One night this past week I cooked rice in our rice cooker- for the first time since you died, and I think you were the last one to actually make the rice in there. It still had the residue around the air hole that rice cookers get…I guess we hadn’t cleaned it.
I remember when you had your family’s old rice cooker in your old apartment, and then we used it for the first five years of our marriage- the cream colored one with the floral band going around it. When we first got married and moved in together, I was surprised to find you hadn’t ever cleaned it. It was disgusting- filled with hardened rice from the past few years.
So, yeah, this week I made the rice to go with some frozen dish someone had brought us a while back that I defrosted. It was painful, taking out the bowl, pouring in the rice from the bag that I remember you picked out the last time we went food shopping, rinsing it off twice, and filling it with water until it rose just above my knuckles. After we ate, I cleaned it and put it away in the cabinet. I usually keep it out, but I’m thinking of getting a smaller size since I just don’t need that large of a rice cooker anymore without you.
In grief, food becomes kind of like it is for someone with an eating disorder. An eating disorder is hard because a person has to eat…you can’t just abstain completely the way you can from another addiction like alcohol or cigarettes- you have to change the relationship but keep it. In grief, at least in mine, food triggers feelings and memories so sharply, and yet, I can’t stay away from it. It’s food.
We both loved food- not fancy food- but simple, good, and usually cheap, food.
I think of our first meal together- the sandwiches at Hamilton’s deli up by Columbia. Then there was the Boston Cheesecake you ordered the next time I saw you- the first time I saw you play cello at CB’s gallery on July 3rd, 1999. There was our road trip to Maryland on the 17th of July when we stopped at Fudrucker’s for lunch on the way back. I ordered a Caesar salad and it came in this huge green plastic seashell plate that you made fun of. I was embarrassed I remembered. You sipped a large Coke and offered me a sip. I remember thinking then, our third time meeting, that it felt like we were a couple somehow already. There was the bourbon chicken you ordered at the mall telling me how good it was on July 31st when we went down to the shore to hear a concert with friends- our first date? The first time you came to NJ to visit me we ate lunch at an Winberrie’s in Ridgewood- the same town we’d later get married in. Here’s where we both took out our handwritten notes and talked about whether we should start dating- this was after we’d met four times. We said that we’d wait, but then we really didn’t.
That night we went out to “East,” a Japanese place I knew in Teaneck where we took off our shoes and sat on the floor. I couldn’t eat.
When you lived Tiemann place before we got married, you’d cook for me a lot on late Sunday afternoons. After church we’d take a nap on your bed- and then you’d make me something simple like spaghetti with meat sauce or fried mandoo with rice. One time you tried to surprise me with something special and I remember it was bagels with salad on top for dinner. I was…um, surprised. You knew I loved bagels. It was sweet. Other nights, we’d go to the pizza place around the corner and get a Chicken Parm sandwich. It was around four bucks and big enough for the two of us to share so we thought it was a great deal. Our favorite restaurant up in that neighborhood was a small Italian place called Pistichi’s that had a woman singing Brazilian music most nights we went. We ordered the parpadelle ragu…wide, fresh pasta noodles with meat sauce. Your favorite bar was also around the corner from there- Toast. You made friends with a lot people in there and you loved to have a few beers and watch sports in there so we’d go there sometimes too.
While we were dating, I tried to cook Korean for you. I rolled kim bop myself and made bulgogi and mandoo. After we got married, I got a bit better. I made soon doo boo chigae in the winter and mee yook gook soup on your birthday.
I also introduced you to things. Before meeting me, you’d only tried a few kinds of cheeses- Koreans don’t really eat a lot of dairy, but I introduced you to my favorites, havarti, gouda, and brie. I also introduced you to penne a la vodka, which became your go-to Italian pasta dish.
