It really should feel like a chore. But by the time I line up my farmer’s market loot, sharpen my knife, and pull the pots from the cabinet, I am ready. My mind is clear, focused. I am on auto-pilot yet so aware of every crunch and chop and splash. I want to get done fast, but I also savor these two hours in the kitchen by myself. Sam and Drew are in the garage, organizing, sweeping, or whatever it is that men do in their garages.
I spent a lot of Sundays in the kitchen as a child. My mom and dad both cooked and on Sundays one of them hunkered there for most of the day to prepare our Sunday dinner and make meals for the week ahead. The radio was always tuned to a news station and I knew that when the ding-ding-dong music of the noontime news came on, it was almost time to eat. Our kitchen was small and in the winter mostly heated by the large stove. My mom would turn the stove on in the morning so that by the time it was time to cook she wouldn’t freeze. But soon it was warm enough for me to nestle at our dining table and help with whatever I could — peel potatoes, mix raw meat with spices (that was my favorite), chop onions, make cottage cheese filling for paper-thin crepes, bread chicken breast slices, fetch jars of homemade jam from the pantry.
I learned most of my skills during those Sunday cooking marathons. How to measure flour and sugar for baking. How to get onions to just the right translucency as they sweated in duck fat. How to skim the glimmering, golden fat off chicken soup. How to crush garlic, squeeze lemon, pound meat. How to experiment, to deviate from the prescribed, to be adventurous. To trust that with small adjustments everything will come out all right in the end. To savor the work, the process, the sweat and tears. To enjoy the result without guilt.
I think about all this as I cook in my own kitchen now, with my own tools and ingredients, for my own family. It feels primal, this urge to feed my family, to start the week with a fridge full of food: chicken soup with fluffy white dumplings, meatballs, a stew with pale parsnips and carrots, sticky rice, apple cake. I think about my parents and all the time they spent cooking for us. Back then it all seemed so effortless to get Sunday dinner on the table — now I really understand the hours of planning and preparation that went into just that one meal devoured in less than 30 minutes.
Sam is still a bit too young to join me for longer periods or to really help, but when he does sit on the kitchen counter for a few minutes with me he wants to help me stir and to taste spices. I sprinkle some salt on his fingers, then he requests cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, nutmeg. He licks his fingers and then runs off to play again. Food for him is just a distraction right now, something that takes him away from his toys. But he is adventurous in his eating and tries everything.
As I take the apple cake out of the oven I think about how so many of our memories are connected to food and eating, to certain meals, the people who prepared them, and the rooms where we first tasted something new or special. I hope that with time I can pass that kind of nourishment to Sam — that he will have memories of our time together by the warm stove and the taste of cinnamon on his tongue.