From time to time I get asked about how and when my love for cooking started. I’ll tell you now that food’s always been a love of my life, but my cooking started very late. I never cooked growing up because I was just constantly fed.
My mother never taught me how to cook anything. I’d just watched her. My mother, and father, filled my stomach with most everything I wanted from a very young age. It’s because I was born sickly.
Sickly babies were talked about by everyone in the Korean community, and with feigned sympathy. My mother still purses her lips and shakes her head when she tells me stories of rushing me through the doors of the hospital each time I fell ill. Not eating was a superstitious sign of looming death in Korean households, and my parents had once or twice feared I’d die because of my weak immune system and appetite.
Anytime I was well again eating happened all the time to keep me full, and strong. Later, food became treats and bribes and love from my parents, who often felt guilty for things out of their control. There were some childhood battles I fought and won and some that I lost, and some that left me scarred because I had no chance at winning. My parents tried to heal my scars with road trips and plane rides and food from all over the world. They spoiled me, but I was still punished severely when I did something wrong. It was tough Korean love, but there was always good food.
I always sat next to my grandfather at big family dinners, because as the eldest he always got served the biggest and best plate of food. He always gave me what I asked for off his plate. I miss him.
I got fatter as each year passed, but I never cooked any of the food I ate. I never cooked growing up, and never baked cookies with my mother either because I had no interest in the kitchen. My mother never shuttled me in there for instruction, because she wanted me to read as much as I wanted. I read Beverly Clearly and Judy Blume. The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High and later all the VC Andrews scandals, and everything in between, I read.
So I never cooked a whole meal myself from scratch until I was 19 and moved out of my parents’ home. Cooking came very naturally to me, and I was lucky. It’s another reason select pothead friends and I got fat when we had the munchies, when I first moved out on my own. I cooked. Disastrous on the waistline, but I learned a lesson.
Growing up I’d merely watched my mother cook all her magic until the day I moved out on my own, but I’d always greedily tasted everything during her cooking process like an annoying chihuahua. In grade school I remember every few pages I’d put my book down and hop into the kitchen. I’d open my mouth wide and my mother would just pop into it a perfect bite of whatever it was she was shredding or smearing at the time, and smile and I’d pop back to the sofa to continue reading.
Even now, as a grown woman, when my mother comes to visit us in Belgium and cooks in my kitchen, I’m always lurking and tasting this and that while she puts our meals together. Noah is now around when I’m in the kitchen, and he insists on tasting everything that I put out of the kitchen. He loves meal time, and snack time, and when we see my mother next he will surely eat everything she prepares again. She will just need to get used to having Noah always in the kitchen because he just wants to be playing where the food is.
I have to build a little fort around him while I cook.
Nowadays in between cooking, I write more than I ever read as a little girl. I cook most every meal on the weekdays at home, and on the weekends we sometimes wing it and order out. Food is important to me, but food with my family is most important to me. Part of me inherited that need to indulge loved ones in food, from my parents. My parents often indulged me out of guilt, but with Noah I’ve yet to feel guilt yet. I just love feeding him.
My closest friends who know me best know that I’m happiest in the kitchen sharing food with people I care about. So my closest friends know that I truly am where I want to be feeding Davy and Noah.