Just because my mother is busy in the kitchen while staying with me for the next two months, it doesn’t mean I eschewed cooking altogether. It’s the first time, in our long and distinguished lives, that we are cooking together. Even as a grown-up, it was always my mom cooking my favourite meals whenever I would visit, with me relishing every bite but keeping my nose out of her kitchen. But with food having played a huge chunk in the last ten years of my life, most of them spent in a professional kitchen, it’s force of habit and, I won’t deny it, pleasure, that will make me shove some cauliflower in the oven just because, or concoct a dessert someone happened to mention.
The result of this tandem culinary activity is a fridge and freezer bursting at the seams, and a series of invitations extended to friends in an effort to consume this edible mound that keeps on growing.
As I observe my mother’s mottled hands as she rolls pasta (with the long rolling-pin she got past US customs) or deftly twirls tortelloni, she quizzes me as to the dressing I whipped up for the salad or will peek into the food processor to inspect my humus. As I try to hold on to or acquire what is second nature to her (rabbit with black olives anyone?), she opens up to new flavors and embraces foods I take for granted, such as guacamole, which she calls “that avocado thing your cousin makes”.
“Which counter do you want?” one of us will ask, as we divide the kitchen, pull out chopping boards and, like last Sunday, at the end of a brief cooking session, we’ll find out we have more food than we can possibly sit down and eat. Not surprisingly, Ottie and Portia are gaining weight at an alarming rate as my mother hasn’t become inure yet to the liquid, pleading eyes that will tactically position themselves either by the stove or the trash can. Whomever still believes dogs don’t have a thinking process of some sort, I beg them to reconsider.
A comment from Aunt Snow, aka the blogger behind Doves Today, on an old, heavy colander belonging to her grandmother that she recently rescued, made me remember the old kitchen ware that was passed down from my grandmother and still very much in use in my mother’s kitchen as I was growing up: an imperfect and massive scale that my mother revamped by painting red; an ancient wooden coffee grinder with a giant cranking handle and a small drawer for the ground coffee; copper pots of every size, the tiny milk pot banged up beyond recognition – it’s as if the gadgetry of the ’60’s and ’70’s completely bypassed our house, with the only exception of Tupperware. Not much of it has survived and I wish I had squirreled it away when I had the chance. But in my ’30’s, I felt myself and my mother to be eternal and that our house would always be my personal museum.
My mother doesn’t realize how this gift of cooking together is the best 50th birthday present she could have ever given me. I don’t feel eternal anymore and, despite her resilience and endless energy, I can see the stiffness in my her joints. But I am not thinking about it just yet. For now, the rolling and chopping and whirring will go on so that I can pull out lasagna from the freezer sometime in December and remember these perfect Summer days.