6 min read


My Mom's best gift to me.

We have a little galley kitchen in our apartment in Northwest Seattle. The kind of space where Michelle and I can’t stand back to back, one of us cooking and the other one prepping or doing dishes. Instead, we’ve begun working on our apartment partner dance, slipping past each other with quick verbal cues and pressing our hips to counter or oven, speaking in shorthand like line cooks.

I have always loved cooking. But I gave up on being any good at it, or doing it regularly, for a good piece of my mid-twenties.

Moving to Seattle changed things significantly. For the first year and a half, I was in an out of contract work and Michelle was a full-time student, her head buried deep in the Urban Planning program at the University at Washington. With her long hours and my inconsistent work schedule, I became set on channeling Mom, promising myself do better in the kitchen.

That’s when I dug back out the college graduation gift Mom had given me. Inspired by the gift a friend had received from his own mother, I’d asked Mom to make me a book of her favorite recipes—the stuff she liked to cook for the three of us for the 20 or so years we all lived together in Northampton.

I wasn’t expecting much—mostly print-outs and copies of recipes she’d carefully snipped from the New York Times, our local paper, and Cooking Light Magazine. But of course she embraced the project with the typical determined, dedicated attitude she had for everything she loved. The result was an unimpressive novelty-shop journal turned completely Barbara: pictures collaged from her cooking magazines and her face on the front cover, with almost all of the pages filled by her immaculate print and calm, steady instructions.

There are no spelling errors, and just a cross-out or two in the entire thing, all four tabbed sections carefully organized and dotted with personal notes. The Oven-Baked Fries, for instance, have a note that goes something like, “This takes a while, but it’s worth it.” She strategically placed some blank pages in between recipes for my own notes and alterations, which have slowly started to dot the recipes, along with cooking grease.

Mom was a prolific and talented cook. She strived to whip up something almost seven nights a week growing up. The kitchen was her sanctuary in our house and she cared deeply about feeding Dad and me, even if he’d get gruff if he had to wait long for dinner after she’d come home from a long, grueling day in Westfield.

And she was slow cook. For my entire life, Mom couldn’t accurately estimate time to save her life. 30-minute dinners took an hour. An hour of shopping took all afternoon. Her long, five-mile Sunday walking route always took her the same amount of time, yet she’d repeatedly underestimate her return when writing little notes to us in the morning. And to Dad and my chagrin—she possessed the (now oh-so-desirable) quality of being able to completely and totally ignore her phone.

“Why else does she have one?!” I’d constantly complain, dialing and redialing her during the evening commute while Dad shrugged and headed off for his chair or the shop. While I’d vocalize my frustration and my hunger, Dad would wander off to another room and stew in it, waiting until Mom had really blown her ETA to let her know about it.

We didn’t help. And then we’d zoom through dinner, devouring whatever she’d carefully made in a manner of minutes and doing what we could to dodge a familial conversation.

Even when I first struggled through some of her staple dishes (like a bean and cheese casserole she lovingly, questionably, called La Bamba) at the age of 22 or 23, I could appreciate the care she’d given this little book. In Seattle, eight years after she finished the project, I’ve scrutinized the recipes, added extra trips to clarify her instructions, and exhale with satisfaction when we finish one of her dishes.

Mom lives on in so many ways, but inside this book, she is quiet, confident, and relaxed. Her voice is clear, and I can almost picture her writing out each page by hand, seated comfortably next to a pile of the weekly recipes she’d pencil out and then pin carefully to the bulletin board each Sunday night in our kitchen.

The anxiousness that pockmarked her lateness (only made worse by Dad’s impatience, and later mine) is gone. Her fear of making one us mad is nonexistent. She is calm—in her happy place. None of the terror that defined her last month and a half with us is present.

When I cook I think of her. After a long day of work, I find the same meditation and focus she found.

Sometime during our first year in Seattle, I started telling Michelle that cooking was my love language. And I think Mom would agree. She’d be happy about it.

