By Christina Taber-Kewene
This essay is part of Motherwell’s Parenting and Food column.
My husband’s parents gave us a white KitchenAid stand mixer for our wedding present. We were impoverished students at the time, and this seemed like the height of luxury.
That was more than twenty years ago, and my in-laws aren’t married to each other anymore. I think about that every time I use my mixer, which is nearly daily: pizza dough, mashed yams, ricotta and chopped basil for lasagna. Whenever my husband finds the dirty beater in the dishwasher, he takes it out and washes it by hand. I keep putting the chipped beater in the dishwasher. Sometimes I think about going on the KitchenAid web site to order a replacement beater.
My weather app tells me it is 12 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The sky is just beginning to lighten, and I can feel the cold seeping in around the kitchen window. We keep renovating the house in pieces as we cobble together chunks of money, but the kitchen remains untouched, and not in a charming way. I hope that someday these 1920s windows will become a huge picture window from which I will gaze while I…wash more dishes.
I am mixing batter for pumpkin muffins for the kids’ breakfast. My oldest leaves first for his half mile walk to the high school, and I am always racing to have something ready to tuck in his hand on his way out the door. The middle schooler is only up long enough to wolf down whatever I have made before he pulls on his hoodie and walks in the other direction with his friends. The younger two circle around me throughout the morning, recounting dreams with sleepy eyes at 6:00 AM while I put in time on the exercise bike in the basement and leaving streaks of mayonnaise and peanut butter on the peeling Formica counter as they pack their lunches.
My dad remarried after my mother died 12 years ago. His wife would prefer you think of her for the art she creates in her studio, and I do. I do. But I love to talk about food with her. If I can cook her a meal that she enjoys, I feel like I have accomplished something. The last time they visited, I picked up salmon from our local fishmonger and offered up potato and onion tarts and fresh pesto for the pappardelle.
Our wedding album is filled with formal family poses: parents with the bride and groom, parents with children and spouses, grandmother and parents with the bride.
That family was the definition of permanence, but it has broken up and reconstituted through deaths and divorce multiple times in the years since we stood still for those photos. Are we the permanent ones now?
In my unrenovated kitchen I keep my cookbooks in a cabinet under the counter where my youngest daughter likes to perch. I ask her to fetch the little red laminated book with my mother’s family recipes. I don’t cook many dishes from this collection, but I use Mom’s notes for stuffed cabbage and almond puff pastry. Although my dad is a disciplined machine and won’t eat sweets much, he requested Mom’s poppy seed torte for his birthday a few years ago. I learned recently that she got the recipe from a Better Homes & Gardens issue in the 1970s. I had always thought it was passed down through the generations. It is now, I suppose.
The mixer itself is starting to fail. It has jumped off the counter plagued by a stiff batch of bread dough more than once, and lately, the motor sounds a little rumbly. I could buy a new one. Bon Appétit Magazine shows me an ad with mixers lined up like Easter eggs: turquoise, crimson, lemon yellow. My mother’s mixer was also white.
When I was in college she replaced it with another white mixer. It had a bigger bowl and even a splash guard. If I replace the mixer, am I replacing something permanent about my marriage? Would my mother have contemplated such a self-regarding question?
My husband and I used to cook together more. In our first year of marriage we spent an entire weekend making ravioli from scratch for a dinner party. Now cooking is usually about efficiency—I’m often putting a chicken in the slow cooker for dinner while the kids eat breakfast and baking a pie for breakfast the next morning while my husband washes the dinner dishes. I don’t want my husband in the kitchen cooking with me when he could be moving the laundry or fixing the faucet that keeps dripping in the upstairs bathroom.
On a recent Saturday, the world was a forbidding tundra, so my oldest and I went to the market to load up on ingredients, and we all cooked up a storm over that bitterly cold weekend. I don’t think we’ll make pierogi again—the labor was reminiscent of the ravioli event—but we found a new favorite meatball recipe, and we have loaded a winter’s supply of trays into the basement freezer.
My parents are talking about selling their house to live in something more manageable. My mother-in-law and her husband just did. My big, cranky, money pit of a home is what my family of six needs for the foreseeable future, but I dream of downsizing to a sleek apartment high in the sky. Then I remember that none of my apartments were ever that fancy. How could I forget what it was like dragging small humans around Manhattan, loading groceries onto the stroller until it tipped over, spilling apples across the filthy floor at Fairway? We haven’t traveled light for a long time.
Maybe all my kitchen is wanting for now is a new beater, or maybe I’ll take the old mixer into that specialty repair shop a friend mentioned and spend the cost of a new mixer on fixing the original. A gleaming new mixer beckons the same way a different life might.
Christina is a lawyer-turned-college admissions coach and writer. She and her partner are raising their four children in an artsy New Jersey suburb, trying their best to keep up with the passage of time while remaining mentally and physically intact. She was most recently featured in Listen to Your Mother North Jersey, and she has had her work published in Exponent.
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