When I started writing here, I thought I’d be turning to words as my solace. However it appears that I’m eating my feelings instead – and as someone who has struggled with disordered eating in the past, I can honestly say I’m glad for it. I just didn’t think I’d be more productive and experimental in the kitchen than with my writing. But I suppose this is yet another facet of myself that living through this bizarre time of physical distancing has shown me.
When I’m not coming up with recipes for caramel corn, or perfecting my family’s favourite chocolate nice cream or whatever else, I’m trying other people’s recipes and making little comments to myself like I’m a seasoned gourmande.
The other day I caught myself scoffing over tapioca starch and reached smugly for the arrowroot. When did this happen? At what point did I become so much of a foodie that I snort with disdain when I see an ingredient I wouldn’t personally use? When did I develop preferences? Go-to ingredients?
Aside from occasionally pretending that I have my own cooking show, I’m not a trained chef. For as much as I really enjoy mucking around in the kitchen, I have only ever made a handful of meals that consistently please all 4 people in my family and don’t result in me raising my voice and making splinter meals just so I can accommodate each person’s noodle consistency, spice level, and ‘don’t let the peas touch the potatoes’ preferences.
And yet, here we are.
I remember being a small child in my godfather’s restaurant kitchen, shadowing him where I could without getting underfoot, loving the pleasantly complex smells of dill and cream from one dish mixing with the smokey paprika and parsley root from another. The counters gleamed. The freshly laundered linens seemed somehow exotic. Even in the quiet of the late morning, there seemed to be a promise of people. My godfather would glance occasionally at the swinging door to the dining room out of habit, even though they wouldn’t be open for hours.
I could feel it too, though.
There was a magnetic kind of anticipation, on our end and on everyone else’s too; when the clock turned to the hour and the first dinner rush would break through the door, there already seemed to be an entourage filling the place with a kind of boisterous warmth I’ve only felt with my closest friends.
There was something magic there. Gypsies and their violins pinned soundtracks to memories, as elegant waitstaff half glided, half bustled down the aisles with what I remember as enormous platters of food balanced in their arms. Oh the food. Hearty and crisp roasted potatoes, sausages, and breaded schnitzel as light as air; the delicate tart high-note of cold cherry soup; crepes stuffed with chocolate and dusted with icing sugar like gossamer; my first sip of a Shirley Temple.
And something else. A feeling of togetherness. Community. The kind of safety you feel when you laugh with family.
Now as I resurface from this pleasant haze of nostalgia, I realize that maybe my rooted stance in the kitchen makes a little more sense.
Maybe it’s less recipes and more alchemy that I have been experimenting with – creating tangible memories to nurture my family; plating the table for my children to feel that same magnetic pull of hope, of people coming soon.
To pass the time with our bellies relaxed and soft with sighs, full with just a little magic, until we know that we are safe to laugh again.