This Summer

I know this newsletter has run intermittently in the last few months. So here’s a smorgasbord of noteworthy culture that’s crossed eyes in June and July.

On Screen

This weekend I binged Season 2 of The Leftovers. We’ve got a sick cat at home and it’s finally hot out, so Miche got to go fishing this Sunday and I knocked out a masterful season from creator Damon Lindelof. I can’t say that I’d strongly recommend Season 1—the melodrama had me keeping binging at arm’s length. I couldn’t do more than two episodes in a sitting.

But in this second serving, the deadweight is cut from the cast and Lindelof really starts to flex. (Lindelof is from the clan of writers that worked on Lost, and you can see the influences in the imagination and weird rabbit holes.) We see narratives from multiple angles across different episodes, and the audience is forced to sit in the same discomfort that plagues (and motivates) the main characters. If you’re the kind of person that’s willing to watch Season 1 in order to enjoy a second and third season, watch The Leftovers, using your partner’s cousin’s dad’s HBO GO login, or whatever.

Season Four of Netflix’s Queer Eye debuted on Friday. While the show’s formula is reaching a point where the emotional inflection points are a bit too predictable for me, there’s no denying the clear and moving authenticity that the new Fab 5 and their subjects put on display. Plus, I love Bobby.

Also on Netflix, Stranger Things Season 3 is out. We’re one episode in and already made the mistake of watching while eating dinner. Nothing like watching thousands of rats spontaneously combust (spoiler alert? about the rats?) to remind me that, at its heart, Stranger Things creators The Duffer Brothers love them some John Carpenter. Maybe just watch The Thing again.

We saw Spider-Man: Far From Home this past Saturday night. Where Homecoming(the first one with Tom Holland) felt like a proper Marvel Cinematic Universe installment, Far From Home felt much more like a flick for kids. I have a strong sense that the absence of Robert Downey Jr. has something to do with this. See if you like Tom Holland (who doesn’t), or if you’re an MCU completist (I almost am.)

I’m having some confusing feelings about the opening next weekend of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. The trailer doesn't miss a single Tarantino beat—everything that I loved about his whip-smart foul dialogue and penchant for great music growing up is there, with Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt strutting across the screen. Then again, Uma Thurman (long the apple of Tarantino’s directorial eye) finally said her piece to Maureen Dowd in the New York Times a year and a half ago, so I have trouble fully embracing Tarantino’s work with the same unabashed glee that I used to.


Anyways, back to Marvel for a minute. I blew threw almost all of the first Miles Morales Spider-Man run (much of it contained within Civil War II), written with care by Brian Michael Bendis. If you’ve got a tablet, reading Marvel Unlimited is a comic-book dream.

I am done with The Fellowship Of The Ring. I struggled with some of the long, historical speeches given in Rivendale, I chafed a bit at the all-male cast. Luckily, Galadriel’s scenes with The Company at the tale end of the book exist—and I rediscovered that films do her no justice. Lothlorien (the forest and the Elven kingdom) are beautifully imagined and written. It’ll be a few weeks before I move on to The Two Towers.

For magazine reading, “What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane”, William Langewiesche’s cover story for the July edition of The Atlantic, is an incredibly well-researched tick tock about the commerical airliner that went missing in 2014.


Quietly, Stormzy has been taking over my hip-hop fandom. His two 2019 singles, Vossi Bop and Crown, are constantly playing in my head. Plus, the god Idris Elba has a cameo in the music video.

Finally, a question for you: what’s your song of the summer? Send me an email, and make sure to include the ideal listening conditions. I’d love to hear from you.

This newsletter is a creative space to keep in touch, to think out loud, and to heal. It takes some psychological safety to put these thoughts out in the world and the sentences won’t read perfect or be free of typos. I do revisit my issues and make corrections as I catch them.

If you know someone who’d like to see it every couple of weeks or so, feel free to forward it or share the link: https://simontpollock.substack.com