We all grimaced. I got red in the cheeks, knowing full well we had screwed up royally, wasting time and ingredients. Mom, her hands covered in flour, like they always seemed to be when I was a kid, just smiled and raised her eyebrows lovingly, “Well, I guess you’ll just have to start over then.”
My older sister and I had been tasked with baking cookies for some occasion, and we had ruined them. Mistaking the measurements for sugar, with salt, effectively turning my moms usually perfect cookies, into salt licks.
I grew up in a house of cooking real food on the stove and in the oven (not food products), a no-budge dinnertime of 6pm (even for my business-man father), of cookbooks heavy with years of moisture, splashes, recipe clippings and the annotations of moms looping cursive.
My fingers smelled like tomato plants, and were scratched by the thorns of a runaway raspberry patch in the yard. I pulled massive cracked beets from the dirt, a heavy jewel more precious than rubies, especially when coated with dripping butter and a dash of Morton table salt.
I took up in the kitchen, stirring and reading recipes for mom, and we often had matching flour handprints on our butts. I fell in love with the beautiful theater of the kitchen mess, and the subsequent joy in the faces of our loved ones as they ate heartily of our creations.
My heart burst every time my mom fed my friends, her dishes were often the highlight of any gathering, and that feeling is what toppled me head first into love with cooking, with food.
The simple act of taking things from here and there, mixing and pouring, and basting and sizzling, and combining those things onto a plate, with the immediate satisfaction of knowing whether you made art, or a mess—that is what I love. Understand the basics of cooking, and your creativity goes into overhaul, the kitchen is the easel, and nourishment is the final masterpiece.
It was deliciously simple.
Until it wasn’t.
Eventually, something in me snapped, likely with the onset of puberty. Dieting became a staple in my home, taking up next to the salt and peppershakers. Chubby child sprouted into curvy young woman and suddenly I became acutely aware, thanks to advertising and media, that food is thy enemy, and cellulite is the curse of the weak-willed.
As it often does, tragedy struck our family, and food became my flag in the sand. A barrage of difficult things kept happening, and suddenly with the loss of a dear relative, I vowed to never eat lasagna again as a staunch rebellion against what was happening in my world. It was his last meal with all of us.
Food was my last barricade against the tragedies of life, an aged and splintered door set against the ramming force that is growing up.
I lost something fundamental when I built walls against my love for food, and for cooking. I lost a huge chunk of myself when I decided food was not nourishment, but instead an evil necessity.
Sadly, I think this is a common thread in many women’s lives. We hit a point where food is nothing but a constant need that constantly needs to be controlled, and our obsession turns us hard inside.
What’s worse is that some of us never rediscover our love for nourishment and good food, for cooking and creating. We go on white-knuckling against ourselves, against a biological need for healthful food, for connection around the table, for the creative outlet that is cooking.
This is the first chapter, in many, that were written over more than a decade of my life, sprinkled with difficulties that fanned the flame of bulimia, and my warped view towards food.
It’s a story about growing up, and understanding myself only by looking back and observing the broken path I took to arrive here. I’ve come to a place, where after a decade, I have finally opened myself up to that feeling of love towards food again.
It has taken breaking through the heavy brickwork of disordered eating to get here, walls that have been broken and then built back up again, year after year.
But I think the last brick has finally been thrown aside, and after all that time, I think I’ve finally come back home.
And the real truth in that, is home isn’t necessarily a map dot, but something inside of us all. Welcome Home.
© Cayla Vidmar January 25, 2017