What Would You Do With This Turkey?

One day when I was in college I entered the kitchen to find my grandmother looking at an uncooked turkey on the counter.  She looked at me and asked, with that most beautiful twinkle in her eye, “Marisa, if you were to come home to this turkey, what would you do?”

Without a trace of irony I replied, “I’d put it back in the fridge.”

Nanna’s laughter and shaking her head made it clear that this was not the sort of answer she was seeking.  She wanted to share a moment with her granddaughter, passing on culinary knowledge.  I was concerned that the family might get food poisoning if the bird stayed out too long.  It didn’t occur to me to be interested in cooking anything.  Even spending time with Nanna was not enough to convince me that preparing a meal was more worthwhile than reading a book.

I thought back to this conversation tonight while I was cooking dinner.  Admittedly, I was only half present. Even as I was aware that there was sacredness in making soup for my family, I had a bunch of other tasks that I had wanted to accomplish.  I was composing this post in my head, cursing my garlic covered fingers that made jotting down my fleeting ideas impossible.

As I remembered Nanna, I was also thinking about yesterday’s open letter to our mothers, the women who “forgot” to tell my generation how phenomenal motherhood could be.  There was no doubt that Nanna adored being a mother – almost as much as she adored being a grandmother. By the same token, I know that my mother loved being a mom to my sister and me.  And when it comes to Mom’s take on being a grandmother… well, that tremendous love is apparent to anyone who has been in the same room as her and Moira.

I’m guessing that the signs were always there.  Nanna and Mom were constantly sending out signals that most casual observers could quickly decipher: motherhood was/is a huge and brilliant part of their identities and they would recommend it to anyone.  Several women responded to my post, describing how much they have loved motherhood and how they have made it a point to share this with their daughters.  When my own mom reads it she will probably say the same.  Will my mother tell me that she tried to describe motherhood to me many times but that I just wasn’t listening?

From the outside looking in, I think mothering can look like monotony and drudgery much of the time.  How do you explain to someone that changing a cloth diaper every two hours is not a relentless chore but an amazing chance to be barraged by a dozen new infant giggles and coos?

What if my generation’s perceived lack of interest in, or, perhaps more accurately, lack of knowledge of mothering springs not because our moms never mentioned it but because the whole world programmed us not to hear what they were saying?

The planet seems to be spinning faster and faster.  Everything is driven by productivity and performance.  From my ten weeks’ experience as a mom, I can tell you that being “productive” has never been so difficult (hi, I brushed my teeth, got out of the house in less than an hour and a half, and managed to write an Epiphany or two – give me a medal!).  As for performance… many of us try to mold the experience into something readable, but, for the most part, motherhood for the sake of show is a fool’s errand.

When you’re in college and living off of beer and bagels, measuring success by how many hook ups you’ve had and how many books you’ve read, cooking can seem ridiculously dull.  So much energy expended for something as un-sexy as a square meal.  And motherhood… well, at nineteen that is even more un-sexy to most girls.

Mothering and cooking a decent dinner:  both take more time than you have; you’re always a little afraid of screwing up; you most likely will need to improvise because you’ll never have all the ingredients; your mind is often flying in several unrelated directions at the same time.

But, oh the rewards of a meal well prepared and a baby curled up peacefully beside you at the end of a long day!

Letting Creativity Simmer: Unlikely Kitchen Adventures

“If you can read, you can cook.”

My mother always said this whenever I would express any culinary trepidation. I’m not sure if it was disinterest or fear that kept me out of the kitchen, but I would usually nod my head and then disappear with a book, only turning up again when it was time to dress the salad.

Once my grandmother was about to prepare a turkey. She asked me, “Now, if you came home to this, what would you do?” I wasn’t trying to be funny when I replied, “Um, I’d put it back in the fridge.” My concerns about potential food poisoning far outshone my awareness that being involved in the process of cooking a turkey was an option I’d ever pursue.

Now I am married with a house of my own and I am fortunate enough to have a man around who has a way with poultry. I manage to produce a fair number of rather tasty meals (still avoiding having to touch raw meat whenever possible), but there is still a great divide between me and those who actually feel bliss at the other end of a spatula. For years, I had a picture of a redhead in a tiara with the caption “Domestically Disabled” prominently displayed on the refrigerator. A lot of the time, I still feel that way, but the diva excuse doesn’t cut it when you aspire to equality in a marriage and a home that you can be proud of.

To a certain degree, my mom is right: there is no reason to mystify the preparation of food. I have never been such an aloof artistic type that I had no interest in nourishing myself or setting a welcoming table for those I love. Still, it’s not always that easy: I am a pretty skilled reader, but it is amazing how, um, uniquely I can execute a recipe when I try to translate words into action.

There was the time we enjoyed a lovely gazpacho while I listed the five or six ingredients I had neglected to add, I don’t know how many dishes I have served only to exclaim “I forgot the spices!” And then there was last night when I got ready to prepare the fabulous Gluten Free Goddess‘s Mediterranean Chicken Soup (Husband kindly did his magic on the foul while I did the rest). How did I make a grocery list based on a recipe without ever noticing that it was supposed to take five to six HOURS in a crock pot? I wanted to have dinner ready by halftime – I was definitely not part of the slow cook movement. Luckily, though I have no idea how it was supposed to taste, it filled my woefully small soup pot and simmered little while and was actually wonderfully satisfying even on a condensed time line.

I share my culinary misadventures because it has helped me to realize that it is still possible to leave your comfort zone, veer off course dramatically, and still reap some rewards. For me, spending time at the stove is to dabble in someone else’s art, a territory that welcomes me only grudgingly and offers the rewards of a full belly rather than true self expression.

Still, last night was one of those times when I began to understand why those divinely inspired kitchen witches love to create with food. Mixing and tasting and knowing that I was just making it all up as I went along… There was a sense of connection to the vegetables and spices and wonder at the alchemy of making a meal for the person I love.

I may be a writer who reaches out to the world with language and thought, but it is sweetly liberating to learn that creative acts of any form are waiting for me to find them, urging me to look at the world anew.