Friday, October 29, 2004

The Jewish Gastronomic Factor

My mother just rang me. We talked a bit and then she tentatively said: “I’ve cooked some really nice chicken… Maybe you’d like some.” And I said yes.

My mother is a wonderful cook even if she doesn’t much care for it. I’m a rather
poor and unwilling one. I once managed to wreck a whole pot of soup. Don’t ask me how. It stands to reason that, if you throw a bunch of vegetables in and they taste good, end result will too. NOT. Plus it took me two hours to finish. Two hours making soup, I ask you. During exams, pretty much from the beginning of December till the end of September, I hide in my lair boning up. I become anorectic, have absolutely no appetite. Typically, I also smoke loads and drink heaps of coke. I’m hoping that will have been changed this year. So my dear parents will come round to see me and bring me nutritional reinforcements. Sometimes, though, I don’t need the food or don’t feel like it or actually need to cook the veggies in my fridge (I've never forgotten the starving children in Biafra my mother used to use as an example of people who’d be very happy to eat the food I would not deign to look at. I also can’t bear to let food spoil in a country where old people starve to death every year because they are too proud to say they’re hungry. Besides, there are people starving everywhere - but this won’t be another one of THOSE posts so I’ll shut up now). I haven’t wanted food in a while hence the “tentatively”. Most importantly, my mother is convinced I starve. I am sometimes too lazy to cook and had rather go to bed a bit hungry - but that’s not starving, that’s simply being daft. I love eating! No I don’t, I positively starve. She will regularly ask me if I’ve eaten. It goes like this:

“Have you eaten?”
“Yes Mother.”
[doubt oozes through the chord. She doesn’t even have to speak. I KNOW.]
“Daaaaaarling, tell your old Mother what you ate.”
[notice the subtle emotional exploitation of implicit frailty]
“Mother! Do you know how old I am?”
“Well that has nothing to do with it! You could be 50 and I’d still be asking you this!”
“Yes, that is my fear.”
“Do NOT be cheeky.”
“Mother, how old am I?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
[genuine surprise in her voice]

Sometimes it doesn’t go as casualty-free but never mind that. Irony and pre-emptive strikes don’t work:

“So what could you possibly have eaten? You don’t have anything healthy in your fridge!”
[note: my mother doesn’t see my fridge all that often. But she knows I almost always ONLY have healthy food in it. Reality is NOT a variable in these conversations. A variation on this theme is "you don't have ANYTHING in your fridge."]
“Mother, you know I never eat. That’s why I’m so skinny and probably anaemic.”
“Exactly! You must eat, please let me bring you something!”

I never win. I often regress when dealing with her. I actually managed to hide the fact I was smoking again for TWO YEARS!!! It’s a protection mechanism. I knew, I simply knew the grief I’d be getting once the truth was out. I still sometimes tell my mother “I’m going to come round with G. but you are not to say one word if you smell cigarette smoke please, the woman is 42 AND a doctor!” My mother will take one step into my flat and start grimacing and waving her hand in front of her face as though submitted to the PONG FROM HELL! I also knew the grief I’d be causing her and that I can understadn very well. I was already smoking again and she’d sometimes randomly say “Oh I’m just so happy you quit smoking!” I felt like Dobby the House Elf and had to physically refrain from banging my head against the wall wailing “Lioness bad daughter, BAD SMOKING DAUGHTER!”

She came round impromptu a few of hours ago and you should have seen me manically flying around
locking cats in bedroom and opening windows wide, washing my face, gargling and then using the front door to create a draft to help air the place all this in the time it took her to get to the 6th floor. She was good, she only grimaced once and mumbled something-smoke-something to herself. Sometimes she does listen. We went to my cousin's wedding a month ago. I told her "Mother please, for the duration of this wedding we shall pretend I'm a grown-up, albeit a stupid smoking one, and there will be no comments every time I light a ciggie. Deal?" "Deal." She even had the good grace to laugh (we are amused by our daughter at times). I was smart enough to not smoke too much in front of her (I unashamedly lie to her regarding the daily amount). You think I haven't learned?

Sometimes I give up and just say yes to everything and all food she wants to throw my way. That usually works if I’m discreet about it and don’t sound like I’m rolling my eyes. It also helps if I actually DO NOT roll my eyes. Sometimes though, for some very obscure reason, I decide she’s bound to realise ANY DAY NOW that I am an adult and have in fact been one for over a decade. And that’s not even wishful thinking, it’s DANGEROUS thinking because it leads to my forgetting The Way Things Are and inevitable disaster. About 2 years ago she rang me suddenly with a well-timed worry:

“I was just wondering if you knew how to operate the washing machine.”
“… If I what?”
“No need to react like that is there, it’s a perfectly normal question.”
“No it isn’t! It would be if I were 12 maybe!!!”
“I don’t see why you must make such a fuss, it’s normal to worry! I’m your mother, I’m supposed to tell you things like this. How am I supposed to know if you know you have to separate colours if I don’t ask you.”
“Yes but why do you worry about th - colours?! You don’t know if I … I must be dreaming this. Tell me again THE YEAR I WAS BORN IN, I think you are confusing me with someone else, Mother.”
“Well if you’re going to talk to me like that…”

And then she’s offended. Because she's UNAPPRECIATED, how unfair I can be at times.

