It’s no secret that I love good food. I love thinking up unique menus for holidays and special occasion (and thinking up special occasions just to create more menus). Our travels take me to restaurants, cafes, and bakeries long before museums and other tourist attractions. Sundays in our house are days designated for browsing our diverse cookbook collection to decide the perfect dinner to cook together. Summer Saturday mornings are spent buying Montana’s freshest vegetables for a week of bingeing on golden beets, cold chard soup, and salted heirloom tomatoes.
But I didn’t always love food. It didn’t seem like either of my parents particularly enjoyed cooking, so growing up in their house wasn’t exciting in the culinary realm. In my early twenties I survived on the typical college fare of ramen noodles, bagged cereal, and 99 cent tacos on Tuesdays. When I married my husband Curt I can remember purchasing our first wholesale warehouse membership, stocking up on all things processed, and wondering why the freezer was so small compared to the fridge. Eating was something I did because… well… I guess I had to.
When Curt and I applied to the Peace Corps in 2009, my only real concern was the food, and that concern only grew when we discovered that our post was in the Republic of Moldova, a small Eastern European country nestled between Romania and Ukraine. I imagined being subject to cabbage, potatoes, and beets for twooo… whooole… yeeears.
I call her Doamna Liza (Dwam-nuhLeeza). Short. Round. Curious. Fabulous traditional cook. She loved to prepare food and took pride in any dish she made. Initially I think I was drawn to her kitchen to take her picture. There was a peaceful silence there while she worked. I always wondered what she was thinking, and even looking back at some of my images, I can see her standing at her range, locked knees, stirring a soup with a cracked wooden spoon in one hand and the other resting on her hip. I can see her contemplative expression with raised eyebrows, tight lips, and chin resting on the soft folds of skin hanging below. It was as if she was lost in the moment, mesmerized by the steaming aroma below or hypnotized by the steady swirl of the broth. For someone like Liza, who had a lot to say, this was a moment of peaceful silence that I think we both enjoyed.
So I photographed her. Over and over. Different nights, different dishes, same apron. It didn’t take long before I realized that my pictures were becoming more food-centered. I was curious. How did she roll the sarmale so small? What kind of cheese was she using in the plăcinte? And why in the world had I never before cooked with cabbage?
I will introduce Liza to you in more detail at a later point, but it suffices to say that we were very different. With all of our differences – culture, language, religion, dress, roles, expectations – the kitchen became our common bond. No matter how frustrated she was with me or I with her, we could cook together in the kitchen in peace.
Liza sparked a desire in me to cook with other women across the globe in their own kitchens, hear their stories, and create cross-cultural bonds of sisterhood. With hundreds of recipes in hand, too many photographs to count, and both heart-wrenching and hilarious stories to share, I present to you Undiscovered Kitchens. This is the chance for us to discover together the magic of a well-used kitchen. I encourage you to taste her joy, bleed her pain, and discover this unique culinary experience. You’re invited to take a seat and follow along because you’ll soon learn that there is always room at her table.
Hai la masă!