My kitchen feels oddly cold and empty. Everything is in its place. There is no mad confusion of spices, profusion of dry lentils and messy spread of vegetable peels on the countertop.
My mother-in-law has just left today for India, after almost three months of being here in Hoboken. When my mother and mother-in-law are here, the stark white kitchen explodes into life and appears warm and welcoming. All of a sudden there is stuff everywhere. Spice jars are left open. The smell of cooking fills the house, enters into crevices, and refuses to leave. Both women use a variety of pots, pans, prep bowls and implements. The kitchen appears to hum pleasantly with activity. My mother-in-law chatters noisily with her sister on the phone while she cooks. My mother starts innovating and tasting. She tastes, adds, stirs and tastes again. As though she is back in her eleventh grade science laboratory.
Both my mothers are excellent cooks. When they come from India, both women take over the kitchen, coaxing delicious food from the electric stove. They show no signs of laziness or fatigue when it comes to cooking. My mother-in-law executes traditional Indian food flawlessly. My mother I best remember for the interesting global food that makes an appearance in her cooking. Quinoa starts showing up in our meals after three weeks in Peru. I watch my mother pack in giant butter beans into her suitcase in Greece. Vegetarian risottos become a regular dinner-time feature after a week in Italy. I’m not sure where the vegetable stir-fry with couscous that I love so much comes from. In contrast I, before cooking anything, think about the commitment involved, the long hours, the possibility of grossly inedible food, the wasted effort, the cleaning, the disappointment. Not cooking becomes a vicious cycle. I don’t cook, then it gets harder each time I try to cook, and then I don’t feel like cooking the next time.
The kitchen seems to sense that I am an uneasy mistress. It grows silent and sterile when my mothers leave. It throws me sullen glances while I tiptoe outside. It dares me to enter, and when I do, it makes something happen, like upsetting the jar of lentils so that there’s a giant mess and I start losing my sense of balance. By the time I’m done picking up all the minute grains off the floors, I have lost my nerve and can’t possibly contemplate cooking dinner. I scuttle away and plunk myself down on the sofa thinking about my limited food delivery choices. I also think about how my mothers would have never allowed the kitchen to intimidate and bully them in any way.
So, a day later, I decide that I need to gently reintroduce myself to the kitchen. Make friends again by starting with something simple. Just a cup of tea, perhaps. Tomorrow maybe I will try to make one dish from start to finish.