The kitchen. It was where we gathered to talk and to listen. To share and to gain lessons through those with more of life experience. Those who had been hit by the proverbial bus and who had survived to tell us the story.
A lot of what we do with food is emotional. How we feel as we prepare a dish is infused in the sauce, it becomes part of how it’s tastes to others. Some of the best recipes become the worse meals, if the person doing the cooking is angry, agitated or sad. That is those emotions are imparted into the taste of the food. And that’s why we make our best dishes when we’re happy, content and full of joyful. So it’s no wonder that during the holidays we make our best memories, our best meals.
When I was growing up, in a family with little the kitchen gave us so much, it sustained us. It was an intergenerational meet-up, where wisdom was passed along on a plate of greens, with the glass of wine and a paper cup filled with Kool-Aid.
Interruptions were scorned at, so if I wanted to ask my Nana a question, I had to wait for a pause in the adult conversation, and then say a polite “excuse me”. But even then, I couldn’t speak. Nana would hold up a finger to acknowledge me and then still make me wait. In that way, she taught me patience.
Conversations in the kitchen were sometimes “adult only” that is I could be in the kitchen, but I could neither interrupt or join in. Period. It would help me later in life to be a good listener. I would listen to some of the juiciest, the best gossipy, most delicious bits of stories about family and friends from my quiet place in the kitchen. Sometimes I’d whisper what I overheard to my sister and cousins, but mostly I kept what I heard to myself and that trait allowed gained me permission to be in the kitchen.
But some of the best memories I have of Nana’s kitchen are of just me and Nana. Just us. She took care of me after school, before my mother came home and the other kids came home. The house was quiet, and Nana liked to give me instructions for little things that I could do on my own.
And then we’d go about the task of preparing my lunch and a big dinner. All the while, not speaking. Nana would just be humming a familiar gospel song that I didn’t know the words too. Sometimes I’d ask her what the words were, just to see if she knew them. Sometimes she’s tell me children should be seen and not heard. And then we’d be quiet again.
Not speaking, just cooking and baking biscuits and filling the house with all those good smells that give good feelings.
Today, when I invite my family and friends to dinner, we always end up talking in the kitchen. It’s the hub of family conversations and deep discussions, it’s where some of my best ideas have been baked and my finest plans have been hatched.
And Nana would be proud, the kitchen is still where we gather, share food & show our love.