So, you know it has been a hard day when I have a fridge full of healthy meal prepped food and I opt to make gluten free blueberry pancakes for dinner instead. I spent hours on Saturday and Sunday working in my kitchen so that I would not make quick unhealthy (read that: fun) choices during the week. Yet, here I am, on a Tuesday (that I have titled Second Monday) finding ways to justify my choice to make and eat blueberry pancakes for dinner instead: “Well, I mean all of that food will freeze so well and will make other weeks easier to prep for…Well, I mean, your jaw has been hurting and pancakes are so easy to eat (ignoring the fact that one of my healthy options was a pureed squash soup)…Well, I mean, you did have a terrible day…”
Evidently, based on my carry through with this pancake plan, I am a very convincing person. I also find myself wondering where the voice is inside of me that wants to be healthier, you know the one who is eternally frustrated over how hard it has been to reclaim fitness since the inner ear debacle devolved into 7 months of slow debilitation followed by surgery and several more months of recovery? I’m just thinking that voice comes from the same brain as the other one and should be pretty convincing too—right? So, where is it?
I feel it is probably important to note here that aside from poetry, one of my most consistent comforts in this life has been food. I’m sure there are healthier habits to have, but food has always been the warm fuzzy blanket to my cold winter’s day (if that even makes sense outside of my own head). This should come as no real surprise, though. I’m a New Orleans girl who was raised in a city and by a family where food is always a topic for discussion in the best possible way. At breakfast we are talking about what we will eat for lunch and at lunch we are mapping out dinner. Food has always been something to look forward to and to savor; a form of communion, as a meal shared with family or friends becomes an almost sacred encounter. Food has always been a bit of nostalgia for me (there is not a grilled cheese that I make today that doesn’t remind me of the grilled cheese sandwiches my mom made for me when I would come home from college). Food has always been a means of communication, of communicating love; standing next to my mom learning how to make her red beans because there was no way to write the recipe–it simply had to be witnessed and then enacted step by step.
When I got married, my husband’s grandmother, who has been my grandmother essentially for the last 22 years now, gave me a recipe book with all of her most prized recipes in it—handwritten. Now, she may have left out some of the secrets that make these recipes quintessentially hers, but that book is physical evidence to me of the importance of food in a family and its role in communicating love from one generation to the next. Every time I see those painstakingly handwritten recipes, I see her heart written across the pages. I see her desire to be remembered by the things she cooked and I think, you know, if people only remembered me for the things I cooked, I would really be pretty okay with that.
I mean, I’ve never been above using food to win someone’s heart or to brighten their day (I do, after all, keep a giant jar of seasonal Hershey’s Kisses in my office because I know if there is chocolate, students will stop by and say hello…and take some chocolate). I don’t think it is a coincidence that the man asked me out on our first date all those years ago on the same night I made him a batch of Rolo cookies (literally, dark chocolate cookie dough wrapped around a Rolo and baked so that the caramel melts in the middle–totally date worthy!). I don’t think it is a coincidence that my sister always felt like my sandwiches tasted better than hers because when someone else makes you food, it does taste better. You feel loved and cared for in the unselfish moment of the gift. And we gift each other food all of the time–when I had my surgery my sister and my mom nursed me back to health again with homemade deliciousness that took the sting out of bedrest away and only made me feel wrapped in warmth and affection.
So, yeah, I made blueberry pancakes for my dinner tonight. So what? They were delicious and my kids sat at the counter and cheered me on…I think in part because it meant they wouldn’t have to smell my lentil soup warming up, but also because they knew that small creature comfort, that small bit of self care, was a bit of grace I could extend to myself and I think there are worse examples to set.
And because a food poem seems appropriate, here you go!
Pot Roast by Mark Strand (See the excerpt below…but also, read the whole thing!)
“These days when there is little
to love or to praise
one could do worse
to the power of food.
So I bend
the steam that rises
from my plate, and I think
of the first time
I tasted a roast