Food is life

I’ve written before about a friend whose entertaining could make you move into the in-law suite. And if that was occupied, you’d set up a pup tent in the backyard in the middle of winter. Truly. Her cooking is enough to make you cry tears of joy that you have a seat at her table.

Her daughter told me once that her mother had taught her that “food is love.” This is not just a pretty saying in her house. Her mother’s Serbian family truly believes that food is a way to express love. Hence, your pup tent. Stake your claim now, friends. There will be a line down the driveway—I’m sure of it.

I grew up in a Midwestern town with salt-of-the-earth parents. Culinary adventures just weren’t in their blood. At my parents’ table, salt and pepper were considered seasoning. My mother’s chop suey was an “exotic” dish, replete with an underwhelming combo of soy sauce and canned Asian vegetables. Don’t get me wrong—I loved it as a child and even asked her to make it for me when she came to visit after I had a baby. It was comfort food. But as I look back on my epicurean journey, I smile at what a babe in the woods I was.

I grew up eschewing the kitchen. My father could cobble together a meal with unique flavors from whatever we had in the kitchen, sans recipe. He wanted me to share in his love of all things culinary. “Here, here’s how you chop celery,” he’d say. And I’d deliberately turn the other way and tell him I had homework to do, not the slightest bit interested. My mother would leave a recipe and instructions on defrosting the meat that went into it. But she quickly learned that my cooking lacked a key ingredient: edibility. And she soon learned to lean more on my older sister who had a natural talent for being Betty Homemaker, a name I used for her often and with scathing sarcasm.

I was going to be an executive, you see. I was going to follow in my mother’s footsteps. Someone else was going to feed me and my family, iron our clothes, clean our bathrooms. I said this without snobbishness and with an honesty that assumed the world would be fine with my choice. I simply lacked interest and ability in creating a cozy home and hearth.

Years passed and I moved to the Big City. Dinner consisted of a salad picked up after working late and hitting aerobics at my downtown club. Breakfast was cereal or something homemade from the Greek family restaurant in the basement of my employer’s Michigan Avenue building. Lunch was eaten at the hottest new eateries, sampling cuisine in which nothing came from a bottle or a can. And the weekends were pretty much cocktails and cheese fries. Literally. Oh, to be a 102-pound 20-something with a rock-star metabolism again.

My palate changed over time. So did my circumstances. When I met a nice man just as I began graduate school, he cooked for me on the days I had class. And soon, I began to want to repay the favor.

My early efforts were sad but comical. The Valentine’s Day cake that wouldn’t come out of the heart-shaped pan except in tiny pieces that looked more like crumble than cake. The pancakes that never quite took shape, running all over the griddle and burning until unrecognizable.

I had mastered Chicken Acapulco, a dish my friends had probably come to loathe because it’s the only thing I ever cooked for them when I invited them over. And yes, it involved many canned and packaged ingredients.

When my attention shifted from my career to my life and love, something changed. My shrimp plumped up and pinked up in a way I hadn’t thought possible. The light cream sauce I made to accompany them was seasoned with fresh herbs in a nuanced fashion that made it more than edible—it was actually good. And the pasta I served both on top of was al dente to perfection, after months of trying to perfect that art.

There was much comedic fodder amongst the victories. The spaghetti sauce to which I added raw ground beef instead of cooking it first. The beef stroganoff that included one cup of bouillon cubes instead of 1 cup of bouillon. I didn’t realize there was a difference.

I’ll spare you the rest. It’s a litany of errors that you’ll either relate to or at which you’ll gape in astonishment. I still laughingly recall a college roommate’s mother who asked me how I expected to find a husband if I couldn’t cook or sew. I gently reminded her that finding a husband wasn’t why my parents sent me to college. She frowned and looked away. I wondered how it felt to live permanently as a woman in the 1950s. It didn’t look like fun.

