Last night, I cooked myself into what I consider "oblivion." Defined...that meant that I had an aggressive list of potential dishes that I wanted to prepare and a fairly short timeframe in which to get it all done. I eventually went to bed at approximately 1:30 a.m. after cooking two chicken tetrazzinis, a Hershey chocolate pound cake, some Chinese chicken salad, and a batch of modified chocolate chip cookies that contain more "stuff" in them than one might believe is calorically possible.
I did all of this to transport some of it up to Tuscaloosa (University of Alabama) where my oldest child is in the throes of Rush Workshop and not exactly loving life right now. I wanted to cook because it makes me feel better as a mother knowing that there is food that I took the time to prepare within easy reach. She didn't ask for this...and she will be pretty upset that I've brought sweets in her house when she is too busy to get to the gym. Hopefully, she'll share the bounty and I won't have to listen to too much whining.
But as I stood at the stove last night, I realized that providing food to make her feel better wasn't my only motivation. I suppose preparing food touches on all of the love languages except "words of affirmation" - which is (naturally) Jill's primary one. But it is definitely service, quality time, gifts, and physical touch. Perhaps that's why most of us associate food with love on some level. Who knows?
I thought about it last night as I weighed the merits of what I had set out to do, and why I was actually doing it. I realized that there were many reasons I was actually in the kitchen whipping ingredients together and questioning my sanity for embarking on this journey at 8:00 p.m.
The first was the obvious...and that is that I really do like the idea of providing a treat for my child that will give her something to look forward to at a time that is not particularly pleasant for her. We women have an innate belief that a casserole will somehow ease the pain of whatever is afflicting someone. When someone dies...we take a dish for the family. When a baby is born...we take a meal by for the new parents so that the new Mama doesn't have to get off of the doughnut (or move her pillow) and deal with feeding people in her sleep deprived state. When someone has endured a move...we stand on their doorstep with a bundt cake or brownies to welcome them to the neighborhood. In Jill's case, Rush workshop has been like a 144 hour labor (6 days). She can't handle all of that "togetherness" day in and day out. She also moved to her new apartment this week...without me because I'm staying for a few days next week...so I'm all over the whole cooking thing because I somehow believe that she deserves it.
Another reason was that I wanted to provide some food for her to share with her roommate...and the boyfriend. I tend to cook for people that I like...and the fact that I made some cookies specifically for him must mean that he has won me over...which has not happened in a very long time. If there has been one thing I hoped and prayed for...it was that I like the people my children date or befriend. I see this as a very good sign.
The final reason is that I suppose I've been a quart low on praise lately. I know that's self-serving and all, but sometimes you just want to know that your offerings matter to someone in this world. Some people get their affirmation from their work or in using their God-given talents. I also know that the true sources of affirmation is from God alone. However, there are times when you just want one of His fellow creatures to remind you that you are special to them in some small way as well.
Which is why I dearly love cooking for college students. Most college students I know are extremely grateful for homecooked food. Not necessarily because they appreciate the time and effort that went into it -but because that is one less meal that they have to think about...or purchase from a drive-thru. They are also very liberal with the praise...because they just know that whatever you make is probably better than what they can do with their limited knowledge...and budgets.
I used to hear the old adage "the best way to a man's heart...is through his stomach." I suppose for some women...that has been gospel. For me, the learning curve was so initially so steep that I lost any hope of being a phenomenal cook. But after twenty-five years of trying...I've finally built a fair volume of dishes that I do well, and a few that even knock it out of the park when served to the right group. The fact that my husband is not among these fans (he thinks I am a "safe" cook) stings a little...but it obviously hasn't stopped me from trying to improve.
As a young bride, I once invited my husband's family (about nine of us at the time) for my first venture into cooking for others. I made lasagna. There was enough encouragement that night to propel me into trying other things...and I have...with the majority of it involving chicken in some form or fashion or large quantities of sugar. But the truth is...if I really like you...I'll make lasagna...and will follow that up with dessert.
Many moons ago...while I was learning to cook, I stood at my mother-in-law and sister-in-law's elbows while they prepared food for a crowd of fourteen (or more) people. As a result, big groups don't scare me at all. In fact, I actually prefer it. Which is probably the reason why everytime I cook...it is a major production with multiple dishes and hours invested in preparation. I suppose that it just feels normal to me.
My mother and grandmother felt that food was sustinance for the body. They prepared wonderful food in smaller portions so there were very few leftovers except on special occasions. I grew up with a homecooked meal almost every night...but without a true appreciation for the effort that they expended to put it on the table day in and day out after working full-time jobs all day. I hope my mother is reading this and knows how much I appreciate that now.
Our family did not allow the kitchen to be a place of exploration or fellowship...and as a result, I missed out on some of the adventures in the kitchen that my friends had with their family members. The way I grew up...it was a one-woman show most of the time. That's fine...and I don't think I've done a whole lot to break that cycle in our family.
Food is necessary for life. Without food...we don't survive. Much of the richness of our experience is because of the presence of food...a night out, a backyard barbecue...or a gathering around appetizers in the kitchen with friends and family. It can be a holy experience like communion or the rapturous delight of an excellent peanut butter fudge cake on your birthday. It may be a full-scale production like Thanksgiving...or a simple ham sandwich with the crusts cut off and an ice cold glass of milk. I suppose in my experience...we express love to the people in our lives by providing food for them to enjoy.
I am also finding that - for me at least - food is a way for me to communicate certain feelings I have in a way that isn't overwhelming yet is somehow appropriate.
"I like you." (So, I'm making your favorite foods.)
"I'm so sorry for your loss." (And I don't want you to have to expend energy feeding all of these guests who are mourning with you.)
"I know these are your favorite." (Because you matter enough for me to have noted this.)
"You matter more than the sleep I'll forego so that I can put this casserole in your freezer." (Because you are my child...and I love you.)
"Welcome home!" (Because you have made the effort to visit...I want to make it worth your while.)
"You just relax." (And heat this up when you feel like eating.)
So, today I will drive up with a friend to the University of Alabama to see my baby girl's new apartment and watch her sisters perform a Rush skit with a cake plate on my lap and casseroles and cookies in a bag in the floorboard. She will hear that her Mom loves her in the language that I speak fairly well..."casserole". Her Dad and brother will be at home removing the foil from their chicken tetrazzini I prepared last night while I am gone. And hopefully they will know that I love them as well.