13. Cooking: a Lost Practice

I am old enough to have had a middle school home economics course in which we (girls only that is) learned some cooking basics, long before the arrival of “baby” carrots.I remember learning how to make cooked carrots. Within two years, girls were taking shop class and boys were learning to cook, and I was being encouraged in the high school arena to set my sights high, because women were now truly free of the “bondage” of homemaking to be and do anything they wanted.  Today, life skills classes are rare.   Children are more apt to take technology classes than they are home economics.  Ironically, it’s  much easier today to find a recipe on the Internet than it is to follow its directions.

Despite my schooling, however, I was still in for some truly big surprises when I married because I had learned little at home about food preparation.  With almost no money my husband and I had much to learn about how to plan menus and meals on a budget, how to shop specials and maximize coupon values, how to read labels and stretch meals by making soups or casseroles that also served as work lunches later in the week.  Neither of us knew how to use a slow cooker, or make a healthy sack lunch, or can or freeze foods, or how to make traditional foods in healthier ways.  We didn’t even know how much milk to buy for two people, or what kind of milk to get, and had to phone home for directions when making our first pot roast (we promptly received a Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook the next Christmas which is still in use to this day).  We only knew how to make macaroni and cheese from a box, and had no clue how to grow our own garden or process its abundance for year-round consumption.

However, just out of graduate school, starting my first job, and embracing all it meant for a woman to be highly educated and employed, my biggest adjustment came with the realization that I had no sense of what it meant to serve with any shred of self-sacrifice.  After six years of university food service, I had never once considered that getting food on the table for my own family might take time, planning, sacrifice, and a less me-centered attitude. It took me by surprise (shock might be a better term) to discover that having a somewhat food-averse spouse meant that, unless I was willing to live on Cocoa Puffs and frozen pepperoni pizza, the responsibility for getting food from store to pantry, and from pantry to table was going to lie squarely and solely on my shoulders for the next fifty years or more.[1]  I was overwhelmed and far, far under-prepared for this role.  What’s more, income from our entry-level jobs in Washington, D.C. did not bring in enough money for entertaining others at our table once our tithe and living expenses were covered.[2]  Not that it mattered; I did not know how to cook for a crowd anyway.

Not long after, as a new mother, I had no idea what to feed this little girl after she was weaned, nor how much.  Is it true she shouldn’t have cow’s milk until after her first birthday?  What should we do when she refuses a food?  Is there a way to prevent her father’s food aversions from rubbing off on her? How should we teach her acceptable behavior at the dinner table?  What foods are dangerous for toddlers? How in heaven’s name is this supposed to work?  There we were with a baby, living far from our own families.  I thank God for my dietitian friend Eileen at church, whom I kept on speed dial.  She helped set me on a path of understanding about food, foodways, service to my family, and the importance of the shared meal.[3]

Today, our daughter lives in Paris. As a matter of fact, I am writing this piece from Paris. Just last weekend, the two of us took a Market Cooking class from Chef Lise at La Cuisine Paris.   lacuisine-paris    We toured the local market, selecting duck legs, 3 fine cheeses, beet root, white asparagus, blood oranges, strawberries, turnip, and several fresh herbs to take back to the kitchen-classroom and learn how to make a French feast, including duck a l’orange (see the featured image). It was a wonderful day of sharing the kitchen and table with each other and 6 strangers.

I encourage you to start cooking more often.  Be on the lookout for easy and affordable recipes that you can use when you invite someone to a simple meal.  If you have children at home, involve them in the planning, shopping, and preparation of the meal- it is an important way of teaching them about hospitality and sharing.

In the next post, we will consider how the shared meal (especially the evening meal) as a practice, in particular a Christian practice, has the potential for both common and sacred relationships in the daily lives of believers.

Until then, bon appetit!

~Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.

[1] Lest you think poorly of my husband, let me defend him here.  Although he cannot cook and his tastes and texture issues create significant limits, he is the world’s best dishwasher.  We have always shared kitchen responsibilities with unspoken devotion; we share shopping, I prep and cook, he cleans.  It is a beautiful arrangement.  Chapter six will explore these duties in the context of family and food.

[2] I should note here that our apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland was directly across the street from my husband’s office.  As I was not yet working full time, my husband would frequently call around 11:45 a.m. to say he was bringing a coworker home for lunch.  I quickly learned to put out a simple meal that didn’t break the bank, and have always been grateful to him for helping me learn (to unbend really) to trust God to make the “bread and fish” multiply so that there was always more than enough to go around.

[3] As an example, Eileen invited me to drive out to a farm to pick broccoli one day.  I had never known that the “U-Pick” concept extended beyond apples, strawberries, and Christmas trees.  When I got home with about eight pounds of broccoli I had to undertake a crash course in prepping it all for the freezer.  We were graced with months of fresh farm-to-table and highly nutritious broccoli that winter.  It is still a family favorite to this day.

 

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