The ground turkey falls into a large metal bowl. I begin my turkey loaf ritual. I don’t follow a recipe. Each time it is slightly different. Marinara sauce, ketchup, horseradish, oatmeal, chopped celery, grated zucchini or carrots, salt and pepper combine for my artistic creation. I love the way my fingers feel as they squeeze the ingredients. I relish the way each element builds up to a vision. The football shape goes into a Pyrex dish. I bake for 50 minutes. Each time the taste is a complete satisfying surprise. I needed time to myself for these creations.
I am mesmerized by the cooking process. My mind doesn’t drift. My focus is direct. I may listen to a podcast in the background but the anticipation of final product overwhelms me. My husband’s face and words are ecstatic.
I was fascinated with my mom’s cooking and wanted to emulate her. My mom’s artistry fueled her cooking skills. I watched how preparing a meal showered love. She defiantly slices eggplant that gets soaked up in vegetable oil as she fries the black skin. The Wesson oil bottle is severely diminished. The sliced eggplant gets a coat of breading to finish their initial purpose. The project continues as the layering of marinara and ricotta cheese with eggplant forms a towering casserole. Moisture oozes through the tomato sauce until the crispy top finishes the abstract design.
When I lived with my lover Scott from 1974 to 1989, I would cook breakfast and dinner every day. Standard fare that was rarely inspired. A lucky dinner would include boxed Kraft macaroni and cheese with vegetarian chili. Efficient and inexpensive choices. Part of my control freak personality. After his death in 1989 I descended into rarely cooking. The stereotypical excuse “How can you cook for one?” became my cliché. I would have enormous lunches at the Soup Plantation to avoid needing a dinner. Don’t ask what this did to my stomach and what led to my Irritable Bowel Syndrome diagnosis.
When I started dating Neal, he did all the cooking. It took years for me to salvage the joy of cooking for a partner rather than it being a burden. I became an ingenious accountant chef. It became a game to be resourceful as my diet changed. Becoming gluten free and never using onions became a challenge. How to make a dish delectable for my gourmet husband. How to be healthy and fluctuate proteins. My debit credit brain was on high alert. My resume was updated to satisfy the palate. The most creative thing I’ve done until I began writing my memoirs.
And with the pandemic, my cooking skills provide an escape from the shell shocked universe.