The smell of fresh biscuits is wafting upstairs from the kitchen in my parents' house in Texas. We've been coming here for the end-of-year holidays only since 2006, so the room I'm writing in -- a loft above a garage -- is not the one where I used to wake up to the promise of butter, flour, baking powder, milk, and salt, in those perfect, golden, flaky proportions that are my mother's standby recipe for daughterly bliss. It's just a loft with an elliptical machine in it, and I cycle along, willing myself to recall the tender center of this favorite baked good, how it releases a ribbon of steam when it first breaks open under my much younger fingers.
The last few years have been an adjustment -- first, the limit on sugars and starches after I became insulin resistant, then the limit on dairy and gluten after those food sensitivities came to light. I can choose to ignore these inconvenient circumstances -- nothing truly dire will occur immediately if I eat from the tray my mother has just pulled from the oven -- but I know it's unwise. At the very least, I'll feel sick and be less able to enjoy this time with my family. So I soak up the memory of warmth and comfort that the aroma brings back.
But the coziness of a different kitchen in a different time fails to materialize. I'm needled by earlier moments from the morning. "Can you butter the tray for me?" my mother asks, as I am about to leave the kitchen in search of a writing spot. "Oh, there might be flour on the counter. You can touch that stuff, right?"
I tell her it's fine -- I can wash my hands -- but then, as I clean the baking utensils left in the sink, I hesitate before setting the sponge back on the edge of the basin. "Is it okay to put this through the dishwasher?" I ask. Without a thorough soaping and scalding, a good quantity of gluten particles can stay lodged in the fibers.
"Oh, it'll never get completely clean," she replies, waving a floury hand, as if whether the sponge goes through the machine isn't important. I know she doesn't mean to be cavalier, but a flood of resentment at what feels like her insensitivity rises in my chest. Just because the sponge can't be sterilized doesn't mean I can't take the measures with it -- or anything else in her kitchen -- that will decrease my exposure to what makes me sick. It has only been a day since my arrival, but the few things I've asked her not to do for food I will eat -- like using wooden cutting boards, which are porous and also harbor gluten easily -- she's done anyway.
I wonder whether to say anything. When I do remind her, she makes the excuse that this is all new to her, which I understand. But she makes no move to apologize.
Am I wrong to feel hurt? I ask myself. Don't be so -- well, sensitive, part of me says in reply. Still, the scent of my mother's biscuits, hanging in the air of the loft, refuses to transfer the pleasure I wish it would.
6 hours ago