Wednesday 11 August 2021

Cooking to Grieve and Remember

Yesterday (I think it was yesterday - time is a blur nowadays), I was in the car on my way to buy groceries listening to a show called Q on CBC radio. They were playing an interview with the Korean-American author, Michelle Zauner. When Michelle isn't writing books, she is a rock musician who goes by the name of Japanese Breakfast. Anyway, I wasn't paying too much attention to the show until I focused on learning that the author had penned a reflection on food and the memory of her mother who died of cancer a few years ago. Zauner's new book "Crying in H Mart" refers to how shopping for Korean food in the Asian grocery store brings the author to tears. For Zauner, cooking is a way of "loving her mother back" and evoking memories that are filled with the aromas and tastes of home. 

In a 2018 New Yorker viral article with the same name as the book, Zauner observed, "Within the past five years, I lost both my aunt and mother to cancer. So, when I go to H Mart, I’m not just on the hunt for cuttlefish and three bunches of scallions for a buck; I’m searching for their memory. I’m collecting the evidence that the Korean half of my identity didn’t die when they did. In moments like this, H Mart is the bridge that guides me away from the memories that haunt me, of chemo head and skeletal bodies and logging milligrams of hydrocodone. It reminds me of who they were before: beautiful and full of life, wiggling Chang Gu honey-cracker rings on all ten of their fingers, showing me how to suck a Korean grape from its skin and spit out the seeds."

My own Mom hated cooking and didn't really like eating very much either. Memories of my mother's cooking are of peanut butter sandwiches and a concoction that we all called "stupid stew". I think that's why my sister Karen and I spend hours pouring over recipe books and crafting menus that perfectly match both the season and the palates of our husbands and children. Karen and I are both emotional cooks - for us, feelings call for food. But our tearful reminiscing about our Mom goes better with wine and maybe some chocolate. 

The pandemic has made me reflect a lot on my own mortality. I am glad that a few years ago, I made a scrapbook of family recipes and special memories for my daughter Natalie. It makes me happy that after I'm gone, she will have this memento of growing up in our kitchen, surrounded by mixing bowls, chopping boards and the smells and tastes of family recipes. 
I included an image of me in my dressing gown, searching for a cookbook -

and I added another picture of our annual Christmas shortbread cookies made from my Nana's recipe. 

When we lose someone we love and we are slowly recovering from the trauma of caregiving, food helps. Cooking can be a mindful ritual full of healing and comfort. And crying in the aisle of a grocery store can be the proper reaction for a daughter who misses her Mom. 

No comments: