Tag Archives: Martha Stewart

“You’d Better Come on, in My Kitchen, Babe: It Going to Be Rainin’ Outdoors.”

The women would gather around at mid-afternoon.

All throughout the last weeks of every autumn, they took turns visiting each other’s kitchens.  The ones that arrived to my grandma’s house were the victims of a village-wide fame of being the best cooks, for kilometers around.  Grandma was somewhat of a matriarch herself who flaunted her expertise like the first Soviet Martha Stewart.

The women’s morning duties would have been long completed:  Their cows and sheep were milked and herded out to the fields and placed under the supervision of the blond and freckled Don Juan, Vanechka.  The children were washed, the men — fed and guided out of the front gates.  The adolescent rascals, visiting their grandparents for the summer, who turned increasing brown day by day, would find salvation from the heat by the river bank.  The old women, with poor appetites, were given a glass of fresh milk, still foaming with the temperature of a cow’s body, and a slice of warm bread.  They then flocked the benches — like birds on a telephone line — for hours; and with their nearly toothless gums, they chewed sunflower seeds and gossiped.  (You could always tell their most favored bench by the layers of black hulls surrounding its wooden legs, like seashells.)

When the front gate of the house began squeaking, I put down my book and listened up.  I’d never really been much use to the matriarch of the house:  My housework was obviously not up to her standards.  So, it was better to stay out of her way all together.

“Doesn’t your mother teach you anything?!” the old woman bickered and breathed down my neck while I clutched a soapy dishrag or the handle of a bucket with filthy, brown water with which I had just scrubbed the floors of the hallway and the storage room.  “Gimme that!  I’ll show you how.”

But I wasn’t really in the mood for lectures.  Holding back my tears with a single raised eyebrow, I would march off into the furthest removed room of the house:  The front veranda with giant windows and a single cot.

“Well, would you look at her?!” the old woman nagged behind my back.  “Can’t even say a word to her!”

As soon as the veranda door was sealed shut with a metal hook, I would anticipate visiting the never seen landscapes of snowy Saint Petersburg in the novels of Dostoyevsky; or the wild forestry occupied by the courageous cossacks of Sholokhov.  There was no room for the nature worshiping lyrics of Yesenin, or the gentle romance of Alexander Blok.  No way, man!  Fueled by the unjust opposition of my father’s people to my motha’s clan, I fancied myself belonging to the oppressed.  I was certainly en route to a rebellion:  An untimely outraged young female revolutionary worthy of being commemorated next to the poster of Lenin!

In the days of motha’s absence, after a number of such confrontations with the relentless matriarch, I would eventually would move myself out of the house entirely.  And by the time my motha ventured back to her in-laws, she’d find me living in the veranda, by myself, with a plastic white rabbit being my only confidant.

Most summers, she would return toward the end of our stay.  Smelling of expensive European perfumes and the thrill of the city life, she, like me, was not allowed to participate in the housework.  But then, if she arrived on time for these gatherings of the townswomen, her pride would force her to march out into the kitchen — in a scandalously low cut housedress — and to help out.

First, the heads of white and purple cabbage would be brought up from the cellar underneath the kitchen.  The wooden barrels would be washed and left to dry out in the sun.  After the final headcount, grandma would begin distributing the duties:  Some women would be assigned to shred the crispy leaves, while others chopped, crushed and ground additional ingredients.  The hefty redhead with mittens on her manly hands would sterilize the two- and three-liter glass jars over a steaming bath.  The only single girl was given the task of matching lids and making labels:  Nothing that could damage her perfect and yet youthful skin, untouched by any man.

If motha insisted on joining the kitchen mayhem, she would be given a sack of onion heads to peal; and she would weep in front of other women, openly, while improvising some melodramatic monologue that caused the group to laugh hysterically.

My grandma rarely joined in.  Instead, she took her only daughter down to the cellar and supervised the organization of the storage space.

Eventually, lead by my rambunctious motha, the women would begin to talk about sex.  While pushing, crushing, mauling the transformed cabbage into jars, and buckets, and basins, and barrels, the women’s bodies flushed with burgundy red.  Their arms and breasts vibrated.  And they, while sweaty and flushed, with locks of hair sticking to their foreheads, would succumb to fits of laughter, as each confessed the habits of their husbands and ridiculed the strange and hardly satisfactory practices in their marriage beds.

“The second you call your man ‘a baby’, you gotta breastfeed the fucker,” my motha carried on with her routine.  The women hollered.  My grandma, scandalized, hid out in the cellar.  And I would climb up onto my hiding spot, above the stove, and memorize the scent of garlic and women’s sex, of which no Soviet male poet had yet told me.

The Way to YOUR Heart — is Through HIS Stomach

Me:  this morning, mildly disheveled, getting ready to leave his crib:

“What should I write about today?” 

