Cheddar Jalapeño Cheetos Ingredients Analysis

Image result for jalapeno cheetos

My favorite junk food

Ingredients: Enriched corn meal (corn meal, ferrous sulfate, niacin, thianin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), vegetable oil (corn, canola, and/or sunflower oil), cheddar jalapeño seasoning (whey, maltodextrin [made from corn], salt, canola oil, buttermilk, romano cheese [cow’s milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes], monosodium glutamate, cheddar cheese [milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes], onion powder, sugar, corn starch, natural and artificial flavors, modified corn starch, dextrose, spices, lactose, jalapeño pepper, garlic powder, sodium caseinate, artificial color [including yellow 6, yellow 5, blue 1, red 40], skim milk, lactic acid, citric acid, malic acid, sunflower oil, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate), and salt. (about 40 total ingredients)

Corn tally (including dairy products): ||||| ||||| ||| (13)

Artificial ingredients tally: ||||| |||| (9)

There’s a massive amount of corn in these cheetos, and in places I didn’t necessarily expect. And honestly, I expected there to be more artificial ingredients. I’m impressed. I’m probably going to continue eating these–there actually aren’t any controversial ingredients aside from MSG. I’m pleasantly surprised and I will likely continue eating these until the day I die. What a way to go!!

Nudes and Foods

Lee Price, a modern female figurative painter, has gained recognition for a series of hyperrealistic oil paintings depicting women and food, aptly named “Women and Food.” Mostly self-portraits, these large paintings show partially or completely nude women indulging in junk food from a bird’s eye view, mostly in the settings of the bathtub or the bed. I have selected three paintings from Price’s series that I believe will give an accurate survey of the series; Jelly Doughnuts, Lisa in Tub with Chocolate Cake, and Self Portrait in Tub with Chinese Food. These paintings subvert common tropes of the depiction of the female body in fine art and media through composition, setting, subject matter, point of view, the figure itself, and the painter’s own gender identity.

In fine art and in media throughout history, women are depicted as sexy (by male painters) even when they’re alone. Such works as La Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and La Maja Desnuda by Francisco Goya portray solitary, nude women as sensual, making eye contact with the viewer and welcoming them in. The viewer is treated as part of the scene, and as such the female figures are not truly alone. In La Maja Desnuda, the figure’s body language is open, shoulders back, arms up. In La Grande Odalisque, though the figure’s body is not facing the viewer, she is aware of the viewer’s presence and her serene, sultry gaze welcomes the viewer in. They recline, but they do not seem comfortable. Their postures are too perfect, positioned to show their “womanly” curves rather than to rest. They are putting on a show for the painter and for the viewer. These paintings are representative of female nudes throughout art history; their bodies are on display, meant to look beautiful. Their bodies are meant to be pleasing to the viewer.

However, in Price’s series, the figures are not sexy at all. Jelly Doughnuts depicts a middle-aged woman, with lines on her face, while Lisa in Tub with Chocolate Cake depicts a fat woman. In the latter piece, the figure’s breasts aren’t really shapely, and are not at all emphasized. They rather fade into the rest of the piece. Some of the pieces in the series, including Jelly Doughnuts and Self Portrait in Tub with Chinese Food, don’t even show the crotch, breasts, or buttocks at all—a stark contrast to La Grande Odalisque and La Maja Desnuda, in both of which the artists put the shapeliness of the female figure on display and show the breasts and buttocks of the figure. There is nothing particularly sexual about Price’s figures. The women are simply existing.

The figures’ surroundings in Lee Price’s paintings are not sexy either. In La Grande Odalisque and La Maja Desnuda, the figures are reclining on cushions and sheets draped and strewn about artfully, against a dark background that draws the eye to only the figures. Conversely, even though they are in beds and bathtubs, which many associate with sexuality, the most obvious aspect of the settings of Lee Price’s paintings is the mess. There is food everywhere, dirty plates, crumbs on the floor. Worrying about ants is not anyone’s definition of sexy. The bird’s-eye view also subverts the typical setting of the female nude. Bird’s-eye shots “function as maps of the shooting environment,” in this case mapping and emphasizing the surroundings, and their un-sexiness, and making them just as significant as the figures (Jim Stinson). Even the bath itself isn’t sexy. Sexy women take bubble baths, with their cleavage and knees flirtily peeking above the bubbles. The bathtubs in Price’s works are full of plain, clear water, showing every lump, patch of hair, and roll of fat, forcing the subject, and the viewer, to look at all the figure’s bodily imperfections.

