Food, Family and Love: Life’s Best Ingredients

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Stacy’s Note: I fell in love with this article from the moment I read it. The way Mimi describes how food and cooking have shaped her life and her family makes me want to have a seat at her table.

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 born out of love, especially by your own child.

When I was her age, cooking consisted of heating the egg drop/wonton soup that was delivered to my apartment. To be fair, I didn’t know how to cook. I didn’t spend time in a grandmother’s kitchen. My mother made family dinner of the tuna casserole variety often prepared haphazardly after her work day. Even though she was creative in her job, cooking just wasn’t her thing. We were never able to bond over meal prep nor did I learn how to properly prepare a holiday meal.

In my early years of #adulting in New York, I became reacquainted with my father’s cousins. I took train to their house on Long Island as a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.

My cousin Jan filled her home with the sweet smells of baking and cooking. Every day, one of her family recipes was delivered to a table that always seemed to include more than just their close-knit family of four. There were always friends and relatives to feed. My beloved cousin would rise to the occasion, preparing an abundance of dishes from scratch.

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 – framed my future devotion to cooking and entertaining.

Before I moved to Boston, I asked Jan if I could have her recipes. I didn’t want to lose the feeling these times together gave me. However, I had yet to own a pot or pan. We sat together in her kitchen with her young daughters. She dictated and I transferred her creations to recipe cards.  I used these recipes over and over as a newlywed, tweaking things because she cooked with her heart in lieu of 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 table 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 passed away, but lives on in my family. The recipes cards are still in my kitchen. She taught me to love food, cooking and entertaining. She made me realize that I didn’t always need a fancy tablecloth or state-of-the-art appliance to make dinner perfect. Over time, I learned how to channel her confidence in the kitchen. 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.

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, each woman managed to find a way to connect cooking with love.

As I watched my daughter chop potatoes, 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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