Omnomnominator’s Blog

20100806

Posted in Uncategorized by user72521 on August 23, 2010

I am writing this and crying. Lindsey looks at me with her sweet sympathetic frowny face. I tell her I think it’s theraputic for me to write. She says nothing, comes to my side and lets me bury my face in her side and cry. She says crying is also theraputic. I agree.

Lindsey and I drove by the Super H mart last Sunday to pick up some kimchee and other Korean staples. I grabbed some frozen meat to cook later “Not tonight” I say. “I just can’t.” Today I announced I defrosted that meat to make Kalbi (Korean short ribs) and blueberry cobbler.

I like to cook. Or maybe  I just love to eat and no one can make it just the way I want it so I end up having to do it myself. I’m not sure which it is, the lines have become blurred over the years. My mom was the best cook I’ve ever known. There are folks who tell me their mom is a terrible cook, or their mom just wasn’t that into it. Everything that went into my mom’s cast iron red pot came out the best I ever had. I watched her marinate meats in this pot, cook chap chae (Korean noodles), simmer spaghetti sauce all day, slow cook chili, deep fry chicken fingers, and others that I can’t quite remember. But when I close my eyes and sometimes when they’re open, I can hear her chopping and dicing, still smell the garlic cooking in oil and ginger being freshly minced. One of my favorite parts of my day in high school was opening the front door after school to smell what was going to be for dinner. I can cook all of the comfort foods that she made as we were growing up but I have not really ever dabbled in Korean food. My mom never used recipes for Korean cooking and certainly never measured anything so I can only attempt to imitate. When asked for a recipe she would shrug and then go back to cooking.

I am all baker and she was all chef. I love to dip tablespoons of flour into a measuring cup and sweep the flat edge across the top to create  a precise measurement. To get my scale out and pour sugar to precise measurements makes me giddy. Watching my mom cook was a counter action to my action. She would grab jars and bottles of unlabled spices that she filled from bulk bins and just start shaking into the big red pot. I watched her stir a little, watch, taste it and would wait to see the reaction. Sometimes it was favorable, there was no big action taken then. She would simply rest the plastic spoon in its holder and walk away. If unfavorable, she would scrunch her face up, shake her head, and reach back in the cabinet for something else.

While I love to bake, I don’t like to follow recipes for cooking because they usually call for some ingredient I don’t have or some technique I don’t feel like looking up. So, I improvise. A lot. My mom did the same but somehow a billion times better as mom’s are known to do. I never asked her if she loved cooking. I think it would be like asking me if I loved to bake. Some things just present themselves and no further conversation is necessary.

My mom had a major stroke August 4th around 7:30pm. We all gathered and prayed and cried and prayed. I had hope for some level of recoevery until August 6th at 6:30am when the third of the three doctors watching over my mom, the only one who had any hope at all for recovery, pulled me aside (my brother and dad had gone home to shower and get a little rest so it was just me) to tell me that things had gone from bad to worse, there was no glimmer of hope left and now we were just waiting for the end. I collapsed. He held me and said “I wish my mom had been as good as your mom. I can always tell when a mom was loved so much as yours is”. My mom passed away August 6th, 2010 at 9:15pm. My father, brother, her youngest sister and I held her hand as she left this world to see her mom again.

I walked into the kitchen of my parents house and my eyes wandered from counter to counter, looking at all the things she had cooked with, on and around. I held myself up at the counter and stared at her rice cooker. The one I got her for Christmas and the one she wanted me to replace this Christmas (with a new shiny steel one like her friends have). I opened the fridge and found rice that she probably planned to eat Thursday for lunch. I went to my room and cried.

My mother had been very clear to me over the years about the things that were important to her that I keep for the next generations. Different things that might not appear valuable to most people but meant everything to her. She would say “let me show you what is important for when I die. Don’t forget!” and I would say “i don’t want to talk about that” but if you ever met my mom, you know there’s no getting around what she wanted. She would admonish me and tell me to follow her again to watch her go through the whole house and point out her favorite things. I gathered these cherished things and collected them into a safe place as I had been asked to do. I then went to the kitchen for things that I knew my dad would never use, as cooking eggs is reaching the limit of his culinary ability. I prepared the red cast iron pot, her favorite plastic spoon that I used to stir kool aid with when I was a child, and the rice cooker for a trip back to Atlanta.

My mom had called me the day she and my dad went to pick the blueberries at my grandmother’s house. I had found a note on the side of the fridge that said “Maxine-soap, pecans, blueberries, sugar” My mom had cracked over a gallon of pecans for me because she knew I used them so often in baking and had frozen well over 12 quarts of blueberries for my brother and me. She could deftly crack pecans so they came out as whole halves. I crack them – they turn to crumbles. This is something that I suppose I won’t be able to do until we have children. My mom had recently gone to Mexico on a Church mission trip and had brought back some Mexican cane sugar for me to bake with as well as some soap because it looked just like something my mom would buy.

I don’t know how to make kimchee. I can’t make her eggrolls or whip up some side sauce for dipping different foods in. I can’t read Korean and speak very little of it. I have always wished I had known these things but it didn’t really seem necessary as my mom would be there to do it for me. She did try a few times to let me cook some Korean food but would cut me off the first mistake I made and just say “Move. Let mommy do it” and I would not put up a fight as I had very little confidence in my cooking. Last week, Lindsey and I gathered my Korean cookbooks and started picking out recipes to try to make. I would scan each one and say “No, this is not right. My mom would never use that ingredent.” I had to scan several Kalbi recipes until I saw the one that felt right. It will have to be trial and error but I am committed to getting these recipes at least as close as I can.

Rice is steaming in the pot right now, the big green egg is heating up for kalbi and blueberry cobbler is finishing up in the oven right now. I am using the same blueberry cobbler recipe that she used for the last 25 years. And whether any of it will be as good as what my my mom made? I already know the answer before I ever take a bite.

I miss you every day, mom. And I will until I can see you again.

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