A wonderful New Year’s Day treat at the home of some friends in Toronto prompted me to think more deeply about the connectivity between food and love. Specifically, I have grown to believe that people who love to cook (not the same as people who just love to eat) have a huge appetite for life, fearlessness, and the ability to share. This translates for me into the capacity to love others.
On the 1st of January, we were scheduled to transit at Toronto Pearson for 9 hours. This potential nightmare of boredom and chain-espresso-drinking morphed into a most enjoyable gourmet experience when our friends offered to host us for the entire day. They whipped out prosecco & OJ, award-winning self-made wine, salmon, cheese, bagels, child-friendly squash risotto, walnut salad, crème brulee, berries, freshly ground coffee, etc., allowed us to camp in their divine guestroom, and breezed calmly through Petit-Homme’s frantic antics (involving the near breakage of a few priceless lamps).
I started rehashing a theory I’d thought of years ago after watching my mother-in-law toil single-handedly to happily prepare feasts for huge extended families. The people I know who love to cook, love to entertain. They don’t expect anything in return (unlike some people who go to restaurants and say “this time it’s me, next time its you – or insist on splitting the check right down the middle each time), and the pleasure of your company is welcomed like a great privilege. Many of them hold busy professional jobs but still deliberately seek out opportunities to learn and develop a craft in their kitchens. They get an immense thrill from seeing their guests/families demolish their plates, but may be secretly hurt if no appreciation is shown. Loving souls are sensitive souls. These people I know tend to welcome people with extremely open hearts and jump at the chance to share their good fortune with others, without any veneer of do-goodism. When someone says to me, “please come over for dinner”, I feel a rush of kindred emotion and admiration. Treating someone to dinner at a restaurant requires much less effort and openness (not that it is any less generous or kind, I hasten to emphasize). No messy kitchen to hide, no time crunch, no stress, no worrying about allergies or guests’ lack of teeth, no emergency run to the grocery store in an icy storm, no sweaty face and runny mascara from the steamed fish, no opening the door in your undergarments to early birdies.
I used to think I loved to cook. But when I observe true aficionados, I realize that my corner-cutting habits (crockpot, rice cooker only meals, take-out, not inviting anyone home) seemed to manifest themselves most strongly when I was feeling unable to share much of my time or headspace with anyone beyond my own little nucleus. Love-stingy days, perhaps they should be called.
So, my New Year’s Inspiration (resolution sounds too much like the old days when it was all about getting fitter, learning more languages, being abstractedly “kinder”, blah blah) is to cook up a labour of love every month (or two). I shall begin with cupcakes. You scoff at this meager goal, but I’d much rather run 10 km than bake. All that measuring, burning and deflating … I have all the gear waiting for me, piping tips, fancy ready mix. I must do this before January 31. Seriously.
Happy New Year.