January 9, 2013
I remember the exact moment when I realized that cooking was integral to my sense of well-being as a parent, as a wife, and as a person. We had just moved after Christmas that year from our comfortable home on a side street of Courtenay's historic downtown district to a draughty summer cabin with a tiny kitchen at an outdoor education center on northern Vancouver Island. We made the best of our situation, which was temporary while we made improvements to another more suitable cabin for our family, and with most of our belongings in storage, got through that first winter, sometimes surprisingly, with our sanity intact. I did not have to do much cooking for the first year. All of the center's staff were on a meal plan which meant we were welcome to any of the stores in the center's kitchen in the off season, and we ate with everyone else, including the other families who lived there, and all the students and staff, during the spring, summer and early fall.
We had three children, aged 13 months, three years, and four and a half years when we moved to the center where my husband was employed as the program director. As most parents will agree, mealtimes with little ones are not always easy. More often than not, one or more of the children must have their meal served a little bit differently than the others, certain foods have to be disguised, and the environment for eating must be relatively calm. Such was not the case in the eating hall of the center. The meals were served buffet style, and we would take our children up to the tables and try to help them select a well rounded plate of food, depending on what was served that particular day. At first, the meals were novel: grilled Ahi tuna, assemble-your-own stirfry, bean burritos, salads - all healthy offerings. Our children were not particularly picky eaters, but more often than not, they would fill their plates with baby corn and rice, then eat distractedly, waiting impatiently for an opportunity to run around with the other children. And, more often than not, we went home and made a peanut butter sandwich to round out their meal. While we were adjusting to our new and very different life I was grateful for the meal plan, but as time went on I became increasingly dissatisfied and could not put my finger on 'why' until we had moved into our renovated cabin in the spring and life was beginning to take on a more regular day to day pattern.
I think I felt rather more like a shepherd than a mother, herding my children into the eating hall at prescribed meal times, to eat prescribed food which someone else chose for them, and it was then that I realized how important the act of cooking for my family was to me. Before these meals in the hall I would feel listless and unproductive, waiting around for someone else to feed my children while we sat around a table which was not ours, noon after noon, night after night. It took some convincing, but we were eventually allowed to opt out of the meal plan entirely, and a few other families soon followed suit. I once again felt that sense of well-being in making a weekly meal plan - we had to, living a forty minute drive from the nearest grocery store - shopping at my usual stores, involving the kids in the process as well, scheduling my days around marinating, simmering, sauteeing, and baking. Our independence from the rest of the community at mealtimes was integral to our ability to stay at the center for five happy years. Our family grew around our table, talking to each other over fairly standard family fare like spaghetti and meatballs, homemade soups and breads, stir fries, and apple crisp with ice cream for dessert. Sure, I could no longer go into the center's kitchen and help myself to a substantial chunk of Asiago cheese in the off season, but my family appreciated my efforts and their results as they do to this day, and they all learned about cooking in the process. Our eldest son would often get up in the morning and announce that he was making pancakes for breakfast, and I always had helpers for every baking project.
Now, ten years on, my repertoire in the kitchen has expanded exponentially, as have my children's taste buds and skill in the kitchen. I own two solidly packed shelves of cook books, and while I would certainly not call myself a full-fledged foodie, I do turn to cooking for comfort and for joy, as does my eldest daughter. Some days when I am feeling disjointed, a bit down or in doubt, I cook a great meal. I honestly find cooking up a roasted chicken with sweet onion and lemon gravy, whipping up a pot of buttermilk mashed potatoes, and a citrus beet salad great therapy. I put on some music and an apron, and with my chef's knife and my wooden spoon I chop and stir my way into a sense of satisfaction so deep in my soul as to soothe whatever has disturbed it. When I put the meal on the table, and we all gather around to enjoy the food together, my day's therapy is complete...especially when someone else does the dishes and I get to put my feet up with another glass of wine.
I found the above illustration on Google Images. When I clicked on it, it was called 'Cooking Therapy' then dash 'Ishiki' dash 'children's illustrator'. That's the best I can do for crediting the image, which I really like!
And speaking of cooking, Stella's Virtual Cafe is embracing winter and serving up comfort food, with a new post coming later this week. Cheers!