Why I No Longer Care About Being a Domestic Goddess
I used to cook to impress. Now I just want to eat with my friends.
Written next to “bûche de noël,” the traditional French confectionary known as a Yule log, were two names: mine, and a classmate’s, Krista. Our names were listed because our mothers had signed up to make the same dessert for our middle school’s inaugural Foreign Language Potluck Dinner. Krista, standing next to me, was already glaring. Her bony finger popped up, nearly booping me in the nose.
“Don’t let your mom go crazy,” she said.
I shook my head. Sadly, when it came to cooking, I could promise no such thing.
My mother, Rella, began Julie and Julia-ing her way through gourmet cooking way before blogs or Instagram made it cool to show off one’s culinary capabilities. She and her best friend, my “Uncle” Gary, spent weekends reading cookbooks, taking cooking classes, and preparing feasts for each other and their husbands using TIME-Life cookbooks. Their national menus ranged from Mexico to Morocco, a remarkable feat considering that this was the ’70s, before most people in the Midwest had heard of an avocado, let alone a tagine.
When I was a child in the ’80s, this hobby turned into a side hustle. By day, my parents worked as teachers, and by night, they would don somber black clothes (a dress for mom and tux for dad) and cater gourmet dinner parties. All the food was inspired by Julia Child and Martha Stewart’s classic, Entertaining.
This explains why, in my family, “real” cooking wasn’t in any way domestic. Cooking was performance art, and my mother was the enfant terrible of the kitchen.
Because the Foreign Language Potluck dinner was close to Christmas, our teacher had decided the Yule log would be the only dessert. So, to make sure there was enough to go around, she asked two people to make one. By asking a bunch of kids in a Midwestern, working-class school district to take part in such an event, my French teacher assumed a lot of things. That the “parents” (inevitably moms) would have the time, money, and skill to prepare a “foreign” food for dozens of students, let alone to attend such an event. And because of maternal guilt, the heaviest of social pressures, she got…