In the words of Ruth Reichl, “Everything here is true, but it may not be entirely factual” (x). In thinking about this paper, I was drawn to reassess my relationship with my parents through the perspective of food. At times, I have embellished or exaggerated some of their characteristics or words, but the essence of their characters and our relationship is there. The events actually happened when I visited my family home during the summer vacation and I prepared blueberry muffins for my parents.
Reflection upon my anticipation of the event, the cooking, and the eating led me to the following conclusion: food creates bonds between family members, allows each family member to define their role in the family, and allows them to express thoughts or feelings that they may not feel comfortable expressing in words. As I packed my bags to head home for the summer holidays, I made sure to pack the recipe for blueberry muffins I had found especially for my parents. Of all of the items on my packing list, this recipe was the most meaningful.
My parents have always loved muffins, and this time, I was going to make them something special – a recipe that would allow me to share with them something of my experience in the United States. The trip to Indonesia is long, and as I got off the plane, I was filled with conflicting feelings: extreme fatigue from the long flight, disorientation from the jet lag, excitement about seeing my parents again, and hopeful that my parents were as excited to see me as I was to see them. This last feeling was confirmed. My mom greeted me with a warm hug, and my dad immediately took charge of all of my bags.
Once I arrived home, I began unpacking and placed the all-important recipe in my purse. When I informed my parents that I had to go out to run a top-secret errand, the disappointment on their faces was obvious. I was touched that they wanted to spend some quality time with me, and I only hoped that the blueberry muffins would make up for some of their disappointment. As I set out on my shopping expedition, I was filled with excitement at the prospect of preparing a special breakfast for my family the next morning.
I made my way to my favorite fruit and vegetable market, and to my surprise, I was completely overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells so familiar to me from my childhood but which I had since forgotten. My intense reaction reminded me of my first traveling experience – to Singapore for summer school. Alone in an unfamiliar environment, I felt like a fish out of water. I did not know anyone and had to make my own way in a new country. Shopping for groceries felt like exploring a new universe – all of the products were different. The stores were arranged and smelled differently.
Restaurants featured unfamiliar dishes. Even though Indonesia and Singapore are only a short geographical distance apart, in terms of food, they were in different worlds. My experience was very similar to Ruth Reichl’s as she arrived in Montreal to study at the College Marie de France: “I was on Mars, where no sound, no smell, no emotion was familiar” (59). I returned my attention to my present predicament, and I looked all over for the all-important blueberries. When I finally found them, I gasped in surprise at the extraordinarily high price. How could I have forgotten about the price of blueberries!
It is not as if this was my first experience buying food in a “new” location. I say new because, after living in the United States, I have grown accustomed to American supermarkets. I had assumed that since I was shopping in my native country I would not be shocked by anything. Instead, I was shocked by how quickly my perspective had changed. I was a foreigner in my own country! Once I got over my initial shock at the exorbitant price, my eyes drifted from the price tag to the actual blueberries. What were these shriveled, greenish-blue things?
These blueberries were a far cry from the plump, deep-blue, juicy, sweet blueberries I buy in the United States. My initial thought was, “are these dangerous and I going to poison my parents? ” One thing I realized from reading Reichl’s “Mold” was that “food could be dangerous, especially to those who loved it” (5), and my parents loved muffins. I quickly dismissed this idea of danger: other people were buying these blueberries so they were probably not harmful in any way. My mind made up, I bought the questionable blueberries and made my way back to my parents’ house, quietly hiding the fruit so that my parents would not find it.
That night, my mother made dinner for the family like she always does, with my dad carrying the serving dishes and the beverages to the table. Her meals always seem to be a variation on the same theme: meat and vegetables. Sometimes the meat is fish, sometimes it is steak, but there is always meat at dinner. Likewise, there are always vegetables. At times when I was growing up, I yearned for some more variety: pizza, spaghetti, quiche, anything besides meat and vegetables! This evening, however, the expected meal and all of my parents’ questions about my life in the United States brought me peace, for at last I was at home.
After the meal, I excused myself from the table, telling my parents that I desperately needed to sleep. Before going to bed, I told them to expect something special for breakfast in the morning. The look on my mom’s face was worth a thousand words: a mixture of surprise and delight. It is rare that anyone other than she cooks at our house. In fact, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have prepared anything for my parents. Looking back on it, I believe she was excited at the prospect of not having to get up to prepare me a special breakfast for my first morning home.
