When I was younger I loved to experiment in the kitchen. My parents were kindly enthusiastic over my juvenile concoctions like mustard filled balogna cups and barbque sauce covered noodles. (I have a whole new appreciation these days for this aspect of love.) I can still envision the baby blue tri-board from my award winning strawberry fluff for the 4H "Dairy Food Demonstration" in elementary school. Blue ribbon in hand, I seemed well on my way to culinary achievement.
I am not certain what sidetracked my pursuits, but it seemed to coincide with the Burnt Flour Incident of 1984. Bad choices left me restricted to only a microwave for a while--and I found other passions. In the 30 years since then I've managed to survive on limited kitchen abilities--largely because of a lack of interest.
I have long viewed food as a necessary fuel, but not much more. Single until the age of 27, cooking for myself didn't seem worth the trouble. Married to a man who frequently came home after 9pm in the early years, then as an exhausted mother of triplets, efficiency trumped home cooked. Frankly, there are just other things I'd prefer to do and think about. As a person who values tidiness as a mental health need, the additional mess from cooking was the final straw.
With the proliferation of televisions in restaurants, and the craziness of extracurricular schedules, I have grown to love eating at home. As my husband's hours improve, children become increasingly independent and longer school days provide more time for me at home, I have slowly started spending more time thinking about (and planning) food. My children's palates have expanded (a little bit). Two of the three show an interest in cooking with me. I have found myself drawn back into the kitchen. I am absolutely not starting a cooking blog anytime soon, but as old fashioned as it sounds, I have learned to love using my hands and my time to feed people.
Yesterday feeding a crowd shed new light on how this is all coming together in my heart and life. We spent the early afternoon at the pool within walking distance of my house. As World Cup kickoff time approached, my uber social R started gathering a gang for an impromptu 'watching party' at our house. By the time we walked back up the hill towards home I had seven spirited 9-10 year olds in tow.
As our young guests settled in for pre-game I realized I hadn't planned on them, but needed to feed them nonetheless. I scrambled and found a few offerings in my pantry--fancy stuff with unnatural shelf life--Doritos, Cheez-its, Popcorn. Thinking through the children gathered in my family room. I managed to meet the special needs of food allergies, braces and picky preferences. As I walked into the room bearing bowls of junk, they cheered. I felt valued.
Because I was the only adult present, I could sense I wasn't really 'needed' in front of the television. To stay within earshot of our little party, I adjourned to the kitchen and realized I had just enough time (and ingredients) to make from scratch chocolate chip cookies. I have typically been a slice and bake girl, but what else was I going to do while banished to the kitchen?
As the mixer churned there was a strange stirring in my own heart. A silly grin crossed my face as I realized I had officially joined the ranks of the stereotypical mothers through the ages who swell with pride at the ability to feed those who walk through their doors. As the boys drifted in one by one, drawn to the sweet aroma of fresh baked chocalatey goodness, I saw the softening of their demeanor. At halftime they literally ran into the kitchen and descended upon those cookies like locusts. For ten sweet minutes they told me of things their Moms and Grandmothers baked as crumbs periodically escaped their mouths. When the two dozen cookies were gone they dashed back into the family room leaving crumbly carnage that I truly found joy in cleaning up.
I was pondering it all last night--wondering what had shifted in my heart--and I came up with a few thoughts:
1. Feeding young people gives me a role beyond taxi driver and chaperone. I want my home to be a place where people feel welcomed and valued. Food is one of the most primal ways to do that, as it meets a need and a desire. Even knowing the allergies and aversions was a way of communicating: "You are known and valued here."
2. Food brings people together. Seven spirited 9-10 year old slowed down and gathered for conversation--all because of warm cookies. Need I say more?
3. Love is communicated many different ways. As my children age and I am required to give them a bit more space, food is one of the ways I can stay plugged in and love them in a way that's not 'embarrassing.'
And this morning as I was rolling all of this around in my brain I realized the lessons extend far beyond food. I thought about John 21 and Jesus' admonition to Simon Peter to "feed His sheep." I don't plan to walk around all day every day with a plate of cookies, but I have constant opportunities to nourish people's souls.
The recipe for doing so looks a lot like the list above:
1. Listening, seeking to know, and valuing others.
2. Looking for opportunities to bring people together around something they share in common.
3.Loving people in a way that is comfortable to them.
And like the cookie making it takes a little more work, it leaves a bit more of a mess--but the outcome is totally worth it.