I think there is no other place in my life that I have as much company as when I am in the kitchen cooking. There’s Bev, my friend Linda’s mother, who one day in the kitchen at my house demonstrated the correct way to use a pepper mill. Held at a tilt with back and forth grinding motion. Bev was one of the loveliest people I have ever known (who was not at all discomforted when I told her that), and the last day I spent with Bev, not too long before she died, was spent watching Rick Steve eat his way through Europe, and ended with her daughters and me cooking dinner together and us all sitting down to eat. It was a good day. Then there is my aunt Norma, who, with Uncle Dick, came to stay with us when my family all gathered as my father lay dying. Over those three weeks there was lots of cooking (and drinking). Norma likes the water to be really, really boiling before you put the pasta in. More recently there is Frances. She and her partner were over for a BBQ some months ago and I was getting my normal kick out of spraying the Pam on the gas grill after I had already lit it. She made me promise not to do that any more. Promise. So when I use a pepper mill, boil water for pasta or BBQ there’re Bev, Norma or Frances. And I really enjoy the company.
The ur-ness of all this sense of presence in the kitchen is perhaps that my mother tells me that I cook like her mother. A big part of this commonality is that neither of us address(ed) our tasks in the kitchen with that tidiness flag flying too high. I can mess up a kitchen and apparently she could too. But the bigger part of the resemblance, I like to think, is an elegant kitchen bustle and the joyousness in cooking for lots of people. I am not sure how she practiced her craft — family recipes, continual invention and experimentation, cookbooks — but Grandma Z was known to be a good cook. She and my grandfather built and ran The Mt. Lemmon Inn on Mt Lemmon outside Tucson and people would make the long trip up the mountain just to have some of her pie. Our family still occasionally has the enchiladas that she showed her girls how to cook but the recipe has gone no further. (Grandma died several years ago at the end of an attenuated mental decline and my mother, now 80, is concentrating on writing rather than cooking, as she has as long as I can remember.) In my sometimes hyperkinetic world, cooking is one of the most naturally relaxing and feet-planting things I do. I like to think that might be Grandma.