The most important aspect of Price’s series, though, is that the women are unapologetic about themselves. The bathroom is a place of privacy and isolation, and the bed is as well, to a lesser extent. In this setting, a person is not expecting to be seen, and as such has the freedom to look however they want and do whatever they want unobserved. The junk food, the bed, and the bath are all very indulgent, and there is guilt especially linked to the junk food. Being able to lie in bed, or soak in a bath, and gorge yourself on junk food feels luxuriously disgusting. This indulgence is defying the expectation of women to sacrifice their pleasures for others or for their looks. Price states,

I think that many women are brought up, both through our immediate families and through society, to nurture others at the expense of our own needs. We hide our appetites, not just for food but in many areas of our lives, and then consume in secret.  In some of my most recent works the women seem to be coming out of the closet, eyeing the viewer – not censoring their hunger. (Jenny Cusack)

There is an expectation of self-sacrifice and shame for women, which Price challenges with her figures’ surroundings and actions.

On top of that, in all of the pieces in Price’s series, the viewer is blocked out, set apart from the scene, both by the point of view and the body language of the subjects. Stinson describes the effect of a bird’s-eye-view as creating a sense of detachment. This angle effectively forces the viewer out of the scene. On top of that, the figures’ postures are closed off, hunched over. They are relaxed, but they are receding into themselves; the arm covering part of the face in Jelly Doughnuts, the knees drawn close to the chests in Lisa in Tub with Chocolate Cake and Self Portrait in Tub with Chinese Food. Bringing the extremities close to the face and body and hunching over close off the individual from other people. The body language and camera effectively push the viewer away as unimportant to the subject’s existence—a stark contrast to the Goya’s depiction of the female nude as open, willing, gazing coyly and welcomingly at the viewer.

Price creates the sense that the women in the pieces are unapologetic about the way they look and what they’re doing. They are taking up lots of space, making a mess, eating food others may disapprove of, and baring their bodies in all their imperfections, all while completely ignoring the viewer, as if to say, “I’ll do what I want, and I don’t care what you think. Go away.” Price herself says,

In a few of my paintings, the figure is eyeing the viewer. In these paintings, the figure’s actions are uncensored and an absence of guilt is much more prevalent. These are meant to convey an acceptance of hunger, a lack of guilt about having an appetite—not just with food, but in general. However, in most of my paintings, the model is watching herself. She is utterly consumed in her actions. She has no awareness of being seen, and the private environments in which her actions are taking place remove any concern for being caught. When I’m choosing poses, I try to be very conscious of conveying a feeling of “How would I behave if I knew no one could see me?” So the viewer is simply watching the model watch herself. (Heather Smith Stringer)

In Jelly Doughnuts, the figure’s powerful gaze almost seems like a challenge: “Yes, I’m eating doughnuts in bed. Yes, I’m making a mess. Yes, I’m indulging. What are you going to do about it?” In the other Price pieces, it’s a less assertive and less conscious rejection of the viewer, primarily created through body language. The figure is so wrapped up in herself that she could not care less about the viewer, withdrawn into her own mind. There are two main relationships a viewer can have with a composition: they can be invited and engaged into the scene through acknowledgement of the viewer, or be an omniscient, detached, ignored spectator. Most female nudes throughout art history, such as La Grande Odalisque and La Maja Desnuda, are the former, with the figures conscious of the viewer’s gaze. Price’s female nudes, on the other hand, are unique in that they create the latter relationship with the viewer.

Although Goya and Ingres’ pieces are beautiful, they only perpetuate the expectation of a woman to exist for others—her attention, her body, her actions. Price’s works do the opposite. They depict women existing, first and foremost, for themselves. Price’s women recline for themselves, bathe for themselves, pay attention to themselves, and eat for themselves.  Their excess is their own.

