Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out of the Kitchen by Alyssa Shelasky

I was not expecting to like Apron Anxiety, our October Kitchen Reader book. And I didn't, at least for the first half. It's the memoir of a New York celebrity journalist, the beautiful writer-type whose job involves lots of partying, skimpy outfits, and gossip.

(image source: The Guardian)

Here are some quotations to illustrate the self-centred Shelasky:
Some people might say that I'm a hot girl; others that I'm a hot mess.... I can be beautiful or busted.... Whether it's my inherited confidence, or an inner cool when it comes to the opposite sex, or some life-less-ordinary aura, getting guys has always been easy.
I go on a Ferris wheel of "friend dates." The women are either profoundly conservative or profoundly crazy.... I have convinced myself that they're just too ordinary to every understand me.
[The restaurant partners of my boyfriend] think I'm a prima donna, coasting in with my big shades and flowery sundresses.
I felt as though I was enduring one hundred pages of drivel. There were overblown escapades, breakups, man-grabbing incidents, drugs experiments, and so on. Thankfully, eventually Shelasky came to think about settling down a little when she found a man who was a chef. In an effort to improve herself and provide a relatively normal home life for him, she decides to learn to cook.

Shelasky has barely cooked before and it is a revelation for her. She exclaims,
Home cooks can actually create whatever they're craving. That's kind of cool.... Feel like pad Thai? No problem. Fried chicken? Fine! It must feel like having magical powers to produce whatever your stomach desires.
A little while later, she pronounces, "You can't teach someone to paint like Picasso or bounce like Beyonce, but cooking is an art that really can be learned." And, finally, at this point, I had to agree with Shelasky. Despite my dislike of her, she genuinely made an effort to learn to cook and in the process learned to love cooking as well.

And then she happened upon more insights that made me agree with her. She discovered that cooking is a refuge in painful situations (the spectacular breakups didn't end when her domesticity began, oh no!). She went so far as to say that cooking works better for depression than Xanax - though I wouldn't really know about that, I can certainly give agreement to the idea of cooking when upset.

And finally, in the book's closing tales, Shelasky realises that cooking can be a way of loving others as well as herself and identifies with others who do the same: "Everyone cooks for matters of the heart." Shelasky describes some fantastic meals that she cooks out of love for her friends and family and declares that the people with whom you are left when the food is gone are the most important thing. And on this point, I think we can concur.

You can read a bit of Shelasky's story at The Guardian website, where she wrote about being a "chef widow"; she also has a blog entitled Apron Anxiety. Our Kitchen Reader book for November is Best Food Writing 2013, edited by Holly Hughes. If you would like to join us, let me know.

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