If there is one element of most holidays that is universally cherished, it’s food. Doesn’t matter which holiday it is for whichever belief, culture or religion, food in one way or another is involved. Even with Yom Kippur, for at least a few Jewish families I know, after the fasting period has ended, they can not wait to eat whatever has been prepared with love and intent! Now, just to warn you, this could get fairly mushy and intimate so-to-speak. What can I say…sorry kiddo!
Meals are always memories I cherish from childhood Christmases. In fact, some of the most prominent Christmas memories from childhood were morning hot chocolate during gift opening, often a special breakfast prepared by my mom, snacking on finger food throughout the day, eating the chocolate from the stockings, and of course the dinner and dessert. Sure, while I was a kid, I loved the gifts and gift giving, but once adulthood came around, particularly going back home through my college years, food and meals tended to take front and centre. It was the holiday dinners that really helped me appreciate what goes into preparing and cooking a meal for a group of people. Looking back on it now, there were a few aspects of my mom’s wonderful cooking I didn’t quite fully appreciate when growing up. The thought, preparation and research that went into each meal well ahead of time, the time it took to shop for the ingredients on top of gift shopping, accommodating picky eaters, and the exhaustion that follows the effort of the long day of meal prepping and cooking.
I only came to realize these factors once I started cooking for myself, and cooking for others. Slowly getting accustomed to other cultures also had an influence in my appreciation for home cooked meals. A great example are First Nations communities, villages and reservations. Every element of the meal has always been ritualistic, traditional and respectful to every factor involved. In North American traditions, the appreciation for the nourishment that is about to be provided, has in many ways been directly inherited by the First Nations culture that originally occupied our beautiful land, and helped it thrive.
The tradition of Indian cuisine, similar to the First Nations historically, developed their cooking habits and cuisine benchmarks on local ingredients. With this continued tradition into modern day, there is so much value put into 1 meal by both the cooks and recipients. There are very few comparisons in this world to the warmth and satisfaction that is experienced from genuine home cooked Indian cuisine.
Many of us in North American culture have tended to leave this kind of grandiose presentation and effort to special occasions, and that’s understandable. For so many of us, it’s impossible to make a complete meal every night, and if we’re lucky, to sit down at the dinner table and converse with family and loved ones. I don’t ever advocate that any household make an elaborate 3 course meal every night, because, well, that’s just not credible in this day in age. If I were to suggest that to my clients, they’d walk out before I could say “every night”. But holidays for me resemble many components of the essence of cooking. It’s celebration, it’s challenging, and in it’s purest form, it’s love. In days like what this year has brought us, this pleasure has had to be delayed. Many of us have had to abandon all sizes of gatherings for the benefit of humanity in general, but also in consideration for our loved ones. However for some, it’s only altered meal plans. I’ve experienced some incredible acts of kindness and creativity along the way. Delivering of home cooked meals to neighbours and friends, restaurants expanding delivery zones to bring familiar comfort food to families out of town, bike delivery of home baked goods to people in need, I even witnessed over the summer, someone bringing full vegetable plants to neighbours and re-planting them in their yard. Incredible! It’s reassuring to see that the value of food and nourishment is not lost with some of us. And I think many of us have been reminded of what food represents to households, neighbourhoods and communities on days that aren’t special occasions. I think taking the effort each day to appreciate being fed goes a long way to valuing life and loved ones. Having a nice dinner on a special occasion is invaluable, but also having a meal cooked for you hastily when your mom comes home from a long day at work on a Wednesday is just as special. Having a meal provided at a homeless shelter can literally be life-saving. It’s also easy to appreciate when effort is given by a child on a Sunday to want to make a meal for their parents, whether successful or not.
There is a quote that pretty much encapsulates my view of cooking: “Cooking, I found, gives us the opportunity, so rare in modern life, to work directly in our own support, and in the support of the people we feed. If this is not ‘Making a living’, I don’t know what is. In the calculus of economics, doing so may not always be the most efficient use of an amateur cook’s time, but in the calculus of human emotion, it is beautiful even so. For is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?” This is an excerpt from Michael Pollan’s (@michaelpollan) book “A Natural History of Transformation”. There are very few passages I’ve read where I’m able to completely relate to almost every single word written. Cooking and preparing food is much more than just dicing or slicing, combining ingredients, heating up, and then serving it. It’s a testament of love, it’s the ultimate gift, it’s social, it’s creative, it’s a method of support and hospitality, and it’s a form of communication. Whether it’s a peanut butter sandwich, or a chick pea flour ravioli stuffed with pureed squash and a side of braised wild boar, I personally can’t help but be humbled, challenged and satisfied when any kind of food is served to me, or by me. What better form of connection, not only between two human beings, but with the earth, exists in this world? I can’t think of much. It’s pretty romantic!