Eventually I learned to cook simple meals through YouTube, from the recipes printed on the back of ingredient boxes, by tinkering in my post-college kitchen. Yet I do it only when there’s someone else to feed, never for myself.
Sometimes I’ll stand at the stove and my boyfriend will come up behind me to point out another way of doing something. I snap at him, “Get back, I’m cooking,” or “No, no, I’ll do it myself.”
Someone else in my kitchen feels like an intrusion into that exclusive space—that of a woman who knows how to love.
Towards the last days of her life, Baba Lilya was in pain, no longer able to cook. I’d call her daily, but I didn’t know what I could possibly say. I missed our non-food talks, the times we spoke of classical music or our favorite leading men.
Instead I could only think of kotlety.
“The other day,” I told her, “I made beef cutlets, just like the ones you used to make.” They weren’t, really. They were imperfectly shaped and slightly soggy. But my boyfriend ate them and said they were the best in the world.
I heard her smile. I knew that she was proud of me.