La Maja Desnuda

La Grande Odalisque

Self-Portrait in Tub with Chinese Food

Jelly Doughnuts

Lisa in Tub with Chocolate Cake

Critical Draft 1

Lee Price has gained recognition for a series of hyperrealistic oil paintings depicting women and food, aptly named “Women and Food.” These paintings subvert common tropes of the depiction of the female body in fine art and media through composition, subject matter, point of view, and the figure itself.  

The figures themselves are not sexy at all. Jelly Doughnuts depicts a middle-aged woman, with lines on her face, while Lisa in Tub with Chocolate Cake depicts a fat woman. In the latter piece, the figure’s breasts aren’t really shapely, and are not at all emphasized. They rather fade into the rest of the piece. Some of the pieces in the series, including Jelly Doughnuts and Self Portrait in Tub with Chinese Food, don’t even show the crotch, breasts, or buttocks at all. There is nothing particularly sexual about the image. The figures are simply existing.

The figures’ surroundings are not sexy either. Despite the fact that they are in beds and bathtubs, which normally implies sexuality, the most obvious aspect of the settings is the mess. There is food everywhere, dirty plates, crumbs on the floor. Worrying about ants is not anyone’s definition of sexy. Even the bathtub itself isn’t sexy. Sexy women take bubble baths, with their cleavage and knees flirtily peeking above the bubbles. The bathtubs are full of plain, clear water, showing every lump and roll of fat, forcing the viewer and the figure to look at it.

Most importantly, the women in Price’s series are unapologetic about themselves. The bathroom is a place of privacy and isolation, and the bed is as well, to a lesser extent. In this setting, a person is not expecting to be seen, and as such has the freedom to look however they want and do whatever they want unobserved. The junk food, the bed, and the bath are all very indulgent, and there is guilt especially linked to the junk food. Being able to lie in bed, or soak in a bath, and gorge yourself on junk food feels amazing. This indulgence is defying the expectation for women to sacrifice their pleasures for others or for their looks. On top of that, in all of the pieces in Price’s series, the viewer is blocked out. The compositions are all closed because of the bird’s-eye view, meaning that the viewer is not a part of the scene, and is rather an outsider.

Lee Price creates the sense that the women in the pieces are unapologetic about the way they look and what they’re doing. They are taking up lots of space, making a mess, eating food others may disapprove of, and baring their bodies in all their imperfections, all while completely ignoring the viewer, as if to say, “I’ll do what I want, and I don’t care what you think. Go away.”

Images referenced:

Jelly Doughnuts

Lisa in Tub with Chocolate Cake

Self Portrait in Tub with Chinese Food

Meat Joy Does Not Bring Me Joy

Meat Joy could be interpreted as feminist, but it could also be interpreted as not. I could see it as a commentary on gender roles, maybe. I did notice a man or two were putting chickens, which are also known as cocks, in between their legs and in their underwear and that there were women putting fish in between their legs, which is the scent a vagina is often compared to. This seemed to kind of separate the men and women. And the men, at times, seemed aggressive toward the women, but that can be interpreted as just the masculine tendency toward aggression and not an artistic choice, and if it was not an artistic choice it is a whole other topic. All the people, men and women, seemed to have very thin, conventionally attractive bodies, which sort of puts them all in the position of  being meat. I also worry that they’re going to get sick rubbing raw meat all over themselves.

Let’s Get Right to the Meat of the Matter

Image result for caillebotte meat

Caillebotte, Gustave. Calf’s Head and Ox Tongue. Oil on canvas, 1882, Art Institute of Chicago.

I first saw this painting in person at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. It was a very striking painting, but one that I didn’t want to look too closely at or linger over. It’s, frankly, pretty gross. In light of what I’ve read from The Vegetarian, it contrasts meat as we know it, something separate from the animal, with the actual animal. The ox’s tongue doesn’t bring an animal immediately to mind, though it is certainly gross. However, the calf’s head looks like, well, the decapitated head of a poor little baby cow. It really does bring you back into realizing that the food does come from an animal.

