Lately, I’ve been exploring a room in the house that I have been petrified of most of my life: the kitchen.
Throughout my entire life some of the greatest memories and moments have happened in the kitchens of my mother, both grandmothers, aunts, and friends. The majority of time I have been a spectator. A minor contributor. I am one of those people that doesn’t like to try something unless I know that I will be good at it. Cooking has always been something I wanted to do but was a bit nervous about because of the long line of amazing cooks that I come from. I always felt like the cooks in my family spoke their own language. Even as an early adult I took a seat and stuck around for the conversation and waited for an invitation to join in the madness. Nothing was worse than around a holiday. I waited for someone to ask me to fix a dish. The lack of an invitation, in my mind, was an indicator that the pros questioned my cooking skills and therefore didn’t ask. On the rare occasions that I was asked to contribute, I always felt like someone was looking over my shoulder and criticizing my approach or methods. Occasionally they did, so I would back off and stick to safe dishes and recipes from my “comfort zone” of cooking. I definitely didn’t want to ruin a holiday meal.
Now that we finally have our own home in Maine and I have time to explore this scary room, I am now working on my cooking skills. I have a nice, roomy kitchen. I finally have all of my pots, pans, dishes, and tools in one place. I have a KitchenAid stand mixer. Armed with these tools and a ton of encouragement from husband, daughter, and even my little son, I am trying recipes that, at one time, would have made me run in the other direction. I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder that has more experience than I. I can include my daughter as I learn new things, thus boosting her confidence, too. The way I see it, we are learning together.
It warms my heart to hear my daughter proclaim at dinner, “Mommie, you make the best food ever. You’re like a chef!” Those are definitely words that I never thought I would hear. The other day I realized something… she thinks of my cooking now in the way that I always saw my mother’s (and still do). The best food ever. Wow. Then I started thinking about the “pros” in my life in a different light. The legacy that they have left for me to pass along to my children doesn’t come from the finished product – or the amazing dish – but in the experience of creating something that brings delight to those that gather around their tables. It is in the fellowship. It is in the conversation that happens around the dinner table.
When we were looking for a house, one of my main stipulations was that we have a formal dining room that we were to use for all of our meals. No eating in front of the TV. No food in the living room. We eat around the table and eat as a family. I always figured that if we did that while the kids were small and life was less hectic it would be easier to keep that going when they got older. Now I feel like I can lure them to the table with something more than just food.
The experience doesn’t just happen around the table over a plate of food. It happens in the preparation. It happens as I step over my children playing with pots and pans in the floor while I cook. It happens as CurlyQ helps me roll out the biscuits. It happens as she licks the beaters from a cake (she also likes to lick the beaters from mashed potatoes). It happens as my 13-month-old son turns up his nose at Gerber food and prefers my chicken-n-dumplings. It happens when my husband compliments me and helps clean up the kitchen after a good meal.
I wouldn’t say that I am a fabulous cook yet. I wouldn’t even say that I am all that great. I will say that through my experience in the kitchen I am learning to be a better mother and wife. I am nourishing and being nourished by my family in a way that I never understood before now. In the kitchen I am close to my grandmother, Mimim. As I lovingly pat out the biscuits or give my kids little bites of cheese, I am reminded of all of the moments spent with her in the kitchen. As I make a cake I am connected to my other grandmother, Grammy. Whenever we visit her, she always has a fresh cake made and meals prepared ahead of time for our visit. When I try new recipes I am mindful of my mother – and the things I have learned from her example.
I love to cook now. One more good by-product of a winter spent in Maine.