Those who know me know how much I love to feed people. For a girl whose parents feared, when I was a child, that my future family would starve because I couldn’t boil water, I’ve found the kitchen to be my haven since moving out on my own.
It’s been a long, hard road, and I’ve had a lot of help from my mom;my granny; and my aunts; Ina; Giada; Rachael; Paula; and the Taste of Home cookbooks. Ryan has eaten his fair share of kitchen experiments gone wrong. My kids are adventurous eaters because I like to try new recipes, and they’re good sports when my brilliant ideas don’t always pan out as planned. Over the past couple of months, we’ve designated my kitchen, “Mom’s Chopped Kitchen: COVID Edition.” Basically, when pandemic restrictions kept me from running to the store for what I needed, we got creative. We created meals from ingredients I had on hand, and we tried to make it work. It was like opening the mystery ingredients on the Food Network show Chopped, and trying to make a cohesive meal from it. Sometimes we claimed epic success, and sometimes…well, not so much. But when everything else in the world has been so uncertain over the last six months, the one constant is that I have three little boys who have been here for three meals a day and a million snacks in between. And while there were times when I’ve been at a loss for ideas, and at a loss for ingredients, at the end of the day, I love filling people’s bellies.
My Peanut is a senior this year. When she was in elementary school, she was assigned the “Flat Stanley Project” in school, where they read the book Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown and mailed their own Flat Stanley to an out of town friend or family member who then had to take Stanley on an adventure. I remember a Facebook post I made around that time, asking me if I’d weighed Stanley when he arrived and again when he left because she knew how much I like to “fatten people up.” She always makes me a list before she visits of what she’s hungry for while she’s here, and I am always more than happy to oblige.
Feeding people is kind of my MO. Come visit me; I look forward to preparing your favorite foods. Not feeling well? I’ll make you soup. Had a baby recently? I’ll bring you a meal. Death in the family? Lasagna, coming right up. If I cook something I know you love, I’ll drop some on your doorstep. If an experiment goes well, I’ll share a taste. If I have to borrow an ingredient from a neighbor, I’ll send a sample of the finished product. My oldest nephew loves zucchini bread; there’s almost always a loaf in the freezer for him. I love feeding people.
I especially love feeding my family. Of course it’s a bit of a chore sometimes, when I’m working around the kid who wants spaghetti and hot dogs for every meal (the same kid won’t eat anything on a bun or sandwich bread; nor will he eat mashed potatoes or any form or rice that isn’t drowned in hot sauce) and the kid who complains when I cook chicken too many nights in a row. There’s only one who rarely complains about what I cook; if he’s not feeling it, he’ll try a few bites then quietly excuse himself from the table without much of a fuss. Regardless of the complaints, I often look at dinner as a chance to fill my guys’ bellies and I challenge myself to find meals that have at least one component to satisfy each of their individual tastes. I’ll be honest, friends: sometimes it feels like a completely thankless job. There have been nights I’ve put the meal on the table and excused myself to escape complaints. But most often, dinner is when we all sit down and eat together.
The other night as I was tucking the twins into bed, my mama’s boy- who, since starting kindergarten last week is proving to be more insightful and observant than I’ve ever realized before- said to me, “Mommy, I really appreciate you cooking for us. You cook from your heart. And I can feel it in my heart and in my belly. Thank you.”
There is nothing I can add here, you guys. To hear such a keen observation from someone so young made me question what other tidbits of wisdom he’s holding onto in his ever-working brain. I felt almost stripped bare, and definitely choked up; it took me a moment to be able to respond to him, to confirm how correct he is in his assessment.
So, while my kitchen prowess is questionable sometimes, it’s a labor of love I’m happy to keep learning, to keep trying, and to always make sure those I’m feeding know that what I’m cooking comes from my heart.