I adore my mother but this is her one characteristic that drives me absolutely mad. Which is funny because she really is quite sane and well-grounded. My parents are amazing in their relationship with the world, considering both that they were in their late thirties when they had me and that they are Portuguese, a people who tend to be conservative. They are open-minded, good fun, firm believers in individual freedom. I think the fact that I was a very sickly infant/child/adolescent/young adult contributed to some of her fears. My sister dying as a newborn cannot have helped much either. But it’s still pretty out of character with the rest of her.

She has the best sense of humour. She’d often ring me in Israel (and I her) to tell me tidbits of funny conversations she’d heard, or mistakes by TV anchormen. Even when I didn’t find it funny I’d be laughing too because her laughter is infectious and she can just go on and on. But if she were to read this she’d go straight for my jugular. She wouldn’t see the humour in this, EVER.

So the chicken.

“You want the chicken???”
“Yes, I’d love some.”
immediately brighter voice, you know, TODAY the child is getting some nourishment into her emaciated body]
“Er… There’s also some pasta.”
“Pasta would be lovely.”
“Oh and some soup maybe?”
“Soup would be nice too.”
And then my mother says, and I promise this is the verbatim translation:
“Oh how lovely! If only you knew what joy you give me when you accept food!”

Baruch hashem.

This is the woman who denies being Jewish or having any connection to it. This is the woman who finds it bizarre I should feel this strongly towards Judaism. Good grief, must you go to the synagogue every weekend? It’s so… religious! This is the woman who, despite her higher education, strong will and independence, often sounds like she's just arrived from the shtetl.

Oy vey is mir.


At 30/10/04 04:40, Blogger CarpeDM said...

I was going to comment about this earlier but blogger was thwarting me. Stupid blogger.

Anyway, this amused me. I like your mom.

At 31/10/04 01:08, Blogger Viscondessa said...

Oh, Lioness, I knew there must be a deeper reason why we get along so well. And now I know exactly what it is. WE HAVE THE SAME MOTHER. Only mine has taken the dialogue up a notch: "Yes? I can bring you some soup?" "Ok, mom, that would be great." "And [smaller voice] you're not going to waste it? You won't let it rot in the fridge?"

You see, I -- in my more foolish days -- made the terrible error of letting my mother look in my fridge to see how I was eating. She found month-old remnants, quietly turning green, of something she had prepared for me with great love. Ok, it's happened more than once. Ouch. It's not that her food isn't good. In fact, she's an amazing cook. Last week she brought me a lamb stew with chickpeas, lots of allspice and black pepper. It rocked. And I ate a LOT. But there was too much for one sitting. So I put the leftovers in the fridge. And then I forgot it was there... and now I'm afraid to look at it, because I'm sure it's turned into a different life form altogether.

Are there others out there like us, madwomen who just can't be bothered to eat if it requires effort (and sometimes even putting something in the microwave is too much effort), but will turn into ravenous chowhounds the minute someone actually puts something warm, yummy, and already in a bowl in front of us? Someone suggested once that I have an eating disorder (someone who had never seen how fast -- and how much -- I'm capable of eating, quite happily). Is sheer laziness an eating disorder?

At 31/10/04 01:36, Blogger The Lioness said...

YES!!! My mother does that as well, the "don't let the food rot" intimations!

At 31/10/04 11:10, Blogger Noorster said...

I've come to the conclusion that you and the Viscondessa are my long-lost sisters. We're triplets. Because we surely must have the same mother.

At 31/10/04 21:32, Blogger squarepeg said...

I'm experiencing a little mother-envy here. I've got one, but she can't cook. I mean literally. She only eats ready-made food or something my father has thrown together. (And he is to spices what you are to soup ingredients. urg.) By the way, I always love your very alive renditions of dialog.

At 1/11/04 17:06, Blogger The Lioness said...

(Er... I am to soup BECAUSE of spices. :( I'm almost finished ruining a perfectly good AND HUGE bean/cauliflower pot BECAUSE of spices again - turmeric is really intense in a very bitter way, who knew; I think it may be salvaged through sour cream and tomato puree addition. We'll see.)


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