I'm blessed to have divorced parents. When it happened at nine, I couldn't see it that way—but it's difficult to see the bright side when it's so dark.
The blessings have come in having two mothers (Happy Mother's Day!), two fathers, four grandmothers, my brother plus our two half sisters, and a large extended family. Today my nuclear family will gather at my mom’s house for a family potluck for 28 at last count. We’ll celebrate Mother’s Day and an extended visit by my cousin Jayne from Lesotho, South Africa where she has been teaching HIV/AIDS prevention for the last four years. (That would make a wonderful blog post in the near future!) Tomorrow we'll celebrate Mother's Day with my stepmother, Janie, and 18 other family members. Like I said. Blessed.
I honestly don’t remember a family gathering that didn’t involve food in some way. In my family, perhaps like yours, food is love and always has been. As I've explored my relationship with food I've discovered just how important that is. Today, in honor of Mother's Day, I'd like to share one of those stories with you in the hopes that it will inspire you to think about your own important relationships—with food and the people in your life.
My mother’s mother, Ruth, ran The Guesthouse for the Inspiration Copper Mines in Miami, Arizona (a looooong way from Miami, Florida). There, she famously cooked for all of the dignitaries that came to visit the copper mines. Throughout my childhood, we made the two hour drive from Phoenix every few months to visit. I can still feel the excitement when I was the first to shout “I spy Mommy’s ammy,” but not understanding why that always made my mother laugh.
At the Guesthouse, Grandma Fisher had a large kitchen and lived in a small two-room suite that was just big enough for her piano. She made, and we ate, pot roast, chicken, or enchilada casserole; potatoes, buttered noodles, or rice; salad, fruit, and all kinds of vegetables. Surely the US Department of Agriculture based MyPlate on one of her classic meals.
After she fed the guests at the large table in the dining room, we clustered around the little kitchen table for our dinner—except on holidays when the Guesthouse was empty and we got to eat at “the big table.” Afterward, Grandma played the piano, usually without sheet music, having worked at a picture theatre as a pianist accompanying silent movies.
Grandma also made wonderful cakes, jello concoctions, cookies, Christmas fudge, and my favorite, chocolate pie. I loved to “help” her. Together we slid a kitchen chair over to the counter for me to stand on. She would select and show me how to use the appropriate utensil: first spoons, then whisks, and finally graduating to an electric beater. To this day, licking one of the beaters is the best part of homemade (or boxed!) brownies—surpassing even the corner piece.
Yes. Food was love—without all of the negative connotations so often associated with the phrase “emotional eating.” In fact eating was very emotional—best described as pure joy.
After many requests, Ruth Fisher wrote Inspiration's Guest House Cook Book, becoming the first author in my family. My copy of her book, one of my prized possessions, has her scrawling inscription that reads: "a pinch of this & a dash of that is what it takes."
Long after she retired and was well into her 80’s, she still hosted our family gatherings—allowing us to contribute our best dishes—most of them straight out of her cookbook.
I was in medical school when my mother told me they were afraid that she had Alzheimer’s. I came home to see for myself. She was her usual sweet self, playing the piano without sheet music and reminiscing about the old days. Grandma had made my favorite chocolate pie for dessert and complained that it just wouldn’t set up. This amazing woman, who had cooked tens of thousands of meals for thousands of people over her lifetime, had prepared instant chocolate pudding with a cup of boiling water instead of a cup of cold milk. It was then that I knew my mother was right.
From there it was a slow, steady decline. Her inability to cook was followed by her gradual inability to enjoy the food she loved so much—or even feed herself. Weight loss was clearly not a sign of good health. When she died after a long battle with Alzheimers, we again gathered together for a family potluck.
My grandmother left a legacy; most of her offspring love to cook and all of us love to eat. She would have been really sad if she had been aware of the twenty years when food was not love, but war, for me. I think she would have somehow understood that my inscription, Eat mindfully, Live vibrantly! when I sign Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat means pretty much the same thing as her inscription to me.
Grandma’s legacy continues. Now I love to spend time in the kitchen with my husband, a professional chef. He has taken over the job of teaching me how to use the increasingly sophisticated culinary utensils—but I secretly believe that Ruth could have humbly taught him a thing or two. Our children both love to cook (and eat) and we-coauthored a cookbook with our daughter, Elyse—Veggie Teens: A Cookbook and Guide for Vegetarian Teenagers.
To this day, when one of Grandma's recipes shows up at our family potluck, I am immediately transported back to that little kitchen table where I learned that food is love…just not the only way we love.
(You can read about my Grandmother Rita in this post, Food and Family.)