Relearning How to Cook and Live

Book Discussion

While reading Margaret Dilloway's How to Be an American Housewife, I was struck by how much of my daily like I take for granted. I speak the local language. I know what most things are in the grocery store and how to cook them. I know what's expected of a school science fair project. I know all of this because they are all things I learned growing up. Shoko didn't.

I think the most challenging thing for me would have been the food. Food is such a defining part of culture. I remember my mother teaching me how to cook. Actually, it was baking first. I'd pull a kitchen chair up the counter and stand beside her watching how she creamed together butter and sugar and how she sifted the dry ingredients. I'm sure that when I "helped" it was a slower and messier process than when she did it alone. But my mother was patient and I don't even remember her getting upset with any of, I'm sure numerous, messes and mistakes. The kitchen is still someplace we can work well together, though perhaps it helps that we don't test it that often.

Shoko learned from her mother, much like how I learned from mine.

"My own mother had taught me how to cook by observation. No formal measurements. Learning how to cook was like learning a new language. You picked it up." p. 36


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Shoko didn't teach Sue how to cook. Shoko didn't know how to show Sue how to cook. She didn't have patience for messes and explanations. How can you teach something that you are still learning yourself?

"Day after day, I experimented with American foods from the Commissary, learning how to cook all over again. Fry up a piece of meat, boil potatoes, carefully reading the recipes in my book over and over. It was hard learning recipes from the book all alone, with new ingredients. Pp. 35-36

When later in the book we read about Sue wishing her mother taught her how to cook, and how she wishes to know how her mother makes her favorite spaghetti, it's hard not to feel a little bit of bitterness on Sue's behalf. She just wanted to learn. She needs that connection and Shoko couldn't let her in.

So much of how we share our lives is connected to food. Who taught you how to cook? Have you taught your children? Can you imagine re-teaching yourself to cook with only a book to guide you?

BlogHer Book Club Host Karen Ballum also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.


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