(from Tasting Home: Coming of Age in the Kitchen, She Writes Press, 2013)
This chapter follows “Labor Day in the Kitchen,” during which my daughter and I cook twelve dishes for a large buffet, a celebration of a new multicultural graduate program
On the final evening of our cooking marathon, we dressed for the buffet. Hannah wore a blue top, a short black skirt, and golden, shoulder-brushing earrings. I wore a long black skirt, a black shell, and a black silk jacket with a necklace I’d made of coral beads and one large turquoise stone. It was supposed to look like one of Frida Kahlo’s. The invitation had borne a photograph of Frida standing in a doorway, surrounded by a border of orange and fuchsia flowers. I had described the graduate group party as a “chance to talk politics and wear all your jewelry at once.” Luisa, one of Gabriela’s graduate students, had asked, “What does she mean, ‘wear all your jewelry at once?’” Gabriela had answered, “She means, ‘just do it.’ Express yourself; be who you want.”
I don’t remember when my channeling of Frida began, but it was well underway before the movie of her life came out in 1992. I was driving home from the university one day when an image came to me: I imagined blood draining from all of my veins into the Women’s Studies program. It was a vision that reminded me of a Kahlo painting. But it was not an image of suffering. It was a vision of feeding, of nourishing from deep within my own body.
I did not identify with Frida because she suffered in an ongoing way. What drew me to her was the exuberance that she brought to living despite her suffering. No matter how tired I was from struggling for the program, or how discouraged by the administration’s efforts to cut our funding, deny us positions, or collapse us into the English Department, I wanted to feel that my life was joyful, intense, and thoughtfully led. Friends had remarked on how my ex-husband Dick had ventured into life, on how fully he had embraced growth and change. Even at the end one mutual friend said, “Dick was not dying. He was living.”
I had ingested what I could of Dick’s spirit. Now I tried to take on the spirit of Frida as well—the care she took in decorating herself every morning, the passion she felt for fiestas and cooking. Frida was an “enthusiast,” according to her stepdaughter. The world itself was enough for rejoicing, and everything about her breathed “a roguish glee.” She was affectionate, wore flowers in her hair, and gathered bouquets. She decorated her tables with care and playfulness, served an abundance of food, was fond of mariachis. She invited her guests to come “with their hair down, ready to sing their hearts out.” I, too, took care with my earrings, put flowers on the table, cooked with bounty, urged my guests to dance.
At some point I began collecting objects that I associated with Frida, as if they were talisman that would rub off on me. I had a refrigerator magnet with one of her self-portraits on it, a print of Frida with her monkeys in my dining room, a flaming heart to hang on the kitchen wall. To me it was no longer the heart of Jesus. It was the heart of Frida, hopefully my heart too. Gabriela gave me a blue retablo with Frida’s picture in it. Berenice brought me a bright red heart with flames of green from Mexico. Frida’s image appeared in the Women’s Studies brochure. When I asked Ana, chair of Chicana/o Studies, “Do you mind if I use a picture of Frida on our brochure,” she told me, “Frida belongs to the world.”
On the evening of our graduate group fiesta, my Women’s Studies colleague Diana and her husband Luke were the first to arrive, mole in hand, smelling of spices. I loved Diana—blonde, kind, immensely creative. Gabriela was next with turquoise earrings, a long black skirt, and a wine velvet top. Always careful to mentor her students, to expose them to the heart of university life, she had brought Luisa, who was in black with heavy, silver earrings. Louisa had worn her jewelry, maybe not all of it. Mei, calm and smiling, arrived in her Hawaiian sandals. Students showed up in threes and fours. The rooms began to fill and a certain hum began to vibrate, drawing us together. Elsa, now a beloved colleague in the program, burst in. She’d been driving with Patty, who had managed to get lost for some twenty minutes.
“I need a drink,” she said.
“Would you like a Margarita?” I asked.
“Just give me the bottle,” she answered. Later she would perform a slow, spontaneous dance with the shawl she’d been wearing.
Soon, Hannah and I brought out the dinner. Frida’s pork roast with ancho chiles, vinegar, garlic, onion, and oregano was sliced and decorated with parsley. It went in the middle of the table. Two dishes of Gary Danko’s polenta flanked the meat. Frida’s red, white, and green rices were heaped next to each other on a long platter like a flag. Then came her tacos de crema in green tomatillo sauce; her macaroni and spinach, green and gold; her loaf of corn pudding covered in a pale sauce of chiles and cream; the mole, hot and dark; and last of all the chiles en nogada with white sauce, pomegranate seeds, and parsley carefully laid out on a platter.
The desserts were set on the side board. We’d made Frida’s cat tongues, lozenge-shaped cookies with butter, egg, flour, and vanilla; her stuffed pineapple with cream, chopped pineapple, pine nuts, and cherries in syrup; also Rosca de Reyes, bread with candied citron, cherries, lemon, and raisins all baked in a wreath. There was Mark’s Miller’s polenta cake, Lee Bailey’s chocolate terrine, a lemon curd tart from Martha Stewart, and a quarter of a watermelon carved with “Viva la Vida” like the one in Frida’s painting.
“How generous,” someone exclaimed, and I thought, Yes, that’s what I intended. And as people began gathering at the table, admiring the food, filling their plates, and drinking the wine, a sense of abundance, of the unexpected, of life lived with some intensity settled upon us, entering our bodies, filling our veins, extending our hearts. That night, we were all Frida.
Has Frida meant something to you? Share in comments section below.
1 large, ripe pineapple
1 c heavy cream
6 T sugar
12 cherries in syrup, chopped
½ c pine nuts, finely chopped
- Keeping leaves intact, cut a slice off the top of the pineapple and set aside. Scoop out pulp, core the pulp, and finely chop it.
- Whip the cream with sugar until stiff.
- Gently fold in chopped pineapple, cherries, and pine nuts.
Spoon mixture into the pineapple shell and refrigerate for at least 2 hours until the filling has set.