Caillebotte did several paintings of raw meat, which I find intriguing. He was known for not depicting anything glamorously; he was an impressionist. He’s the only impressionist I’ve heard of, though, who has painted so much raw meat. I still don’t like looking at the painting for too long, but I like to think that that was the point of his raw meat pieces.

 

Dinner’s Ready!

“Dinner’s ready!” My mom yelled up the stairs at around 6:30 every weeknight. As my little sister Laura and I got older and more independent and as my mom got lazier, it turned into family group texts.

“Mom: Dinner

“Laura: what is it

“Me: k be there in a second”

I appeared in the kitchen to discover I had been lied to and that dinner was not, in fact, ready at all, and that the table wasn’t even set.

“Can you help set the table?” My deceitful mother offhandedly asked as she finished up cooking dinner. My dad had also been tricked into preparing the table for dinner. My mom slyly grinned as the three of us bustled around the kitchen.

“Where’s Laura?” I asked as we placed the stainless steel silverware my parents had been gifted for their wedding. It was not unusual for Laura to arrive late at dinner for no other reason than a lack of motivation to move. I have to admit that I did the same quite often.

Once dinner was actually ready, my dad schlepped up the stairs and knocked on Laura’s bedroom door. She emerged reluctantly after a moment to join us. Dinner would not start until the whole family was there.

My mom always placed import on family dinners. It was the one time of day during the week when the whole family was together and talking and laughing and eating. She made sure they were worth attending, too– fragrant, homemade foods crowded the table every evening. My mom made dinners and made us sit at the table to eat together because she loved us. She loved to feed us and she loved to be with us. My mom made us such amazing dinners because it was the best way she knew to take care of us. Family dinners were an everyday ritual that gave us joy and comfort.

My dad would come home from work to the scent of a delicious dinner in progress. Over the table he told terrible jokes and strange stories. He had an amazing sense of humor, whimsical, rather dark but never offensive, and at times a bit immature. We laughed so loudly our dog, Draco, would start barking because he wanted to be included in our fun.

As usual, my mom gave my dad huge portions. She joked that she was trying to “fatten him up,” because he was too skinny. He really was–I inherited that from him. In between the terrible jokes and fascinating discussions, my dad diligently cleaned his plate and loved every mouthful. If he really couldn’t finish, which didn’t happen much, he slipped a morsel or two to Draco when my mom wasn’t looking. Draco loved him for that.

*

In August of 2015, after a lovely dinner, my parents exchanged looks. My dad let out a deep sigh.

“The cancer’s back.”

My dad had been diagnosed with stage II pancreatic cancer two years earlier. The cancer had stopped growing after surgery and chemo and radiation therapy and he had gone back to living a semi-normal life.

“It’s stage IV now.”

“He had a screening a week ago.”

“The cancer’s spread to my lungs.”

It felt like television static in my head.

It felt like my heart was trying to pump blood while being squeezed with a vise.

I bolted to my room and choked out a sob.

I was scared. I was just scared. I wasn’t sad or angry or surprised I was just so, so, so scared.

*

It was back to the chemo. Who doesn’t love getting stuck with needles for multiple hours one day every week? It had the strangest side effects on my dad–for a length of time he would get violent hiccups. There was a drug that made him slur his words for a couple hours afterwards, though his mind was completely coherent. He had another drug that would be dispensed in small amounts for a full 24 hours. He had to carry it around in a backpack and it sounded like an automatic soap dispenser. A few years back he had had a port installed into him, which is a small container inserted under the skin in the upper chest that can be used instead of needles if a person needs intravenous solutions frequently. The port made it possible to take what we called the “soap dispenser chemo” home for a day. Even if it was clumsy having a tube emerging from beneath his shirt and going into a backpack my dad had to carry around all day, it was much more portable than rolling around an IV stand next to him for an entire day.

If you’ve ever seen someone experience chemo up close, you know that it’s draining more than anything else. My dad began working part-time, only when he had the strength and energy. He spent a lot of time in bed. He began losing weight. He became malnourished.

My dad was so exhausted that he didn’t even have energy for family dinners. He would be quieter. He left the table early. Sometimes, he wouldn’t even have the energy to join us at all. On his good days, it was like the cancer wasn’t even there, aside from the occasional soap dispenser noise. We would laugh and talk and eat dinner like always. My dad would tell bad jokes and funny stories. On his bad days, he would spend all day in his room.