Him:  stretched out the couch while watching the news and looking like da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man—every inch of him is proportional perfection:

“You’ve got to teach these women how to cook.”

True that:  As of this morning, we were both suffering from a food hangover from my last night’s cookout. 

When V gets in the mood to cook:  watch out!  First off, there is some list making involved with a KGB-style interrogation of the future guests on their dietary restrictions and preferences.  Then, the research begins.  Besides the modest collection of my own cooking inventions, I consult my gods and goddesses of cooking:  Jamie for a more rustic menu, Martha—when I seek perfection; and Nigella—when I expect to get laid (after the dishes are done). 

Food shopping with me tends to get quite intense for every party involved.  First, I don’t want any tagalongs who’ll set me back by twirling and smelling every sale item on display at Whole Foods.  I deal with my list—while you shut up and carry the basket!  I march through the store, with my hair yanked back into a brutal bun and a permanent frown similar to the one on the forehead of a heart surgeon.  Then, I proceed to cross-examine the clerks about the best of the best of their produce.  I read the labels in the aisles while continuing to frown, which prevents all commission-crazed sales staff from chatting me up.  I do lighten up a bit when surrendering my money to the cashier:  A few flippant remarks and self-deprecating jokes—and I feel like I’ve reached my daily quota of niceness.  As soon as my trunk is loaded, however, I am back to the Amazon-on-Wheels Act, honking my way through the parking lot and speeding off to my sparkling clean kitchen.

The actual process of cooking—is like perpetual foreplay, as if life itself were my lover.  It begins with stretching some skimpy clothes over my body, leaving the arms exposed and the legs—stark naked.  I prefer some Nina Simone moaning and grunting in the background, waking my empathetic heart and disturbing the hormonal balance in my ovaries.  A lit candle or two in my work area—is a must.  Then, I begin unloading my shopping bags; and my curiosity with substances is awakened.  Now is the time to sniff and lick and twirl and measure and exclaim laconic odes of gratitude—for the abundance and the time to enjoy it; for the company and the very process.  Here, barefoot in the kitchen, I summon the voices of my gods and goddesses again; study their notes—and leap into a two-to-three hour improvisation.

What happens to my guests?  They are ordered “to chill.”  Sometimes, I jam a glass of wine into their palms, or a platter of hors d’oeuvres worthy of a Dionysian feast.  The main thing:  is to stay in my vicinity—but away from my stove.  Never do I demand another pair of helping hands because they’ll just fuck with my shit, already in various degrees of steaming and roasting and sizzling and baking.  But my lucky beneficiaries are guaranteed to be entertained as I leap and slide between the sink and the fridge, break out into a few tribal dance moves and stuff their mouths with teases of the upcoming masterpiece dinner.  I demand they continue to speak to me even if I’m muttering like a witch over her cauldron.  Be near me, be yourself, but please don’t help me—that is V’s recipe for every partnership in life.

After years of embracing the Juliette Binoche in Chocolat in my own self, I’ve learned that the last few minutes of the meal-making are crucial.  They are all about timing.  That’s when the combinations are matched into harmonies or flavor dissonances; when the perfect temperatures are hopefully achieved; and—my favorite—when the arrangement of the display happens.  The magic.  The feast for the eyes.  The foreplay via the tongue. 

The secret here, however, is to keep your mind and heart on the guests.  They are the very objects of these generosities in progress; the witnesses with whom you’ve chosen to celebrate your life.  The contradiction in my process, however—is that by then, I prefer to chase them out of my kitchen entirely.  So, I behold them in my mind’s eye:  Is my company a woman of the warmest heart and her 3-year old baby girl?  Is it a friend making a rest stop in between his bouncing all around the world, in search of art, and consequentially—sex?  Is it a beloved boy who’s granted me unconditional space and time in which to recover from a heartbreak?  Or is it a hedonistic girlfriend whose zest for life has yanked me out of many depressions?  They are my chosen people.  My fucking army of survivors and defenders.  All this—is happening for their sake.

So, what I can teach you, my ladies, is that, as every other activity in life, cooking mustn’t be a mundane chore; a weight pulling you under in the listless current of every day responsibilities.  It is up to you to negotiate with your partner—or friends—how and when you prefer to cook.  You can choose to cook on that rare occasion when your heart is overwhelmed with generosity.  Or:  never!  If you absolutely hate cooking—for your man’s, your own, and for fucking god’s sake communicate that!  Don’t turn it into a reason to resent him.  Don’t hold a grudge against your assumed responsibilities as a woman because you’ve never mentioned just how much you hate being in the kitchen.  Because I swear:  It will show in your meal—and ruin your relationship.

But then again, why would you deny yourself the following hedonistic pleasures?