It is true what they say, your language for love and expressing it is most likely how you were shown love growing up. With food always on my mind (my morning thoughts generally start off with what to make for dinner that night), it is clear to me that I owe this all to my Mom. She expressed her love for us in many ways but most especially and deliciously through her food. The kitchen was always the center of our home and every day we enjoyed delicious home cooked meals, spoiled silly with 3 tiered chocolate cakes, fit for a wedding toffee crunch cakes, and delicate French apple tarts, just to name a few. My Mom took pride in weighing out the ingredients, following each step diligently, assuring that the outcome would be nothing short of perfect. And if she wasn’t satisfied, if that cake did not rise quite to satisfaction, she’d be back over the mixing bowl, attempting a second or third try. These are the things we do for love. And food was her language.
My Mom loved the glee on our faces as we gobbled up her delights, wolfed down our dinners happily looking forward to taking the leftovers for school lunch the next day. It only fueled her desire to give us more. We were not the only ones who got to enjoy my Mom’s cooking because love is not restrictive, love should be shared. Our home always bustled with friends who gathered for dinner parties, and everyone always went home with an extra spring in their step, content from the fruits of a woman’s hands hard at work. Hands that kneaded, stirred, braised, and seasoned with love and the desire to satisfy.
Food is my language of love too and it’s how I express my love for those I care about. Lucky for me, Paul speaks food too and we spend most evenings winding down cooking together. I remember when we first moved in, he would come home late and exhausted to me in the kitchen trying to put together a meal I had imagined that morning. He would ask me if I needed any help and I always declined thinking he must be tired and was just being polite. I later found out he actually loves doing the prep work, slicing, dicing, mastering his knife skills to make him worthy of a spot on Chopped. And even when he’s tired on most nights, he’ll still find the energy to help me prep the ingredients so that we can get food on the table sooner. I love that about him.
The kitchen has also become a cultural experiment for us. Paul has introduced me to his French Canadian and Portuguese heritage through dishes of his childhood, and likewise, I’ve introduced him to the Asian dishes of my Chinese and Filipino roots. Through him, I discovered Tourtière, a French Canadian meat pie traditionally enjoyed on special occasions like Christmas, made with ground venison meat from a hunting trip that his Dad went on some time ago. Hunting? Venison? Ok, none of those words would have ever appeared in my life memoir. Nor would you have found the words fish sauce and bok choy in his.
Sometimes Paul will deviate from my recipe and it will drive me crazy. He will sneak in piri piri sauce into almost every dish we make like the other night when he turned the Japanese Beef and Potato Stew leftovers I had made the night before into a red wine, butter and cream (despite me kicking and screaming) gailan dish. I’m a purist and he’s always wanting to add a little bit of this and a little bit of that until it becomes an entirely different dish from what I had envisioned in my master plan. Drives me nuts! But when he was done with the beef stew and even though it was no longer remotely Japanese, much to my initial irritation, it was absolutely delicious. Just like when I was skeptical of his magic mushroom concoction for a roast beef recipe, he turned me into a believer. I’m working on trusting him more in the kitchen.
Emotions can be high in the kitchen because we are both passionate about food and preparing it. And as hot as the flames and smoke can get, so do our tempers when it feels like control over the dish and its outcome might be jeopardised. We bicker with knives in our hands, over open flames, and boiling pots bubbling away around us. But no matter what, our mutual quest for a delicious meal for us to enjoy overrides all. So we turn the heat down and put the knives away because it would be such a shame to ruin what our hands and hearts had set out to do. There are a lot of lessons that can be learned from cooking together and compromise is number 1.
You can learn a lot about a person in the kitchen. Somehow it seems to make us lay bare all our weaknesses and insecurities. I live in fear of oversalting. Even when I haven’t put enough I worry if I’ve put too much. And my biggest weakness by far is my timing, though I’ve definitely improved since I met him. It drives Paul crazy because a 30-minute dish will take double or triple the time, or a dish will be sitting out cold while the other is still on the stove cooking. I’m learning how to better juggle different cooking times and to be more fearless. It’s ok to make mistakes, it’s how you learn and most of the time all you need is some creativity to fix it. Where I get uncomfortable not following a recipe for a roast beef to the tee, Paul thrives in getting experimental and straying from the recipe with his own ideas. Am I really that uninhibited? God, I think I need to learn how to let go and be a little freer.
Over time we’ve settled into unspoken kitchen roles. He’s the meat master and I’m the pasta girl. If it involves grilling anything, whether it’s seafood, steak or a pork chop, it’s him. And when it’s a dessert or stir-frying Chinese veggies, I assume the job. It’s great because not every night is a party in the kitchen, let me just set the record straight. Most nights it’s just utilitarian and when you’re both tired, the unspoken division of labour just makes things efficient. But it’s also because we acknowledge that the other person is better than you at certain things and vice versa. And to highly competitive people like the both of us, it is the generosity of the heart and respect for the food that allows us to recognise it. If you want a good meal on the table, there is no room for pride.
We have had our disasters, we are no Michelin star chefs by any means. Let me see, I put icing sugar into a gravy I was making once thinking it was cornstarch….wondering why it wasn’t getting thicker so I kept adding more and more until I tasted it. And remember my duck fiasco? I’ve also served undercooked, raw chicken several times. Making sure your chicken is fully defrosted and at room temperature, before you pop it in the oven, is the bane of my existence. And along the way to figuring out the perfect grilling time for the different kinds and cuts of meats, there have been T-bone and pork chop casualties.
We’re working on dealing with the disappointment and frustration of meals that haven’t gone right. Remind ourselves that it’s so much more about the food and that in the grand scheme of things sometimes the food is not that important. But that’s the thing with food and love, sometimes it’s hard to separate the two.