covid19 · eating · food · holidays · overeating

What Serving Love Can Look Like

Growing up, no one needed to explain to me what I already seemed to understand: Grandma cooked big meals (especially over the holidays) to show that she loved us, and we ate as much as we could to show her we loved her.

That dynamic worked for me a kid because the food was delicious and I didn’t care about things like portion sizing, calorie counting, bad cholesterol, etc. At the time, I wasn’t fully aware of the complex dynamics involved in eating food and showing affection—which also involves aspects of power, tradition, expectations, guilt, body rights, etc., as other FIFI bloggers have described.

And, as Tracy recently reminded us, how food is offered and received can create much stress in social situations. In turn, these dilemmas focus our attention away from being merry and grateful for eating together in the first place. This is especially true if we are able to feast with loved ones while the pandemic continues.

Soon I am hosting our family’s upcoming holiday meal. While others may be planning how to respond to offerings of food, I am thinking about how I can create a dinner in which everyone feels attended to but not unduly pressured. Here is what I am thinking:

Share the menu in advance, and ask for dish suggestions.

It’s no secret I am planning a menu in advance, so why not share it to let people know what’s for dinner? I’m not doing exotic food theatrics like a on-fire baked Alaska, so I will leave the surprises to the wrapped presents under the tree. I will try to seek favourite dish requests–and put extras on the side–to ensure everyone gets something that accommodates their dietary needs.

Make the traditionals

In one of my favourite Christmas movies, The Ref (1994), Caroline experiments with an off-beat Christmas dinner menu, serving (to her family’s horror and disgust) “roast suckling pig, fresh baked Kringlors in a honey-pecan dipping sauce, seven-day old lutefisk, and lamb gookins.”

While I might enjoy preparing elaborate dishes with strange ingredients, I know my family mostly likes to eat the basics: roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy. Unless I plan on making guests uncomfortable (and eating 16 portions of 8-day old lutefisk afterwards), it’s more realistic to give them what I know they will enjoy.

Plan an outdoor stretch break

Not everyone likes to feel trapped in a place where they can only eat and drink, and I can’t see my family getting into a lively game of charades, so I will remind everyone to bring their warmies for a relaxed winter wonderland walk outside at some point. I will make available extra scarfs, and maybe some travel tea, so this activity will be inviting and comfortable.

Ask once, judge not

I will only ask folks if they want more food ONE TIME. I will not repeat my Grandma’s loving mantra, “Eat eat eat.” I will not take offence to food that is not touched or finished. I will remind myself that people choose what, how, and how much to eat for their own reasons that have nothing to do with my cooking.

I admit this one will be tough for me, but I will remember that paying less attention to other’s plates means I can focus on conversation and fun. (And if folks really don’t like the food, then they should be offering to host dinner next year).

Provide takeaways

My own habit is to overeat so food “doesn’t go to waste,” even if I don’t really want more. But I can avoid waste-guilt all around by making takeaway containers readily available, so folks can eat more when they want. (If I get my act together in time, I can get neat lidded dishes from a second-hand store.)

So, this for this holiday dinner–instead of focusing all of my energy on the food prep and on the eating habits of others–I plan on giving people information, choices, and a little optional exercise to let them know I love them. If they show up and seem to be having a good time, then I know that they love me.

This post is dedicated to my late grandmother, Margaret Stanski, who was a loving person and a wonderful cook.


Just cook! (And help me out…)

I’ve written before about my aspirational cook book problem.

I love the idea of cooking healthy food but I find it all a bit overwhelming.

And now Yoni Freedhoff comes along and validates my feelings. He suggests that maybe we should separate out “cooking” from “healthy.” Certainly for me I tend to bundle cooking in there as part of the complete life change we all dream about. I know, details differ, person to person. In mine my room is always clean, I’m vegan, I only have dessert on special occasions, I’m never behind on writing projects, and I cook a lot of high quality, healthy, delicious food. (Nat’s cooking posts on Facebook make me jealous.)

