Yesterday morning my daughter made a tofu scramble that looked and smelled and tasted delicious. Yesterday afternoon she talked with me about being vegan, and shared ideas from her youtube channels of things we might make for dinner. Last evening, after tax work and laundry and hair cuts and a walk, we shopped at Whole Foods for ingredients for Vegan Corn Chowder, which we made together after putting away the food. I made the mistake of confirming that Chipotle Pepper was Chili Powder and the soup was too hot for her. I still found it delicious. We also made Marinated Portobello Burgers and they were delicious, both of us agreed.
The parts I enjoyed the most were watching my daughter learn to cook, to take pleasure in it, being together and talking in the kitchen, on our walk, and in the store, choosing and putting away the food together as we thought about what we’d like to eat, and learning about my daughter’s newest passion, eating vegan. The story that sticks with me this morning, which lead me to the title, is one she shared about having dinner with her dad the night before, when I was home wishing she was here with me, after which we had an argument because missing her made me so sad, and that feels unfair to her, and this morning I wonder if we hadn’t worked this bit through with a little/big argument, if the story about having dinner with her dad might not have come to me. It’s a type of violence to be eradicated bit by bit, the missing of my children when we’re apart and all our wounds from the divorce, with hard conversations in which we sort out big feelings and big hurts, and when we can get it time together in the house. Yesterday we were together in the kitchen. I was sorting files for my taxes, worrying over the increases in the water and oil and gas and electric bills since the two new tenants moved in, preparing for another disastrous tax appointment next Monday, from which I will likely emerge broke, in the hole, or worse, again, and my daughter was making tofu scramble from a youtube video and recipe on her phone. She was asking me what is a shallot, and I happened to have some, from the farmers market in Northampton, saved from the one trip I made there this summer, before or after Richard and I broke up and got back together, I can’t remember, and I showed her how to mince one. She asked me what to remove, both ends, and skin, and I showed her how much of the outer layer to remove, and she cut it in half lengthwise before I showed her how to dice it finely in the way I was taught to do the summer I was a prep cook in a fine restaurant on Cape Cod, the year I met her father and I was so in love I’d drive each day I had off to visit him in Providence, where he painted houses with his friends, and back to the Cape to live with my friends from college, where I worked days as a chamber maid in a local motel and nights as a prep cook in a seafood restaurant, six or seven dollars an hour each, where a tiny cottage behind a family’s Orleans home was my home, my room a little room with twin beds I imagined the children of the family slept in summers when the family lived in the cottage and rented the big house out to tenants so they could live on Cape Cod the rest of the year, not so different from the way we are sharing our house with tenants and a day care so we can live our lives. And as we cut the shallot and she made the scramble, I asked her how being vegan is going, and she told me some things she’s noticing. I asked about her energy, about how she feels, about any effects it’s having on her, about her appetite and hunger, and her general experience of being vegan since the camping trip with school to the Cape at Nickerson last June, where she was surrounded by kids eating vegan and talking about it and finding their way, and decided to do something she had been learning about on youtube for months and considering maybe longer.
What she said was interesting, and maybe the most interesting part is that she feels proud of her accomplishment, and she illustrated that with a story from the dinner she had with her dad at S and S, a place her dad and I used to go together when we were young, for big brunches with our friends from Harvard where her father was newly teaching and still does. After a very bland dinner of an avocado wrap, no sauce, no cheese, which my daughter pointed out is one of the biggest challenges of being vegan, eating out and finding her choices so limited, her dad stopped at the bakery counter for a cookie, a place I remember buying bagels after brunches to take home, and my daughter asked the woman working there if there were any baked goods which were vegan, which she knew was unlikely in this traditional jewish deli turned restaurant surviving the turning of the neighborhood from working class to hipster. What would that mean? the counter worker wanted to know. No eggs, no milk, no butter, her dad confirmed. The woman wondered why butter would matter, do the cows really care if they are milked? My daughter explained to her that its how the industry is run, it’s how the animals are treated that is the problem. That’s so sad, the woman responded. And as she tells me the story, my daughter feels empathy for the counter worker. She looked so sad, my daughter told me. It’s her job, and she seemed to really think about what I said. My daughter, I realize, as I write, is changing the world in her way, and in so doing, it is changing her.
For many years, she would say, if I suggested that she cook something, I don’t like to cook, even though she loves to eat and makes the most elaborate, beautiful, delicious lunches for herself every day, even though she watches youtube about food, even though the first expensive kitchen appliance I ever bought was a fancy blender for her to make her fancy youtube smoothie recipes. But yesterday, as a vegan, my daughter practiced cooking. She learned to identify turmeric, chili powder, paprika, spanish paprika, oregano, basil, and thyme. She learned to substitute fresh parsley for green onions, and to chop it. She learned what temperature and pan to use to make a tofu scramble, to saute vegetables for the soup, and carmellized onions for the burger. She learned to cut a shallot, and to mince an onion, and what a clove means, how the ends and outer brown layer of the shallot must be removed before we chop it. She learned her mother makes mistakes, recommending chipotle chili as chili powder, and she learned to do a project where she coordinated and I assisted, as I cut up some of the vegetables while she made the food. She learned to plan ahead, to choose the recipes and make a shopping list and soak the cashews, and to work with me on a project we both enjoyed. She was pleased to see as we put away the food that we had no animal products in our shop, which I let her know I eat very little of these days when I am on my own, which may or may not have made her feel good.
It’s been awhile since anyone worked with me in the kitchen learning this way. For Christmas I gave each of my kids and Richard a Cabbagetown Cookbook, which I had used to learn to cook vegetarian dishes when I was young and experimenting with eating new things. I made an Indian meal for Christmas Eve, using recipes from Cabbagetown and another cookbook of Indian food their father had gotten when we were young so we could make Indian meals for our friends. I wanted my kids to be able to cook the foods from their childhoods, as I had enjoyed cooking the foods from mine, Betty Crocker style. I am proud to say now that all three of my children like to cook. My daughter has told me recently it is something she likes about her family, that her parents both like to cook, that her friends notice that she eats well.
Friday evening and yesterday morning when I woke up I was feeling sad about how much time I miss with my daughter and my sons, and Richard, given the way our lives take shape. Richard had sent me a Trump video as my morning greeting, and I had let him know I would like somewhat less of Trump, and more of other things. This morning when I wake up I realize how many kinds of violence in the world could use eradicating. As I said to my daughter on our walk yesterday, I worry that in giving so much energy to Trump we are letting other pieces of our lives go. While there was a rally in Somerville yesterday for immigrants’ rights, where others defended our right to remain a Sanctuary City, my daughter and I chose not to go. We haven’t had a weekend at home together in nearly a month. We needed one. We chose well.