Today I was the teacher (or the entertainment) for an event called “Cooking Fiesta with Jessica” run by my lovely CDA (our version of an RA). We cooked a 5 course meal (well, 2 appetizers and 2 deserts):
- Balsamic vinegar and virgin olive-oil
- Stove-top popcorn
- Pasta with ground-beef meatballs and penne pasta
- Crepes with strawberry jam
- Chocolate-chip cookies from scratch
We also squeezed a dozen lemons and made 3 large pitchers of lemonade (for one we used a Pakistani version, where each tablespoon of sugar comes with half a teaspoon of salt–savory lemonade). The only person I really knew was my RA. I think it went well–everyone got fed, a few people said they wanted to start cooking cookies and the meatball sauce on their own because it was so simple, and we have crepes left over for breakfast tomorrow. I have the strong suspicion that it will feel a great deal less simple alone, sitting in front of a hot burner with a pound of raw beef staring them in the face, but you know what, the worst that can happen is it tastes bad. I’ve cooked a lot of terrible meals and thrown away a lot of failures. They are sacrifices to the cooking gods, to keep us humble and full of joy in the cooking and not just the eating.
What was fascinating for me was feeling comfortable in one of the cultural activities a woman can participate in–cooking a communal meal. My dorm-mates were from the Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan and lots of other places, where I expect they grew up with female relatives busying around and cooking big meals. But cooking with the nine of us in the tiny 2-person dorm kitchen, I felt just like I do in Pittsburgh: that I’d like everyone to leave so I could finish the meal the way I wanted to cook it, worried that someone would burn herself, or the cookies, or the crepes, or the curtains, but mostly delighted to be full of life and food and giggling and accepted and creating together. And dreading the end-of-meal dishes.
Maybe Pittsburgh and Doha aren’t so different after all.
“Non-cooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.”–Julia Child