I have been thinking about my mother’s cooking lately. When I was a kid, she made wonderful homemade soups and golden, crusty loaves of bread in the cool months. One of my jobs in her kitchen was to “sort beans”. I took a pound of beans and snipped open a corner of the bag, dropped one layer of beans onto a small plate and removed any “defective” beans, grit and tiny stones. I loved my job. At the time I didn’t realize that it was a meditative experience. I was focused on one thing, pouring, sorting and placing the “clean” beans in a saucepan for soaking. My mother took great care in cooking for her family.
As my kitchen fills with the smell of garlic sautéing in olive oil, I miss her. I recall that the love and warmth that I longed for and was often lacking, I felt most when I was by her side in the kitchen. Along with gardening and sewing, it was the only time she slowed down at home, and it was apparent in the quality and love reflected in what she produced.
My mother went “back to work” when I was 7. She worked as a secretary at a local public school with the benefit of having school vacations off with her children. She still took the time on weekends and vacations to make fabulous, healthy meals. But during the week, her cooking became rushed and frenzied. This was the late 50s and the advent of “frozen food plans”. The big upright kilowatt-sucking freezer went in our basement and was filled monthly with frozen fish sticks, burgers, assorted pot pies and vegetables. Lucky thing we had that deep freeze, my mother was the blur of a whirling dervish weeknights! I learned how to cook “on the fly” from her as well, which served me later as a short order cook and for my years as a single mom and caregiver to both of my parents.
As I slow down my cooking, I picture my mother and grandmother side by side in the kitchen, aprons on, delicious smells, wooden spoons flying as they bantered and argued in Italian. I’ve stopped preparing canned beans except in the direst pinch of time. And yet I notice there are some things I make that just don’t taste as good as my mom’s. As I reflect on this during bean preparation last night, I recall that I have been creating my OWN short cuts to save time and they are not turning out the quality that I remember. I never skip sorting beans, heaven forbid anyone break a tooth on a stone (though I haven’t found one since I was 10). As I look closely, I realize my preparation time has been reduced by short cuts. I no longer use everything I learned by her side in the kitchen. I decide to go back to the basics. My mother’s Cannellini beans were slightly creamy and deliciously saturated with the flavor of olive oil, salt and garlic. I remember the vital step! It wasn’t the beans, it was ALL the steps in the preparation, skipping even one spoils the recipe. I cook the beans as my mother taught me, slowly, deliberately, skipping nothing. I laugh at myself and wonder who AM I to mess with the culinary skills and love of generations of Northern Italian mamas and cooks in my maternal lineage?
What does this have to do with life? What I learned from my mother was to be deliberate in my intention, preparation, and execution and to always remember to stir in some love. When I rush to get a meal on the table, the taste is just a little “off”. I can’t taste the love.
When I rush to produce in my work or communicate in relationships, I am bound to miss an important step, appear unprofessional or uncaring, make a mistake, have to apologize, then double back to try to fix it. And the love is missing. When I am deliberate in my intention, preparation and execution, I produce a meal, class, workshop or piece of writing that reflects all the love and caring that I feel in my heart. My communication is clear with clients and loved ones; they know they have been heard and that I care. In the long run I also save the time that it takes to double back and try to “fix it” when I’ve rushed.
My mother, Vera, in 1999 on the left, with two of her four sisters, Lilia and Dina.
How about you? What short cuts are you taking that no longer serve you? What do you miss about a slower pace? What did your mother teach you that still has the value of generations of wisdom? What wise “old” practice or habit can you reclaim now and make your “new” practice today?