Like dance, to really enjoy writing, I need time and space. I’ve learned to fit it in around my work, my life, and not to think I need a different one in order to make it happen. In fact, the sense of urgency to get through something is probably exactly what I need in order to do it. If I had time to sit home all day, I might become listless. Wordless. I like to be alone and I like quiet but I’ve learned to shut out distractions when needed. I realized this past Sunday, cooking is a lot the same–I need time and space to think to do it well and to really enjoy it. Unlike my writing, I like to listen to Beethoven when I cook–he must have understood a good meal because I can hear in his music the same passion involved in good cooking.
Most often, my meals are prepared in haste. I’m usually tired from the day, the week or the night before. I push through the preparations with a clear goal in sight and the seemingly great reward of feeding those I love and care about. Often when words can’t be spoken, a rich stew with complex flavors can say it all. I’m not big on fancy sauces but I haven’t spent much time on them. I like home cooking prepared with love. My mom taught me that. I included a favorite stew recipe–because it’s easy and good–in the About section of Sundays With Dad. I deleted it several times thinking it was stupid but always put it back in. The truth is, for me, the best times are meal times with my family and friends–and my stories with Dad, my cooking with Mom go together.
It’s the end of summer and I’ve taken some time to refuel, take care of myself, and reflect. What a gift. This past Sunday I had the day to prepare dinner and I decided to make Dad’s favorite meal–meatloaf, potatoes, creamed corn and Aunt Norma’s jello (which I have never made and had to call my sister). “Cool Whip. Stir it in before it sets.” She texted. Todd brought home a can of Redi Whip. Mom used to tell Dad he didn’t listen or read labels when she sent him to the store for ingredients. I married my father.
I dug out my 50 year old Learn How to Cook with Betty Crocker cookbook, a gift from Mom when we started cooking together. I wanted to check on my old meatloaf recipe. I hardly ever follow a recipe. Call it attention deficit or artistry, I make original creations. Something was wrong with my last meatloaf–forgot the salt, added an extra egg, onions and green peppers were too big, I over baked it. How can you wreck a meatloaf?!
But last Sunday, unlike most days, I could take my time. The music played, the warm summer air blew in through the windows, the wind chime echoed through the trees outside the back door and I read through the recipe from that little book, bringing back so many memories. The first time I made brownies I hadn’t realized Mom would double the recipe. I spread the gooey chocolateness in a very thin layer over the stretch of the pan figuring it would rise to heaven as it baked. I still remember slicing our dessert and passing it out at the dinner table. Dad smiled encouragingly as he crunched, Joanie dunked hers in milk, John called it brownie brittle, Ed laughed and pounded out a rhythm on his plate, Mom gently whispered in my ear, my error, while dunking hers in coffee.
This Sunday dinner though was perfection. Instead of the usual mashed potatoes and gravy, along with the Betty Crocker meatloaf, I sautéed onions and sliced red potatoes, mixing in some slightly charred red peppers at the end. Then simmered summer squash in olive oil with thyme, and sliced up a menagerie of those beautiful colored little tomatoes–orange, yellow, red, purple–adding red wine vinegar, oil and a little fresh basil. Not too much though or Dad will say, “What’s that funny taste.” As for the jello, I sprayed that entire can in, stirred the curdles and stuck it in the freezer. It was a weird looking wiggly thing. The guys ate it but it had to be balanced carefully on their spoons in order to make it to their mouths. Sam (our dog) liked it too. I passed.
When Mom lay on her bed taking her last breaths on this earth, I noticed she started to move her mouth like she was eating something delicious. She even made the “Mmmmm,” sound, like she would when she enjoyed my cooking. As I watched those last hours of her– halfway on earth, halfway in heaven–I wondered what the food will be like there.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Psalm 34:8