Culinary Classes MAG

By Janani S., New City, NY

     During my weekly Saturday cooking lessons with my mother, I learned much more than the art of Indian cuisine, for, while she taught me how to cater an Indian feast for 40, she also taught me how to cater to my own dreams in order to make them a reality. Every weekend, my sister and I would meet her in the kitchen, the delicious aroma of spices already blanketing the room. She would stand surrounded by an exotic array of vivid yellows, oranges and reds. As she cooked her delectable Indian savories, dolling out culinary advice, our conversation would inevitably turn from the somewhat dreary task of cooking to the more compelling topics of our futures.

These few hours were particularly special because my mother, an Ob/Gyn resident, spends most of her time at the hospital or in bed recovering from sleepless nights and strenuous work. She keeps an apartment in Queens, where she stays during the week, and comes home on the weekends. Her return to her medical education when I was a freshman was taking its toll on the whole family. And so, when she was home, she would tend to our needs with an enthusiasm most mothers would be tired of if they had to show it every day. My sister and I ate up her attention.

At the beginning of one of our sessions, she handed me the spatula and said, “Today, you’re going to learn how to use the pressure cooker and make dhal.” I protested that I was too young, but eventually resigned myself to a spot near the stove where the pressure cooker awaited me. My mother handed me a plate with the lentils, mustard seeds, turmeric powder, diced onion and sliced tomatoes. Once the ingredients were added, I had to wait for the dhal to cook and for the pressure cooker to whistle. I quickly grew impatient, and, remembering the maxim about watched pots never boiling, began to tell my mother about my new school and the struggles I faced.

As I poured out my laments about my new life, I completely forgot about the dhal. Suddenly, I heard a loud pop. Turning to face the stove, I discovered an exploded pressure cooker, its contents all over the stovetop and wall.

I was shocked by the mess I had created and felt like I had disappointed my mother. She, however, was laughing. I sulked, gritting my teeth at the mess, knowing it would fall to me to clean it up. I didn’t know how to tackle this explosion, where to start or what to use.

My mother grinned and handed me a towel to mop it up. “Start at one corner and work your way to the other side of the counter,” she said. This, I realized, was not only a good way to clean a dirty kitchen, but how to overcome any challenge. My mother’s philosophy was to take baby steps and deal with one problem at a time. As I scrubbed diligently, she told me about her week at the hospital. As a 41-year-old resident, she found herself surrounded by colleagues 10 to 15 years younger. I came to understand that we both had been thrust into new situations, trying to fit in with a new and different peer group.

Now, four years later, I stand in the kitchen and realize how much I learned during our culinary classes. My mother no longer does most of the cooking but instead stands aside as I concoct the food she taught me to prepare. I learn by making mistakes, and my mother helps by adding a handful of compassion, generosity and kindness. By sprinkling some advice about cooking and life into the stew of my youth, my mother allowed me to blossom and embrace the challenges of life. Today, when my family sits to eat dinners I have prepared, we think about the two monumental events that will happen this June: my graduation from high school and my mother’s from her residency program. I will be the one to cook the dinner celebrating these occasions. Hopefully, the dhal won’t explode, but even if it does, thanks to my mother, I now know how to make things right once again.

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