In the realms of Greek culture, food is the sixth love language. From the extended family coming together around the table for a Sunday feast to celebrating life’s milestones with friends over dinner, from my grandfather offering me the ripest, juiciest tomato of his crop moments after it has been cut off from the plant to showing at your heartbroken best friend’s door with a box of sweets from her favourite neighbourhood bakery, food is always a good answer to showing and sharing love. Not only romantic love, platonic and family love is rooted in food as well, ideally carbs.
It was in the first class of senior high school, when my “gold rush” phase with baking began. Picture this: reaching under the desk and into my canvas schoolbag to pull out my mom’s precious Tupperware containing bite-sized portions of fragrant carrot cake with walnuts. Yes, 15-year-old me shamelessly tested new recipes on her school friends. Having already been hailed as the motherly figure of the group for being the most sensible and responsible one, it felt natural caring for them through food.
Ten years later, I am a self-diagnosed social cook. Similarly to social smokers, this rare species of human fauna only cooks a) in the presence, and/or b) for the benefit of others. Cooking has a rare meditational effect and brings me so much pleasure, but it is something that I rarely do for my own sake. When cooking for myself, I go into “survival mode”: a handful of ingredients, minimal amount of pots, pans and cutlery, straightforward processes and frequently repeated recipes.
When I’m dating someone in a serious, exclusive way, all I can fantasize about is waking up next to them on a Saturday morning and making them Martha Stewart’s basic pancakes; pile ‘em high and assemble a plethora of toppings that would make even her blush. The second stop down the romantic daydreaming food lane is this croque monsieur. Or this feather-light tommy tart with Boursin, fresh tomatoes and basil. Then I want to unearth the recipe of their favourite childhood dessert and bake it for them, order from my favourite local burger joint (nothing says love as much as a beef burger topped with sliced Portobello mushroom, black olive chutney and shaved black summer truffle, served with a side of sweet potato chips, right?), take them to Greece to show them how souvlaki is supposed to taste, and how we have found a dozen brilliant ways to celebrate the delightfulness of summer aubergines – none as brilliant as the Sicilian caponata salad, but still. The most romantic statements one could extract from me range from “I wish you were here so you could try this [insert name of dish] with me” and “we so need to go back to [insert name of food locale] together.”
Back to platonic love, cooking for friends and entertaining would be the pinnacle of my social life. Never indulging in it as much as I’d like – London has a very outdoors, exploratory meet-up culture, I relish having people over; I get all worked up about everything being perfect and enjoy the hustle at the same time. Keeping up with seasonal customs and traditions is another ray of joy: this year, not one but two New Year cakes were baked – one for close Greek friends and one for introducing office colleagues to how the way your year develops depends on having your cake, eating it and trying not to choke on the coin hidden in it. Three, if you count the one I baked for my family while in Greece for the season’s holidays in early January.
This brings me to another point: as a fervent feminist who takes pleasure in questioning the roles and habits society ascribes to each gender, what does my love for cooking and nurturing others suggest? Is it a sign of surrender to societal norms or the conscious choice of a free-thinking individual? Is it an inescapable hand-me-down from the culture in which I was born and raised, a culture of strong family bonds and even stronger jaw muscles? If we were on a The Guilty Feminist podcast session with comedian Deborah Frances-White to discuss the “insecurities, hypocrisies and fears that underlie our lofty principles”, what would my “I’m a feminist, but…” confession be? Getting to the bottom of this is a intricate sociological conversation, which not matter how interesting, would bring me back to point zero: the fact that I would categorical refuse to denounce my cooking inclinations. Food shan’t be a guilty pleasure; food is love.
Lovingly (as always),