Back to the nice man who cooked for me during grad school. He became my husband and his Cuban/Colombian family opened my eyes to many culinary sideroads. From a brined Thanksgiving turkey so moist your mouth watered when you bit into it, to a salad dressing so good you couldn’t believe it was just two fresh ingredients, I was treated to a new world of food. In his family’s home, the appetizer and wine course could go on for hours. It was a sensuous, elegant ballroom dance of a dinner. I felt like my previous culinary experience was of the frat-house party variety. You went with high expectations and always left underwhelmed.

When I had children, they ate like kings when I cooked. Sure, we had occasional taco nights or hot dog picnics, but for the most part they ate food with fresh herbs, exotic spices, organic ingredients. It took longer to create this sustenance and sometimes tried my patience, as I tried to watch young boys in the backyard while cooking a gourmet meal in the kitchen. But I think I was channeling my friend’s family mantra without even realizing it: Food is love.

I have since altered that mantra. “Food is love” is a dangerous mentality sometimes. I hold it responsible for a loved one’s foray into unhealthy weight. It’s also the excuse my father gave himself for eating entire half gallons of chocolate almond ice cream—which didn’t help his genetic heart disease.

I’ve replaced “food is love” with “food is life.” And it is—literally. We can’t live without food. But what we choose and how we prepare it makes a world of difference. Fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, gourmet coffee, amazing seafood and more feed our bodies in a way far different than packaged snacks, gluten-filled processed carbs and industrially farmed meats.

Food is life. But the quality of that life depends on the choices we make. As someone who has gone from Chicken Acapulco to a fresh, organic, garlic-lemon chicken that makes my friends swoon and ask for the recipe, I know that of which I speak.

Wishing you a bountiful, beautiful table this holiday season. We may not be surrounded by family and friends this year, but we’ll gather again soon. Very soon. In the meantime, enjoy your own culinary adventures. You’re worth it.


46 Comments Add yours

  1. This post was perfect to end my checking in with bloggers today! This past year, I’ve finally started to cook. Otherwise, we would starve. This year I’m trying out new things I’ve never tried before. For instance, tonight, I’m making cabbage with sausage. Never made it before. However, I’ve been watching a lot of videos and reading recipes. So I feel ready. (Famous last words.) Whether or not it turns out edible, it will be made with love! Thanks for reminding me to add in a hearty sprinkle! Mona

    1. candidkay says:

      “This past year, I finally started to cook. Otherwise, we would starve.“ 😂 Love it. Good luck to you, you intrepid chef you. 👩‍🍳

  2. Jane Lurie says:

    Hi Kristine, I thoroughly enjoyed this post…brought back many childhood memories of very basic dinners around our table. Like you, I grew a bit in my cooking skills- essential in isolation- but still vote for a good restaurant meal (in normal times) You’re writing is entertaining and fun to read. Let’s hope for a much better year ahead! 🌟

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks, Jane! When you have the time, cooking can be relaxing. When you don’t, oy. I love a good restaurant meal too😃. Here’s hoping we can have one later this year!

  3. What a beautiful post, K. Plus you made me hungry. And now I, a terrible cook, must consider what to make for lunch and dinner.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you, Cynthia:). Kind words! And the hunger bit–I get it. Make it something really worth your while. Savor it. Middle of winter, middle of pandemic–food matters!

  4. First, I love that line that we are worth it. So true. Sometimes, in isolation, we just feed ourselves cereal. Second, I want to learn to cook like that!

    1. candidkay says:

      I have no doubt you will someday cook like that! Right now, life, schedules, etc. might get in the way but you’re the type who will feel moved when the time is right. I’m sure of it!

