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Lessons Learned in the Kitchen

This past Saturday Jack and I were home alone as Charlie studied in Austin for his Board Certification Exam. I decided to make one of our family’s favorite No-Bake Chocolate cookies as a study gift.

Jack was very intrigued with the cooking process. He was watching carefully, so I gave him his own utensils, bowl, and ingredients. He was very excited to cook. It was a mess, but the excitement on his face was worth the cleanup.

Once he finished making his cookies and the dog cleaned his bowl, I watched Jack stack all of his cookware and store them in a cabinet. He walked with such confidence. I could tell he was proud of his work.

It reminded me of my early kitchen experiences. As far back as I can remember I sat on the side of the stove while my mom cooked, occasionally getting to stir, and on the best evenings getting to lick a spoon.

My grandmother’s house was similar, though in grandma fashion, she would make a stove out of a cardboard box. She was great with a sharpie making the hot plates look just like the actual stove.

However, this Saturday I remembered a childhood memory I have long forgotten. There was a man that lived next door to my grandmother named Don Ray. When I would visit my grandmother I would often run to see him. He was my best friend in East Texas. {I really do not know how old he was, but when you are 5 anyone that can drive is a grown-up}. He was a friendly man who would let me talk as much as I wanted and cook like a grown-up. He would pull a stool and let me turn on the stove. I just asked for ingredients and he would bring them to me. I was able to create my own cocktails and whatever I made he ate!

As I recalled this, I was a bit shaken. I remember what I would mix: eggs, pepper, salt, and any other spices I could find. I remember laughing as I tried to make it as spicy as I could, as he would eat anything and say it was good.

I feel dreadfully sorry for Don Ray. I do not know how he downed my food. Yet, I am very thankful to Don Ray. I did not grow-up to be a chef, but I did grow to love cooking.

My favorite room in the house is the kitchen as many happy memories were made there. The kitchen is where the family gathered around and grazed to eat at family gatherings, it is where I pulled up a stool to help wash dishes to have long talks with my mom, it is where I challenged my grandma to who could make the best cinnamon rolls.

Watching Jack march around the kitchen in confidence ended with a pleasant trip down memory lane. I do not cook much, but I really enjoy cooking. The fact is you can do anything, but not everything. For many years I have been too busy with other things to consistently cook. I enjoy cooking enough that it is what I like to do when we go on vacation. {I understand that is weird}.

Our family dynamic has changed over the last 30 years and we are spending less time in the kitchen. This past Saturday I was reminded of 3 things I learned in the kitchen.

1) Hosting and Setting Tables

My grandmother, Emi, at one point had a catering business. When I was small, I was enamored with her variety of dishes and her ability to arrange a spread. She would host dinner parties for my grandfather’s business colleagues. I learned the way you set your table is your meal’s first impression. As they say, you eat with your eyes first. To this day, if I host a party we must have fresh flowers in the house. I still scour Southern Living and Martha Stewart for new ideas on place settings and table arrangements.

You can really set the tone of an event in the way you set a table. Even when it was just the grandkids at home with Emi we would be particular in the way we set the table. We were often surprised with breakfast in bed and the tray would be decorated with adorable breakfast dishes, doilies, and a small vase that would hold a single flower. If we were having more of a picnic style lunch, we would choose our favorite dinosaur glass and put our paper plates in wicker plate holders. These small details made me feel very special. It felt like I was a princess when I was brought a beautiful platter in bed and I felt like I was gearing up for an adventure with dinosaur glasses and wicker plates.

2) Washing Dishes and Deep Conversation

My mom remarried when I was eight and we became a family of nine. We did not all live together full time, but there were summers that we were all under one roof. It was in those summers that I learned washing dishes could lead to deep conversations.

With nine mouths to feed there were lots of dishes to wash. We would pair up for different tasks for meal preparation and then clean up. We rotated our chores. My (secretly) favorite task was getting paired to do dishes with my mom. It was a time I had her to myself with nothing more to distract us. These were years that I grew closer to her and really learned a lot. I still do some of my best thinking while washing dishes.

3) Making more than beans and weenies: Food is the way to a Man’s heart

We have all heard the cliché food is the way to a man’s heart. I use to think it was overrated, but 12 years into marriage I think it holds some value. There is something enduring about our most basic needs being provided and when we go above and beyond on the basic needs I think it has a large impact on the heart.

After reflecting on these valuable lessons learned from the kitchen I am inspired to get to the grocery store! Happy Cooking.

The Spread for My Surprise Bridal Shower Hosted by Emi in 2002