The freedom of cooking

May 14th, 2019  |  Published in Uncategorized, What we savor

I had to wait years to make this dish. Photo: Zoe Shuttleworth [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

I couldn’t move. I tried to reach for the kitchen knife on the opposite counter in my kitchen but I wasn’t able to lift my leg more than a couple of inches. I looked at the carrots on the chopping board and decided to give up. 

I could eat the carrots without chopping them, without arranging them in neat patterns on dampened rice paper sheets and without rolling them into nice Vietnamese summer rolls. And, if I was quick, I might be able to make not only one but two dipping sauces before my son, who clung to my leg and prevented me from walking, needed milk or a diaper change or a pacifier or a hug or a cuddle.  

I had been savvy enough to gather the peanut butter, limes, fish sauce, garlic and all the other ingredients for the dips on the counter top before starting. I could finish them without moving an inch.  

My son was baby number two. I had already learned some tricks.

When I got pregnant with my first child I was aware that, in addition to the joy and love that would arrive with her, there would be some hefty restriction: no more late nights working or bar hopping whenever I wanted. Still, there was one thing I wasn’t prepared for: how difficult it was to cook with small kids around. 

When my first child was a baby, she loved to be carried around, limiting me to foods I could cook with one hand (Luckily there’s a Finnish cook book called “Cook Book for One-Handed”). When she grew older, she didn’t mind being alone for a while when I was cooking: on the contrary, she loved climbing on the dining table and pulling down the plates and utensils I had placed there a minute before.

Then came baby number two, and the whole cycle started again. It’s not that we were starving. It’s pretty easy to cook pasta and heat a ready made sauce even with one hand. And my husband did fair amount of cooking too. But the joy and pleasure of cooking was gone.

I settled for whole carrots and one or two dips at a time, but I craved something more. There really is a difference between a whole carrot and a beautiful summer roll. The simple act of cooking became an emblem of freedom for me. 

Luckily, time flies. Five years after my daughter was born, my son turned two. They started to play together. One day, on my day off from my part time job, they were in their bedroom. I heard them playing with a train set. 

I was ready for opportunity. I took out the rice papers. I took out the carrots, the cucumber, sprouts, tofu, glass noodles, basil, mint and coriander. I washed the produce. I cut the carrots and the cucumber into matchsticks. I dampened the rice sheets. I arranged the produce nicely into the rice papers. I rolled them up. Only occasionally did I need to step into children’s bedroom to comfort them or assist them with finding the right train parts.

I took the sauces out of the fridge: I had made them the day before since I wasn’t yet ready to take the risk of doing both the rolls and the sauces at the same day.  

I called for the kids, who came in after a third or fourth or fifth call and sat at the table. I grabbed a summer roll, dipped it in the sweet and hot Nuoc Cham sauce and took a bite. The kids did the same, though their sauce didn’t have the chili in it. 

And there we sat, enjoying those beautiful packages of fresh food, all three of us together. 

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