First published in The Franklin Journal
I came across a new word today. Well, new for me. I may try to use it daily, I love it so much. The word is “meraki” [may-rah-kee]. It’s a Greek word, derived from the Turkish “Merak”, for which there is no direct English translation. It is used to describe “doing something with soul, creativity, or love”, no matter how difficult the task. It should be of no surprise that I immediately thought of my work with food topics. I love all of it and can hardly wait for each morning when I’m refreshed to start in again with passion and excitement. Whether I’m growing, preparing, eating, or even photographing food, I put my soul into whichever piece I am doing.
It is well known the Greeks love food, making it the perfect example to explore the use of meraki. As I pondered the word a bit more, I realized that singularly and with my family, this is what I put into saying grace before a meal. When my children were here, at some meals we would use a religious blessing, and sometimes we would quote “Madeline” – “We love our bread. We love our butter, but most of all, we love each other.” With my kids, I think that one was a favorite. Now my words vary, but always my intent is on capturing the feeling of the moment and passion of the heart. While at the same time, acknowledging the many hands that shared in the task of providing food for my table. I most often will speak of growers, harvesters, truckers, and/or store clerks. I include asking for blessings on our food for the day and the days going forward, as well as remembering my family and friends. It’s not about exact wording, it’s about intention. Sometimes grace is spoken out loud, sometimes it is silently remembered. Always, it is with soul.
The opportunities for sharing food and beverage with meraki are numerous. One way is preparing a meal when we’re tired. It’s the last thing we want to do, but we do it anyway. Perhaps, the one who is preparing our meal is not a good cook or is having an off day, but for us the meal was prepared lovingly. That is meraki! It can be as simple as offering a favorite, steaming mug of coffee. It is a spouse preparing each evening, with love and devotion, a glass of water to quench nighttime thirst.
My daughter-in-law decorates cakes. You should see her creations. Some are intricately decorated. Some are simple. When I watch her, I can see her passion for creating and sharing coming through from her into her designs. Her eyes light up when she shares one which for you, she specifically decorated. By just gazing on the cake you can feel the soul, creativity and love. And when you eat it? The feeling is magnified. THAT is meraki!
Recently, when we had guests for dinner, the meal I prepared happened to be centered on food I can’t eat. I had designed the menu with my out-of-town guests in mind, knowing they love traditional New England dinners. One of my guests asked how it is that I choose to serve dinners that most often have foods that I cannot eat and yet, when we go to her house, she is sure to make something I can eat. I am asked this question repeatedly and I think “meraki” is now going to be my answer.
When I am preparing food for my family and guests, it is not about me. Although, you can’t give without receiving, right? The food I serve is an extension of my love for my guests and family. It is an extension of myself and I wish that love to come through when I share the food I prepare. When my friend goes out of her way to make sure the meal she prepares for me when I visit includes foods I can eat, she is doing the same.
Harvest time signals the beginning of food sharing season and will gain momentum through the several, upcoming, wintery holidays. When I am cooking my celebration meals, no matter how little or grand the offering, it is going to give me even greater satisfaction knowing there is a six letter word that sums up my passion and emotion for serving my guests meals that convey love, care, and appreciation of having them choose to sit at my table to visit and eat.