Note: I wrote this on January 1, 2014, and have decided to move on from my food blog that is celebrating its third anniversary this week. Everything I write I’ll post here.
Stir-fry reminds me of my mother. Garlic reminds me of my dad. But that’s not how I arrived at this dish, which I admit is a bit of a stretch.
I got here—to this daily meal of frozen fish, frozen vegetables, cooked in a skillet lubricated with oil—mostly by process of elimination. Isn’t that how we all end up at our favorite meals? Eliminate those dishes that take too long. Eliminate those dishes that taste too good. Eliminate those dishes that you need special ingredients for. Eliminate those dishes of which the man doesn’t want seconds.
The diet kept getting whittled down, until it was more and more convenient, less and less what I was proud of. I, who made my own flour. I, who bought grain in bulk. I, who cooked colored rice on the stove. I, who went to the farmers market for produce. I, who worked with grains and seeds and vegetables many of my friends hadn’t heard of. Now, it’s all frozen, thrown in a skillet with olive oil I get from Whole Foods, and I’ve long since given up on the exotic foods of ancient times.
As I stare into the smoke and dart my head to avoid popping oil, the sound brings me back to the tiny kitchens my mom cooked in. Sitting at her round oak table, book open, pencil in hand, doing homework while she cooked. When she was in Houston last month for my wedding, she did a stir-fry for us then, too. Tomatoes and tuna in pasta that was lightly coated in oil. It reminded me of another dish she would make, wagon wheel pasta cooked with olive oil. Nothing else. Just buttery, wonderful carbs.
The garlic takes me down a darker road, of staring down into a bowl of rice so I don’t choke on an entire clove. Watching my father as he takes one of those rectangular butcher knives that I always associate with Chinese and smacking a garlic bulb in the head. The time he tried to teach me to cook—“bend your fingers at the knuckle so you don’t cut yourself”—and I almost fainted. My sister and I fought over who could escape the steam in the bathroom. Our identical faces turned red as we splashed water on our cheeks. We laughed, like we always did in the heat of his disappointment.
When it’s time to serve what I’ve prepared into one bowl that my family of three shares, I find myself back in the present tense of my life. One in which my father will knock on our door every other Friday to smile and coo at my baby boy, one in which my mother tries to reach out to me from the other side of the computer screen somewhere in Seoul, South Korea. Life moved on, as it continues to do, and what matters in this moment is that my little family is well fed.