Do you ever get a sudden, inescapable urge to cook.
Sometimes that happens to me. I will realize guiltily that I’ve been eating out too much, or that I just need a distraction, or that I’m too tired to do anything intellectual.
So I cook.
Almost everything I can make without a recipe dates back to some specific point in my life that I remember clearly. There are some things I vividly remember cooking that I don’t eat anymore, food memories that crop up occasionally in my dreams.
Hamburger Helper is one of these, the boxed seasoning, pasta, and ground beef, a meal for four for $10, something I will never forget.
Hamburger helper was a difficult time in our lives, and something I made the most often at that time,
when our mom was busy with tax season,
when my brother and I were alone in a small condo and I would make dinner for us both,
when unspoken words would linger cautiously overhead.
I remember Hamburger Helper from being 16 and tired, being in high school and feeling almost maternally protective of my younger brother,
wanting to go to MIT, wanting to get out of the classist, racist hell-hole that was Cherry Creek High School and Greenwood Village, Colorado;
I was deeply repressed back then, cut back by remarks from blonde rich girls, and bullying, and head down, hands in, books first, a flower not allowed to bloom.
I hated brussel sprouts all my life until my first real boyfriend sauteed them in butter, taught me western vegetables weren’t so bad, a side dish we would share often while talking about how to change the world, how to bring families and communities out of poverty — fitting that the dish was as healthy as conversation; it didn’t last, but I still like brussel sprouts.
Broiled salmon is my father personified, served religiously each Friday with accompanying brown rice and steamed broccoli, all you need to know about my brother is that he takes that meal and covers everything in Red Hot.
Ethiopian dishes are my aunties, who taught me how to cook them, mixed in with the faces of friends. I still remember a weekend when Eden and I spent almost 48 hours together, when I brought together a group of people and served them misir wot and tibs and the injera that we somehow found at an Indian grocery store. It was the birth of a community that I’m not sure will stay alive, but at least I was a part of it before.
Tofu and bok choy, shiitake mushrooms, sesame oil — a vegetarian dish I would make for Spanish house, back when I cooked with them, one of the few communities that should have been foreign to me, but embraced me like one of their own. Chinese vegetables and chisme. If there is any chance at world peace, it’s likely at the dinner table.
I try making new things now with my newfound free time, and I wonder if they will make me think of this apartment, a humble place in Cambridge with bare, chipped walls and old floorboards, an embarrassing lack of furniture; I’m sure I’ll think of the mashed parsnips I made today fondly whenever I cook them again; I’m sure I’ll remember what it was like to be young and confused, driven but broke, ambitious and scared, memories,
In every bite.