Home Cooking: Food is love but not in the way you think
When I looked at the calendar and began to plan this column, I thought the most appropriate menu would be one for New Year’s Eve. I was going to share with you my traditional New Year’s Eve fare, which is Alaskan king crab legs, smoked salmon and obviously champagne.
Of course none of those things really require much in the way of cooking but that’s usually what I have for New Year’s Eve. The crab legs have become a tradition since I lived in Lake Tahoe 20-some years ago. It’s a deliciously extravagant, once-a-year tradition.
So as I gathered ideas for this week’s column I thought what I needed were recipes for things I have never made, and probably would never make because as I said New Year’s is crab legs, warmed in the oven, dipped in butter and lemon, and chased with chilled champagne. The reason that other menu never came together is because it wasn’t authentic. Instead I’m going to share a food column about food, but without recipes. I’m going to share why food is love, but not in the way you think.
I’m not talking about mistakingly using food to fill the empty spot in our hearts where we wish love to reside by eating a pint of Haagan Daz chocolate peanut butter ice cream, which I have done more than once.
I’m not talking about food as love when we spend more than we can afford on an expensive dinner at a restaurant or making an elaborate dinner at home hoping the one we serve will love us in return — which never actually happens because love can neither be bought nor fed when that love is meant for someone else.
I’ve been listening to podcasts by notable cooks and it got me thinking about why we cook and what message I’m trying to convey with my food. Since hosting my first Thanksgiving dinner as a 20-something my first year in New York City, cooking has always been about love. Being an introvert who found creating relationships difficult, I discovered cooking for others was a sure way to bring people into my home. So I cooked. I filled my home with friends and because of cooking learned how to connect with people in a personal way.
But I learned something new this Christmas Eve. I’m staying with my mother in Florida where she is surrounded by a small group of elderly friends who help a 92-year-old woman maintain her independence. When Mom told me that on Christmas Eve a group of friends were stopping by after church and on Christmas Day the same group would come again for dinner, I immediately began thinking of what I would need to cook. Instead I was told there was nothing for me to do, they would take care of everything.
Dan, Mom’s upstairs neighbor, brought a salad of iceberg lettuce, olives, peppers, beets and a homemade vinaigrette. Bob brought a platter of cheeses and salamis and a container of lobster dip. My sister Vicky brought two bottles of wine. There were a couple boxes of chocolates, crackers and more cheese. And then the people started to arrive. My nephews, my brother-in-law and my mother’s neighbors filled Mom’s living room with laughter. As I sat in the midst of it all I realized the most elaborate meal I might have prepared would not have made the evening any more special. It’s the best Christmas Eve I’ve ever enjoyed.
So when I say that food is love, it’s not how intricate the recipe or how expensive the ingredients — and to be honest I don’t even think it’s how well the dish turns out. Burnt turkeys, dried-out ham, well-done roast beef, it really doesn’t matter — they are no match for authentic love.
I have discovered my philosophy of food is this: Food is love when it brings together neighbors, family and friends around a communal table to share a meal and our love for one another. That is when food not only nourishes our bodies in a good way, but nourishes our hearts and our souls and makes us better people. As I cook and create recipes I’m going to carry that lesson with me and share with you. I wish you a happy new year filled with lots of love and delicious food and the company of family and friends.
Suzanne Anderson lives in Breckenridge.
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