Monday, May 9, 2011

The Gift Of Cooking: A Mother's Day Reflection

A couple weeks ago I was feeling overwhelmed by life. I was hungry and tired and as I sat there thinking about what I wanted to eat. I looked inside my refrigerator saw some leftover chicken, carrots and celery and went into action.

I put some water on the stove to boil and then chopped up some vegetables. I threw the veggies into the pan with some chicken stock, and cooked the vegetables while the broth reduced. I put some noodles imported from Taiwan into the pot once the water boiled. As soon as the noodles were done, the broth had reduced into a gravy with the veggies. I put in the chicken meat, black bean sauce, Chinese BBQ sauce, some sesame oil and some chili paste in to the gravy. Then I threw the noodles into pot, tossed it all around and after 10 minutes of cooking, I had dinner.

Yes, there was the practicality of having food to eat which was great but there was something deeper about the meal that I had prepared. The flavors, the textures, and the even the warmth coming up from the noodles touched my soul in a personal and meaningful way. It was like I was able to create for myself a reminder of the who I was, the people I came from in my life and the center deep within myself that I needed to take on the challenges in my life.

After finishing that bowl of noodles I had one thought, “thanks mom.”

It’s not so much that my mom taught me how to cook but that she taught me to have a relationship with food. It’s not just about the science of cooking, it's about understanding and appreciating the art and magic that happens when flavors come together. She taught me that loving food was not gorging on food, that great food doesn’t necessarily cost $50 a plate and that cooking was something to be enjoyed.

When I was a kid, my favorite place to go was the grocery store. It was a magical place full of possibilities. Some of it was the simple pleasure of ice cream but more it was watching my mom move through the store, carefully and deliberately taking things into her cart like a painter putting colors on her palette.

Cooking for my mom is never a chore. I've never heard her complain about cooking. Yes, there are some days, especially when the weather is hot when she doesn’t feel like cooking but those are rare. My mom taught me that cooking is something we do for ourselves and that it’s a way express care to the people around us. One of life’s joys is preparing a meal for people you love and watching them share in the fellowship of a meal. Breaking bread bonds people like nothing else and being the person who made it happen is truly a beautiful feeling.

I’m an Asian-American and I’m still not sure what that really means. What I do know is that cooking is one of the strongest connections I have to not only my Asian background but also my American heritage. When you prepare a dish you are reflecting all of the people who contributed to the creation of that recipe through thousands of years. You are connecting to multiple cultures and through that one simple action and you define where you came from and where you are going. I feel grateful that my mom passed on the skills to do that and to share that connection with the people in my life.

It’s often said that the people in your life that you love are always with you no matter how far away you are from them. I know that’s true, because every time I’m cooking I feel like my mom is right there with me even though she’s across the country.

Thanks mom.

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