Being the Mom has really made me look at myself and what I actually do, not only what I want to teach Ben. I am reading a book about feeding your child and its made me reflect on what I was taught about food and health. My mom was amazing when it came to teaching us about food. She enjoyed food, didn't obsess over it and was an equal opportunity eater. I have a great model to work from when it comes to feeding Ben. We had a garden growing up (which I don't). It made me appreciate very simple food. No chemicals, no additives or preservatives- produce that came straight from the ground to our kitchen table. My mom grew the kind of tomatoes that you wanted to eat like apples, because the taste was like an explosion. It was all you needed. I don't even know how to compare the tomatoes you can buy at the store. Its a pathetic comparison. Hopefully someday I will catch the gardening bug. One of my favorite things was picking ingredients for dinner from the garden in the summer twilight. I can remember the smell of the valley and the way the dusty vegetables felt in my hands. It made food feel like a way of life.
Mom is so against the "clean your plate" philosophy, and she would defend us against it when we were much too little to understand. We either ate as a family, or Steph and I would eat together in the kitchen and I would try to get her to taste things she hated, like olives. We could eat as much or as little as we wanted at dinner or snack time, as long as it wasn't too close to dinner. Desert was usually two small cookies that we were allowed to steal from Dad's stash. He kept them in old-fashioned animal cracker tins on the top shelf. I remember them being red, with pictures of tigers and other circus animals in caged train cars. Sometimes Mom would put together fancy elaborate deserts. When I say elaborate, I don't mean layered and decorated cakes or some kind of Martha Stewart hand painted cupcakes. I mean hearty, country style pies or peaches and ice cream. That was a treat in our house and she always seemed so excited to announce it, and we were excited to hear it.
When Mom makes dinner its always at least three courses, and she always offers you bread and butter. We always had a glass of milk and candlelight. She has a flair for presentation- she would arrange the food, add garnishes, and bring the big dishes to the table. You serve yourself, as much or as little as you'd like. She used brown or wild rice, was careful about how well the meat was cooked, and packed the salads. Light on the lettuce, heavy on the healthy stuff. She is incredibly creative in the kitchen, and got increasingly so with every passing year. She can make a meal out of anything, and can visualize a quick, healthy snack without even looking in the fridge. When we were growing up she cut cheese from blocks (none of this pre-sliced extravagance) she bought heads of lettuce, just-pulled-from-the-ground carrots. Our fridge could sometimes look like a farmer's ice box from the forties. It was real food, and it was really good.
We were your average unappreciative kids who just didn't know better. We said our pleases and thank yous and helped set the table, but we dawdled when it was time for dinner, and we had to be reminded to comment on how good it was. Mom loved us. She could tell by the way I quieted down, and Steph danced in her chair that we loved a meal.
We had no idea how much work it took to put a meal like that on the table night after night, much less how wonderful it was that she loved it and poured love into it. Not every night was magical, of course, this isn't some kind of perfectly polished television show. But there was scarcely a night that she didn't put forth the love and the effort, hoping for the magic. She taught me so much about nutrition and caring for my body and what went into it. She taught me how to be comfortable in your kitchen, to experiment, try again and to care about the process, not the perfection. Dad taught me not to rush through a meal and to avoid talking business at the table. It's a time to relax, to savor, to smile over dancing candlelight at the ones you love.
Cheers to that.