Steen mug shot

Steen

‘“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.’“Ruth Reichl

Maybe we can meet for lunch.

Would you like to get together for coffee?

Do you have plans for dinner?

So many things in my life revolve around a meal, a beverage, a table with other people. Is it that way for you?

I’m always thinking about food — about how it is suitable for my body or how it isn’t. Looking at ingredients, who grew the food, and how it’s prepared, I recognize the importance food has in my life, even though I’m not quite in the category of foody. 

It’s because food is about so much more than having something to eat, I think. Food is a part of life, and as Reichl says, we join together with other people because life is a delicious adventure.

I had been bugging my mother to look for a particular cookbook on her shelf while I looked on mine. We each found our copy, and I immediately felt a sense of warmth and gratitude. The book is called “Bill of Fare”, and it is a cookbook the owner of a restaurant (no longer in business) in my hometown wrote many years ago. 

I didn’t know why I needed to put my hands on the book, but as I flipped through the pages, the recipe for chicken salad almost brought me to tears. The only thing that might have rivaled Faye’s Chicken Salad was her Hot Chicken Salad, and I couldn’t wait to thaw some chicken to get started.

Many years ago, I began on a journey toward better health, and that meant putting aside most of my cookbooks as I tried to learn ways to eat that would support my body. Maybe it’s been so long that something in my soul just started crying out to be reconnected with the foods I had loved, I don’t know. I have begun working on adjusting my favorite recipes to work with my style of eating today, and I know the journey is going to be fun.

Eating should be fun

As dietary needs have changed, eating has lost much of its fun for a significant number of us.

It has become stressful and angst-filled. That needs to change.

I want to recreate a path to fun and adventure in the kitchen and at the table. It begins with letting go of the pressure of the perfect meal and embracing the freedom of experimentation with flavors and styles. Adventure can mean traveling to other parts of the world without ever leaving your kitchen, and it does not need to be fancy.

As often as people are looking for great entertainment, why not choose one night a week to entertain yourselves in the kitchen?

Cooking with others: If you are a young couple, cook together. If you have children, involve them in the cooking process and let it be fun. If you are single or simply want to be more social, reach out to friends, and find times to enjoy cooking (and eating) together. It is the gathering of friends or family at a table that creates a sense of community that draws us together — feeding our emotional appetite as much as our physical hunger.

Cooking for others: If you are an excellent cook or baker, there are ways to share your love and your talent. Look in your community for a place that serves the homeless — most are welcoming and appreciative of those who will share their heart for preparing food. If someone is new to the neighborhood, someone has lost a family member, or if you notice that a friend is finding life particularly difficult, whip up a pot of soup or make your grandma’s best chicken pot pie recipe. Nothing speaks “comfort” to someone like a recipe you’ve taken the time to prepare because you care about someone else.

Cooking for yourself: If “what to eat?” becomes a stressor in your life, that stress is as damaging as the “not the wisest choice” food might have been. When in doubt, just choose the best foods you can for that moment and enjoy whatever sits before you. Hippocrates might not have actually said “Let food be thy medicine,” but many of his words have been translated to let us know he found good and bad in food for a person’s health. Choose good food as often as you can, and enjoy whatever you choose.

Food is healing in the sense that some foods seem to help some conditions while agitating others. We must choose wisely, listening to our bodies. Food is healing in other ways, too, and I’ve been following Chef José Andrés for several years, as he has gone from serving food in his popular restaurants to serving food in remote areas of the world. 

Most recently, I saw Andrés take his World Central Kitchen group to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria to feed the people. His kindness moved me. He went further than serving, though — helping the people rebuild their food supply in ways that would more likely withstand future disasters. His actions reminded me of the many ways food brings us together: cooking, serving, eating, and growing are all about building relationships and building lives.

I baked my chicken just as Mrs. Whitt suggested, slowly and with salt. It cooled, I chopped. Adding celery, mayonnaise, salad dressing, and some lime juice, I stirred the mixture as the memories of the past were gently folded into the present. I thought back to all of the lunches with people I loved shared at the tables of her restaurant and tables in restaurants today. 

I think I’ll set the table and invite friends and family to join me in relishing the fun that is waiting to be had in the kitchen and at the table. Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Let’s celebrate a delicious life!

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. 

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