*

One night, my dad came home from the doctor with a new diet. His cancer was stable, but his digestive system was reeling from all the abuse it endured during the treatment and even months afterwards he was having severely painful digestive trouble, so he was willing to try anything. This was not the first diet his doctors had put him on, but it was the most restrictive. It was called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, or the SCD, which was mainly intended for those with Crohn’s disease and IBS. He couldn’t eat any carbs at all. It was dinnertime. He had already been malnourished for some time, so he needed to eat something. So my mother had to cook him something.

It had been hard for my mom to keep up with the reputation she’d made for herself in our household of creating amazing, beautiful food while also accommodating my dad’s diets. She searched through the fridge, scanning ingredient lists, growing more and more frustrated as she realized how limited she truly was. I read through the pages and pages of rules my dad’s diet now had to adhere to as my mom raided the kitchen.

No yogurt, rice, chocolate, eggs, coffee, or wheat. No sugars except honey. No milk, no potatoes, no corn. Nothing starchy at all. Even certain fruits were prohibited for some reason.  

“What can he eat?” I asked incredulously.

My mom shook her head and sighed, carrying a package of frozen ground beef from the back of the freezer over to the counter. She dumped it into a pan on the stove, the block of meat making a loud thud. As it defrosted unevenly, she chopped up some onion and dumped that into the pan as well. Her eyes were watering.

I think she was trying to make a bolognese without the pasta. She added some tomato and oregano to the pan. When everything was cooked, she scraped it onto a plate and melted some cheddar cheese over it.

The dog thought it was for him.

My mom appeared in the doorway of the room she and my dad shared carrying a pile of ground meat, onions, and tomatoes that had all been cooked to a homogenous pale brown. The cheddar cheese on top was in the shape of a square, individually-wrapped slice. Her shoulders sagged as she handed the plate to my dad. “I know it looks gross, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I think it tastes okay though.”

My dad slowly took the plate and placed it on his lap. My mom handed him the fork she had brought with her upstairs. He scooped up some of the food and brought it to his mouth, blinking slowly, struggling to stay awake. He swallowed, nodded, and said, “It’s good.”

My mom and I sat with him and his ugly food, watching him slowly, weakly, tiredly eat, not for pleasure, but for sustenance. He was too tired to enjoy food. He wasn’t speaking at all. He ate, finished, and went to bed. My mom carried his plate down to the kitchen and placed it into the sink. She had failed her husband, but more importantly, herself, in her commitment to give us beautiful food. As she cleaned off the counter, she murmured to me, helplessly, dejectedly, “I don’t know what to do with this.”

As we got used to the SCD, it got easier to find food that worked with it. Even so, when my dad had the energy to eat dinner with us, he had to eat something different. While Laura and I praised our mother to the high heavens for her amazing potato latkes, my dad was eating leftover chicken my mom made two nights ago. With that, he became further removed from our dinner table.

*

When it came time to start school at VCU, I didn’t feel guilty about not being at home. I figured I would be one less person to worry about on a daily basis. My mom could spend more time on my sister and my dad. It was so nice not having to think about my dad’s illness every day. I felt guilty about it but it was true.

I came home for the first time for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which fell at the beginning of October. I couldn’t be there for the services, but we had a Rosh Hashanah meal with the whole family and my grandma. My dad, as usual, was pretty tired and quiet, and as usual, couldn’t eat some of the food. As usual, he had to leave the table early. Even though I was disappointed he couldn’t stay for the whole meal, I was happy to sit with my whole family and eat.

Exactly a week later, I was called home again. My dad was unconscious and in the hospital.

He had an infection in his bloodstream. He was suffering from sepsis because of the port. The very port that had helped sustain him in so many ways was the cause of a serious infection. His immune system was already compromised due to the chemo. He was weak. He needed to be sedated and use a breathing tube. They thought he was going to die.

We ate pizza for dinner in the waiting room most nights. My dad would be alone in his room in the ICU, unconscious, face swollen nearly beyond recognition, while we ate as quickly as we could, desperate to get back to him.

