Monday, July 28, 2008

far from February

Dad picked me up from work today and took me home so we could look at our impending dooms of home repair. Turns out the prognosis wasn't terrible: fixable hot water faucet, dying-but-not-dead-yet a/c system. No emergencies, just no running water in the kitchen tonight. He'll be here again tomorrow to repair the faucet, and we can hopefully ignore/encourage the air conditioning to just hang in there until we buy the house, at which point we're planning on replacing the whole damn thing. New ductwork and all, hopefully, to make the house more efficient and less, you know, hot.

I was pointing out to Dad that we could live with the a/c system at this level of terribleness, for the time being, because it's always this stuffy in our house, especially in the back. He agreed with me, but then said something like, "But you're my cooking girl. You need a comfortable kitchen."

This afternoon Suz and I were talking about babies, and siblings, and the story she heard on This American Life about girls who were switched at birth. Apparently when they found out, later in life, they realized that their personalities fit in much better with their birth families than the ones in which they were raised. We like to think that our lives are simply an overlapping of influences, but there is clearly something else there. I never really thought that I was born with a personality. I look at Ezra and Elijah and wonder at which points they will be different men, with different goals and ways of speaking. I'm surprised even now at their physical differences, when I mostly just think all tiny babies look the same. I found my picture of Elijah from the day after he was born, and the one I posted here of Ezra, and it's really remarkable the differences in babies' faces.

I think about my sisters and I, and we came from the same places, the exact same ones, and we turned out still very different in our personal selves. Was Jenny born stubborn? (yes.) Was Casey born permanently convinced of her own correctness? (yes.) Was I born prone to procrastination and easy distraction? (ah, yes.) There is the more extreme example of our California cousins, with whom we were raised in total equality, by our parents who are siblings in the most obvious ways, and I swear, those families couldn't be any more different than us.

And this is a silly point to which I'm leading, but how did I get to be a foodie? I know some people don't like that term, but I don't mind it. I don't want to be mistaken for the snob type of foodie. You all know that I will not just eat junk food but I will wallow in it. But I'm a foodie in the sense that I like to think about, talk about and do things relating to food. I'm sure I spent a quarter of my work day detailing my cooking disasters of the weekend (fried corn! that's all I'm going to say! exploding grease-filled kernel torpedoes!) to coworkers, and getting the goods on their own pulled pork and raspberry duck adventures. The friends that I have bonded with at this job, this is what we talk about. My amazing group of book club girlfriends, what do we do when we're all together? We eat. We exchange a month's worth of menu planning emails, and then we all cram into someone's kitchen and stuff our faces while we talk around food.

A few years ago my friend Craig asked me how I became a baseball lover, and I was able to respond to him (in essay form) with the rather precise timeline of my eventual love of the game. Tonight I was peacefully assembling tarts in my kitchen, moving about the motions of simmering cream, whisking ganache, and trying to think back to the time in my life when this started. As a little girl, I loved reading my mother's cookbooks, and eventually embraced my role as kitchen helper. But I don't remember feeling filled with thoughts of food the way I am now. Thoughts of candy? Is that the same thing? I started tackling baking projects, sometimes with Dad: decorating cakes, the baklava incident, salt water taffy that stained our hands blue. In college I was so poor and didn't have a working kitchen until my junior year. After that I started hosting dinner parties.

But I wonder, what did my parents think? Was this some obvious direction I was always heading, or was a fascination with food/cooking just another personality quirk that was revealed as I matured? The way other kids develop a penchant for mathematics or sports? Food is my hobby, my topic, my solace, my celebration. Tonight I reveled in my silent kitchen, my unrushed ballet of spatulas, measuring spoons, taking the lid off the jar of cinnamon with the dull end of a butter knife. Other times I love sharing the act of cooking. Projects like smoked pork butt or thai noodle soup are things that Austin and I can enjoy tackling together. I'm certain that my finest moments with Agnes have happened when one of us was at the stove and the other standing over the cutting board. I'm sure I don't have to explain that my fondest memories of both of my parents have occurred while we were sharing a kitchen.

I'm not quite sure where I'm leading with this, and my attention is waning as the evening draws to a close. I suppose it's not any good to try to identify the sources of my most basic self, any more than scrutinizing my needs for air and water. Is Lover of Food on the Meyers-Briggs test? (Is chocolate an emotion?) When my dad calls me his Cooking Girl, and my mom says I'm inspiring her with my food talk this month, and my sisters and friends are peppering me throughout each day with recipe discussions and ingredient ideas, I can see the bigger picture. Food is the physical representation of my need to take care of everyone.

The tentacles of these relationships run back and forth from Mom to Julia Child; from Dad to the black microwave cookbook, the pages stuck together with decades of toffee-making; from Jenny to the cold sesame noodles I haven't even made yet; from Casey to secret nights of boxed mac-and-cheese and vanilla ice cream with Hershey's syrup. From Agnes to the sledgehammer we used for crushing ice on the patio; from Megan to snapping green beans without a pause in conversation; from Amy to panicked ingredient substitution calls from the market; from Austin to that first flicker of wanting to lick ganache out of his beard. Distant and constant, primal and minute, the web of food in My Life and Family doesn't have a beginning, doesn't have to have come from anywhere. The only piece of advice my mother ever gave me that turned out to be untrue: Food is just fuel for the body. It is not. It's way more than that, and I'm glad for it.

Tomorrow: photo essay on the HFS Tart. That's right, I took pictures. And fair warning: this one involves some R-rated language. In my sisters' handwriting. Sorry, Mom.


Vickie said...

Beautiful blog -- I was thinking that I enjoy good food, but it's never the main thing--I'm delighted when I find fruit that tastes like it's supposed to--the Buttonwood peaches are out, but only for a month. They're perfect and I'll drive 20 miles out of my way to take them home.
But I think the fondest memories I have of all of you are enveloped in words--books, conversations, emails, letters, songs, The Wonder Years, Anne of Green Gables on tv--the words are fuel for the soul which is why they're so important.
I guess I'm a wordie--an epicure--I love their scent and sense. I can't sit down to a meal with you very often, but I can share your words. Delicious.

laura said...

Wonderful bit of writing, Delaney. My first impression of you was those incredible salted caramel truffles you made. I didn't even know you, but already admired your cooking prowess! It is always lovely to discuss food with you. One of these days I hope we can cook together..

This passage from the Julia Child bio by Laura Shapiro really rings true for me (and you too, I think):

"Today there appear to be two kinds of good cooks: those who want to impress people and those who want to feed people. The meal may be delicious in either case, but you can always tell the difference, in part because it's written across the face of the cook when he or she presents the platter. "Admire me," some of their expressions seem to say. "Here, this is for you, let's eat!" say the others."

Vickie said...

I loved Laura's comment. I just ran across another quote by Henry James that reminded me of you: "There is only one recipe--to care a great deal for the cookery."