“Cooking is at once child’s play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.”
Growing up, my mum always made sure we had home-cooked food. She was always cooking for the extended family, and could whip up a real teochew nonya feast. Which partly explains my all the chubby bubbly comments I got growing up. The other part, I attribute to Cadbury Milk Chocolate.
My happiest memories of childhood are always accompanied by some sort of food to celebrate. Be it loveletters and pineapple tarts at Chinese New Year, dumplings at Duan Wu Jie (dragon boat festival), curry and ngor hiang during anyone’s birthday, the food only served to deepen my impression of the occasion. And in some cases, I can still taste it in my mouth. Like this egg drop gingko nut dessert that my mum cooked in a winter melon over charcoal. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds.
And conversely, the darkest period in my memory was when mum had to go out to work, and there were no home-cooked meals for us.
I didn’t attach much significance to home-cooked meals in my life until I started cooking for my family in recent years.
Believe it or not, I felt guilty cooking. The time spent on buying fresh produce at the market, preparing ingredients and actually cooking them took a lot of time. And I struggled with thoughts that my time would be better spent at work or even coaching the kids, and not cooking.
But I truly love cooking for my family. I burst with pride when I overhear my kids telling their friends that I cook the most awesome friend rice in the world, better than DinTaiFung (ha!). When my son actually ate lady’s finger and asked for more, I was doing mental high-fives.
So on the one hand, I love cooking but on the other hand, I worried that it was a waste of time. How’s that for internal conflict?
Then, last week, I watched this show, Burnt. And the lead actress, Sienna Miller (actually she was more like the only female actress), said that “cooking is an act of love”. And suddenly, it just clicked for me.
It was like someone actually gave me permission to cook for my family. When it was my own warped thinking that was stopping me in the first place.
Then I started thinking back about how food made me really happy as a child, and I’m sure what I’m doing now is making my family happy as well.
So what does cooking mean to me? It means doing something simple to make myself, and my family happy. It means making deposits into the Happy Memory Bank, because we all need to draw strength from it in our dark moments.
I’ll leave you with that thought while I go prepare lunch of steamed minced meat with salted egg and stir-fried french beans. Yum.