While I was working on a new essay for Demeter Press, I took a quick break and found this. It’s long, but worth the time it takes to read it. I found myself nodding my head over and over again as the author lamented the new “culture of shut up” that has permeated social media.  A bit of a twist on my “sea of unknowing,” but more pop-culture friendly for certain.

The essay I’m working on is for an upcoming anthology on Mothers and Food and as I sat down to take my first stab at it in the unseasonable sunshine in the backyard, I was on fire.  Chronicling my years as a child of the PopTart Generation (my name for the 1970s era of “better living through chemistry”) to my early years as a mother trying to do right by my babies when it came to food, and through our gluten allergy diagnoses, I am writing about the challenges of raising healthy children when you don’t know what information is real.  So many of the things I thought I knew about food have been proven wrong – processed foods aren’t healthy, fertilizers do more harm than good, GMOs are horrifically frightening, rice isn’t a healthy alternative to wheat if you’re gluten intolerant thanks to the arsenic levels, alternative grains aren’t always the best, and on and on….  The whole essay now weighs in at 2500 words and it is decidedly defeatist, so I’ll have to work on finding a way to lighten it up and find the silver lining somewhere.  That said, I do often feel a little undone by the latest food news as it comes my way because it seems to create more work for me as I plan meals and shop and cook for my family.  I come from a Ukrainian great-grandmother who loved nothing more than cooking for friends and family and I inherited her inability to cook for anything less than an army.  I absolutely feel like cooking for others is a way to show them I love them and at our dinner table, the more, the merrier. But I struggle with the fact that eating is hard work these days. And don’t tell me to plant a garden in my backyard because I most certainly did NOT inherit that ability from my Gram.  I’ll go out and support the farmer’s markets, thankyouverymuch, but only if they grow organic produce.

I don’t generally post many photos on my blog, but today I have to. You see, on Tuesday, Lola and I had our Second Annual Valentine’s Day Cook-Fest. This is the second year in a row that her mid-winter break from school falls during Valentine’s week, and since Eve and Bubba are stuck in their regular routine, Lola thought it would be cool for us to concoct a feast for them. She is my little chemist, so for her, cooking is fun. So is making a godawful mess in the kitchen.

As soon as we dropped Eve off at her carpool meet-up point, we headed home to start baking. First on tap, the flourless chocolate cake. Lola delighted in using the biggest, sharpest knife we own to shred an enormous block of chocolate. She also loved licking her fingers and swiping them across the counter to pick up rogue bits that had leaped off of the cutting board. Separating eggs is fun, too. Since she used her fingers to filter out the yolks and got to be “all slimy.” Whipping egg whites was harder than she anticipated, so I stepped in to save the day, but she insisted on being the one to fold them in to the mixture at the end.

Once the cake was in the oven, we got to move on to our next dish – gluten-free potstickers. We discovered this recipe last year and it was such a hit that we knew we had to do it again. We also remembered how much work it was, so we bought some rice paper wrappers to make spring rolls with the leftover filling. Mixing dough was a riot – Lola loves to get her hands in there and squish it all together. She had a ball chopping chicken and cabbage and green onions and, later, rolling out the dough and pressing it in the tortilla press.

Then it was time to make the broth for pho. We roasted spices with onion and garlic and ginger under the broiler and put it in the crock pot with broth to steep all day long. The last few photos are of the table Lola set, the noodles and beef just before we poured the boiling broth over the top, Lola rolling a spring roll, and the fabulous flourless chocolate cake.

I already know that next year, Valentine’s Day won’t fall during mid-winter break, but Lola and I have decided to make this a tradition (and Bubba and Eve aren’t complaining – they were looking forward to dinner all day long). Although we made an unholy mess of the kitchen, I don’t remember when I’ve had more fun and I’m already looking forward to next year’s adventures in the kitchen.

Slicing some cantaloupe for the girls this morning, it occurred to me how often I think in food. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Not only is it the natural hub of our house – open to the family room, laundry area, main hallway, and directly leading to the backyard – but with growing kids who are gluten-intolerant and mom-cooking-experiment-tolerant, this is my laboratory. The pantry is a walk-in, always overstuffed, and the refrigerator would be a great place for a photo shoot for one of those ISpy books.

So most of my time is spent in the kitchen. I’m usually on my feet, slicing, mixing, cleaning up, grabbing a quick snack, making a smoothie or espresso, little snatches of time here and there, and either the kids are out playing or waiting for sustenance, so I get to grab quick snatches of thought here and there, too.

Every time I slice cantaloupe or honeydew melon, I think of Susan who used to cut melon for us kids and who taught me how to slice it easily.

When I am topping my own pizza, I remember Carlos and Laura filling up the kitchen with their laughter and 13 homemade pizza crusts, Carlos wearing most of the homemade pizza sauce and Laura and I trying not to explode in giggles.

Throwing ingredients in to the crock pot for chili, I conjure up visions of me on the kitchen phone with Mom guiding me through the steps – her at work and me a latchkey kid. The long phone cord stretched between the wall and the counter, receiver tucked between my shoulder and ear.

Walking through the produce section at the grocery store, I look at the kiwi and recall a girl I used to work with who ate them whole – like a big, fuzzy strawberry. I think of Dad when I see vine-ripened tomatoes. He used to sit on the back porch, slice them open, salt them liberally, and devour them.

It only takes a split second for these images to float through my mind, but I am rarely without some association of a special or unique person in my life when I prepare food. Maybe that is why I enjoy cooking so much. It is certainly not a solitary activity, although I am often performing the activities on my own. I am often cooking for friends or family, and as I go through the motions I am surrounded by others who help me to feel good about the history of the recipes or my own history with food. This groundedness in nourishment is settling for me and nourishes so much more than my belly.