One of my favorite bloggers, Making Space, just wrote a very thoughtful post linking food, eating habits and general life coping skills. It totally resonated with me, particularly now that I’m busy at the gym, tracking my food, paying more attention to what I’m eating and also why I might be eating a particular thing. MS talks about junk food and not really knowing what “healthy” food was. That got me thinking about my mom and how food was a big issue in my household growing up, even though I never realized it at the time.
My mother was a great cook. And she cooked good food. Just about everything she cooked was made from scratch using good ingredients. She just made a LOT of food. Consequently, like MS not knowing what “good” food was, I grew up with a skewed sense of food proportion. For instance, in our house, a “serving” of chicken was at least two pieces, maybe three, and sometimes four. Plates were pretty much heaped with food. There weren’t any threats about cleaning your plate, because the food was great and everyone usually wanted more, and got it. So, imagine my surprise going to friends’ homes for dinner, say, around high school time, and getting a drumstick. ONE drumstick. What?! That’s dinner? A few green beans, a measly spoon full of mashed potatoes? Where is the FOOD? No wonder all my other friends were skinny as sticks–their parents were starving them. Of course, we were taught manners, that you didn’t ask for seconds unless they were offered, but I was always happy to get home and have a “real” meal.
I don’t remember snacking a lot, but my mom also baked. She rarely bought a lot of junk food, and we always had fruit in the house, but, as I said, food was plentiful and rarely did anyone tell us we couldn’t have a cookie or a PBJ sandwich or whatever we wanted. I’m sure a lot of this also had to do with her coming up during the Depression. Having a well-stocked pantry meant being prosperous and successful. Being able to provide plentiful meals meant you were doing well financially.
This is the ambience in which I learned to cook. Feeding people was not only a good deed, it was also a gift for the cook. Making others happy through your good cooking made you happy. When my dad didn’t particularly like something my mom cooked, I knew it really affected her. He was never mean, but he was far less interested in finer points of cooking. She’s be all excited about her casserole or whatever, and he just couldn’t get why. He really only had one criteria–he wanted dinner ON the table when he walked in the door from work (“I don’t care if you have to start at dawn.”) It was (kind of) a running joke between them. AND he wanted the food HOT. So, I ended up being her sounding board, her creative co-producer in the kitchen. Later whenever my crazy brother wanted to hurt her feelings, he always downgraded or ignored the food she cooked for him. Made me want to stomp him.
Which brings me to now. Even all these years later, I can get nervous if there’s white space on the plate. I’ve taken to eating off smaller plates. I’ve become intimate friends with my half-cup measure (THAT’S a serving of anything, pretty much). I’m learing to cook less, and to savor more. To really taste my food instead of inhaling it. To waste less, to throw away less because we didn’t get around to eating it. I started off cooking for six people in a family, went to cooking for 40 in my first larger-scale operation, then for hundreds when I worked in a restaurant. My mom was so excited when I was learning to make gumbo in New Orleans. She wanted the recipe. I told her I’d be happy to share it, but it made 20 gallons. I wasn’t sure I could scale it back for just a few servings. Now, I feel triumph if G and I finish eating and there’s nothing left. I feel like I hit the target. Of course, there will always be things I make more of–pots of soup or beans, spaghetti sauce to freeze, even cooking a large roast for sandwiches later. But I feel good scaling back. I’m learning that when it comes to food, as with many other things “enough” is a lot less than I thought it was. I don’t have to sacrifice one bit of quality, but I can give up a lot of quantity and not suffer at all.
It’s a great lesson.