Tabitha Blakenbiller and I might be long-distance, separated by geography and years, sisters.
I read her essay and recipe collection, Eats of Eden, over the last week and marveled at our similar experiences. I first talked to Tabitha a year or two ago when I emailed her about contributing to her blog. My husband had suggested I look her up, given our shared sadness that Walmart bought Modcloth, beloved Modcloth, purveyor of funky vintage-style clothes and accessories. Little did I know that Tabitha and I shared much more than just Modcloth misery. Over the last winter break, stricken with a brutal cold and laryngitis, I watched an entire season of the Great British Baking Show–as did Tabitha, afflicted with strep a year or two prior. We both love going out to eat as much as eating in, and we share a teenage devotion to the Titanic–movie, history, finer details, though as you’ll read, she took that obsession to its furthest extent she could as a 13 year old kid. 19 year old me just went to a local museum.
More significant than our shared particulars is Blakenbiller’s ability to tap into bigger themes that will resonate with many readers, particularly women.
When I began reading the book, I had just started calorie counting–again–to lose ten pounds I’ve lost and regained a number of times before. Blakenbiller’s own experience has been with Weight Watchers, and she masterfully discuss the internal battles that often ensue with the lose weight/gain weight cycle. For example, the dilemma of wanting to be smaller (often, just to stay in clothes one already has) while also feeling like a hypocrite to one’s own feminism by not being content with one’s body. The sense that as an adult, one’s entitled to enjoy whatever food and drink one might–and then feeling guilty that one . has done so. I usually follow that kind of thing up with ridiculously detailed food intake logs and rigid insistence on MyFitnessPal’s numbers. Tabitha gets that, has been there, and writes eloquently about those experiences.
The thread that runs throughout many of the essays is of a collapsed friendship, and trying to figure out how to process that friendship through writing.
Many of us have been down that road. While Tabitha’s particular approach of exploring that friendship in story, essay, and novel forms–none of which, initially, succeed as she wants them to–is distinct, the mess of feelings involved, which she explores so beautifully, is a shared one. Replaying the collapse over and over in one’s head. Figuring out what one did wrong–or, as in my own case, knowing I didn’t and thus trying to find alternate explanations–can often be all-consuming, as Tabitha well shows. Her conclusion at the end of the collection–which I’m not going to share, obvs–shows depth and growth from the very young woman she describes in the text to a mature, self-aware adult. We should all be so lucky.
And then there are the recipes.
At one point Tabitha discusses the shitty first apartment she shared with her husband, and the crappy kitchen it contained. The first apartment my husband and I rented was equally awful, down to the mold on the windows and the lack of kitchen space. I’d learned to cook from my mom, since childhood, but cooking on my own was a different beast. One night I tried to get fancy and make chicken piccatta, utterly unaware that one needs to drain the capers before adding them. I made a disgusting, briny mess. As Tabitha often reflects, it’s through these kitchen wrecks that we grow, and we ultimately hold even our failures as dear memories, down the road. She shares with us, the readers, some of those memories and the vastly improved recipes that followed.
Once I stop counting every damn thing I put in my mouth, I’m going to cook my way through them. I think she’d share a sisterly eye rolling at that sentence.
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