It’s insane to talk about returning to the kitchen without mentioning my mother. My mother who taught me to cook and not just in the literal sense (“this is how you peel a carrot”), but gave me the beginnings of a relationship with food. She taught me to think of food as fuel and pleasure, to respect my ingredients and not waste things unnecessarily.
It’s no coincidence that when I craved that particular kind of maternal self-care, I felt drawn to the kitchen. Like many families, so many of my memories are tied to food. Food was part of how we communicated our love. The rituals of it remind me of her: the feel of flour in the invisible cracks of your palms, the sound noise of oil spitting in the pan just as the onions crisp up, the smell of fresh bread cooling on the counter, the marbling of a cake mixture when you add wet ingredients to dry, the bounce of fresh dough under your fingertips. finger tips.
Of course, like many mothers, she cooked because she had to. It was a domestic chore, more than a creative endeavour. But it was also an exploration, a way to explore parts of the world she would never see. For me, cooking is a way to stay rooted to the past, to a sense of place, to a home that no longer exists.
She had a dozen or so favourite meals, that she rotated regularly. She baked bread and put a pot of pudding rich rice on the stove most evenings, so we’d have something warm before bed. She tweaked every recipe so that it had less fat and sugar, increasing the carbs in the hope that it’d keep us full for longer. Hungry hawks she called us. She meant it kindly, though perhaps with some exasperation. A feeling I came to understand when I started spending an hour shopping for groceries and lugging them home by hand, another hour prepping and cooking, until my siblings arrived and it was all inhaled in 20 minutes. I’d blink and three hours of labour evaporated into full bellies and sleepy smiles. “That was great, Clare,” they’d say before rummaging around looking for dessert.