One late weekday evening, I found myself putzing around my kitchen – feeding my sourdough starter, thumbing through a cookbook, copying a recipe onto a recipe card, waiting on baking muffins, checking my pantry stock, perusing a serve ware catalog. To my surprise, I realized – I’m enjoying myself.
It was striking to me, because I don’t come from a culture of kitcheny-people. That wasn’t really a big interest among my girlfriends, classmates, or parents. I didn’t come to adulthood, marriage and motherhood with an arsenal of skills or recipes. As a new bride it was kind of a big joke that “I don’t cook” – only it wasn’t a joke when it came to 5pm each day.
I never really hated the kitchen but there has often been a big stress point at the meeting place of my under-developed abilities in the kitchen with my heart desires to care for my family and provide hospitality to others. When my comfortable skills range would be a modest, simple dinner (largely-catered!?) about once a week, my life has actually demanded three meals a day plus snacks for a small home crowd, and a heart tugged by the Word of God and the Spirit of God to embrace all the richness of a life characterized by love and deep connections that are often carried on the wings of a meal shared together.
As I learned some meal-time survival skills, more tension points came up. I wanted to eat and serve delicious and healthy food, but I felt like maybe it was wasteful to spend the time working on that. Books like “The Life-giving Home” and “The Life-giving Table” inspired me like crazy, but then concerns like several children with food allergies and a super tight budget and my own struggle to achieve a healthy weight would offset my eagerness to throw myself into caring to grow as a homemaker at least in hospitality and cooking. I kept growing, but in a haphazard way.
And of course, I kept reading. “The Gospel Comes with a House-key” painted a beautiful, but completely foreign picture for me. I realized that my home would always look and feel different than Rosaria’s (as it should), but in reading her words my heart grew to be a little more like hers, and I think, a little more like Jesus’s. I loved Shauna Niequist’s love for food and people in “Bread & Wine.” Time would fail me if I began to sing the praises of Nancy Wilson, Rebekah Merkle and Rachel Jankovic and their assorted books and podcasts on similar topics (oh but especially “Eve in Exile”! And “Fit to Burst!” And and and.)…
Being a beginner cook and a millennial, a lot of my exposure to recipes and general cookery-thoughts came from food blogs and Pinterest and Instagram. There is some great stuff to be discovered, but it can also be so hit-or-miss, so I’m learning to be a little choosier with my sources, and I’ve found that I like the tangibility of physical recipe boxes and cookbooks. I don’t think it has ever been really about the food itself that interests me, because the food isn’t The Thing for me…it’s the magical marriage of food and Home. Food and Hospitality. Food and service to Christ. The tangibility of a cup of water offered in His name is just thrilling.
An oft-quoted line that I’ve heard from Ruth Chou Simons has lingered with me and inspired me in many areas of life. She says: “Learn to love what must be done.” I’ve pondered that for several years now…homeschooling must be done! I should learn how to love it. Cleaning must be done! I should find a way to make it enjoyable. Laundry must be done! (Still working on it…ha!) And so with cooking, I find myself in a position where it is my duty to ensure that a houseful of people are regularly fed something decent, with love and care and perhaps not too many hotdogs. It can be a miserable drudge, a situation in which I am constantly slinging frozen pizzas and insisting that “it’s cereal night!” again…OR…it can be something that I allow myself the time to actually begin to be good at. The grocery budget can be an area of our lives that my husband and I find worthy of some investment. Maybe I should read through some cookbooks and ask some friends for ideas and give the sourdough-starter-baby another whirl.
Having or not having homemade bread is not the point. Miserable mealtime legality is not in view here. What I am learning is that I can find great joy in doing my duty. I can throw myself into learning how to cook with all the energy and intentionality and creativity I can muster by the grace of God. Some days loving my children is grabbing donuts at a drive-thru, but more often it is scrambled eggs and turkey bacon, and some days it’s a little extra, with thick cut bacon, real napkins and a fancy sparkling juice concoction in my mother’s wine glasses.
When we were registering for dishes and things before our wedding, I felt quite righteous in saying WE ONLY NEED four of this, we are just us! Look at me being simple and unselfish and minimalist and godly! That may have been the best course at that time, but now I am scouring thrift stores for MORE dishes, because we’re caring for MORE people, for the glory of God.
Sometimes it seems like – should I go to this effort? Does it really matter? Baby bellies will be filled tonight whether I pull myself together and bring my A-game or cop out with my laziest crummy option (on some nights that is my legitimate A-game!), and if I can’t even muster that, they’ll surely find their way to a bag of animal crackers and finish that off! ….but I have a growing conviction that even the simplest meal of the humblest fare ought to hint at the extravagance of the love of God. A good meal reminds you of goodness in Creation, of provision for you, and it can be a foreshadowing of the wedding supper of the Lamb.
….in having the nerve to write about this, you might be deceived into thinking that I am so competent as to make quick weeknight Baked Alaskas (not once in my life!) or that I would know what to do with any given cut of meat (on my to-master list!). Or that I own – or can differentiate – salad forks and dessert forks. Nope, Wrong, Lies. I host multi-course meals pretty much never. But, I am calling the effort to grow in this area worthwhile, because people are worthwhile and meals are a tangible blessing to them, and I’m ready to put in the time, effort, money, etc…to take some baby steps in owning this area of my calling. I want to develop of handful of recipes that will taste like ‘Home’ to my family, that will taste like love to them.
And in this small step I have been captured by a great joy…I have found, once again, that in surrendering to obedience to Christ, in humbly accepting his easy yoke, there is immeasurable treasure. There is fruit to be born! There is good work to do! And someone needs to set the table.
I don’t know what this will look like, and that’s half the fun. What will we have? Who should we invite? Will there be queso involved? It’s a real dangerous situation too, because I am simultaneously learning and teaching a gaggle of children as I do (how delightful). Today it might be trying a new recipe or planting some more herbs, practicing up-scaling a crowd-pleasing recipe or teaching my little ones how to juice a lemon. And while we’re at it, we’ll celebrating the goodness of God in creating so many good things to enjoy, in giving us the ability to be creative and try new things, and in the sheer pleasure of being in fellowship together, until the day when we enjoy fellowship in Zion.