What being a Kitchen Wench taught me about Life.

kitchen wench photo.jpg

Kitchen-wench: a kitchen-maid ~ Chamber's Twentieth Century Dictionary

I am the family kitchen-wench and I love it.

Every night my husband, son and I sit down to a much-slaved-over homemade dinner. I treasure the time sweating, chopping, sautéing and roasting in the kitchen.  

To my family it's just dinner. To me it's the ultimate form of expression. With every slice of the knife, tear from an onion, waft of baked chicken, I'm expressing my love, creativity and sense of adventure.

It wasn't always this way. For years a two-hour commute made family dinner impossible. Leftovers and chicken nugget-pizza-pasta-food-blasphemy ruled the table. I longed for the soul and body nourishment that only real food shared at the table can bring. 

When I got cancer and could no longer commute, homemade meals became a priority for my soul and a necessity to heal my body. Now two years later and calmly living with cancer, I can see life lessons I've learned in the kitchen. 

Food is love. 

"Honey, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." ~ Avalonia Gregg, my grandma

For me, my grandmother, my best friend, my mom's best friend and home cooks, food bloggers and renowned chefs around the globe, food is love. We cook because it brings us joy to spread our love on a plate. There is a primal satisfaction in nourishing another human being. 

We lose that specialness when we get our dinner in a bag from a minimum-wage high-school student earning gas money. When our bellies are filled with junk food, so is our soul. Not only are we the missing vitamins and nutrients we get from real foods, we're missing the most important nutrient of all: vitamin L — love.

Let's get real. The only reason I get to be home every night to cook for my family is because I got cancer and couldn't work anymore. A home cooked dinner is a luxury most of us don't have in our over-booked lives. But by making a conscious effort to look for vitamin L in our food and sitting down at a real table together, whether a kitchen table or a restaurant with a real chef rather than a human robot, we can start to nourish ourselves in body and spirit. 

Our creativity is expressed in that thing we obsess over. 

"Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world." ~ Brene Brown

I think about food all the time. I mean all the time.

As I fall asleep, I plan what I'm going to make for breakfast. As I put away the butter from breakfast, I scope out what I have in the fridge to play with for lunch and dinner. I take Pinterest breaks throughout the day to search for the right recipe using all those ingredients. 

Before Pinterest let us create boards, I was an avid magazine recipe ripper. I had stacks of torn pages from Food & Wine, Cooking Light, Martha Stewart, People, Bon Appetit, Better Homes & Gardens. My culinary adventures ran the gamut of high/low cuisine. I saved all the recipes we liked into a binder sorted by tabs: chicken, beef, sides, salads, drinks, desert, breakfast. 

I read cookbooks like a chose-your-own-adventure book. I jumped around the book to tackle every recipe. I put posties on the recipes I wanted to try next. I had annotations cluttering the sidebar like a college textbook; "meh, needs more garlic, best chicken ever, try again with less salt." 

We all have that thing we love. That thing we're obsessed with. That thing we love so much we don't realize it's an expression of our creativity. That thing we miss and feel hollow about if we're away too long. Stocks, coloring, writing, ice skating, it doesn't matter what it is, we just need to acknowledge it and make sure life doesn't keep us away for too long. 

We can't let adversity stop our sense of adventure.

"Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy." ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

When I got cancer two years ago it was all around my gut. Eating, pooping, digesting became a life or death crusade. I became a vegetarian with the first nutritionist. When the swelling, nausea and pain didn't get better, a second nutritionist put me on a vegan diet.

I started a Pinterest board called "Veggie My Life." Every night I set out on a quest to make veggies fun: spaghetti squash pad thai, mashed celeriac, candied beets.  

The bummer was I got sicker. A third nutritionist figured out I couldn't process anything leafy and green or in the broccoli family. Well, there went being a vegan. We did an extreme elimination diet with only a handful of foods I could eat (bone broth, lemons, limes, berries, squash, green beans, chicken, fish, sauerkraut, lard). 

Not only was it boring, I was now officially the food weirdo that nobody wanted to invite me to dinner. Nor could I eat out because my diet was so strict. Desperate times call for culinary adventure. 

I pinned the hell out of gluten-free, sugar-free, soy-free, dairy-free, alcohol-free recipes of the few foods I could eat.  Every night I whipped up different version of the same ingredients without any herbs and only a few spices. 

"No amount of good food can nourish a starving soul." ~ Catherine Barnhoorn

When life punches us in the gut (literally in my case), it's easy to get wrapped up in the moment and lose sight of what brings us joy. My creativity and sense of adventure kept me nourished and entertained through the worst of the restrictions and illness.

I had to get devastating diagnosis to realize that cooking nourished every part of my being. None of us should wait that long.  Now is the reflective time of year to think about how we can nourish ourselves everyday for the next year. 

And when life does hand us lemons, let us make a sugar-free, gluten-free lemon cake.