I believe in the healing power of a home cooked meal. I say there is nothing as heartwarming or welcoming as a table filled with plates of food, because food is love, and aside from the nutritional value is the beautiful gesture that comes during its preparation.
Some of my warmest memories are linked to great meals. Some of the memories are from crowded family tables and some are more intimate and candlelit. Like the time I made acorn squash, mashed with butter and sweetened with brown sugar. I plated this with chicken and served it as the first meal I ever prepared for the girl that became my wife.
Food is love . . .
After a long day at work, I had the kind of day that left my bones aching and my muscles sore. I let out a tired yawn, changed out of my work uniform and into my regular clothes. I made my way through traffic, struggling to keep my eyes open and wishing the lanes on the Grand Central Parkway would clear so I could be home sooner.
Finally welcomed by the cool breeze of air conditioning, overrun by my dogs, and hugged by my wife and child, I walked through my front door and the dinner table was full.
I saw this as an excellent example of appreciation. There were plates of sliced prosciutto and cheese. There was bread on the table (always have to have bread) and a plate of olive oil with sprinkles of black pepper for bread dipping.
There were bowls of olives and slices of pair next to a pie-sliced quarter of brie cheese. There were sundried tomatoes in oil, fresh basil leafs and balsamic glaze. All of these dishes were scattered around the table, and all of them were the perfect answer for a long day.
I say again, Food is love . . .
There is an emotional ingredient to a home cooked sauce that is often unmentioned but always essential. This ingredient alone is where the healing power comes from.
In an effort to express gratitude to my family, I sliced some tomatoes and cut slivers of chicken into small but generous strips.
I boiled water and cooked pasta—then I placed the pasta to the side for its later purpose.
With the music of my choice playing in the background, I poured some olive oil into the pan. I added some crushed garlic and some chicken broth. I offered the mixture some red wine, capers, and black olives, crushed red pepper, pieces of fresh basil, and some tomato paste. I placed the chopped tomatoes and chicken into the pan, and after heating the contents, the aroma took over.
(I always say the better the house smells from food, the better the gesture)
I sautéed the chicken in the mix, then I added the pasta, stirred, simmered and served.
My favorite meals are the ones that sound from forks clanking against emptying dinner plates. This is the kind where knives cut and scrape the face of dishes. This is when sauce gets on your white shirt, but that doesn’t matter, because the food is just that good.
All else is quiet. Even the talkative are silently content, tasting forkfuls of love, and when bellies are full, and the last piece of bread submitted itself to soaking the last drops of sauce and juices, all is swallowed, and happiness is achieved.
I believe in the healing power of a home cooked meal because there is nothing as generous as offering someone a plate filled with life’s nutrition. For that moment, that person feels welcome. That person feels at home. But above all, that person feels loved.
One of the few memories I have of my grandmother is when she prepared a bagel for me. I must have been somewhere near the age of seven, or maybe eight. Now, one month short of my 42nd birthday, I still have not tasted a bagel as good as that one.
I remember she was standing at a small round table in the eat-in kitchen of her Florida apartment. Outside the sliding glass doors and across from her high-up terrace, which overlooked Collins Avenue and Lincoln Road, the bells chimed from a nearby clock tower, and the hot Miami sun had already beaten my New York skin with a bad sunburn.
I remember her hands. They were wrinkled with age but they were perfectly soft. Her hair was white and gray and her voice was soothing like a lullaby.
She spoke to me as she prepared my bagel.
I sat at the table as she sang to me while adding the lox with cream cheese. She smiled, and when she put the plate in front of me, I finished every piece of it.
Food is love . . .
I was once in the middle of a financial and emotional downfall. The failure and heartbreak was terrible. There was no one around to help, and there was little, if anything, in my bank account. I couldn’t pay any of my bills, but I had to eat.
So I made short ribs. I slow-cooked them in a beef broth with sliced onions, full cloves of garlic, and slivers of carrots. I cooked mashed potatoes and put out bread for the soaking and eating of my creation.
What I remember most about that meal is for the moment, we ate in my house without thinking about the problems at hand.
(I think that might have been one of my best dishes.)
A full belly leads to a good smile, and a good smile is the best thing to poison sadness. I cannot stop life on life’s terms and I certainly cannot heal the sick.
But I can feed myself. I can feed a loved one, and sometimes, a good meal is all you need.
At least I think so.