Remember we got to take home tons of samples from the caterer for before our wedding and try it out? We sat in my parent’s kitchen eating the beef with wasabi cream sauce we ended up getting and chilean sea bass? I have a photograph of it. Of course on our wedding, neither of us got to eat much of anything, but they packed it up for us, and we took it out at the W hotel the next day and ate it. You did get to try some of the passed hour dourves though and raved about the duck pancake, which I had somehow missed. Last year you were away for our five year anniversary, but I tried to contact that caterer and ask her to fix us the same food we’d had, or not had, on our wedding night…but I never heard back from her and I guess didn’t follow up. I thought I might get to do it another year.
On our honeymoon, we thoroughly enjoyed the food. It was our first stay at an all-inclusive resort and this one wasn’t cheap. It had five different restaurants with different food- a hibachi restaurant, Italian restaurant, seafood restaurant outside by the water, traditional restaurant, and I forget the last one. We loved the fact that we didn’t have to worry about paying. This is when I started trying to guess what you would order each night or afternoon including your appetizer, meal, and dessert, and 99% of the time, I was right. You said something like, “I’m so predictable.” I tried out my Spanish on the waiters, “Si, you estudio por nueve anos, pero se me olvido mucho.” Then they’d tell me, no I was pretty good. At the pool or by the ocean, we ordered pina coladas and ate the guacamole and chips they put out every day.
As soon as we got back from our honeymoon, I remember being so excited to cook for you every night. We were dog sitting those poodles in Connecticut until our apartment was ready so I’d try to get dinner ready, walk to the train station to meet you, and then we’d come back to the house and eat. I remember the moment we’d see each other…we were newlyweds- even after five years of dating. We were so happy then. One night I made salmon burgers and spinach and left our two plates up on the counter. When we got home I was confused because I saw the plates but the food wasn’t there. I was sure I’d put it there. It turns out the dog had licked those plates so clean you couldn’t even tell there was food there. And they were still exactly where they’d been up on the counter. I told you it didn’t look that great anyway and we ate something else.
Food…there were the things we enjoyed together- ice cream sandwiches, the popcorn I’d make in the pot and bring to the theater for us, the #9 sandwich at Press 195, and grandma pizza in Brooklyn. There was the pad see yoo at “Song,” the cheap thai place on Fifth avenue, and the vietnamese sandwiches on the lower east side. There was that Japanese place on St. Marks where we had a champagne toast to our new engagement with James and Shelly. There was the party that we brought those natural cheetos you loved to and discovered when paired with Boddington’s beer, it was a divine combination. It was our favorite snack ever since but those natural Cheetos were sometimes hard to find, so I always had an eye out for them. I still feel like I should get them for you now if I see them. There was that Italian place on 7th in Park slope that we slipped into one really cold winter night, and just had the best meal. It was dim inside and we ate pasta and drank red wine, and finished it off with a shared tiramisu.
“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,” it says somewhere in Proverbs I think, but really food is much more than just necessary nourishment. It means fellowship and communion and makes every gathering and event more enjoyable. In your culture, it very much meant love. “Muga, muga…” Eat, eat…your mom would say when we gathered at her house. And by the time we cleaned up, she was ready to start cooking the next meal again.
There are dynamics in eating and sharing and cooking that I miss greatly and still need to adjust to.
It is so hard now…leafing through cookbooks I created with recipes I tore out for us to enjoy together- things I thought you’d like. I’m not sure yet how to cook just for myself and Audrey. You could eat a lot, so I became accustomed to cooking a lot. That was something we used to argue about. I’d spend more than an hour making something and then you’d have eaten it all in five minutes. There were never leftovers.
There were never leftovers when we ate out together either which was nice and I’m finding to be a bit of a problem now. I eat smaller meals throughout the day, so in restaurants (or at home really), I’d always have something left of my plate. That’s where you’d come in.
And then there’s the sharing of dishes. I haven’t gone out much since you died, but the few times I did, I missed this greatly. “Wait, if you’re going to get that, I’ll get the fish.” We always got two things we’d both like so that we could share. You were always cutting off pieces of your meal and resting them on the edge of my plate before I’d even had a bit of my own. “So good right?” you’d say.
Yes, it was so good. It was all so good.
“Let him lead me to the banquet table, and let his banner over me be love.”
Song of Songs 2.4