First published in Franklin Journal
The coffee pot is getting a workout today. Writing my book and blogging has center attention and with that a full mug is essential. With each cup, as I try to lay more words to paper, my mind wanders to many areas of my life past and present. Sometimes the journey has been smooth, sometimes not so much. Much of the journey has centered on food in one manner or another. Not because I eat all the time. In my growing years, it seemed my mother constantly cooked and shared as much of it as she could. There’s no doubt that influenced my food passion. I continue that tradition and am grateful I cannot only cook, but share more through my writing.
An icon of my childhood experience with food was the butcher-block cutting board my father had made for my mother. Due to constant use, it rarely made it back into the storage center he had also made. On one side of the storage center, there were racks to hold the large assortment of spices and flavorings. The other side held cake pans, cookie sheets and the cutting board. My father had designed the kitchen to my mother’s specifications, relative to not only readily being able to reach each ingredient and tool, but to be able to look out on the lake as she cooked; up the road to note frequent visitors – the human kind, as well as nature’s wildlife. I note my memory of her occasional pauses of leaning on the counter while gazing out at the fish jumping out of the water;
or scolding the squirrels for taking more than their fair share of seed.
As mentioned in a previous post, my father was proud of my mother’s cooking and made no effort to conceal this. While I only had company of my father through early childhood, before he passed on I clearly remember him sitting sideways in “his spot” at the kitchen table. His right leg would be slung casually over the left, one hand resting in his lap and the other holding his pipe. He chewed on it thoughtfully, gazing at my mother. He was in process of weaning off smoking. Perhaps he knew.
This particular day I am remembering, my mother had seriously burned a batch of raisin oatmeal cookies. My father never missed a beat. He filled his coffee cup and sat down with a couple of cookies he had snagged on his trip by the coffee pot. With sincerity he commented, “Your mom makes the best cookies. Burned is my favorite.” I remember thinking he was really something to not say a negative word about them being burned. I didn’t either while joining him with a glass of milk and discussing the merits of burned cookies. It wasn’t about cookies.
Decades later, I was baking a lemon blueberry cake and mentioned my baking to a friend. They responded with how much they enjoy lemon blueberry cake. After it finished baking, I packaged up a couple of warm slices, threw in some napkins, and set out to share. On the way to deliver the cake, I started thinking about whether it was too dry, lemony, or enough blueberries. I was losing confidence in that cake. I must have also been losing confidence in my friend, as well. As I was serving the cake, I began serving apologies that it may not be moist, lemony or blueberry enough. My apologizing for my baking, also serving warning to myself that criticizing may ensue. Instead, noting some annoyance in their tone, my apologizing was met with my friend responding, “Why do you make apologies? The cake is fine.” By the tone, I knew the words were not about cake.
More years later, I am revisiting both situations and the affirmation that sharing food isn’t about the food. Just like friends don’t come to see a clean house—they come to see us—in sharing food we share self and no apologies are needed. My father and my friend knew that critiquing the food was like critiquing the person and not a reciprocating, loving gesture.
It has been decades since I shared cookies with my dad and years since I’ve seen my friend, but the pleasant remembrance of them resurfaces in the occasional burnt cookie or slice of lemon blueberry cake.