I have always been completely obsessed with food, from as early on as I can remember. When I was a kid, however, my obsession was more of an aversion. I hated most things and only had a love for a very short list of items. It was the cause of much tension between myself and my mom growing up. Aggravatingly, she was the type of mom to make me stay at the dinner table to finish every single last bite even though the brussel sprouts were the most disgusting things I had ever tasted and there was absolutely no way on EARTH I was going to finish them! There were starving children in China of course! I offered many times to send my food straight to them to no avail. Often, I would end up the victor because I would swing my chair back and forth with such autistic force I would hit my head against the wall and have to take sick leave, or I would down so much milk I would end up throwing it up all over my plate, rendering my dinner inedible. I loved that trick.
Having a cool and savvy older sister helped cure my food aversion. Julie is the adventurous type, and I wanted to be exactly like her in all ways. So I pretty much modeled after everything she did. She pointed out once that the chair and the milk thing were both kind of gross, so it didn’t take me long to cut it out. When my mom opened an Asian food market, we basically became child slave labor and had to help out at the store and at home, doing all the chores and eventually, all the cooking. That’s where and when my obsession with food was born.
My sister and I would follow recipes, make up our own, experiment, have massively brutal food fights, and laugh and be stupid together in the warm confines of our kitchen, away from everything and everyone, including our strict mom, who always kept a bit too tight a reign on us. It was in that kitchen where I learned the true meaning of food is love. I learned much about love in that kitchen with my sister.
Later she went to college and I was left alone in that kitchen and could hardly stand a day of it. I became a rebellious, unruly teenager and really don’t remember a single moment in that kitchen without my sister. I probably blocked it all out. It wasn’t until my second year of college, when my sister came home after graduation from UCLA, that I remember actually liking food again. It was over a Sarah Lee cherry cheesecake that we decided it was imperative we get our own place and from then on, all I know is food became the second most important thing to me next to family. Seriously, friends come in third. Sorry friends.
We became each other’s culinary backbone, instinctively knowing when the other was going to be too exhausted to cook. One of us would come home, drop our bags, take a whiff and sigh and smile for there was a steaming, delicious hot and amazing meal waiting to be devoured. Sometimes we were both too lazy and we would look at each other and simultaneously exclaim, “Mai Wah!”, which was the name of the nearby Vietnamese place we loved to frequent when tired and hungry.
Those years living with my sister were some of the best of my life. There has been no better roommate than Julie. She and I always looked out for each other, never grated on each other’s nerves, and always instinctively knew what the other needed. I was never, ever lonely with my sister around. I always felt loved, cared for, well fed, and happy.
Sadly life has taken us in different directions, but we still come back together and usually one of the first things we do together is cook. Or even if only one of us cooks, the other hangs out in the kitchen and keeps the other company. We just did this recently when we all came home to take care of our mom after surgery. It felt so good to be in that kitchen with my sister. And now, even my little brother, who is seven years younger, has become quite the cook and we are all greatly impressed with his mad, mad skills.
So that’s it. Food is love. It is the comfort we provide each other when life is tough, it is the care we put into nourishing and healing each other. It is how we express how much we mean to each other. And as I whip up my meal for my sweetie tonight, I plan to infuse that food with the same care and love that my sister did for me. Pay it forward, I say.