*

After months in the hospital, my dad was allowed to go home. His muscles had atrophied and he was now completely bedridden. A hospital bed was placed in the family room, instead of in my parents’ bedroom, so that he wasn’t locked away in his room all day. We hired a home nursing service so that his care wasn’t entirely my mom’s responsibility. The nurses stayed from 9AM to 7PM every day. The first couple of days with a nurse we tried to have dinner in the kitchen as a family.

The family room and kitchen are not so much rooms in our house as areas within an open floor plan. We could see my dad while we ate, ten feet away from us, with the nurse in an armchair nearby. We talked quietly. We glanced at the nurse. My dad tried to join the conversation every once in a while, weakly calling something from across the ten-foot gap separating him from us.

“What was that, dear?” My mom called over, as Laura and I stopped chewing in order to hear him.

My dad repeated one of his token dumb jokes with a small smile.

My sister and I chuckled quietly. My mom smiled. We uncomfortably glanced over at the nurse again, who was on her phone, waiting for my dad to need her help. Do we pretend she’s not there? Do we include her in our conversation? Do we invite her to eat with us?

In between the obvious isolation of my dad and the awkwardness of eating in front of and without the nurse, we stopped having family dinner.

Instead, we each ate when we got hungry. In the evenings, whenever one of us got hungry, that person fixed their plate and sat with my dad in the family room to eat. We all ate at separate times. My dad ate tiny amounts of food many times over the course of the day. The dinner table became cluttered with papers, get-well cards, and vases of flowers that got in the way more than they brought us joy.  

Fluid began building up in my dad’s lungs. It caused him enough pain that he needed substantial amounts of morphine. He began sleeping more and more and eating less and less. After he was finally taken to the hospital to get the fluids drained on a Friday, he was even more exhausted. He was somehow in even more pain. He needed even more morphine. He was sleeping most of the day and night. He barely ate. He wasn’t awake at all anymore. He was barely responsive. He needed more morphine.

At 4:30AM on Monday, two days after the hospital visit, my mother woke me. “Dad’s gone,” she whispered.

I had to remind my mom to eat that week.

*

Jewish families “sit shiva” for four to seven days after a funeral. It’s similar to a wake. The house is open and people within your community bring food and keep the mourners company. The idea is that the mourners should not host. The community comes to the mourners’ home not as guests, but as caretakers and support. During the shiva there were dozens, maybe even a hundred people total throughout the week, coming in and out and in and out. They all brought food, sheepishly mumbling, “I know it’s not as good as your food, but…” as they handed a dish to my mother.

I hid in my room when I didn’t want to socialize. If I wanted something to eat, it would take ten minutes to get through all the people who wanted to hug me and ask me how I was doing. They always said it like that: “How are you doing?” I hated it. I didn’t want to talk to people I barely knew about something so personal. I felt like snapping at them, “My dad’s fucking dead, how do you think I’m doing?? I just want to something to eat!! Leave me the fuck alone!!”

We didn’t cook at all that week. We didn’t need to. We had food ready made for us that we ate while going around to talk to everyone. After all that socializing, all three of us were exhausted. Each day, after everyone left, we would clean up and go to our rooms to rest for the remainder of the evening. We were too tired to even talk to each other anymore.

*

The evening after the final day of shiva, I turned toward my mother. “Mom?”

She was watching Netflix in an attempt to distract herself. She paused her show. “Yeah, sweetie?”

“Can we have real family dinners again?”

She sighed. “Oh, I would love that.”

That night, we all sat at the table, my little sister and my mom and me. I don’t even remember what we ate but it didn’t matter. It was beautiful and it was delicious. We were sitting around the table the way my mom loves, like a family, eating and talking and laughing and trying our damnedest to ignore the empty chair across from my mom at the table.

Food Memoir Start

I want my food memoir to circle around the tension created between my father’s struggle with pancreatic cancer and my family’s dynamic, reflected by our family dinners.

At 4:30AM, my mother woke me. “Dad’s gone,” she whispered.

I had to remind my mom to eat that week.

