"Something strange was going on. Tita remembered that Nacha had always said that when people argue while preparing tamales, the tamales won’t get cooked. They can be heated day after day and still stay raw, because the tamales are angry. In a case like that, you have to sing to them, which makes them happy, then they’ll cook."
- Like Water For Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
It's so easy to bring motherguilt into the kitchen; to make a meal and think about how much better or healthier it could be. The meal is placed in front of the family and then, perhaps, there is complaints and sour faces, and the ritual of eating becomes a chore.
When I'm sad I stir sorrow into soup; it tastes bland and bitter and I wonder why I bothered at all. But then a joyous roast or happy batch of muffins balances the kitchen mood. I recognise that cooking is an emotional practice, that food is the magnet that brings us together to celebrate, divulge, reminisce and console.
I've been savouring An Everlasting Meal, reading it ever so slowly and making notes between paragraphs. Tamara Adler says: "I only mean to show you what cooking is: an act of gathering in and meeting out, a coherent story that starts with the lighting of a burner, the filling of a pot, and keeps going as long as we like." Adler starts her story with the simple act of boiling water; in her eloquent prose she shares a little piece of kitchen wisdom, so apt for mothers to hear: "There is a prevailing theory that we need to know much more than we do in order to feed ourselves well. It isn't true. Most of us already have water, a pot to put it in, and a way to light a fire. This gives us boiling water, in which we can do more good cooking than we know." It doesn't take a long list of ingredients, fancy technique or significant time to cook good food - a mother's kitchen mantra if ever I heard one.
There is so much emotion wrapped up in cooking for a family, especially if we're aiming to improve meals, vary recipes or adhere to the numerous tastes and needs of our children. In my past posts on wholefood, guilt has been a common theme in the comments section. Mothers are, primally, the nurturers and nourishers, feeding our family is intuitive, but I don't think guilt belongs in my kitchen or yours.
Cooking a meal with doubt or guilt, stirring half-heartedly and then eating it with shame, is, quite simply, not worth it. Cooking with love is an esoteric thought but, perhaps, the most important lesson we can take with us into the kitchen. Regardless of whether you're cooking wholefood or real food or quick-and-easy food, a casserole or a stock or eggs with soldiers, consider bringing it to the table with gratitude and thanks. The opportunity to gather, share and eat together is a beautiful one (even if the littles aren't pleased...if they are hungry, they will eat).