I’m doing a lot more cooking lately for health reasons. By doing so, I expected to expand my cooking repertoire, to improve my self discipline when it comes to eating and preparation, I expected to get healthier, I expected to save money, I expected to have some fun…
I did not expect all the memories and thoughts that spring up in my mind while cooking. The textures, the smells, the sounds–they really do transport me. Cooking is a largely right brained activity for me, like driving…especially when I’m grooving in the middle of a very familiar, oft-cooked recipe.
And it just so happens that those are the dishes linked to some old memory.
I made a Korean radish soup tonight. (Using watermelon radish from the farmer’s market! They’re very similar to daikon radish except…they’re MAGENTA inside! Almost flourescent pink, really. So I am made this very PINK Korean radish soup).
Usually, when I make Korean food, my head is full of thoughts about my mother, all comfort and love. I compare how my food tastes against hers, and try to match, match, match. But it never really does match exactly. Sometimes I make Korean food when I miss her, especially North Korean dishes handed down through our family.
I also remember summers spent in Korea, traipsing through the streets of Seoul, through the markets, riding the crowded buses, so unlike the Greyhounds and AC transit buses here in the States. Snacks on the street bought on the way home to my grandmother’s house. The air so humid I’m not surprised that even when I stand still, my skin’s glistening from both perspiration and…just the WET AIR.
I wonder about the culinary traditions of Korea, and how so much is wild mountain greens, how so much of it can be dried and then rehydrated in cooking. There are rich and fatty foods of course, but I imagine wartime and picking greens in the hillside, foraging for dinner. I wonder if they’re doing that in North Korea.
I usually think about things Korean. But today, as I looked at the radish soup, thinking that the brilliant pink of the watermelon radish made this dish somehow…no longer LOOK Korean…I thought of my mother-in-law, who died last year.
Whenever I think of her, I feel a stab of pain in my heart. I’m not sure if it’s heartbreak or regret or what. Even when I/we laugh at something she’d find funny (and believe there are many things she found funny), the pain is there. It’s so prevalent in my thoughts of her that the thought of my parents dying is unbearable–how insufferable will the pain be, then?
But then again, my parents and I are speaking. She and I were not on speaking terms when she was killed–we were in the midst of a fight I expected would eventually be resolved. We had been the best of friends. We had aggravated each other under great stress and parted. She did drive me NUTS. But she drove a lot of people nuts. She had an incredible heart…and emitted a great heat. She was one of those great characters upon whom you could base a novel.
My grief is different from the other members of the family–lesser than her children and husband. But tinged with awful things like regret and doubt. She and I never got to make up. I have been told that she wanted to make up with me, that she had been mustering the courage to approach me. And–did she care about me? Did she love me as I realize I do her?
The real reason for our parting under complicated circumstances is that very question–I was not sure she loved me.
There is, however, nothing that can really console me because I’ll never really know. She made such a huge difference in my life and in many ways. I still wonder the same question that caused me to give her the silent treatment–did she love me?
What does this have to do with Korean food, you ask. The Korean radish soup that doesn’t look like traditional Korean radish soup because of all that pink from the watermelon radish…
When she died, we traveled to her house to be with the family…and during that brief period of time before traveling to Israel, we walked through the house. There was Korean food in the refrigerator. We asked the others if they ate kimchi. No.
So it was hers. I had never seen her eat kimchi, but apparently she had acquired a taste for it during our break. And other Korean foods. She had never shown an interest in Korean food before. Was she thinking of me? Was she trying to connect?
A year later, we sorted through her things. Her closet no longer smelled like her. And there, I found the things I had given her. She had put them on top of everything else: a quilt, a cardigan set. Our wedding pictures were in her bedside table drawer. So many mementos, within daily reach, within eyeshot.
I still wonder. I still regret. I still feel that stabbing pain.
And I cannot even imagine how unbearable the pain of my parents death might be. But this week seems to be the week in which I obsess about death–about wondering how I will die, about this, and even a weird dinner conversation with friends about suicide tactics.