I am very slowly learning to like cooking.
For years, my experiences with making food were a long string of stressful recipes and failed experiments. Such-and-such ingredient had to be added at exactly the right moment, but wait–I forgot to chop it! The dough should be stretchy after twenty minutes of kneading, but after thirty it was still chunky and brittle! The zucchini never browned no matter how long I fried it, and the sauce never tasted right no matter how careful I was to follow the instructions, and that almond meal I took a chance on because I wanted to be creative turned my muffins into little medallions with the mass and density of neutron stars.
Then I took a cooking class and learned a little more about flavor bases and knife work. Knowing the fundamentals made me less reliant on recipes, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say that it made my cooking taste better, it definitely made the process less frustrating.
Then we had a kid.
Unlike me, my husband has always been really interested in cooking…and unlike me, he leaves a gigantic mess in his wake. For years we were able to manage his messy tendencies and my neat freak-ness with a strict chore schedule, but after the baby came along, all hell broke loose. I often get home from work too tired to do anything but putz on the Internet–which is hilarious, because all I do at work is sit in front of a computer–which means my husband steps up to make dinner on most nights. I’m eternally grateful to him for that, but the price I pay is a kitchen that is constantly covered in smelly dishes and sticky countertops and open containers. I try to clean up a little before I go to bed. I really try. But damn, I am just so exhausted on weeknights, and half the time I have a migraine or a backache to boot.
When I think of a kitchen witch, I think of Kiki’s mom from Kiki’s Delivery Service. In case you’re not a Miyazaki fan, here’s a visual:
I want a kitchen that’s clean. I want a kitchen that’s spacious. I want a kitchen that’s full of living herbs that aren’t succumbing to indoor aphids, and drying herbs that aren’t going moldy. I want a kitchen with enough room to lay out all my ingredients, with plenty of prep bowls that are all the right sizes for what I need to put in them, with a fully stocked spice rack and apothecary, with dishes that are clean and counters I could lick. Sometimes it feels like I’m never going to have that kitchen.
But when my kitchen occasionally approaches that state–when the dishes are done and the counters are clear and I’m able to sit down and leisurely make dinner for my family–I love cooking. I put on music. I prop the cookbook up on my little book stand and don’t have to hunch over to read it. When the conditions are right, I start to see, maybe for a few seconds here and there, how magical and sacred cooking can be.
* * *
When I think of a kitchen witch, I think of this quote from Marion Green’s A Witch Alone: “There is no place in modern magic for blunt blades, either symbolically or practically.”
Green is referring to the tradition of the athame being dull. I’ve never actually seen a dull athame–if a burglar walks in on me in ritual, they’re in for a world of pain–and the line is pretty dogmatic, but in terms of my own practice, I agree with her. The symbolism and power of an object can be greatly amplified, I think, when it has a practical use as well as a magical one. I remember reading about Starhawk’s use of her hedge clippers for her athame. I like the idea of transforming an ordinary object into a sacred one. I only use my own athame as an athame, because it’s a big dagger I bought way back in high school before I ever thought deeply about these things, but I like the idea that I could use it to cut if I needed to. Maybe someday I will, and hopefully not on a burglar.
My husband and I own a big wonderful red dutch oven, with a good patina on the bottom from many stews and soups, and I privately think of it as my cauldron. I’ve never brewed a potion in a large enough quantity to warrant using it for magic, though.
* * *
When I think of a kitchen witch, I think of herbalism.
I have a book on medicinal herbs and an affinity for essential oils, but that’s about as far as I’ve gotten in my attempts at amateur herbalism. I’m finally starting to break away from the purist idea that every herb I use has to come from my own garden. Container gardening in a drought is next to impossible, so that’s not going to happen anytime soon. (Oh, how I long for a yard.) A friend of mine started a little herb business and she orders ingredients from Rose Mountain. I need to understand that a kitchen witch doesn’t necessarily mean a country witch. A city witch can be a kitchen witch, too. We just need to adapt.
* * *
When I think of a kitchen witch, I think of fantasies, of idealism.
I think of that little cottage in Vermont that I want to find and retire in. You know the one–you might have dreamed of it, too. I think of TV shows and movies with huge budgets and carefully dressed sets. The house from Practical Magic doesn’t exist; I’ve seen witches’ homes with that much stuff in them, and in reality they’re dusty and smell like cat pee. I think of that herbal brew that instantly cures your headache, those ingredients that always smell lovely and never go bad. I think of having a million reasons to cook up potions and ointments, a steady stream of neighbors who need my services. I think of a life away from hot, smoggy, dusty, shallow, expensive Los Angeles.
None of these things exist. The Kitchen Witch, as we conceive of her, doesn’t exist.
Conversely, if you identify as a witch, chances are you’re at least a little bit of a kitchen witch. Because who can afford not to be?
* * *
When I think of a kitchen witch, I think of ordinary magic. I think of women who have been ostracized and exiled and tortured and killed for doing ordinary things.
When I finish this post, I will pick up my child from daycare, and we’ll go buy ingredients at Trader Joe’s. I’ll clean the kitchen and do the dishes while she watches her weekly portion of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Then I’ll sit down and make a meal that might not taste like Chez Panisse, but will be sacred and magical because I took plants that grew from the holy Earth and turned them into energy for my body and my family.
May your weekend be filled with plenty of ordinary blessings.