About the Author

Jackie Kai Ellis

Books by this Author
The Measure of My Powers

The Measure of My Powers

A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

From "Farmers' Market, Vancouver"

Markets flooded me with life. Their colorful produce, the growth in each season on display, vendors selling flowers relaxed in full bloom, little pots of demi-glace, imported cheeses, and pecan shortbread that melted in my mouth. Around Easter, the local charcuterie would post fluorescent reminders to preorder hams, and I fantasized about baking them with honey and grainy mustard or brushing the top with a sticky, sweet pineapple-soy glaze, allowing the crust to caramelize and crys­tallize into a meaty lacquer box.

I would walk past each brightly colored stall, dawdling under the pretense of “grocery shopping” but secretly playing hooky from work, concocting imaginary meals with cans of smoky peppers in adobo sauce, white onions, cilantro, and masa flour, or sniffing varieties of Italian oregano like little green pearls still on their stems or bright green olive oils, and tasting the slow pro­gression of a tomato sauce in my mind.

I watched old movies about food, like Big Night and Mostly Martha, while I scoured blogs and websites in different languages for obscure recipes. I took on one recipe and then the next, madly working my way through countless books. My shelves were full of Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart, Maida Heatter, Rose Levy Beranbaum, Julia Child, Pierre Hermé, Dorie Greenspan, and Patricia Wells. I took books out from the library like when I was a child. I cooked from Deborah Madison’s vegetarian tome, got an Italian education from Marcella Hazan, and read books on canning, making jam, and growing food, poring over every­thing I could about those topics. I carried in my purse books by Michael Pollan and Margaret Visser, biographies on Jacques Pépin, and The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. But most importantly, it was M. F. K. Fisher who fed me stories that made me laugh, dream, wonder, and remember again what it felt like to be alive.

I searched for the perfect everything, from pound cakes to roasts, sour cherries to pork bellies. I was insatiable, and when I had consumed every bit of information that books and the internet could provide, I saved for weekend courses at local cooking schools. With textbooks in hand, I was both challenged and lulled to sleep as I read, cradling their weight in my lap before bedtime.

In the quiet church of my own kitchen, I cooked with the intensity of prayer as G looked on, uninterested. He didn’t care much about food, but that didn’t stop me. And when I shared what my hands had made, I saw that my friends and family tasted joy in my pies and passion in the glazes on my cakes. Although their hungers were different than mine, I understood them all the same and it gave me much pleasure to satisfy them too.

I knew, though, that they didn’t fully understand how urgently I was tied to food, and I was always aware of that strange separa­tion. It was faint, and if you didn’t know it was there, you might not think to ask. But I noticed it when I spoke of chocolate and the fine nuances in it: fruity, smoky, red or green. They could taste the flavors, but we did not taste the same thing. I would look longingly into their faces, searching their expressions and hoping to recognize myself in them, but I never did. I accepted that I never would, but I wasn’t sad; it was enough for me just to know I’d had a hand in feeding them in any way at all.

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