One of my favorite ways to express love to the people I care about is by feeding them. Nourishing our bodies and our souls through sharing good food and good conversation is one of life’s great simple pleasures. This explains my obsession with cooking magazines and books. Perusing pages of recipes and beautiful foodie photographs is one of my preferred ways to relax and recharge.
Even though I love to cook, I wasn’t always good at it. Twenty years ago I was a newlywed with very little cooking experience or skill. I vividly remember the first breakfast I made for my husband in our tiny apartment after we returned from our honeymoon. I burned the fried potatoes and bacon, and dried out the scrambled eggs. I can still picture his sweet twenty-three year old face, with dimples and round glasses, forcing a pleasant look on his face as he chewed the charred food on his plate. Halfway through the meal and our pretending that the food was okay to eat, I finally said, “This food is awful. You don’t have to eat it.” He let out an audible sigh as he set his fork down and pushed his plate away, sincerely saying, “Thank you.” He also proceeded to gently tell me that he hates eggs.
My food skills have improved greatly since then, but I’m still not a gourmet cook or a culinary artist. I don’t have a sophisticated cooking vocabulary, nor am I knowledgeable regarding fancy techniques. And I can’t just throw a bunch of ingredients in a pot – knowing how to balance acids, salt, and sweetness – and consistently end up with a wonderful result.
Nevertheless, I have still become a very good home cook. And I am intentional about developing this craft. Cooking experience has enabled me to acquire the skill of recognizing a good recipe in a magazine or cookbook. Recipes that match my abilities, use ingredients I can conveniently purchase, easily adapt to needs or preferences, and produce a pleasing result. I still have an occasional food-fail, like recently when a meal that was supposed to be ready around 6:30 pm for the people gathered around my table wasn’t ready until almost 8p. (I was using a new recipe, in a hurry, and over-crowded the pan – breaking several cardinal rules of cooking.) But what could have been overwhelming and frustrating, actually became sweet and comforting as people that I cook for regularly had an opportunity to offer needed grace and encouragement to me.
The best discovery from my cooking journey is the beauty and fellowship that multiplies from home-cooked meals (regardless of skill or the end result). And the sweet satisfaction found in a well-made and well-shared meal. Cooking has become a transformational force in my life and the people around my table.
In addition to cooking for my family of 5, regularly inviting friends and family to share a meal around our table, hosting celebrations and holiday meals, taking food to friends who are sick or hurting, and making dishes for potlucks and church meetings – I also serve a community dinner to our twenty-something friends twice a week. My family eats with our girls every Monday, and our guys every Thursday. It is one of the defining and most beloved characteristics of our home.
I am asked often about cooking regularly for a crowd. How do I make it work twice a week? What recipes do I use? Do I ask others to help? (The answer to the last question is an enthusiastic “Yes!”. Because I think that asking the people who eat with us regularly to cook, set the table, and clean up with me is one of the best explanations of how these dinners have evolved from hostessing to sharing a family meal.)
I’ve been thinking lately that in addition to writing posts about what I’m learning and experiencing and spiritual growth, I’d also like to write about food and cooking. What recipes work well for my family, for sharing, and for our community dinners. The success and the failure and the love of it all. After all my blog is called “Pull Up a Chair”, and in my home the most meaningful conversations often happen while cooking and eating together. It is one of the best ways to share life with another person. To know and be known, over a satisfying meal or a tasty treat.
Always remembering that “A good cook knows that it’s not what is on the table that matters, it’s what is in the chairs.”