I know how to make food that tastes good. I know how to strategize so that everything is done before it is meant to arrive at the table. I know how to amuse the table so that the people eating don’t wilt from boredom if they are not talking. I keep the kitchen clean and organized. I have a food handler’s license. And most importantly for a professional, I can make guests happy again, and again and again.
But there is a trick in cooking, and it is the same trick in being a mother or somebody’s other. A trick as in, “trick or treat” or “I am not crazy about magic shows because I don’t like tricks.” As much as I love cooking, which is almost as much as I have loved another and not nearly as much as I love my son, there is always the trick.
You can tell yourself, you can float away and dream to yourself, you can sing to yourself that you are a cook or a lover or a mother and you can turn the volume up so that those are the only words you hear. The trick is in the finer print. It lives where you live or where you work, like sand does if your house is on the beach. You bought the sand with the house. It may get swept up or to the side but just wait. Stand still for a minute.
The trick is, the sand is, the servant part. As a servant, it is not you who decides if you have done enough, if you have done it well, or if the food is good. And the trickiest bit is–for the whole thing to work, for me to keep my job, I have to give away a little bit of who I am.
I have to shhh or slap back or step on, that part of me that knows if your opinion is different than mine, then I will wait for you to finish and then open my mouth and speak what I know to be true for me. The part of me that pulls a chair out from the table and waits for you to be ready to listen. The part of me that has shape and takes up space. Which I can do. I can take up space.
I have also been crowned in personal competitions for shutting that part down until the crown makes my head sweat and my forehead itch like a cast that has been on all summer.
The thing about getting old though, is the daylight. In the daylight that crown is not gold at all. In the daylight, it is just a cheap fake paint that is cracking and wouldn’t fool anybody outside of a low lit strip club at that magic hour when the last few left are almost sick but not quite from drinking too much.
My favorite way to serve a vegetable is to make sure it has been grown in dirt, looks and smells like the essence of itself, poach or grill it. Just enough to hear it singing the low notes of its aria. Give it a rumble of salt, a grind of pepper, and a fine line of the best olive oil you can find.