If I cook for you, you are in my heart
On Sunday, May 29, 2022, I began cooking a meal I prepped on Saturday evening. It was a meal I had not had in a few months (maybe longer) — one that had become such a staple in my home — one of comfort. I smiled as I mated the beef ribs that had marinated for 16 hours with the crockpot. I glowed — I beamed. Everything in me felt magically conducive to my existence, and this all came from a meal that I would savor 6 hours later. The art of cooking is one I thought I had lost, but I am happy that the beauty of performing the act is still second nature to me.
Washing collard greens is a song — a powerful melody. The water rushes over each leaf, my fingers gently smooth over the pile of collective goodness, and dumping the dirty water signifies a cleansing. This is a ritual. If you have “cleaned greens”, you know exactly of what I speak — it is fulfilling. It is captivating. A few minutes become an intense love ballad — a walk amongst the clouds. Losing oneself in the act is almost inevitable.
And when they have been cleaned to perfection and seasoned to taste, cooking them is a slow and steady process — a somewhat divine intervention between you and the outside world. While you wait for them to change from green to a darker version of green, and simmer completely down, the smell birthed inside your home is heaven. I wouldn’t say it’s a fragrance I’d bag and sell, but it is definitely one I could see being used as a calming solution — an antidote for the crippling disease we now know as continual pain and suffering.
Finding the time to create a home-cooked meal for myself and also for others is entering once again in my life, and it feels so good. These meals are an act of love — an act of care. They are a way for me to gift a small piece of myself to someone else.
How I learned to cook.
I started cooking at a young age — age 9. My dad was the “cook” in our tiny family and he had learned from watching his mother and grandmother. Recipes he’d grown up with laced our home with their smells. Crab casserole was a weekend excursion into intense flavor and the soul of the sea. Tuna macaroni salad was a flavorful party that could take place any day of the week. Barbecue chicken and an accompaniment of string beans and potato salad would show up on some Sunday afternoons after church, and I would lick my chubby fingers clean — thrilled to consume such a gift.
My dad was not the type of man to shoo me away when I would enter the kitchen. The kitchen was his haven, yes, but he welcomed me into it. He would show me how to dice onions and bell peppers. We started off slowly and cautiously. I was often in awe as he worked his way around the appliances and cabinetry of our kitchen. He had been a performer, and I was his audience. Our kitchen . . . the stage. I spent many hours watching this man provide home-cooked meals for us, and I am glad I did.
I did not know the lessons would be so short-lived. By the time I was twelve, my parents divorced. My mom was not the best cook. Her style was more of a boxed presentation of pre-baked goods and items, sprinkled with a hurried dash of “eat this or nothing”, and I knew I’d rather have nothing or cook for myself. And cook for myself and my brothers, shortly after, I did.
I took what my dad had taught me and carried the lessons of his love language with me into every year of my life. And now, these lessons are helping me with the grieving process — they are opening my eyes up to a love I did not recognize when I was younger. My dad cooked for us because he loved us. He showed me how to cook because he wanted to pass down this kind of love to his oldest child. It is an act of pure love that many of us take for granted.
At 42, I can testify that cooking has pulled me out of some dark places — the comfort of knowing my hands created something delicious and sustaining is an assurance that I will have with me in my elder years.
If I cook for you, you are in my heart.
Sunday also found me entertaining an old co-worker/friend of mine. We made plans to meet up and do something productive, however, the heat that came along with this day of rest was unbearable. When she called me to see if our plans were still on, I informed her it was too hot to do any outside activities, and most places are too crowded on Sunday afternoons to be safe, and her response was, “Well, I’ll leave work, swing by to pick me up some lunch, and come to your place if that’s cool.” And it totally was.
Before she called, I’d already cooked the greens, and the potato salad was also done and getting what we call “a chill on it” in the refrigerator, and the ribs were still mating with the crockpot — almost at their most tender. I walked Jenee, my dog, cleaned house, and sat down to reel in a sense of comfort before her arrival.
This friend, I had cooked for more than once. When we still worked together in the last department at my job — a prominent radiology imaging center in my area — I would bring plates of food to work for her so we could have lunch together. She would also do the same. We had grown to know and love the various aspects of each other’s cooking and our differences and styles, too. Having her visit not knowing that I planned to send her home with food, was the high point of my day.
As the time neared for her to arrive, I sat in my kitchen. I braced myself. I had not seen her in six months and this meeting would be much longer — trapped excitement almost caused me to burst. She was walking toward my building when I looked outside my window. I walked swiftly down three flights of stairs to meet her. We embraced and held onto each other and rocked from side to side.
Hugging for Black people isn’t just hugging. We can take it to a whole new universe. It is a method of healing — a practice we had been shown before we could speak or walk or fully hug someone else. It is a pull you into a safe space and not let you go until you know what the other person is feeling. It’s deep love. It is a language we had been taught to speak and we do it beautifully. And I need this language now more than ever.
After we hugged, we trekked up those same three flights to where she could find rest and comfort at my kitchen table while she ate. We talked, we reminisced, and we cried. The two of us have had some heavy things happen to us in the last year, and the trials keep stacking up, yet we are still taking on every single day — braving them and finding our way through.
About two hours passed, and she had to leave so she could take care of her mother and family. I said to her, “Let me fix a plate of food for you to take home.” I cannot describe the smile that lit up her face. I have no words for it right now, just know that I saw my friend shift moods and my mood changed because of it. The giddiness was there — the power of love was there — the relief of not having to think about what to make for lunch the next day was there. All because I love her enough to feed her — to make sure she could cater to herself, too.
Food is a pathway to connection.
Being able to spend some time with my friend and cook for myself and provide some sustenance for her, too, was exactly what I needed. Food is the start of lifelong connections — it can create everlasting friendships that will see you through the roughest times of your life. If you begin a friendship with food or take it even further — by making that meal yourself — the enrichment of your life is paramount.
There are so many ways we can gift love to others — some simple, some extreme. I know one way I will continue to show the people in my life that I love them — that I truly care, will always be by providing a home-cooked meal for them.
Because if I care about you that much, I’m not only trying to make sure you’re full, I am feeding your heart too.