me & ina & nigella
cookbooks we’ll discuss another day. today, instead, we’re tuning in. i have a feeling i’m not alone.
when no one’s around, when no one’s paying attention, i like to mosey into the kitchen with ina, or better still, nigella. i’ll take giada, or paula deen.
i’d rather not with what’s-her-name, the perky one, the uber-perky one, the one who sort of scratches nails on my chalkboard, the one who’s always taking shortcuts to get to dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.
i make dinner in less than 30 minutes most every single night. i need little inspiration in that department. i am looking for the real thing, the sensual thing, the wrap-your-ample-arms-around-my-shoulder-and-teach-me-a-thing-or-three. that thing.
it is, most days, the only thing i ever watch on tv. and i only watch while i walk. it is, by now, an old bad habit. like blindly stuffing potato chips from bowl to fist to mouth. rather mindless. i walk in circles, horizontal circles that never get me anywhere.
and while i walk i learn to cook. i time my walking so i can walk while ina’s cooking. she lulls me into such a dreamy state i don’t even notice that i’m plodding. she purees, i perambulate. she sautees, i sweat right along.
there is the butter in her throat, the way she talks i mean. and then there’s that salt-worn shingled house with all the sunlight streaming in. i love the way she sets a table. makes it look so easy. makes it look so bountiful. so understatedly over-the-top. so gosh-i-wish-i’d-grown-up-beside-her-stove.
i want ina to invite me over. i want someone to cook for me the way ina cooks for everyone she loves. and she sure loves everyone, it seems. her table, i’m telling you, is practically an orgy. one i want to squeeze into.
i watch ina often as i can. nigella i only watch when my dear friend sandra passes off a pre-recorded tape. i love reading nigella. she flings words as easily as she flings mousse around a silver bowl. watching her rocket-blasts me into orbit. she is something of a seductress. the way she whips an egg white even. or pops the garnet gems out of a pomegranate. no wonder she wears no apron in the kitchen.
i love how she sneaks downstairs in her silky robe, reaches in the midnight fridge, sinks a spoon into something lustful lurking in the shining light of the chilling, sleeping stainless box. licks like the goddess that she is.
i have a confession to make, which i will make because we’ve been pulling up chairs for a while now: i watch ina and nigella in particular because they are especially good at teaching what i’m trying to learn. and not just cooking.
they are teaching something you would maybe never guess needs to be spooned out in half-hour lessons. they are, i pray to God, teaching me how to understand that i needn’t be afraid of cream and butter, avocado and, oh my God, a dab of sugar.
they are teaching me to breathe in the kitchen. not just breathe. maybe even dance. imagine dancing in the kitchen.
i watch them so easily cook and feed because i am trying to learn how to feed myself in the very way that i feed the ones i love so much: i am trying to teach myself that i needn’t choke or sputter when someone steers a crème brulee my way.
i am trying to teach myself that after all the years of being at war with food—starting back when i was 18 and shrank to under 90 pounds then held steady before ballooning at the mouth of the soft-serve machine in my college cafeteria, then whipsawed up and down for years and years—i can, at last, lean against the sturdy shoulder, sink into the ample bosom of my cooking friends ina and nigella, and let myself slowly open to the gentle notion that what comes to me on a spoon will feed me in ways that have nothing whatsoever to do with calories and fat grams, things i used to count obsessively, things i’ve now long left behind.
but still, i’m not as far along on this curriculum as i’d like to be. some day i’d like to taste a bite of my little boy’s birthday cake. or my own.
are you surprised? me, who talks so convincingly about feeding everyone all around me? you shouldn’t be. i’ve spent 32 years studying how it is we eat and feed the ones we love. i know more about the metaphor of food than just about anyone i know. i feel it in my bones. i ache to be fed—to feed myself—in the way i so easily imagine feeding.
my blessed friend jan once did so. i was lying in a hospital bed, stitches running straight across my middle. she came to bring me lunch. she didn’t serve just any salad in any tupperware. she brought blue-and-white china. and real silver. she packed that salad with every bit of goodness that she could gather.
that jan can cook, we say around here. she fed me that day in a way that i can taste even as i type, years later. she fed me through and through.
jan is like ina and nigella. she makes it look easy. and she, unlike the friends i tune into on the screen, is wise enough and knows me deeply enough for me to truly trust. i have been fed in the way i long to feed myself. without fear, or ducking in and out of rules for what’s allowed, what’s safe, what’s not. it happened once—maybe twice.
i tune in to ina and nigella to see if i can gather up the steam to make it happen three times a day.
okay, people, this is about as scary as it gets for me. to lift the veil on the deep and mystifying struggle i have struggled with for, geez, two-thirds of my gosh-darn life. struggles come in many, many forms. to struggle with something so essential–something so potentially rich and filling in wholly non-caloric way–is poignantly difficult. you can’t ignore it, lock it in a cupboard and never worry about it again. it comes at you as many times a day as there are reasons to feed or be fed. it is so simple, i tell myself. but then, midway with fork to mouth, i’ve gotten stuck so many times. turned down so many slices of cake, it’s amazing the baker’s union hasn’t come and shut me down. i wince every time, worry to death that i’m offending. my aim is not to offend–oh God, the hours i’ve wasted worrying that i’ve offended; my aim is to come to peace.
you know i would love to hear your thoughts. anyone else get over this or any other hump they care to bring up here, at the old, banged-up maple table?
by the way, thank you for making this a place where, tremblingly, i could tell the truth.