Food, Family and Love: Life’s Best Ingredients

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My 22 year-old daughter cooked dinner for my husband and me the last time she came to visit. It was striking to watch her move around the kitchen with great confidence and ease. She was skilled at prepping, barbecuing, and timing her dishes. The outcome was delicious; there is nothing better than having a meal prepared with love, especially by your very own child.

When I was her age, my idea of cooking was turning on the stove to heat the egg drop or wonton soup, that had been delivered to my apartment. To be fair, I didn’t know how to cook. I didn’t spend time in my grandmother’s kitchen because we lived far away from her. My mother made family dinner every night but it was of the tuna casserole variety and often prepared haphazardly after a work day. Even though she was creative in her job and a very bright woman, cooking just wasn’t her thing. I didn’t spend hours in the kitchen watching her prepare meals or sweat over what to serve to guests on holidays.

In my early years of #adulting in New York, I became reacquainted with my father’s cousins. I would take the train to their house on Long Island as a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city and spend time with their close-knit family of four.

My cousin Jan filled her home with love in the form of cooking. Every day, one of her family recipes was delivered to a table that always seemed to include more than just their immediate family and myself. There were friends and relatives to feed, and my cousin would rise to the occasion, preparing an abundance of dishes from scratch that matched the abundance of passion in her heart. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged to a world where food was equivalent to love. These years with my cousins – from celebrating holidays to partaking in casual weekend dinners – would become the framework for my future of cooking and entertaining.

Before I left New York to move to Boston, I asked Jan if I could have some of her recipes. I often wondered what propelled me to request this favor as I had yet to own a pot or pan. We sat together, along with her beautiful young daughters watching, and transferred her creations to recipe cards. Throughout the first years of my marriage, I used these recipes over and over, many times having to tweak things because she cooked with her heart and not a measuring cup. I mimicked Jan’s lifestyle, inviting friends over to test out my new skills. Time passed quickly, as it does with a young family, and soon I was hosting families, preparing holidays and crafting dinner parties for 20 people. My house was alive with children, food and the kind of happiness that is a byproduct of a house filled with laughter, plates, forks and friends.

Does anyone remember recipe cards?

My beautiful cousin lives on in our family. Her recipes are still in my kitchen. She taught me to love cooking and entertaining. She made me realize that I didn’t always need a fancy tablecloth or state-of-the-art appliances to make dinner perfect. Over time, I learned how to channel her confidence in the kitchen. And now, my daughters are cooking. If the meal that I was served a few weeks ago is any indication, they are on their way to being amazing cooks and entertainers.

This past year, I had the honor of interviewing women for the cookbook: From Our Kitchens: Recipes and Stories from the Boston Jewish Community. I spoke with more than 50 women, each with a different culinary journey. Some had grandmothers who lived with them and taught them how to cook, others studied cookbooks and taught themselves. In the end, they all traveled to the same place – the kitchen of their own family home, creating dinners, preparing holidays and entertaining friends and family. No matter how different the beginning of the culinary journey was for each woman, they each managed to find a way to connect cooking with love.

As I watched my daughter chop potatoes and prepare meat for the grill, I realized that cooking is so much more than the finished product — it is a language we can all share. Cooking can comfort and heal, bring people together and provide memories. Cooking can feed our souls and make us proud.  Being able to sit with family and friends at a table is a blessing; one that I will never take for granted.





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