      1. Thank you, Kay *sending virtual hug*. I will keep trying to gain skills.

  5. Masha says:

    I love this, reading your piece brought back memories, my mother always wanted to show me how to clean, and cook, but I never wanted to learn, and I didn’t, it wasn’t until I was married and had to that I started to learn the art of cooking and cleaning LOL and it didn’t come over night. It took me dare I say years to become Susie homemaker. This is such a beautiful piece that you wrote, thanks for sharing

    1. Masha says:

      Sorry I also wanted to say Happy New Year Kay, may all your wishes come true, blessings

    2. candidkay says:

      Happy New Year to you also. Masha! Wishing you many blessings in 2021. It warms my heart to know that this brought back some happy memories for you. Isn’t it funny how we all do things when we’re ready in life and no sooner? I’m glad you followed your own inner voice. It sounds like it worked out. 😀

  6. You’ve experienced food in all its wrappings Kristine❤️ I have always enjoyed the kitchen and freshly made food as the heart of family life… even when on my own I’ve known to treat myself well and continue to love to cook, organic, local and fresh with the added ingredient of love as you stir it into fullness. Beautiful post Thankyou, wishing you a wonderful magical day❤️ love Barbara x

    1. candidkay says:

      And you’re in foodie heaven, geographically! I’m sure you’re enjoying every last bit of that, as you should! 🥙🥗🍜🍤

  7. Roy McCarthy says:

    Full marks for achieving a ‘satisfactory’ grade Kristine. I admire those who aspire to such heights and beyond. One of my running buddies is both a lawyer and a master baker, frequently presenting us with samples of her ware after runs, nonchalantly winning prizes at local shows, giving cooking lessons to groups in her spacious kitchen, most recently a Christmas pudding masterclass.

    Me, while I appreciate the occasional treat at a proper restaurant, I’m happy with ‘plain and nutritious’ and don’t see any love or magic in what I eat.

    1. candidkay says:

      Wow. I guess if we had a hedonist battle, I would win, Roy:). You see food as fuel–nothing wrong with that! And I’m sure it helps keep you trim. I think it’s my creative side that loves a beautiful meal as much as a sonata or a gorgeously designed shoe or dress. Your running buddy sounds amazing! I love people who find what they love and get to it without angsting over any of it. No fitting her in a box!

  8. nimslake says:

    I so identify with the all the trials of cooking! But the almost decade long perseverance of a good lasagna- worth it!
    The. Comfort of home cooked meal, sometimes is just what’s needed to show the love.
    Love in another form, we all need love in it’s many guises. ❤️

    1. candidkay says:

      Wow. A decade is a lot of perseverance for one dish but it sounds like you’ve mastered it! And a good lasagna is amazing. I agree with you on the many forms of love. They all matter❤️.

      1. nimslake says:

        Ahh, yes well… May be a long time…but the rewards were ever so tasty! 😋

  9. Food is indeed life. My relationship with it has been one of my biggest life challenges, but it’s saved me in so many ways. This past Thanksgiving I taught my son how to make stuffing, stuff a turkey, and cook it. And it came out delicious! He didn’t exactly grow up with gourmet food, mostly because there are so many foods/ tastes; textures he just doesn’t like. He’ll try things as long as I don’t force him to swallow them – with sensory processing disorder his sense of taste and smell are heightened and are particular. Truth be told, I can be particular with my tastes as well, and fortunately, life has expanded my food and recipe repertoire quite a bit from my Mom’s exotic chop suey with the canned veggies and soy sauce. Mom wasn’t what I’d call an adventurous cook, but from time to time Dad would get in the kitchen and his food was always scrumptious.

    1. candidkay says:

      It sounds like our formative kitchens were similar! Our moms’ chop suey and dads who could whip up something gourmet:). I’m so glad you’re teaching your son his way around a kitchen. So many good things come from being able to create something real, something fantastic–versus the digital daily life so many of us lead.

  10. mydangblog says:

    My parents were English and Scottish respectively so I get the salt and pepper thing. Mom was a stay at home so she did all the cooking–never asked for any help and never did anything fancier than boiled potatoes with ground beef smothered in Alphabet soup. As an adult, I realized that cooking was a fantastic way (for me at least) to relieve stress (at least for me) and I LOVE to cook, the fancier the better!

    1. candidkay says:

      I love that you found your own way! It seems such a shame to slave in the kitchen unless it’s going to be some thing of note. Our time is so precious.

