Soul food. Or why mommy just ran sobbing from the table.

Are you the cook at your house? Is it by choice or by default?

Cooking was a hobby for me as a child. I enjoyed the praise my parents offered when I successfully made biscuits from scratch a la Little House on the Prairie, and the sense of accomplishment that came from creating a multi-course sit-down dinner complete with Veal Cordon Bleu (which I wanted my parents to “dress for,” but they refused… these are the woes of an only child.)

Don’t you love the imaginary 1950s?

Enter marriage and children. For those first few years, cooking was not a pleasure. It was the culinary equivalent of climbing a fourteener while dragging hubby and small children along behind. Hubby, though wise enough not to say “this isn’t how my mother made it,” didn’t rave over the meals I prepared for him the way my insecure wifely self needed him to. (And he has this strange habit of sniffing everything before he eats it, which puts me on edge, waiting for him to scrunch up his nose and reject the plate.) To his credit, he always ate, even if  it was only a tiny portion, of whatever I’d created.

The kiddos were worse, especially when they were small. Cooking with toddlers and babies hanging off your tired body like giant tumors is more like forced hard labor than a simple daily task. Worse, they had no qualms about protecting my feelings when presented with a dish (usually something with vegetables) they found suspect.

More than once during those early years of marriage and parenthood, I escaped to my room during dinner to cry, deeply wounded by the response to my heartfelt creation. Sometimes I withdrew quietly, in a fit of pity, and sometimes my departure from the dining room table was accompanied by screeching and door slamming.

My husband was always perplexed by my reaction.
“I didn’t say I don’t like YOU… I just don’t like it when you put vegetables in the casserole. It’s nothing personal.”

Oh, but it WAS personal. Because I wasn’t spending an hour or two slaving in the kitchen for MY enjoyment, I was doing it for my family. My heart had gone into the preparation of that meal. It was “soul food” and when it was rejected, so was I. At least, that’s how I perceived it.

I’ve discovered I’m not the only one. While on medical leave from dinner duty, my grown daughter took over for six weeks. One night she began to cry over her plate, then pushed her chair back and retreated to her room. She’d made something her husband and children, and father and brothers, didn’t appreciate (I liked it… it was girl food). The general lack of appreciation… er, refusal to taste it on the part of some foolish young men… hurt her feelings.

I’m older and wiser (I hope) nowadays, and slightly less sensitive. I haven’t run sobbing from the dinner table in at least a few years. Not that I remember, at least.

Today I spent two-thirds of my day preparing an orange cake from scratch for my hubby’s birthday. For 23 years he has talked about the orange cake his mom used to make for his birthday. (She told me it was from a boxed mix.) That mix, however, is no longer available in our area, and I’ve probably made a dozen orange cakes over the years in an attempt to recreate the one he remembers from childhood. So far, although they’re good, they’ve never been quite right. I’m not expecting this one to hit the mark, either, but that’s OK, because I think I’ve figured out why that orange cake he remembers was so marvelous: It was soul food, made for him, with love, by his mother.

The best I can do? Continue to create meals for the sake of my family, out of love and concern for their well-being. Hopefully, whatever I make will be at least reasonably healthy and they’ll still be willing to eat it. And I can trust that someday they’ll get that wistful look in their eyes and talk about my homemade macaroni and cheese, or enchiladas, or chicken packets, and remember that their food was made for them with love, even when they forgot to mention that they liked it, or turned up their noses at the Russian beet stew, the stuffed zucchini, or the mackerel loaf.

Kind of like this…

4 thoughts on “Soul food. Or why mommy just ran sobbing from the table.

  1. Susie - Walking Butterfly says:

    I totally identify with this post Niki. I have never been a confident cook and raising 2 boys did not help at all. I cried over many meals and even last night was pretty grumbly over the result of an food prep experiment that I was talked into by my hubs.

  2. Niki Turner says:

    Oh Susie, I'm glad you can identify and at the same time, wish you didn't!!! It never really goes away, I had a complete meltdown a few weeks ago because I'd forgotten to buy ranch dressing at the store and was informed by my almost 21-year-old that he absolutely cannot eat salad without ranch dressing. Post-hysterectomy and with crazy hormones, I exploded, he disappeared downstairs, and I had to apologize later for having a flesh fit!

  3. Kathy says:

    My daughter was a great veggie eater, and I am still working on my husband! Cooking is a lot of fun! However "making dinner" is not fun and more like a chore. For me the difference is time constraints and all the special diet concerns. For the record I am still trying to recreate my husbands favorite bread pudding.

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