I’ve always loved to cook. As a child, volunteering to cook on weekends meant I didn’t have to go out and help drag brush into burn piles or do other unpleasant, outside chores. It also meant not having to suffer through my mother’s cooking which, back in the day, consisted of undercooked casseroles or spaghetti and burnt cookies.
As an adult, able to purchase my own ingredients and cook in my own kitchen, I grew to love cooking even more. Home made caramels and chocolates, crab rangoons, cheesecakes of every descriptions, there was no holiday or family event that didn’t involve hours of poring over recipes and experimenting with new dishes. Preparing my favorite meal, Christmas Eve dinner, involved days of preparation and culminated in tables and counters overflowing with food.
At my house, there are always leftovers.
The last few years, though, I’ve noticed my cooking has been lacking something. My dishes are good, just not great. The menu is varied, but not spectacular. The leftovers fly out the door as quickly as ever, but what remains sits in my refrigerator uneaten. There’s something missing.
At first I thought it might be a change in my taste buds, but no one complained about the seasoning or flavor combinations. Perhaps it was a reflection of my hurried life. Rushing through meal preparations might result in inaccurate measurements or missing ingredients, but even when I slowed down, the results remained the same. In desperation, I started to farm out my cooking to other relatives. My recipes, my ingredients, my directions, my kitchen, not my cooking. Sort of like I was the executive chef and my daughter and nieces functioned as my sous and pastry chefs. It filled the table, but didn’t feel fulfilling.
Then this week, beset by an awful cold, I made my famous, never fail, totally delicious homemade chicken soup. And it sucked. Oh, it was good-looking enough, and it was hot, and it had the correct ingredients, but it didn’t taste right and it didn’t make me feel any better. It sort of made me feel worse. A feeling I’d never experienced with my chicken soup in the past. Why?
As I dumped it down the sink and ran the garbage disposal, it hit me. It was missing the most crucial ingredient of all – love. My food isn’t meant to just nourish people’s bodies, it’s meant to nourish their souls. Cooking isn’t the combination of ingredients and heat or cold and time equaling taste, it’s the way I say “I love you.” And the last few years, I’ve been a little down on myself. I feel overstressed, overworked, pulled in too many different directions, and plain tired. Cooking has become another chore in the my never-ending chore list and I approach it with the same attitude I clean up dog poop with – resignation. It’s no longer a way to say “I love you.” Instead it’s become a way to say, “Eh, eat.”
So how do I pull myself out of this cooking death spiral and put the love back in my cooking? I’m not really sure, but I have to try because I miss the looks on the faces of my loved ones when they bite into their favorite dish. I miss the appreciative “mmm’s” as they chew. I long for the happy smile when they ask for seconds. I miss all of it and I want it back.
So this weekend I’m going to pick out one dish and cook it with intention, honesty, and love. No looking at the clock. No stressing about bills that need to be paid or laundry that needs to be washed. No regard for how many dishes or ingredients it takes. All I’m going to do is make one meal with love. Then, hopefully, I can recreate that feeling and make another. I’m going to keep going, one recipe at a time, until I return to the days when my food whispered “I love you” with every bite.