  11. Dale says:

    Food definitely is love and food is life. I love to show my love for my people by cooking for them. And now, my son has inherited the same thing. Nothing brings me more joy than when he prepares something and wants me to taste, asking for my opinion and actually listening to it. He’s a wonderful cook and I’ve been rather spoiled lately. He is adventurous and willing to try anything.
    Sorry! I made this about me when I wanted to say, I love this post (and the links to others…)
    Happy Healthy and Delicious Holidays, Kristine!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks for sharing, Dale:). I picture the two of you in the kitchen, heads together over a simmering pot. I just finished reading “Save Me the Plums” by former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl. I think you’d like it! Plenty of epicurean adventures. Happy Holidays to you and yours–I hope they are as delicious as they are happy!

      1. Dale says:

        Ooooh… I would love to read that.
        We will do our best!

  12. Oh my, you have me drooling, and it’s not even lunchtime yet! Wishing you a happy holiday, Kristine. xx

    1. candidkay says:

      Happy Holidays to you and yours, Jennifer! Maybe I inspired a buche Noel at your house? 😉

      1. Wouldn’t that be lovely! 😋

  13. Jaya says:

    Beautiful post.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. 🙏🏻

  14. I don’t love cooking…at all. But there is something so magical about cooking for and feeding the ones you love. I am known for my pasta sauce in these parts, so I whip it up often. I love that you have discovered the joy of cooking and have also sharpened your culinary skills. It’s super fun discovering new flavours and even more so when you are the one who put them together! 🥘🍽❤️

    1. candidkay says:

      You’re living the “food is love” bit! Even though you don’t enjoy cooking, you make your pasta sauce for those you love. Beautiful😀.

  15. Jane Fritz says:

    Great post, Kristine. Filled with love as well as good. But … despite all the mouthwatering descriptions of food, I do think your father’s on to something with his half gallon of chocolate almond ice cream! 😏 Happy holidays!! 🎄🎄

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh, it was the best! That ice cream came in a cardboard brick and I still remember the way it looked. It was from United dairy farmers and we got it at the local ice cream store :-). He definitely had the right idea. Just not the right one for his health, given his genetics.

  16. Kathy says:

    So your name is Kristine and not Kay–must try to remember this. What a lovely post–my mouth is watering. You had me remembering childhood chop suey suppers. It sounds like you’ve learned so much about cooking and food as love/life. Would like to stake that pup tent for your friend’s food, too!

    1. candidkay says:

      Chop suey at your house too? I still love it! It’s just usually from a Chinese restaurant :-). And the nickname. Yes. I only let one person in the world call me that name before I began my blog. Here’s the background on that. I hope the link comes through properly.

  17. It sounds like you’ve become quite the chef and foodie Kristine. I cook ok, mostly basics; rice, beans, soups, salads, etc. Food is a wonderful way to nurture body and soul.

    1. candidkay says:

      I wish I could say that I was still cooking the way I did when my kids were younger. I work long hours now and many times, I am making a meal from a meal kit that we’ve ordered. Everything still fresh. But it’s not quite the same as going on a treasure hunt for the right recipes and trying new dishes all the time. In our busy world, cooking seems to have become a luxury. I’m glad that you do it for yourself! Even if just the basics.

      1. All work and no play makes K a …. 🙂

      2. candidkay says:

        . . . 😡 instead of 😁, right? Touché.

      3. LOL. Thanks for playing along. 🙂

  18. Happy Holidays too. (I forgot that part.)

  19. I enjoyed this post, Kristine. Many moons ago, I gave up on the quick fix dinner. Substance requires some care. So we eat food that has been honored and love it as well.

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m so glad you gave up the quick fix! It’s never really satisfying, is it? And I do feel we can feel the love/energy put into a meal when we eat it (in the same way we feel the lack of it). Happy Holidays to you and yours, John! I hope your furry friends get an extra bone in their stockings:).

      1. I’m sure they will. Can you say spoiled?

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