After my daughter announced in early August that she was moving out, I clamped down on our loosely organized family dinners. I sourced meat from our butcher, roamed farmer’s markets for seasonal vegetables, spent time standing in line at french bakeries, drove 45 minutes to buy authentic Baba perogies, and wandered the aisles of our Italian food market.
Every day, I started dinner prep at 3 pm, and at 6 pm I served a feast on our wooden dining room table: rack of lamb, lasagnas, enchiladas, steak, roast chickens, elaborate casseroles. And the desserts! Apple crumble, cheesecakes, and pies. We ate like medieval kings and queens every night. I am sure I gained ten pounds in the month before Ella left home. But every pound was worth it.
I was very consciously, as Elizabeth Renzetti says, overloading the family dinner with expectation and symbolism. I was feeding my family well in my desperation to demonstrate my love to my girl in her final days at home. I want her to think of our house and recall the smell of cracking bacon, the sight of flickering candles at the table, and the taste of that silky linguine carbonara.
My now-adult daughter and I have spent a great amount of time breaking bread together. When she was little, I silently vowed never to act like food was the enemy. Preparing and eating food is a pleasure in our home, and I’m careful not to complain about burden of daily cooking. When she played competitive soccer, we talked about how food is meant to fuel her body. I know countless grown women whose attitudes about food are really disordered. I’m no saint myself, but Krista Burton sums up my own philosophy about food when she says, eat that damn brownie already.
In my quest to hang out with blossoming daughter, we have taken regular Chick Weekends that have centred around eating – to Christmas in November in Jasper, to a cooking school in Seattle, on a food tour in Chicago. We are currently scheming a food weekend in San Francisco. Have I have been trying to nurture a positive body image through these culinary trips? Hell, yes I have.
As a mother, food is how I’ve expressed my love to my family. Is this old-fashioned, or sexist or wrong? I don’t care. My own mother, who is half-Italian, is an excellent cook, and in my memory banks is the smell of pigs feet, peppercorns and bay leaves simmering in tomato sauce on the stove.
Before Ella left home she asked for a copy of my favourite recipes, and I typed up a little book for her called Ella’s Recipes, which included little tidbits of wisdom like:
- Italian Sausage Pasta – another Jamie Oliver recipe! Ya gotta buy a bottle of cheap white wine for cooking!
- Beef Stew – an old friend named Cheryl gave this to me a long time ago – like probably 25 years ago! It can also be done in a slow cooker.
- Beef Strogonoff and Noodles – any mushroom soup ones are from Grandma, but I love them – must be memories from my childhood.
(I realized I’m no gourmet cook with the amount of recipes that utilize cream of mushroom soup – a staple in the 1970’s in the suburbs from my childhood).
Now, Ella and I meet for lunch every week on her day off. She’s the only family member that will indulge in sushi with me. She texts me to ask how long to cook baby potatoes. The last time she and her boyfriend came over for dinner, I rolled up my sleeves, and we had barbecued steak from the butcher, baked potatoes with real bacon bits, corn from the Taber truck guy, and Okanagan cherry pie.
When Ella and Eisech arrived for dinner, she was tired from starting work at 7 am, but she was in good spirits and smiling. She’s working in her gap year before university at a local bakery. There she’s a baker’s assistant, and I’m hoping that she observes the pleasure her customers get from eating her Mocha Nanaimo Bars. Now it is her turn to craft her own food philosophy, and I hope it doesn’t include guilt and remorse, only delight and love.
After dinner, I load her and her man up with leftovers carefully portioned into ziplock containers. I give them a jar of blueberry jam from the farmer’s market. I tuck in an extra bag of frozen meatballs. We must teach (and feed) our children well.