This morning I awoke to my daughter and husband chatting in the kitchen downstairs. This is not an unusual sound for 6 am in our house. There are some mornings in which she sets her alarm clock to ensure she gets those few precious moments with dad at the start of the day. We are at a place now where helping her to understand what “first thing in the morning” means sending her back to her bed 5 times, some mornings starting at 4 am! So far we have gotten it to the point that she can get up, go to the bathroom and then go back to bed. Leaving her door open is code for “Daddy, I am awake and would like to be with you before you leave”.
It got me thinking of all the adults in my life, of how they shaped me. Of how, WHO I am now, as an adult is all because of the little things, the precious moments, the words that “stuck”.
I headed down the stairs to the kitchen in a zombie like state, intent upon finding the bottom of a cup of hot coffee. I said good morning to my daughter, a simple thing to do, but only newly a routine. It is actually quite startling what kind of difference the words “good morning, how are you? did you sleep well” make. Especially in combination with a quick hug. But that is another story.
I have said it many times before that the value of “a village” when raising kids should never be underestimated. As I pulled up a chair for my daughter to assist me in getting the crock pot set up I remembered many of those moments. Like a scrapbook, flipping pages in my mind of all the important people and some of those formative moments. I thought of my parents, my grandparents, the parents of my friends.
The first person to flicker through my “memory book” was my mother. Images of sitting on the counter while my mother cooked. I think I started “assisting” in the kitchen by about age 5. I don’t remember my mother ever telling me to get out of the kitchen, she would definitely tell me warnings of “hot” or “danger” or “pay attention”. Even so, I always felt welcomed there. I still feel very comfortable in the kitchen. She taught me the importance of tradition, of passing traditions and recipes down from generation to generation. Associating my mother with the kitchen brings to mind the licking beaters while baking, the stirring of pots, the pressing of ground beef into perfectly shaped burgers. Thoughts of my mother have me remembering perfect platters with little red tomatoes and sprigs of parsley. Those were days in which I viewed my mother with adoring eyes. She was beautiful, she was amazing, she was everything important. The singer of songs, the player of loud folk music, the dancer with the broom who would take my hand and teach me love.
Thinking of my mother lead directly to thinking of her mother. I remember living in her house for a while as a child and while I don’t have a lot of memories of her cooking. I have this vision of her sitting on her stool in the kitchen nook. She is gazing out the kitchen window, not really seeing what is on the other side. She is eating her breakfast, a kaiser bun with real butter and preserves. She performed this ritual every day of her life for all I know, but what does this silhouette represent in terms of the moments that formed my life? I imagine that what I saw was a woman taking a moment for herself. A moment to align her thoughts. A moment to eat what she liked for the pure pleasure of it. A moment to enjoy the soft light of morning upon her face. A moment that was tranquil and nourishing in body, mind and spirit. A moment that was hers alone. I know now that there were probably a lot of opportunities for me to be in the kitchen with her but I don’t remember ever taking advantage of those opportunities. As a child I was a very nervous energy, I didn’t follow directions well and I almost fluttered constantly. My Oma had this zen energy about her with a layer of strict backbone hidden just below the surface. I think that I was a little afraid of that hidden back bone. Worried that I would do things wrong, that she wouldn’t be happy with me if I did things wrong. I know now that my perception was a little askew, that she would have taught me and helped me to practice if I didn’t do things well. These memories are very important to me for many reasons, one of those reasons is that remembering the child I was opens my eyes to the child my daughter is.
Let me get back to the kitchen though. My mother and my Oma taught me all about traditional cooking. Passed down recipes from generations before. They taught me the importance of caring for your family. How to start, grow, maintain and preserve the rewards of a garden. The importance of whole foods, the soul benefits of cooking for yourself, the health benefits of starting from scratch.
There is another side of this coin though. Another hand to this animal. My mother and her mother built the foundation of skills that would just grow from there. The next person in my memory book is my father.
One of the most important things he ever taught me was to work with what I have. How to toss a meal together when you didn’t start with a plan. How recipes are not set in stone and are more of a suggestion than anything else. When we moved to Alberta it became a necessity that all family members participate and contribute. I am sure this was a huge fight between my parents and us kids but it was very important to our growth. I remember things my father would say over and over again. Getting hung up on not having the right ingredients would result in his response of “so what! Get it in a pot!” and when I didn’t know how to do something he’d say “well, you wont learn any younger” and if I was worried that what I had wouldn’t taste good together he’d come back at me with “if it doesn’t taste good, we’ll let you know!”. There were some days when we had to eat something that tasted really horrible, but we learned from it.
The next person in my kitchen memory book would have to be my Grandma. Now there was a cook! She not only cooked as a career, but also for the pleasure of it. She would buy cook books to read! As in, sit down and read the book from cover to cover. She could whip up supper, a pie for dessert, muffins for breakfast and cookies to fill the jar all at once, with one oven. You would sit down to breakfast and smell something delectable baking. Sit down to lunch and smell the beginnings of supper. She would read a recipe and write notes along the edge of the page about which spices were wrong and which ones should be used instead. The woman knew the ins and outs of the kitchen. To be fair I have to say that the amount of time I spent with her in all of my life would fit within a month. But it is all about the little moments. From her teaching me how to fry an egg, and dubbing my preference “flipped over and stomped on”, to her standing beside the mixing machine with my 2.5 year old making cookies. I suspect she was the person my father learned to cook from, as I would also hear her say “oh well, we started here but we ended there” or “we don’t have that spice so lets use this one” or “I don’t like that so lets use this instead”. The idea of a recipe being a mere suggestion, that food combinations were a fluid concept and that it doesn’t hurt to try were all reinforced in her kitchen. She taught me that I could make 8 batches of cookie dough, bake a tray of each and freeze the rest for a rainy day. She brought me back to the warmth of the kitchen, to the love inspired, created and shared in the kitchen.
When it was just my husband and I I used to cook all the time. I loved cooking, seeing what kinds of tastes my newly formed family would enjoy. I dreamed of all the cooking I would do as time went by. Dreamed of the recipes I would create and the changes I would make to to the time tested ones. Once our kids came along that all flew out the window. It turned into “what will the children eat?” rather than “put it in a pot and see where it goes”. It became cooking for myself and suffering through the “eews”, “yuckies” and “disgustings” since my hubby worked away during the week.
Several things have happened in our lives recently that have allowed me to reconnect with the kitchen. The first was the loss of my Grandmother. With that came the rushing forth of all the moments I ever had with her. It also provided me with her cook books, some of them hand written note books detailing her favorite recipes and possible alterations. The next change was the coming home of my husband and the growing up (a little bit) of my children. Now that the kids are a little older they understand that they can think something is disgusting, but that if they don’t force their way through it then they will wake up hungry in the middle of the night. I can teach them that food is nourishment, that meal time is time together, that cooking can act like a healing balm on the soul. I no longer have to cook for one, but for a whole family! Also, his coming home allows me to go back to basics due to the drop in the food budget. It allows me to make something one night, throw the left overs in a pot and add to them the next night. To buy and make from scratch instead of buying all the processed foods. It allows me to teach the kids the value of the garden and how to preserve what they grow.
I can now let my kitchen say “welcome home”. I can enjoy it once again, with my children. And maybe, just maybe, create some moments for my children to remember.