It all began when a major problem of overwhelming proportions dropped into her lap one day, and, on my way out the door to meet her at a restaurant for a crisis management discussion, I looked in my fridge and grabbed what I had on hand — some leftover meatloaf. Others might have stopped to pick up flowers or a card or perhaps a book to encourage their hurting friend. Leave it to me to grab leftover meatloaf. Someone is hurting? My auto-response is to feed them. When people are in pain, I turn into a character not unlike the mothers from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “You no feel happy? No worry, I make you meatloaf.”
I listened empathically as my good friend shared her heart-wrenching dilemma, hopefully creating a soft, safe space for her pain to land. As we parted, I reached down to my bag and pulled out a Tupperware container.
“I’m so sorry you are going through this. With all my heart, I wish I could fix everything. But since I can’t, I brought meatloaf.”
We both laughed, even through the misty tears. And that’s how “meatloaf” became a symbol of tangible caring between us. As in most friendships, Lindsey and I have taken turns being in crisis, so it wasn’t long before something tough happened in my life, and I was the one in emotional agony. This time my friend brought me the “meatloaf” — which evolved to mean comfort food in any form: from a bottle of wine to a home-cooked meal to guacamole and chips at a favorite Mexican joint. After a recent minor surgery, she showed up at the door with a feast to put any Greek mother to shame: marinated grilled chicken on pita bread, accompanied by homemade tzatziki and a mint-feta-watermelon salad. Forget the pain pills; this food had healing powers. With every bite, I felt physically, emotionally, and spiritually nourished in body and soul, for such is the power of a meal prepared with love.
Recently a friend who was walking through a painful crisis came to stay the night, have supper, and enjoy some much needed TLC. She and I visited over wine as I chopped, grilled, and roasted. Out of the mess that was now my kitchen came a beautiful spread: fresh Norwegian salmon, topped with a salsa of peaches and avocados with a little lime, salt, and sugar, surrounded by roasted mushrooms, sweet peppers, and summer squash. To the side sat Lindsey’s famous Greek watermelon salad. My friend surveyed both the damage and the outcome and said, “Becky, just standing in your kitchen is healing to me.”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The kitchen has become a place for nurturing souls as well as coaxing good meals into being. Cooking also serves as a living metaphor, for beauty and delight does not appear in a vacuum of a perfectly ordered and clean life, or kitchen. It takes a lot of messes, small and large, to create a life — and a feast — worth its weight in goodness.
Excerpt from We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook: A Mom andDaughter Dish About the Food that Delights Them and the Love that Binds Them by Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph. Used with permission.