I moved to a new town a few years ago, and had to change everything from doctors to hair stylists. Sometimes this involved a little trial and error. But in the very first nail salon I tried for my very first gel Mani in a new shop, I met Sue. I’m still not sure that’s her real name; most of the manicurists are Korean and seem to have an awful lot of short American names: Joy, Lyn, Rose, Amy. I hope this says more about good Korean business sense than fickle American clients put off by foreign names. God forbid we are put off by getting our nails done by Soo Jin or Yun Hee.
No matter, this is about Sue.
Some people have a welcoming energy. A warmth and positivity that embraces you as if you’re in immediate proximity to a bakery, a Cinnabon kiosk, or the muffin section of Costco as the goodies come out—that’s Sue. And that’s my metaphor for a warm person in food terms. Which you can always count on from me. I once told a couple that he was like tuna fish and she peanut butter, both delicious but not together! I digress.
Sue’s English is erratic but sufficient, so most of our conversations center on the weather, daily events, or of all things…golf. Like food, sports are often the universal language. Many times, our dialogue is hampered by linguistic gaps and I’m reduced to smiling and nodding. I suspect she does the same. This is more about mutual respect than boredom; I’ve always felt she had much to say of consequence if language didn’t obscure the message.
I know Sue has a son, college age, and a sore shoulder, and works 6 days a week. That’s about all I know. I’ve imagined her my idea of a family; racially profile prolific, complete with hard-working husband, Dean’s list doting son, parents who live in the home. Lots of kimchi and tea. Possibly an auntie or cousin downstairs. Or upstairs. Whatever.
So, shallow. I’m trained to be culturally sensitive but social propaganda is powerful, no? Forgive me, the story has a redemptive twist. Yesterday, somewhere between my debate over ‘Lemon Heaven’ and ‘Burnt Siena’, Sue and I got to ‘talking’. About cooking. She shared with me that her life had been ‘hard’ in very many ways. She shared very personal information about her family and her life. She blew my make-believe fantasy about her life to pieces. And then she blew me away. She said that what got her through was cooking. I actually looked to my right and left for the cast of Punk’d. Surely my publisher had arranged a tactical testimonial ambush.
In staccato words, simplifying as best I could, I told Sue about Cooking Therapy. Once she understood, we both just stared and smiled. Because of my new book, Cook Your Marriage Happy, the first in my Cook Yourself Happy series, I often find myself explaining to groups large and small how under-identified this therapy is, but always it’s the ‘man in the street’ or in this case, manicurist on the other side of the table, who validates the power of cooking as a healing act.
Sue and I have a new bond. She took a screen shot of the book’s cover; she says it makes her happy to look at it. When my nails were dry, I was compelled to hug her, I needed a little bit of that warmth, warmth made even more redolent and impressive by hardship and survival.
It’s not important but I thought you should know I went with Lemon Heaven. Its bright and its very ‘Sue’ and duh, its named after food.