At the recent food writer’s conference in NYC, literary agent Sarah Jane Freymann read the piece below as an example of memoir, and a fine example it is.
After I wiped away my tears, I found out that it was written by her daughter Elisabeth and published on her blog, A Duchess Cooks in Brooklyn: Food, Love, and Opinions in an Outer Borough. I asked Elisabeth permission to publish it here.
I go into a different state when I cook. The rhythm of the chopping knife, the feel of a wooden spoon stirring, the sound of sauces bubbling away… for a moment I’m in that place Whirling Dervishes must visit as they spin – a place that’s complete and whole, focused and at ease.
On one of my first dates with my husband, I made a grilled cheese sandwich – it turned out to be the most important grilled cheese sandwich of my life. The very act of cooking for a man I was dating was nothing new for me, but it was for him. No woman had ever cooked just for him before. That simple grilled cheese sandwich meant more than cheese and bread to him. Although I’m sure he couldn’t pinpoint it at the time, my cooking for him and continuing to do so, feels like the manifestation of my love.
He would love me without the food, I know that, but it’s the cooking that has made us a family. It’s the cooking that has grounded and given us a sense of home in our Brooklyn rental apartment. Either one of us could get a job in Topeka, Kansas tomorrow. We would pack up our stuff and drop it off under our new roof unsure of what was to come. I know that foreign roof simply wouldn’t be home until I made us dinner.
Spirituality is what comes to us when we least expect it, just like love. I know how to find my bliss. I know that if the world is pounding on my head, if everything is upside down and I feel like screaming, there is fire and a big pot on the stove to silence the noise. There is some indefinable need that draws me to the kitchen – it’s a calling, it’s that insistent burning bush.
We live in a world of great beauty – it’s easy to forget that sometimes. It’s harder yet to remember that while we can’t control the world around us, we can control the world inside us. I wouldn’t know what to say to Jesus if I bumped into him, but I would invite him over to dinner in a heartbeat.
You can meditate and pray, you can cry and light candles, but I’ll be turning on my stove and taking out my chopping board. My inner God, Shiva, Buddha, Shekinah, and Mother Earth shimmer like water hitting hot oil in a pan and my prayers are always answered.