A tale of cooking in underwear & food is love

Flickr:Esther Spektor

I love my Dad, he loves me, and we love food.

He worked hard in construction when I was a kid. The smell of dirt and sweat is the smell of hard work to me and for that I haven’t worked hard a day in all my life. He told me ‘no daughter of mine is going to work construction’ and I figured that was something I could abide by and so I did. He left for work before the crack of dawn each morning. I remember the sound of his truck warming up in the dark driveway, and the house door slamming shut a few times as he went in and out, packing.

There is always a sadness to the going. For my dad there is a recognizing of the going so substantial that it brings him to tears. Even now, hellos and goodbyes come in sobs. He tries to swallow the sobs which moves his shoulders to heaving. He is an emotional man apparently. I have all the questions in the world but I never remember having any question of what my Dad was feeling.

His truck would pull away and I would feel the murmurs in my heart of the loss of him for the day, as kids for their parents often do. And then he would return in a few minutes! He had made a trip to his favorite convenience store of his same name, Lyle’s, with a treat to share. ‘The doughnuts just came in’ he’d tell my brother and I as he made a big show of presenting a glistening maple bar to me and a sparkling twist to my brother, warm like the freshly left beds of growing babes.

My dad did all the cooking when I was a kid. Even today in my own kitchen it’s hard to keep him out and from his way. He recently threatened to take his massive ham out of my oven and home to his as things were not going his way. I laughed to myself at the thought of him driving home, the ham riding passenger. He admires my easy way about the kitchen I think, and he doesn’t give me a hard time about making a mess although we all know Julia Child recommends ‘cleaning as you go’.

He left for work early and so got home early to cook. He’d drop his clothes on the way in through the laundry room and move around in just his underwear until he could manage a shower. Sometimes he’d move up to the shower right away, in which case he would cook dressed. Other times he would station himself in the kitchen, just underwear clad with the All-Clad because some dish or another required the time that a shower would squander.

He didn’t mind cooking in underwear and even reveled in stories of how cooking grease burned the hair off his chest in one place or another. Just then someone would come to the door. The possibility of an unanticipated visitor would take my dad by such a surprise each time that at the sound of the doorbell or a knock, he’d drop behind the kitchen island as quick as if he’d been shot down or as if a shoot opened up below him. We would laugh and laugh at the near misses of company witnessing him cooking in his underwear.

Always a square meal, and meat done fancy. Cajun prawns in beer and butter, a large pork loin spiral cut and stuffed with all strong seasonings, juicy steaks as big as my head. My brother and I thought kraft macaroni and cheese was preferable or top ramen. I remember feeling delighted at the plain-ness I had never known. My dad acted like he didn’t hear us say it or perhaps he felt the quality of our statements too low to deserve a response. Away, he cooked. Unfortunately, he couldn’t stand to teach anyone how to cook. He gifted me a series of cooking classes when I moved away to college as a consolation.

Which brings me to my mom: the first female regional meat and seafood merchandizer at safeway. Of course I love her immensely too. When she sets her mind or muscle to something it shows in her jaw. She apparently fears god but I can’t tell. She worked later and sometime late into the night when I was a kid, often making it just into her chair at the dinner table, 6 sharp. She started as a meat cutter and worked her way to the top. Corporate structures don’t work much that way now but I like to consider that people’s capacity to graduate to vaster roles and responsibilities in life haven’t changed much.

My mom regarding meat and seafood for income and also as a way of life had a significant impact on my having reverence for quality food and intolerance for high-margin shit our consumerist culture corporate administers try to trick us into buying now. There is no substitute for one’s connection to food source directly. We argue who is to blame but no matter, we are all responsible for the grave disconnect and finding points to re-connect again.

My family connected at the dinner table. Everyone was expected unless prior arrangements had been made. We’d hold hands, say a prayer, eat, and share the day’s events. There was no tolerance for tom foolery of any kind. I was taught that good food was a privilege and that the space we shared at the table was sacred, held for our family, in a time and space that would never exist in the same way again. No tv, no phones, no distractions of any kind from the action of love. It was an honor and to be honored.

It wasn’t until many years living away from home that I understood my belief that food is love. To create space with others for the awareness of how food fuels our being physically, connects us to our environment and to each other is one of the reasons we’re here. It’s a reward embedded in our nature that is hard to put in to words.

How do you put into words what food means to you?

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