There is no better classroom than the family table – Kaye Earle
My grandmother used to tell me a story of a shy young girl who was asked what she would do if she got pregnant. “I will run away to the forest” was her reply. I didn’t understand the life lesson embedded in this tiny tale then. The fact that you cannot run away from yourself or the situation you are in. Your life follows you. Your life defines you. Your life is YOU.
My life recently has been one of upheaval – in a good way.
I have remarried, moved to a new country, taken on responsibility for another child and promised to love my husband, for all the years we have in this life. I have a lot on my plate and as I contemplate what it holds, it feels overwhelming, sometimes. A marriage, however well-thought out and a marinade, even with a recipe, are activities (and words) that require more than a pinch of commitment and a dash of time. To flower, a marriage needs trust, an ingredient not readily available on a shelf in the department store. To reach its final perfect flavor, a marinade requires constant attention, not accessible on any online shopping portal. Trust takes time and attention requires commitment.
Did I just use a food analogy to describe my life? My attitude towards food has always been simple. Food is essential, sustains life, gives pleasure. I treat food preparation and consumption with the same respect with which I treat anything that adds meaning to my life, like books, music and yoga. I make time for it, I give it my full attention and I stay open to feedback. But now food has taken center stage. Trying to meld the palates, eating habits and preferences of four highly opinionated and diverse individuals has not been easy. A fitness-focused husband, an appearance conscious teenager and a health-unconscious preteen make for a challenging audience. Instead of being at their mercy, I prefer to think of myself as the matriarch (fancy word for mother hen), who controls the family’s food choices. That explains the preoccupation (if not obsession) with food. If I am not checking out recipes, I am discussing them with other like-minded women and in the remaining time, I cook. How the mighty girl who argued for abolishment of gender stereotypes in her teens and showed no interest in cooking has fallen? I am sure my mom is having a good laugh from heaven.
I love my new life – a family of four, a supportive spouse and an enabling space. I really do. If things were any different (i.e. I had a full time job), I wouldn’t give much thought or time to cooking. But life has a way of throwing you challenges in the very areas you choose to sideline but are essential for your growth. For me, right now it is food. Oh, I can cook. I have watched Masterchef shows on TV. I own cookbooks. I have held on to hand-written recipes passed down by my mother. With all the experience behind me, I am still a novice chef, trying novel ingredients, exploring new techniques, catching some disasters before they happen while nursing wounds that arise from preventable errors. As I figure out lunch for four or a dinner party for fifteen, I find myself using a fusion of tried-n-tested approaches and innovative methods.
Food doesn’t define my life. My choices do. In life, as in a kitchen equipped with a refrigerator and pantry full of ingredients, I am handed a hand of cards and a set of tools. What I bring with me is my imagination and commitment. How I use what I have depends on what I know, what I have learned and a little bit of faith. What I create depends a little on my craft (life experience) but mostly on my attitude. When I use my optimism to push forward in a direction that seems right but has no precedent, I do much better than when I follow a rigid recipe that has been successful for others.
As Annie Dillard puts it – How we spend our days is of course, how we spend our lives.
The days blur together, indistinguishable, brushed with the dullness of monotony. But life is still interesting, particularly when viewed in hindsight. As I try a new cuisine, tweak an existing recipe or pull together a contemporary take on a traditional offering, I am creating a meal, crafting a life. My days are the building blocks that constitute my life. And my attitude to each day is the theme that will define it. As I make little choices each day about feeding my family, I weave a ribbon that holds the days together, defining our life as a family.
Recipes are not just written instructions for preparing a delicious feast; recipes define an approach to living. As I try to recreate a traditional recipe that my mother used to make specially for me, I am transported to a time when I stood beside her, seeking her advice on an important matter. I forget what the matter was but I can feel her love in the gentle but firm response that she gave me. I wrote down the recipe but imbibed her spirit. A loving, supporting way of parenting. I didn’t take notes, but I hope I memorized it well. A family recipe is not intended to be a flash in the pan, only time will tell if I got it right.