Here’s Freedhof’s piece, For Beginners, Maybe Cooking Shouldn’t Be “Healthy”

I can also tell you that many of the folks who don’t cook regularly believe that if they were to start doing so, they’d need to be cooking “healthy” foods.

Why sure, cooking especially healthy meals is a nice aspiration, but if you’re a beginner in the kitchen, why not instead focus on cooking meals that while perhaps not incredibly healthy, are meals that you’re confident that you or your family will enjoy?

The goal really is to gain comfort in the kitchen and/or to gain the trust of your family members that you can cook yummy things.

So if you’re a beginner in the kitchen, maybe cutting your cooking teeth on less healthy meals will encourage you to gain the skills and comfort you’ll need to slowly improve your repertoire, and in so doing make the kitchen a room in which you actually enjoy spending time.

Okay. Okay. Maybe I’ll back off from the healthy bit of my cooking aspirations. Scale back a bit and focus on food that I enjoy.

The last new recipe I followed was this: RAS EL HANOUT ROASTED WHOLE CAULIFLOWER. Yummy!

A spiced, whole roasted head of cauliflower


Share your recipes with me. What’s something yummy, vegetarian and easy to make that you recommend to this beginning cook?


My aspirational cook book problem

There many ways that Tracy and I are alike. We’re friends, co-bloggers, and longtime colleagues with a slew of shared commitments but we are also very different people. Mostly we both accept that “you do you” idea and let the other go her different ways. I road bike. She runs. That’s just one example but there are many. Also, we don’t generally pine after what the other one has.

But there is one thing that Tracy has that I envy. That’s her love of cooking and her cooking skills. I listen to her stories of cooking as a relaxation thing and I’m jealous.

Me, I appreciate good cooking. I love food. But I have very little patience for making it. Partly that’s a matter of personal history. You try feeding three kids with different tastes for many years and food planning and preparation loses lots of its charm. You try to make something fun, and yummy, and new but really they’d rather have tomato soup and grilled cheese or scrambled eggs or veggie burgers and fries.

For years I’ve had the luxury of complaining about buying groceries. Three teenagers and their friends adds up to a lot of food. There’s all the putting in the cart, bagging it, getting groceries to the car, unloading the car, putting the food away, and then blink, it’s gone. I joke that I may as well ring a bell in the driveway and they could all run out and eat and we could just cut out the putting away part.

Things are a bit better now. Some of the kids are away. Their tastes have broadened and they cook. That’s lovely. Last year when I was teaching late and my daughter would text with me with dinner options I felt I’d truly arrived.

But I still haven’t found a love of cooking in me. I mean, yes, I prepare food. I make salads. I boil pasta. I scramble eggs. But I don’t cook in any serious way. When you’re an academic and you want to know something about a thing, what you do is acquire books about it. That’s been my unsuccessful approach to cooking.

I look at cookbooks and I dream of a better, healthier, more ethical life. I aspire to veganism and if only I cooked, I think, I could do that. (I do pretty well as it is 50-75% of the time and that’s not so bad.) So I buy cookbooks. I read cookbooks. I imagine eating the meals therein. But so far, it’s mostly aspirational. I’ve probably made one recipe out of each book.

This isn’t even the entire shelf of aspirational cookbooks. There are more.

I think cooking from cookbooks is just too big a step for me. Last semester my son tried the GoodFood program where they deliver the ingredients for meals pretty much prepared and the recipes in a giant box. It’s kind of “meet you halfway” home cooking. When he’d had a few weeks I got some free samples and Sarah and I made them. The vegan/vegetarian options were pretty good. But it felt like a luxury, the sort of thing I might spring for on a particularly busy work week when the alternative would be take out.

I’ve also been spending a lot more time in Toronto where the take away choices are pretty amazing.

I might try Tracy’s start small thing and pick one night a week to choose a recipe and make it.

Oh, and no more cook book buying!

How about you? Do you struggle with cooking at home? Love it? Hate it? Why?