from Penzey’s Spices. It’s been questioned. “Cook people into delicious food?” is the joke. But loving this way is a serious matter for us who embrace the pleasures of this creative grace.

Once I heard a white California professional say, “If I spend more than thirty minutes in the kitchen, I ask myself why am I doing this?” She seems to want to cook but can’t allow herself to do so. I could explore that. I could discuss food and preparing it for others in several Asian contexts.Attitudes and practices regarding food and meal preparation all rest on cultural assumptions. But, I limit myself here to spelling out my longings and joys with cooking. Many may appear in language and race to share my culture, but not in the way of food. Call it insecurity you may, but in this place when feminists critique, I’m validating the time I “squander” in the kitchen.

Don’t misunderstand—I happily eat Costco pizza and salad from a kit when invited to dinner—delighted to be with friends in their home and sometimes entertain that way myself. But often I choose the joy of creation. I want to inhale and taste the meaty, buttery or tangy fragrance of what I’ve mixed simmering or solidifying in the oven.

Minimize cooking time—yes, I’m attempting that, but see no need to completely overthrow the art of cooking. It calls me from story-writing, but gives back—something more solid and sure than my writing (99% rejection rate average for the emerging writer). In it lies a purpose fulfilled, both immediate and complete. While I wait for my words to see print, cooking can replete I and those wield a fork with me.

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