Garnished with Love

Garnish with Love

“You have no idea what it meant to know that someone took the time to make that meal with their own hands for me.”

Water pooled in the corner of my friend’s eyes as she told me how long it had been since someone had made her a meal. She was the caregiver in her family. Now that her kids were grown, she didn’t feel like cooking for herself. A friend from church brought her a simple platter of sandwiches and potato salad and soup.  It wasn’t fancy, but it didn’t need to be.

My friend said she felt love when she brought the bread to her lips.

I’d never thought of food as love.

Food, for me, has felt like entertainment, a reward and (sometimes) a punishment, but it’s never felt like love. I love food. I’ve relished and savored food, but not recognized the love infused in a homemade meal. Perhaps it shouldn’t seem like a surprise. A homemade dinner shared around a table feels better than a meal in a restaurant, doesn’t it? But this feels revolutionary to me.

Several years ago, while I was pregnant, I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune condition. My relationship with food became even more complicated. Through my research into the disease and food’s role as a cause and trigger of symptoms, I bounced back and forth between viewing what I ate as an empowering medicine and blaming myself for causing my disease with poisonous foods in the first place (I didn’t, but it felt that way at times).* Between that and the words my friend shared, I’m beginning to view cooking and baking as my love language for the people I want to nourish, including myself.

Growing up, cooking always felt stressful. The act of cooking, getting everything ready, I could feel my mom’s tension rising, and that made me want to avoid the kitchen. When I lived on my own and tried to cook, my feelings didn’t change. Plus, as a Type-A personality, I couldn’t wrap my head around spending time preparing a meal that you were just going to eat when you could be doing something more productive. I also felt like I had to follow a recipe to the “T” — it was an exercise in seeking perfection and finding failure. Getting dinner “right,” having it all finished and on the table while it was hot, making something everyone liked…. Cooking felt pressurized. Forget cooking for other people.

A burned meal on the stove felt like visual and olfactory confirmation
that I had failed as a friend, wife, or mom.

My husband loves to cook (although he does it less frequently these days) and I love spending time with him in the kitchen as his sous chef, but I thought that he simply loved cooking. I never thought of it as a way of showing me love (and I never asked).

Cooking and baking have been about the food or the joy of the person doing it, not an act of love for the person receiving it.

But the more I’ve learned about food, about cherishing my body, and nurturing it the best way I can, my attitude has shifted. I’ve started seeing eating less like an outward amusement, and more like nourishing medicine (the purple syrup that I actually liked as a kid). It’s a way of showing my body love, and love to those around me.

Instead of treating my body poorly with food (either using healthy food as a punishment or junk food as a reward), I’m trying to break the cycle of negativity and channel some love through food. To show my body that I love it by nourishing it. To show those around me that I love them
by feeding them.

I’m letting go of perfect and aiming for authentic. Like so many other things in my life, I’m trying to view the process as the goal — not the end result. I’m aiming to strip it down to simple and nutritious ingredients that are easy to prepare and that I can pronounce. I’m attempting to slow down and cherish the weight of the knife in my hand, the sound of the blade meeting the wooden cutting board, the smell of garlic and onions in a hot skillet.

I’m trying to let go of making the “perfect” meal and settling for a meal that my family and friends will know was made with love (burnt edges and all).

It won’t be fancy, and I am still going to order in because some days are better spent playing in the sprinkler than leaning over a stove. But when I can take the time to let my son watch the chicken brown in the oven or feel raw dough ooze between his fingers, I’m going to do it. I’m going to slice a pineapple so he can taste the sweetest outer edges, rather than buying the chopped pineapple at the store. I want to share the love that comes from real food made by real hands.  And if you know me personally, stay tuned, because I may bring you a homemade meal that I made just for you.

Wishing you a few moments of clarity amidst the chaos,

Anne English signature Anne

What about you? Does cooking or baking feel like a “love language” for you or does it feel like torture? I’d love to hear if this resonated with you! Share with the buttons below or leave a comment.

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*There is a lot of research linking certain inflammatory foods with symptoms for certain chronic autoimmune conditions. It boils down to this: generally autoimmune diseases are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. One of those environmental factors might be certain foods, but it’s not a causal link and food is only one part of the puzzle. For some diseases, and some people, the connection with inflammatory foods is stronger than others. I am currently figuring out what my food triggers are, if any. If you are curious about this, shoot me an email. I’ll be happy to share with you some of the many resources I’ve accumulated on this topic over the last several years.

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