Eating words

I belong to a wonderful womens group which does a major project each year. This year we’re working with local fibre artist Ann McMahon, who asked us to bring along to our last session a piece of writing and a container that were meaningful to us.

I took one of my woks (a 12″ flat bottomed one) and this extract from Marion Halligan’s book Eat my Words:

Children like being around adults who are busy with their hands, because they know their minds are available whenever they want them. Mine would sit at the kitchen table drawing or colouring in, or make train tracks down the hall, or build Lego castles, or do their homework, while I made gateaux of pancakes with two different fillings and a sauce, or stuffed frozen orange shells with sorbet, or boned chickens to make galantines, and we were all busy and contented. They made desultory conversation, but didn’t always bother; the companionship was enough. Whereas if I’d sat down to read a book or write a novel they’d have been clamouring to talk to me because they’d have known my mind was somewhere else.

I look back on the days of my complicated culinary activities as a kind of golden age because it was nice practising these skills with my children about me. Happy families, with comfortable aproned mother pottering around in the kitchen, as children’s books these days aren’t supposed to show lest they reinforce stereotypes.

We were supposed to talk about why it was meaningful to us. I cried a little bit, but kept on talking.

12 comments ↓

#1 ampersand duck on 01.03.09 at 2:29 pm

That quote is amazingly spot-on, and not only with cooking. Art-making is only one other way of keeping hands suitably busy, I’m sure gardening is fine as well. Because it’s so true! And it also flows on to that theory of communicating with males ‘sideways’ (while you’re/they’re doing something else with your hands) as the best way for them to actually hear what you’re trying to say. No wonder it made you weep.

#2 Zoe on 01.03.09 at 2:55 pm

Well, that or I’m premenstrual as anything ;)

Interesting tension too, between my identification as a feminist and the dismissal of cooking as a creative pursuit. Margaret Fulton knew (she knew a lot of things, actually, her autobiography is a great read.)

#3 Pavlov's Cat on 01.03.09 at 3:37 pm

I’ve got three favourite bits of writing that I used to read to the studes in the Gastronomy and Food Writing workshops to demonstrate what I think the range of good food writing is and why. I still read them the bit from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s Introduction to The Cake Bible about writing an MA paper on the sifting and aeration of flour and using it as a test for boyfriends, and the bit from Gay Bilson’s Plenty about the 44-gallon-drum charcoal burners with the fishy cut-out friezes all lit up like lanterns on the Streaky Bay beach at dusk, but I can’t read them the afternoon tea scene on the last page or two of A.S. Byatt’s ‘The Conjugial [sic] Angel’ from Angels and Insects any more, because I can’t keep my composure all the way through. It makes me want to put my head down on the table and sob.

#4 kate on 01.03.09 at 9:43 pm

It’s such a lovely piece of writing, but it’s sadly not reflective at all of my experience thus far.

My kid is more the sort who grabs the spoon out of your hand just at the critical moment when you think you’ve mastered the complex task. Not just with cooking either, he can grab at pencils, scissors, violins… I’m really looking forward to The Day, which I’m sure must come, when he becomes absorbed in a task for long enough for me to do something complex uninterrupted. I look forward to that now the way I looked forward to him sleeping when he was a newborn. In the end I gave up on him ever sleeping and got on with life. Eventually I will let go of the idea that he shouldn’t interrupt me when I’m doing Important Things.

#5 Lucy on 02.03.09 at 9:46 am

Halligan’s got a extraordinary way of communicating her love of food and childhood and literature. I’ve read that piece before, but not isolated like this.

Tears for this little black duck, too.

#6 FDB on 02.03.09 at 11:21 am

“premenstrual as anything”

I think I’ve got a couple of their albums lying around somewhere.

#7 Cristy on 02.03.09 at 1:14 pm

I yearn for the day when Lily can ‘cook with me’ in a meaningful sense, but (thank goodness) we are slowly moving beyond the grab and destroy phase that Kate describes so well – that one is a challenge.

She just loves to kneed pizza dough with us. Sadly she also eats all that she can reach, but I figure that a bit of flour, yeast and water isn’t going to kill her.

Gardening has always been easier for us…

#8 Zoe on 02.03.09 at 1:45 pm

kate, I find that Jethro is often OK if his big brother is around. If it’s the two of us he’s usually on a chair in the kitchen getting in the way.

I’ll have to hunt down that AS Byatt on a strong day, Pav ;)

#9 Dr Sister Outlaw on 02.03.09 at 6:50 pm

I wasn’t so good at the kid-wrangling either, specially not in the garden. Then something clicks. Probably around the time they learn they’ll get the bowl to lick if they sit still enough … and yes, there’s such a nice space for communication over a busy workbench

#10 librarygirl on 04.03.09 at 7:15 am

Halligan could be describing my life since becoming a mother 15 years ago – beautiful piece of writing. Just last weekend: stuffing canneloni tubes while assisting with homework and chatting…

#11 kate on 04.03.09 at 7:00 pm

I find gardening is generally ok with the two year old. But I generally don’t mind the potential for dropping things in the garden and he isn’t going to hurt the worm farm. Laundry he can be genuinely helpful, getting stuff in and out of the front loader is a breeze these days. Cooking, sewing and knitting I am more emotionally involved with. They’re things I’ve always done alone, to centre myself, I like to concentrate on them. If you’re a wee bit resentful of company in the first place, but you’re trying to do the right thing and share your favourite tasks, having the share-ee snatching breakables or lunging for the sharp or hot stuff tends to result in less than stellar “parenting moments”. On the other hand, I love drawing, but it doesn’t really bother me if he takes the texta and draws over the top of the thing I drew. Somehow drawing together works.

#12 byrd on 06.03.09 at 1:37 pm

Damn your scope, peoples being peoples. Never mind the synchronicity of a ‘foodblog’ keeping hands busy and heads connecting.HA.(what a welcoming little imagined kitchen).
I like the observations about ‘centering activities’ and would add the weight of concrete expected outcomes. I find it a lot easier to let the we uns participate when ive accounted for their contribution, from extended time frames to misshapen results and revisiting basic OH&S stuff. The accounting being in my head, no telling the actual results.

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