I discovered my love for cooking as a single woman, living alone. After months of peanut butter and popcorn, I decided that I’d had my fill of eating like a college student. It was a sad commentary on my life, that somehow the only decent meal came with a bill at the end–as if I wasn’t worth the effort.
I had to learn step-by-step, working through a Better Homes and Garden Cookbook that my mother gave to me as a graduation gift. Eventually, I was subscribing to Bon Appetit and Gourmet and the Joy of Cooking. I bought fresh vegetables and set a table, all for myself. I eventually met and married a great guy whose idea of gourmet cooking was adding dill to scrambled eggs. We hosted lots of dinner parties and I’d spend entire afternoons preparing the perfect multi-course dinner.
Then, my son arrived. First, I had to give up cooking during pregnancy, because the very sight of raw meat sent me reeling. I could barely eat with other people, let alone cook for them. After he was born, I was too tired. When his godmother brought over a pan of macaroni and cheese from Whole Foods, I literally wept. For the next few years we ate from the small menu list my work schedule and my son’s narrow taste preferences would afford. When my husband traveled, I didn’t bother cooking at all. I just ate hot dogs and chicken nuggets along with my son.
As he grew, I tried to re-energize my love for cooking. It came in phases–the vegetarian phase, the Julia Child phase, the clean food phase, but I just revert to the default. Cook a protein and two vegetables. It’s gone in 15 minutes anyway. Why put any more effort into it? It doesn’t seem to matter, my family eats it all the same, with virtually no difference in reaction. The if-you-don’t-like-it-you-can-cook-for-yourself plan.
I dread cooking dinner, and I derive little joy from eating it, which means the meal is usually late. Sadder yet, I think my disregard comes through in the flavor, like In Water for Chocolate. What does resentment taste like? A protein and two vegetables. Dinnertime is stressful and brief, not the respite I always wanted it to be. My life is busy, even busier now that I’ve committed to writing as a full-time job. It leaves me drained and tired, yet with no paycheck at the end….yet.
I grew up in a family where food is love. Food is family. Food is nurturing. If I don’t nurture myself, then who will? How did I get here–from the woman who cooked for herself because she was worth it, to the woman who serves pique on a plate? So the question is, what comes off the to-do list so that this can come back on? Showering?
And yet, if I’m satisfied by meals, perhaps I won’t find the Cadbury eggs so tempting. So what’s on the menu? Good question. Perhaps instead of saying grace before eating, I need to say grace before cooking. To remember that the food, my family, and our time together is a blessing and a celebration. Who doesn’t love a party? Especially if there’s cake involved. I never resent cake.
Words by J. B. Everett