family

'10 years ago, my mum rejected me. When we went into lockdown, she picked up the phone.'

Cooking and I — we aren’t friends.

I have never been fond of cooking, even as a little girl growing up in a traditional Mexican household.

While my aunts, grandmother, and mum would fill the kitchen on Sundays with the unmistakable smell of spices and chillies, learning to make what they prepared never called my attention. My sister and I helped sometimes as part of our weekly chores, but as soon as we were old enough, we lost total interest in the kitchen.

I grew up, and I never took a liking to cooking for myself or others. And thanks to my long-distance boyfriend who is the male version of Martha Stewart, there’s even less motivation for me to learn how to cook traditional Mexican dishes when he’s in town.

And when he is gone, the only times I cooked at home were because I had to; because I didn’t want to go out to eat with friends or order in for myself. Cooking at home was always out of necessity, and never for enjoyment. I envied those who had fun while cooking, and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that my meals would be for one — I’ve always hated eating alone.

Watch: The difference between cooking in a relationship vs cooking single. Post continues below. 

Video by MMC

I have never been the daughter who phones her mum to ask for help with recipes. The main reason being I just don’t enjoy cooking or trying new recipes. But the other reason is that my parents and I have had a rocky relationship from the moment I announced I’d left the Catholic church almost 10 years ago. Ever since then, things were never the same between me and my extremely religious parents.

Our relationship is in a better place now, with the help of therapy and, honestly, time. Time has healed wounds and buried some of our differences, but things have never really returned to the time before I left Catholicism.

However, with COVID-19 turning our worlds upside down, situations I never could have imagined happening… are happening.

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I am cooking at home every day, and I am dancing along to music while I do it. I am enjoying cooking because I’m looking forward to sharing it with my mum. I am video-calling her almost every day. I am missing my mum and dad, and in the strangest turn of events, the act of preparing food has brought us together in a time where I needed them the most.

It started with a summery strawberry, spinach and chicken salad. I had already grilled some chicken and had the strawberries and red onion in my fridge, which are about half the ingredients I needed for the dish.

So I called my mum and asked her if she’d made this salad before.

I think I just wanted a reason to talk to her, as it had been about 20 days since I’d had any human contact. And even though we rarely checked in with each other in our regular lives, the coronavirus outbreak had changed something in all of us.

We started talking more because of the lockdown. I live alone, and they didn’t want me to feel that way, so my parents took it upon themselves to schedule time with me. They’d make daily phone calls, asking how I was, and how my writing was going.

I was alone, and I missed my family. I missed my parents. It’s sad it took a pandemic to make us realise that all of our differences, while valid, were actually not as important as we made them out to be.

So I called her about the salad, as a reason to hear her voice. She admitted she’d never heard of a salad with strawberries in it, so she asked for the recipe. She called me on her way to the grocery store, asking if she could skip the goat cheese because of the dairy. I said yes, admitting the goat cheese was the best part, so she added it back to her list.

When she finished making it, she sent me a photo of her salad, and I sent her a photo of mine. I had never been so filled with joy over something as simple as a strawberry salad, but I knew deep down it wasn’t because of the salad. It was because I had worked together with my mum to create something in the kitchen and it made me want to keep cooking so I could share more with her.

The next day, I decided I wasn’t in the mood for summer dishes, so I decided to make a hearty vegetable soup to use up some of the potatoes in my pantry and the vegetables in my fridge.

So I sent her another picture. And it continued. Every day, we started calling each other and asking questions about what we were cooking that week.

This morning, I called her for her recipe of the day, which she said she had already finished making Chile Rellenos (Stuffed Mexican Peppers). I asked for the recipe and added the ingredients to my list, and we set a date for later on in the week for a FaceTime cooking session.

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These were all things that I could have never imagined happening before quarantine, but this time of anxiety, stress, and panic is forcing a lot of us to reevaluate our lives. Our relationships, our priorities, our grudges.

What made us mad and had the power to ruin our days before all of this?

Do our disagreements in our relationships seem trivial now, compared to everything else happening in the world?

My relationship with my parents, while tumultuous in every way since I left the religion they raised me in, is still important to me. And it took a month of lockdown and home cooking to make me realise, I don’t want to waste another minute of my life holding rancour in my heart towards them.

It doesn’t mean I’m ridding myself of the growth I’ve made in therapy towards my self-worth. It doesn’t mean I will accept horrible behaviour from anyone, but it does mean I want to let minor disagreements fly away and out of my mind.

Life is too short to dwell on these differences, not when I realise I have been missing out on the experience of making delicious food with my mother all this time.

Because when we’re cooking, ordering our ingredients for the supermarket, asking each other questions about what can be substituted for what, or low-key competing on who can take the better picture of their meal, we’re not talking about our lifestyle, religious beliefs, or political views. Heck, we’re not even talking about the virus.

Bonding over food has introduced us to a neutral ground, a place of peace. Because when we’re sharing recipes, hundreds of miles apart, our differences and beliefs do not matter.

Mexican mother and daughter bonding over preparing food. Though it may seem like a typical Mexican story, ours is anything but.

Feature Image: Getty.

Jessica Mendez is a full-time writer living in Las Vegas. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Northern Arizona University and a Master of Science degree in family and human development from Arizona State University. In 2018, she left her career in the mental health field to pursue her lifelong passion of writing. She is currently working on a collection of bilingual poetry. Follow her on Twitter and Medium

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