It’s been too long, reader.
I could blame the usual suspects. I’ve worked hard, traveled often, changed friends, changed apartments, seen a little turmoil and a lot of joy since we last spoke. But none of these factors alone can say why I’ve stopped writing here. The truth: Every time I change, this blog has to find a new voice. And I have changed so dramatically so often in the past year that my voice can hardly keep up with it.
The main struggle is to find something to write that won’t feel false when I next read it. And, while I’ve learned some timelessly true things over the past year, none of them will seem new to you. They’re all reducible to aphorisms: Be generous to your parents. If you must dislike someone, do it with style. Trust what you feel first thing in the morning. Find friends you’re comfortable farting around. Wear less makeup.
Which is not to say I stopped writing altogether. I agreed to write a column for a just-launched magazine, Mindful. I produced an exceptional quantity of words for my employer. I dusted off some old stories to ready them for print. Then, I got an interesting email from Calphalon. They wondered if I’d help them tell a story in honor of Women’s History Month – a story about women in the kitchen. A prompt is equal to a purpose, so I said yes.
My story begins as all stories begin: with a mother. Meet Mamie Mears. At the age of 30, she left a punishing life in China and never looked back. Within a year of arriving in Los Angeles, she worked as a maid, sold eggrolls in the street, learned English, refused to marry a rich man, faced homelessness, met and married my father. She weighed 80 pounds when they took their vows, and cooked for the reception. The food was, I’m certain, as extraordinary as she is.
My mother is the finest cook I know. Her dumplings are legendary, and she can transform the humblest ingredients – some bits of rib bone, starchy tomatoes, weeks-old cabbage – into the most memorable meal you’ll ever eat. She didn’t teach me how to cook, but she taught me how to love cooking. To see the kitchen not as a place of burden and duty, but of joy and remedy.
I consider my mother a feminist, despite her love of domestic things. She was the head of her family, leading her mother, sister and brother to new lives in America. She rose from housemaid to CFO in fifteen years. She was forceful and unrelenting. And she taught her daughter by example: Be loud, brash and utterly yourself. Work hard and know what you’re worth. Demand respect. Never settle.
Now imagine a woman like this in the kitchen. Yet she never served chicken soup with a side of spite, or begrudged any moment she spent over the stove. Because when she works in the kitchen she’s not slaving away. She’s meditating. She’s saying something. She’s doing what she loves most to do. Women like my mother rather complicate our picture of a homemaker – and I hope they continue to.
Because for her and for me and for women like us, cooking isn’t a chore. It’s not something to just “get done.” It’s a pleasure, an escape. It’s a way to communicate what can’t be neatly expressed with words. So the next time we make you an omelet, understand that we’re telling you our own quiet stories. In every flip and flash of a pan you can read who we are, what we love, where we came from and where we’re going.
Cooking is commonly understood as an offering. A woman is always cooking for a crowd, or cooking to impress, or cooking her way to your heart. But my version of the story is a little different. The way I tell it, that omelet isn’t for you – not really. It’s for me. It’s for us.