I’m just kidding. Julia, I adore you. I silently thank God for you most every morning, when I stand in front of the stove, sleepily stirring our morning scramble. You, Julia, taught how me to make scrambled eggs the proper way. The only way. (The secret, for inquiring minds, is low heat + slow cooking time.) But, Julia. Your place as my number one culinary inspiration might be shifting. Because in Mexico, I met M.F.K. Fisher for the very first time.
“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.” – M.F.K Fisher
On our honeymoon, I brought two suitcases: one for clothes, one for books. After twelve pre-wedding weeks that were full of busy, the idyllic, uninterrupted days of Riviera Maya felt utterly foreign. We settled onto our beach bed early one morning, palm fronds dancing overhead, a mimosa by my side. I opened my book. We were married. The reality of new marriage isn’t reality—at least not in those first early days. Whisked straight from a glowy whirlwind wedding to warm white beaches in less than 24 hours, it was hard enough to wrap my mind around the fact of the man finally next to me in bed, much less his place next to me for the rest of our lives. It’s a strange cocktail you drink on honeymoons: part bliss, part disbelief. My head swam with him.
Near the end of our days in Mexico—when we had settled into our dream-like routine, when we had visited a Mexican doctor, when Jivan had watched him give me daily antibiotic shots, when we had clasped hands in the waiting room and felt suddenly married—I finally opened my last book, The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher. This weighty tome is not just one book; it is five. Five of the most popular works from the woman who gave American foodwriting shape and weight. Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher lived and worked from 1908 to 1992, an 84-year run that witnessed multiple wars, the invention of the microwave, the birth of McDonald’s. Her writing is deeply personal, so intimate and sensuous and spot on it crackles.
Years later, her clear, strong beacon of a voice still pierces through the nonsense about eating and speaks straight to me. She believed that eating is an art, and consequently, eating should be approached with honesty, simplicity, and pleasure. She prizes independence and confidence: knowing what you like and serving it without apology. She skillfully mocks the idea of balanced meals, proposing instead “a balanced day,” an idea that feels much closer to the natural rhythms of our desires and tastes. She was opinionated and fearless, unafraid to do and eat what just what she liked.
I am not Mary Frances or Julia. I am just a 23-year-old bride, a young cook and a writer, with a fierce passion for what M.F.K Fisher would call gastronomy. As a kid, I set a small table in my bedroom with our best china and silver, prepared trays of “appetizers,” branded my bedroom as “The Cliffside Inn,” and invited my parents in for tea on a rainy afternoon. Eating is worth effort; I have felt sure about this since childhood.
If effort is a fire, it demands a kindling pile of time, energy, resources. And kindling is not limitless; adulthood forces us to decide how we spend what we have. Sometimes I have squandered what is mine. Sometimes I pit the cost of my effort against my laziness, and laziness wins. Before we married, laziness won out more frequently than I want to say. We ate out and poorly too many times. That season’s exhaustion accounts for some of my surrender, but mostly I just forgot how essentially a good meal nourishes us.
Marriage, and M.F.K Fisher, have now freed me to cook and eat the way I have always wanted. Yes, a meal, be it for one or for twenty, is always worth the effort—but somehow, knowing that my meals are now for two makes the effort sweet. I am thinking about food more than I ever have these days. Practically: how shall I fill our bellies? And for how much and with what and from where? Professionally: how can I (or should I?) turn this internal fire into fuel, one that could sustain me materially, as well as emotionally? Spiritually: how is a meal a door? How is a humble offering of what we have—right now and not someday—an opportunity to crucify my pride?
I do not know the answers to these questions; I am a young cook and a writer. But at day’s end, I find myself in the kitchen, chopping, stirring, Jivan by my side. There are answers, and some day, we will find them. In the meantime, dinner is served.