A letter to all of you from my daughter, Sakura:
My mom has always been harsh with her words. Growing up, I can count on one hand the number of times she uttered the words, “I love you.” Even when I cried because someone was mean to me at school, or my brother and I had gotten into a fight, she would push my hair behind my ear with her hand and tell me I needed to stand up for myself. “Make them regret what they did,” she’d say, “Go hit your brother back; don’t come to me.” She was strict, too. If I didn’t want to eat what she’d put on the table for dinner, or if I didn’t finish my food, I’d go hungry for the night. If I stained the table cloth or spilled paint on my clothes, I’d spend hours the next day scrubbing out the grime. It wasn’t just about owning up to my actions, it was also about living up to a standard that she dictated. Maybe because of the combination of these standards and the lack of verbal appreciation and coddling, I think I often felt stifled and resentful, especially in my teenage-hood.
I realize I’ve made my mom out to be cold, unexpressive, and inflexible. Sometimes, it feels like she is. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to think that maybe things aren’t what they seem. Whenever I would visit my friends, many of them white, many of them living in perfect-looking Pasadena houses, I would be distinctly aware of the ways that my friends’ parents and families were often the reverse of the way my mom was. My friends would choose what they wanted to eat, their arrival home from school was met with a “Missed you honey!” and they never had a problem leaving the house when they felt like it, having friends over when they felt like it, not doing very specific tasks that were demanded of them by their parents, simply because their parents never demanded such specific tasks.
Living with my mom, I felt that she lacked an appreciation for me as an individual; my wants, my desires, my own way of doing things. But experiencing the families of some of the people around me was how I came to understand not just what was missing in their experience, but what was present in my own. My friends and their families place emphasis on the exact thing my mom seemed to ignore: the individual. You made food for yourself and only yourself, you did what you wanted to, and verbal interactions that felt different from my own family, centered around the affirmation of another individual’s qualities that made them unique, made them special. But the focus on the individual so often came at the sacrifice of the family community. And community was the thing I had that so many around me didn’t, a thing I was a part of that I myself couldn’t even recognize for a long time.
My mom gives her love and proclaims her caring in ways that sometimes don’t translate well in the United States, perhaps because its focus is different. She’s not interested in making people feel special on their own; such a task is easy -- if people are praised, their self-esteem will improve. She’s more interested in making people feel their value, their worth, through their responsibility to a collective. And that is how she shows her own feelings too. It’s something I was blind to for a long time, but she’s just as strict with herself as she is with us. The love she puts out is in actions, not words, actions that are an embodiment of her unwavering dedication to the people she cares about. And she expects the same of those she loves. She expects me to help her to cook, and to appreciate her meal, her contribution. She expects my brother to clean his room because his room may be his space, but it’s also a small piece of a landscape that our family collective calls home. In the context of her kind of love, everything you do has implications on the people you care about, whether they are watching or not, because love is something that happens not in the isolation of your own self, but in the liminal space between you and the people around you.
What does this have to do with At Our Table? Perhaps start by looking at the name. My mom doesn’t want anything to do with her own table. In fact, she doesn’t even have her own table, her own restaurant. For her, there’s little separation between customer and friend, work and leisure, herself and the people she bakes for. If she makes you food, it’s because she loves you. You’re her community, you’re her family; she’s not interested in the sterile, self-centered exchanges that occur in bakery settings. All of her At Our Table customers are also her friends. She bakes because she loves it, cooks because it’s the best way that she knows how to express her caring and fulfill her responsibility to her community, but none of it is about her. The moment she looks forward to, and I can see it in her face when I come back from college to spend time at home, is when she hands that food back to the people she loves.
Maybe you guys can feel that love already in the things she bakes every week. I think I couldn’t see it clearly for a long time, which is why I’m writing about it now. Because my mom didn’t teach me how to speak eloquently, or how to make conversation, or how to live on my own. The biggest thing she’s taught me wasn’t really a lesson at all. It was a gift, a gift of belonging.
That’s just my two cents.
This month, I’ll be making seasonal quiche and flourless chocolate cake that I have made before and that so many of you enjoyed (thank you for the feedback!). I hope that alongside those of you who are interested in having it again, those of you that didn’t get to try it the first time can do so this month! Since it’s a whole quiche or cake, I’m baking them in hopes that you can enjoy over a big meal with your family and friends.
Additionally, in line with the upcoming holiday season, I’m thinking of trying a recipe I’ve treasured for over twenty years. Do any of you eat fruit cake? The fruit cake i love to make is a buttery sponge filled with dried fruit pieces that have been soaked in brandy for many months and homemade cherries preserved in sugar, so the taste of the fruit is rich and more complex than just its raw form. I remember making this cake in my childhood; the mild flavor of alcohol that made me feel older than I was alongside the delicious flavors associated with a festive time have become foundations of many sweet winter memories for me. I enjoy a little slice every day with a warm drink during tea time. I hope you can try it too!
Lastly, I made soap with a variety of organic ingredients; it has been sitting and curing at my house is finally complete and ready to use! It has a wonderful scent of autumn fig. I haven’t added any extra ingredients or preservatives, so the composition is very simple and clean. I’ve been using mine in my own bathroom. Hand washing during this time is just as important as mask wearing, and I hope that perhaps this hydrating soap will be a little more gentle and refreshing on the hands compared to commercial alternatives or sanitizers. It would be perfect as an addition to your own bathroom or as a gift to a friend. I hope you will enjoy!