I grew up in the south, Alabama to be exact, the daughter of Midwestern parents. My mother to this day does not like one hint of hot spice in her food. My father is a bit more adventurous but is also your basic meat and potatoes guy. Oddly enough, he is the one who taught me to cook my first meal–scrambled eggs. Years later when I told him this he laughed and told me that it was one of my older sisters who had taught him how to make scrambled eggs. My mom’s cooking was healthy and good enough but not adventurous. My brother had two things he went into the kitchen to make: fudge and peanut brittle. However, for some strange reason whenever I went into the kitchen I had to try out things we’d never made before.
My second year of high school I became good friends with a girl who’d moved from Louisiana. Her mother could cook things that made my stomach burn and my mouth amazed. Soon I made a few of her recipes my own. I also had Mexican for the first time and began to discover flavors I had no idea existed. In college quite a few of my friends were MKs–i. e. missionary kids–or International students. From them I began to learn about Indian food, Thai food, and the importance of really good rice (as opposed to what they served us in the dining commons). The other things I learned from them was hospitality. Eating just wasn’t worth doing unless you were doing it in the company of others. Most of my life I’ve been a self-protective introvert but over and over again I was thrown in with generous crowds who valued good food, hospitality, and eating in community above almost anything else. Good conversation, of course, was assumed part of it all. Pretty soon it became a habit for me. In fact these days if I find myself making a particularly good meal that we are going to have more than enough, on impulse I begin thinking, “Now who can I invite over to eat with us?” It is an odd day when someone doesn’t walk through our door for at least a cup of tea (loose leaf and steeped at just the right temperature, of course).
As sick as I get of doing dishes, as much as I complain about the time it takes, preparing good food seems to me one of the most basic things we can do. It hits all of our senses. The variety of tastes, the smells of food cooking filling the house, the sight of it being prepared and again as a finished product, the feel of it in our hands and in our mouths, the sound of chopping and simmering and sizzling and of glasses and knives and the conversation around the food. It is all there. It is a gift to prepare for another and a gift to receive. There are many days when nothing makes me happier than the taste of my wine or the smell of muffins in the oven. They are my reminders that every little thing is going to be alright.