*

Jewish families “sit shiva” for four to seven days after a funeral. It’s very similar to a wake. The house is open and people bring food and keep you company.  During the shiva there were dozens, maybe even a hundred people total throughout the week, coming in and out and in and out. People really loved my dad. They all brought food, sheepishly mumbling “I know it’s not as good as your food, but…” as they handed a dish to my mother.

I would hide in my room when I didn’t want to socialize. If I wanted something to eat, it would take ten minutes to get through all the people who wanted to hug me and ask me how I was doing. They would always say it like that: “How are you doing?” I hated it. I didn’t want to talk to people I barely knew about something so personal. I felt like snapping at them, “My dad’s fucking dead, how do you think I’m doing?? I just want to something to eat, so leave me alone, goddammit!!”

We didn’t cook at all that week. We didn’t need to. We had food ready made for us that we ate while socializing and after all the hosting our three introverted selves were exhausted. After everyone left at 5:00 that day we would clean up and go to our rooms to rest for the remainder of the evening. We were too tired to even talk to each other anymore.

*

The evening after the final day of shiva, I turned toward my mother. “Mom?”

She was watching Netflix in an attempt to distract herself. She paused her show. “Yeah, sweetie?”

“Can we have real family dinners again?”

She sighed. “Oh, I would love that.”

That night, we all sat at the table, my little sister and my mom and me. I don’t even remember what we ate but it didn’t matter. We were sitting around the table the way my mom loves, like a family, eating and talking and laughing and trying our damnedest to ignore the empty chair across from my mom at the table.

 

Learning to Cook

The first food I ever learned to make was a scrambled egg in the microwave. I was probably about four years old. My mom gently taught me how to crack the egg into a bowl, use a fork to break up the yolk, and tear up slices of individually wrapped American cheese into the bowl. We used an old, ugly microwave with a dial that wasn’t really very precise at all instead of buttons. She told me to set it to about 1 minute and in approximately 60 seconds I had made my first meal.  My mom used to call eggs “nature’s fast food.”

For most of my childhood I didn’t really need to know how to cook anything beyond eggs.  My lovely, good Jewish mother would always make sure we had snacks, that there was always food in the fridge, and that we had a good lunch and dinner. She always made time for food. I think it’s the best way she knows to take care of people, plus I know that she loves to feed people. I was so lucky to have her.

I would “help” my mom bake all the time. My mom had been compiling recipes into books since before I was born and I would sit on the counter and gaze at the tattered, stained pages of cookbooks that had been flipped through over and over, not yet old enough to comprehend my mother’s beautiful, messy script. I would lick the spoon when she wasn’t looking, sweet, sticky chocolatey brownie batter or just plain butter and sugar before she even added the egg. I grew up with home-baked cakes, brownies, cookies, bread, sweet scents engulfing me and the heat of the oven spreading throughout the house. Every time it snowed you can bet my mom would be making cookies.

Years later, I was about 14 years old and my parents were out for dinner. I decided I wanted to make muffins. Though of course at this point I knew how to read, my mom’s script is still difficult to comprehend at times, and this was one of those times. The recipe called for cream of tartar, which I had never heard of before, and I swear I thought I needed cream of “tantan.” I couldn’t find it anywhere. I didn’t know what it was. I had stupidly already started the recipe before checking to ensure I had all the ingredients, so I began worriedly texting my mom.

“mom whats cream of tantan? or tartan maybe? do we have it?”

“i cant find it anywhere”

“mom”

“moooooom”

In hindsight, of course, that was not only annoying, but she was probably busy and I was interrupting her. After ten minutes of anxiously waiting she responded with “Do you mean cream of tartar? We should have some”

Checking the spice cabinet (which my mother had cleverly organized alphabetically) this time with the correct name in mind, I quickly found cream of tartar. My quest to make muffins was back on track. “oh found it thank you” I texted to my mother.

The muffins came out mediocre. I probably got the proportions wrong. When my parents came home to the scent of warm muffins, though, my mom told me that that was the first time in 20 years that she had come home to something freshly baked. The pride and happiness that filled me from the thought of giving someone else that pleasure through food got me hooked on cooking. Nothing makes me happier than feeding others. It’s the best way I know to take care of people.