The next morning, I woke up early, filled with anticipation at the thought of baking. I hoped the muffins would turn out wonderfully. After seeing the look of delight on my mother’s face the previous evening, I did not want to disappoint her in any way. At the same time, I was hopeful that the muffins would turn out great and convey to my parents my desire to make them happy. I went to the kitchen, pulled out all of the ingredients, and placed the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe that I had found on the Food Network Website the counter. Here’s the recipe I used: Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins Ingredients:
• 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature • 1 1/2 cups sugar • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract • 8 ounces (about 1 cup) sour cream • 1/4 cup milk • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour • 2 teaspoons baking powder • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt • 2 half-pints fresh blueberries, picked through for stems Directions Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place 16 paper liners in muffin pans. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla, sour cream, and milk. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed add the flour mixture to the batter and beat until just mixed. Fold in the blueberries with a spatula and be sure the batter is completely mixed. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each cup just over the top, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the muffins are lightly browned on top and a cake tester comes out clean.
I followed the directions exactly, with one exception. I sprinkled some sugar on the blueberries to make them a little bit juicier. I had read about this technique with strawberries (Newton) and thought it would not hurt to try it with a different type of fruit. It seemed to make them a little bit more appetizing, but they still worried me. I did not want to disappoint my parents! Once the muffins were in the oven, I made coffee and began to set the table. As soon as the silverware made a clinking sound, my dad wandered into the kitchen, as if summoned by some sort of bell.
He started to take the dishes, mugs, glasses, and forks from my hands so that he could take them to the table. This was, after all, his role, and a role that he had fulfilled at the airport when he took charge of my bags. Indeed, night after night, my mom would slave away in the kitchen, and my dad would bring the fruits of her cooking to the table so that we could enjoy it. When the muffins were finally ready, my parents and I sat down at the table to eat.
Looking back on my first bite of these disappointing muffins made from inadequate blueberries, I am reminded of a portion of Molly Wizenberg’s blog “Orangette”: “The poor woman put me on this earth, and I made her iffy waffles. They tasted like nothing. I want to do better. ” My parents have given me so much – life itself, food, shelter, support – and all I wanted to do was make some muffins that they would enjoy. This gesture was intended to show them how grateful I am for all of their love and support, even if I secretly at times thought them to be too demanding.
My parents, however, did not seem to notice that the muffins were not amazing. Perhaps this was because they had never tasted really fresh blueberries. Instead, they seemed to be absolutely delighted by my gesture and took it in the spirit that it was given. As we sat around the table, I asked them questions about their work, their friends, and their hobbies. I really enjoyed the chance to get to know them better on this level. Normally, our table conversations consisted of questions about me (or my siblings): “How was school? ” “How did you do on that test?
” “What are you doing this weekend? ” “Tell me about that boy you have been seeing. ” The change in the dynamics of the conversation really put my family’s relationship with food in perspective. Now, I understand why my mom always made meals with meat and vegetables. It was her way of showing she cared for my physical well-being, much like her questions (which, when I was a teenager were extremely annoying) were her way of showing she cared about my future. For my mom, food seems to be a vehicle to communicate concern for health. My dad’s role seems to be as a messenger.
Much like he could lay down the law in terms of rules, delivering them with an iron fist to a teenager determined to spread her wings; he could also deliver nutritious meals to the table. In both cases, his acts constitute his way of showing he cares. I, however, seem to be concerned that my parents are happy. I know that it must be hard for them to live alone after having spent so many years with a house full of kids, When I made muffins for them, I wanted them to be happy, and I wanted to be the one to bring them even a little bit of happiness.
Works Cited Barefoot Contessa. “Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins. ” Foodnetwork. com. 2002. Web. 12 July 2010. Newton. “Strawberries and Sugar. ” Ask a Scientist: General Science Archive. 30 June 2004. Web. 12 July 2010. Reichl, Ruth. Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2010. Print. Wizenberg, Molly. “A Quick Couple. ” Orangette. 10 May 2010. Web. 16 July 2010.