All the Meals that Have Loved Me
One of my cookbooks said that part of classical Indian cuisine is to enter the kitchen with a loving heart – that part of creating a nourishing meal is the mood with which the chef cooks.
The best meals are created with the eater in mind – part of the pleasure of the cook is the cook imagining the pleasure of the eater. Each ingredient is chosen and prepared as a gift.
The worst meals can feel like an assault. When the food is before you, you think “No one cares about me,” or worse, “The person who made this hates me.”
I remember a salad with green apples I ordered at a Marie Callender’s that was prepared so carelessly that it made my heart hurt for the world. I know that sounds melodramatic, but the sight of that limp, browning lettuce and hacked-up apples made me feel like a trust had been broken. The message from the person on the other end of that salad was “This will probably make you unhappy. I do not care.”
Then there are the other meals, meals that feel like a blessing. I remember a meal from more than 10 years ago that a friend made and served on his Santa Monica patio – a pasta alla checca that was simple and fresh and so perfect for the evening. It was, in a word, beautiful. He took a great deal of pride in his cooking, and the friends that gathered that night were fed by his love of food and his care for us.
I made a berry cobbler for a church potluck last year that prompted a man to grab my hands and declare “Marry me!” We both laughed – he’s already married – but I’m happy he could feel my care in that food.
I was meditating this morning on things I love to do (I’m going through Mark Nepo’s ‘The Book of Awakening’) and cooking came up. This year, I want to cook for more people. I want to let them know they’re important and cared for. It’s a small thing, a passing thing, but in the end, even the Parthenon falls. Most of us will build no great buildings, but we can build small moments of great care. That’s what I want to do.