The Secret Ingredient is (Always) Love

cat eating leftovers

cat eating leftovers (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Not at my house!

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

overcooked 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.

 

smörgåsbord), Swedish buffet

smörgåsbord), Swedish buffet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

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.

 

cook helpers

 

 

 

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.”

 

human food

human food (Photo credit: xtopalopaquetl)

 

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.

A turducken that is chock full of love.

A turducken that is chock full of love.

 

 

 

Mother Knows Best

Scratching

Scratching (Photo credit: ☺ Lee J Haywood)

 

My mother has always been a blunt, no-holds-barred giver of advice.  Her circle of friends is small, her capacity to remember slights limitless. To say she’s a little on the suspicious side is an understatement. She believes there’s two kinds of friends, friendship and friendshit. Her favorite saying concerning friendshit is,  “If you lie down with dogs, you get fleas.”

 

When you grow up with a cop for a mother, there’s not a lot of sympathy for stupidity.

Since I’m not psychic, I can’t tell at the start of a relationship where it will end up. Like courtship,  the beginning phase of a friendship is all about showing off our good sides and covering up our imperfections.  There’s that unquenchable hope that this time someone finally gets me.  The passage of time, though, can wear down the patina of initial niceness.  A cheap person can only buy a round of drinks so many times before they stop offering. A dishonest person can only fulfill their obligations as long as they can stave off their basic impulse to lie. A self-centered person will try to act like it’s not all about them, but in the end, they’ll insist it is.  That’s the point when you realize you’ve been lying with a dog and the itching you feel isn’t your new hand soap or poison ivy, it’s fleas.

 

Most of my life, I’ve followed my mother’s advice and steered clear of unsavory or people liable to get me arrested. Unfortunately those around me have not. One contractor friend of my husband’s has proven to be a persistent little puppy. During the initial phase of the friendship, he installed outside stairs, remodeled our bathroom, roofed our house, and installed replacement windows.  His rates were reasonable. We knew him. My husband counted him a friend. You’d think that would guarantee a job well done. Wrong.

 

Yes, we knew the contractor’s past jobs included  a string of small claims cases and customer complaints.  Yes, I balked at how he always wanted half down to start the job (which basically consisted of his taking the money and parking some equipment at our house) and seemed to be running a Ponzi scheme to pay for supplies and help. Yes, his initial job (a stairway) didn’t meet code and his second job (replacing a roof) started a year-long saga to find the leak we didn’t have until the new roof was in place. And even though he didn’t have a clue as to how to install a corner shower, it didn’t stop him from doing it. No amount of caulk has stopped the leaking in the subsequent two years.

 

Did I mention it takes superhuman strength to close and lock the replacement windows because they don’t quite line up? It doesn’t take skill to do a shoddy job, but it takes a special kind of incompetence to create new problems. Small wonder that when I finally took charge of hiring contractors, his name didn’t make the list.

 

Bad Carpentry!

Bad Carpentry! (Photo credit: Yuba College Public Space)

I still do a slow burn every time I enter the bathroom and realize I’ll eventually need to hire someone to pull out the shower and start again. I get a little hot under the collar when I watch part of the roof lift up and vibrate during windstorms. I curse loudly every time I have to hang on the lower window while pushing the upper window up to try to latch them for the winter. Giving him multiple opportunities to do something right became the punishment that keeps on delivering. If I’d heeded my mother’s warnings, after the first job I would have moved away from him as far and as fast as humanly possible.

Instead, I let myself become lulled by excuses and didn’t take appropriate action when I identified him as friendshit. If I had washed my hands of him early on, I wouldn’t have to walk around my house now and see the equivalent of toilet paper on my shoe everywhere.

But, just like you can’t blame fleas for biting you, you can’t blame shady people for taking advantage. Even if you think they’re friends. Which leads me to another lesson from my mother: Screw me once, shame on you. Screw me twice, shame on me.

Ignore my mother’s advice at your peril.