The Real Joy of Cooking

To see my family with their mouths full, laughing and chewing and telling each other about their day—it's all a mother could ever want

When I feel the shadows of autumn descend, the ones with the gray clouds that sometimes bring a low mood, I know that's my cue to open the cabinets under the kitchen island and pull out my mixing bowls and measuring cups. I tackle this gloominess hands on.

As soon as I set my sights on tonight's meal, my mood begins to lift. I marinade a pork roast and dice cabbage. I begin to hum and fall in love with my life again. My spirits soar with what I can offer to the ones who will soon gather around the table. The kitchen in the warm evening light becomes my comfort and my thoughts are consumed with only what is in front of me, my cutting board and knives passed down from my grandmother.

My cooking isn't complicated. As pans sizzle and pots boil, steam fogs the kitchen windows and I feel how essential this preparation is to my family's existence. My dinner tonight will nourish and, if all goes well, awaken us. Our intimate meals together are like those in my childhood memories—not of someone just going through the motions in the kitchen, but of being fed with loving hands. This feeling lives deep in my heart and belly.

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Peeling carrots, roasting tomatoes, quartering a yam—all this becomes my meditation. Each of these small preparatory steps leads directly to the lives of the ones I love most. I take serious note of what goes into their bodies and soon I hear myself humming, sounding just like my grandmother, who taught me how to cook so many decades ago.

Standing over the stove, stirring a bubbling autumn soup or checking the oven that holds a thick, oozing pot pie, I have one of those divine moments that comes out of nowhere with complete clarity. I feel the luxury of this life I'm so fortunate to be living—a comfortable home, fresh food and wonderful people to share it with. And here they are now.

They're dizzy from hunger when they get home, but it's for more than just my food. In years to come, I know these meals will taste like a shared memory—the time we talked, joked and were happy just to be with each other.

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When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to make me my favorite, spaghetti pie. We'd work together in the kitchen, her standing behind me, her hand over mine as she taught me how to slice an onion.

"Down, and across, down, and across," she'd say and we'd sliver one half together, and then she'd let me do the other half on my own. Next, we'd work our way through the tomatoes and oregano, and then move on to smashing cloves of garlic.

With our ingredients prepared, we'd fill a pie tin with pasta and mix the ingredients together. I was allowed the final step, to sprinkle as much cheese on top of the pie as I felt we needed. When all was ready, she'd carry the pie to the table and I'd spin my head around, as I wondrously watched her place it in the center of the table. She'd laugh and tell me that I ate with my eyes.

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Tonight, I'll be the one to carry food to the table. My family will turn and watch as I bring my offering to them. I'll see the weariness of their day fall away as I set my platters of beef in thick gravy, creamy potatoes and roasted cauliflower in front of them. I'll hear the clang of serving spoons and the push of bowls.

"This is so good, Mom."

"It tastes like you put bacon in here, did you?"

"Can you make this again next week?"

To me, this is the real joy of cooking. To see my family with their mouths full, laughing and chewing and telling each other about their day—it's all a mother could ever want.

And it occurs to me that this is what my grandmother wanted for me so long ago, when she taught me how to slice an onion, how to test a pan for sizzle. She wanted me to experience the joy of feeding the ones I love.

Tags: family