I have been sharing a lot about food lately and will probably continue to do so and I figured it was time to share a little about that with you.
My relationship with food was influenced largely by growing up in a home with a Type 1 Diabetic, my oldest sister. Our family diet was abnormal for a generation of 90’s children, we were more restricted on our sugar intake and my mother cooked healthy, homemade meals constantly. She cooked for our family and for the hunting and fishing lodge that we ran in Bristol Bay, Alaska. I was waiting tables, to the best of my ability, at four years old and I got to enjoy time in a commercial kitchen at a young age.
One of my favorite early childhood memories is being given lumps of dough and some scrap sweets or herbs to combine in a new way. I loved the feeling of warm bread dough and the conversations I had with my mom in the kitchen, it was always such a safe place.
My kids feel that too and is there is always a clamor to join mommy as she broils, bastes, and bakes.
My early memories of food were grand. I had a mother who was ahead of her time in body-image speech and took her task of raising four daughters seriously. She was very intentional to make a point out of complimenting our minds more than our looks and I never felt that my bad hair days or fashion faux pas were a reflection on her as a mother. Modesty was encouraged, but her pride was in our hearts and not our looks.
My body filled out early and I was one of the first girls in my grade to require any support wear. My sisters broke this news to me with as much grace as one might expect and I remember being embarrassed and overwhelmed before, ultimately, accepting my fate.
Then it became a recurring theme in my life; this fascination with the way I was shaped. I had a largely male group of friends who would comment on a much more familiar level than was truly appropriate and I began to understand that as a portion of my identity.
During this time, as I was wrestling out my own self worth at the tender age of seventeen…my oldest sister passed away. The cause of death was ruled as ketoacidosis which stemmed from complications with Type 1 Diabetes and a history of eating disorders. Her relationship with food had become so marred that her body no longer knew how to handle it. It was a process that seems at equal parts; slow and agonizing and, also, like it happened in a whirlwind moment. I always felt that I barely had time to acknowledge the depth of her sickness before she left this earth and, yet, I know she suffered for too long.
I was working a retail shift at a local bakery when she died and I’d spend many hours chatting with the bakers and playing with dough as I wrestled with my new place in the world. Our family puzzle had just lost a vital piece and I clamored for ways to fill it and massaged my frustration into the pastries as an act of control and catharsis.
Eventually, I moved up the ladder to become one of the head bakers of the establishment and I got to share the love of baking with many others. The walls of that bakery held so many of my day dreams as I grappled with the hardest chapters of my adolescence. I found another family in all the older women I worked with who cared for me through all of it.
Through the first long years of grief I traveled through many different routes on my relationship with food. I was numb to it and felt it all fall apart like chalk in my mouth as I attempted to find the enthusiasm necessary to enjoy anything. I was angry at the hoards of comfort food brought and consumed, as I stared at my leotards stretching tighter across my stomach than they once did. I performed in ballet class and I performed in my life as I tried to make peace with who I saw in the mirror. I felt panic rising in me at these thoughts, this disgust with my body and desire to chase the standards that had buried this girl I loved.
I stared down all the pressures of my seventeen year old world; the college decisions, the family decisions, the self-worth decisions, the boy decisions, and I picked a trade school close to home.
My parents had always encouraged us to seek a trade first if we didn’t know what we wanted and, in that moment, I had no clue. I had many previous dreams; an archaeologist, a journalist, an elementary teacher, and a mother. I always knew that I wanted to be a mother and that I wanted to prioritize that above all else. Unfortunately, it meant that I pursued this dream with tunnel vision and a deafening grip as I held tight to relationships that tore me apart. I got used to earning love by taking care of people even if they had nothing to give back. There is a part of that which is a God-given instinct, I have an easier time serving than many and I am thankful for that. The reverse of that coin, however, is that I easily slide into earning my place in someone’s heart and the joy of service is replaced by an unquenchable desire to be praised for my good works.
This obsession found a home in the love for Culinary Arts. All my strange life paths; the history with food, the desire to “wow” others with my service and the desire to stay close to home and nurture the flames of a dying romance brought me to the Culinary Academy I attended out of high school.
This was a one year intensive program that afforded plenty of time for education and some valuable relationships. I fell in love with sauce making and further fanned my love of soups and breads, I got to serve people my food and see their faces light up and it felt so wonderful.
I played around with this more after graduation. I worked a couple different restaurant jobs, escaped the toxic relationship, landed a job cooking in a preschool which combined my love of children and learning with my love of food, and met the man I now call husband.
Over the past several years I have been learning much more about how to serve joyfully with respect for myself and others. I have ridden the ways of boredom and frustration as I cook for my own family and balance a budget with busy children. I lost one baby to miscarriage during the same that time my (then) two-year old was struggling to gain weight and I felt like a failure on all accounts of food and family. I’ve learned ways to sneak more fat in to my “too busy to eat” child and have also accepted that we won’t have large children. Our babies hang towards the lower end of the percentile chart but they do so with small parents and a wide variety of healthful foods.
I have struggled with all the feelings of “too small” and not “small enough” as I assess myself and my family and have been settling in to the groove of asking how I feel instead.
I’ve refreshed my love for cooking by opening my mind to different foods and allowing experimentation and fun flavors. I love to use real ingredients and tweak old recipes and I love getting to share them with you.
I am, frankly, much more comfortable giving kitchen advice than I am with giving life advice. I have been getting to play with and experiment more with my children as I have switched to a food focus and I find myself putting more pride in my meals and getting excited for the end of the day again. Not bedtime, mealtime. The time when I get to place this meal in front of my family, not as a means of earning their love but, as a way of expressing mine.
So I’ll bring on the food posts and experiments, the pictures of meals being made and squirmy little fingers helping to mix and taste. I’ll keep bringing the joy of the kitchen to you as I learn to feed my flock; spiritually and physically.