I have just finished looking through Yemisi Ogbe’s Longthroat Memoirs – if you like food (as I do), you must check out her page at http://longthroatmemoirs.com.
As I’m reading it takes me a while to realise what I am doing, and why I am doing it…my relationship with food goes beyond putting it in my mouth – there are emotions evoked by eating certain things, and a whole different set of feelings evoked from cooking food.
In the middle of my looking, I go down to help my mum prepare moimoi – despite all my many protestations, she insists on cooking on Saturdays, when I would much rather be holed up in my room. I feel too guilty not to help, so I get down and my mum is acting very strangely, as she stirs the blended beans, she asks me to put in salt and then taste it, my mum never lets anyone mess with her food. In addition, she keeps asking me – “Do you see what I just added and how I added it? Watch so that when you move you can cook your food” and another realisation hits me, that my mum is preparing herself for this – another departure. We already had the talk this morning – the “remember the child of whom you are” talk…but I realise that this is my mother’s subconscious way of letting me go, by reminding me…and herself, that I will be fine, that I will do well…and no matter how much she asserts to me that she knows I am a big girl, there is still a part of her that doesn’t believe this, and so this sudden cooking lesson is her own way of convincing herself that I am ready to go.
Food is a big part of my emotional processes; many times it is the representation of my feeling or state of mind at a particular time. I remember one Sunday, I must’ve been about 10 or 11, Mumsie is making fried rice for dinner and hands my sister and I a small pot each, we watch carefully, mimicking her every move, rice when she adds rice, carrots when she adds carrots…at the end of the evening, we carry our results to the dining table, flushed with a sense of accomplishment…
At some point in my teens I decided that my sister was a better cook than I was, and as I tried and failed to prepare food that tasted the same way in real life as it did in my head, cooking began to taste like failure. It stopped being a pleasure and became a chore.
Once my grandmother, tired of listening to my complaints that my scrambled egg portions were too small, suggested that I add a little water – I snapped at her alost rudely, informing her that no one added water to eggs, and then becoming almost paralyzed by the guilt that followed from her silence.
In Zamfara I had to cook, Gusau was 45 minutes away and there were no restaurants in Tsafe. I enjoyed the process of going to the market, where N150 meat, N20 tomatoes, N10 onions and N5 pepper would make me stew for 3 days. I loved to watch the people who smoked guinea fowl. I enjoyed the elationship between food and their way of life – food adapted to conform to the simplicity of the lives lived there. It was a no frills, no expectation way of life. My food reflected the life I lived, easy, uncomplicated and restricted to what was available.
I got into a couple of relationships and determined to show my wife material value, I would enter the kitchen to prepare favoured dishes. Cooking began to taste of resentment as I would sit in the kitchen, sweating over recipes texted to me by my sister, while my boo of the time sat in the parlour with the boys…waiting for my offering of the day…every fight, every disagreement, every feeling of failure seemed to be represented in the food I made…it was good food, but I hated feeling that my value as a partner was linked to my ability to cook.
In the years since then, I have developed a more balanced relationship with food – I still barely cook, but I do love to eat. When I do cook though, I make it an adventure, slowly simmering, tasting and re-tasting…no hurry, for what is usually a 1 or 2 portion dish. It’s a labour of love for me; nothing pleases me more than making a meal for my mother and replying happily in the affirmative when she asks me if I put love in the food as I cooked it. Cooking for me is about expressing myself, blending and balancing to get the perfect mix of flavours that talk about my feelings without the need to say a word.
Each place has a memory – Movic’s restaurant for an unlikely first date, Applebeebees for a reunion that led to a relationship, VIP for amala and ewedu that I would order and then take home to demolish with my mum, the spot on the expressway where my cousin and I would stop to buy roasted corn on our way home from work, City Park for those humongous snails in pepper sauce, Bunna Cafe, Yogurberry with my booski…I am saying my quiet goodbyes…revisiting each place with its attendant memories of laughter or sadness or confusion or anger or bliss…because when I come back, I will not be the same person…I will not look at them with the same eyes.
Reading Longthroat Memoirs this evening, I realised that I was trying replace these pictures in my present with the ones in my future…I was confirming that I would see stuff I liked, eat the things I wanted to…in other words, I was assuring myself that I would be able to cope and then take it a step further to enjoy what is going to be a new adventure.
I am once again receiving the opportunity to prepare the kinds of things I like to eat, and so I am filling my head with pictures of fruit smoothies and seafood stirfries and barely cooked okro soup with crisp chunks of okro and chunks of catfish.
I realise that I am getting another opportunity to create another layer of the life I dream about, and so my dream expands past my kitchen to an imaginary little house – my space, filled with the things I like around me. A place where I will day by day, add colour and texture to the painting of this new segment of my life.
This is what I am doing I realise, I am filling my mind with the pictures of the things that I would like to see, painting a picture of my future and in my usual way, tying these pictures to my food. I don’t know how much cooking I will do, but it seems to me that whatever I cook, it will taste of independence, of hopes and dreams, of growth and of adventure.