I Didn’t Truly Know My Mother Until I Cooked With Her

My mother and I were not the “Gilmore Girls.”

Growing up, I didn’t open up to her about the people I had crushes on, the friend groups that were on the outs or who was invited to whose bat mitzvah.

But I did help her cook. Every day, when she came home from the office, I’d set up my textbooks on the kitchen island and pretend to do my homework, while really, I was gazing at my mother, the inimitable Ritu Krishna, as she deftly sizzled spices in ghee and smacked the valve of the pressure cooker closed with a spoon when it whistled. Partway through her cooking, I’d be summoned to wash chiles, chop cilantro or taste the food for salt.

We are opposites, my mother and I. Where she is poised, classy and no-nonsense, I am goofy, outgoing, a people pleaser. My whole childhood, we struggled to find common ground. We weren’t just from different generations. My mother was an immigrant from India; I was an American kid trying to navigate the world without a language to understand my identity. It was also very intimidating to have a mother who wakes up looking as if she just got a blowout, who is deeply admired by all her friends and co-workers, and who doesn’t wear deodorant because she, in her own words, “doesn’t smell.” I didn’t know how I would ever live up to the standards she set for me, let alone for herself.

The author celebrating her birthday with a cake prepared with her mother — an annual tradition.

But when she cooked, she was at her most accessible — changed out of whatever fashionable outfit she had worn that day, her hair pulled back with a clip, bobbing her head to Abba or Strunz and Farah as she nursed a glass of wine. In the kitchen, our relationship hummed.

On my birthday, we would make a chocolate cake from a Betty Crocker dessert cookbook together, decorating the top with rose petals and doilies. When I was gifted a children’s cookbook with a recipe for “green spaghetti” (pesto) — we made it one night and marveled at what would become our new favorite pasta sauce.

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