The Joy of Cooking Together
This time of year, when days are short and nights are longer, it feels important to celebrate light and be light-hearted. The traditions of Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, and Kwanzaa all include lighting candles, singing songs, and feasting together. Although COVID sensibilities have pared down the numbers, we don’t have to cancel the party. Smaller means better when the focus is on what really matters — nurturing our love for family and friends.
Sharing the warmth of hearth and a festive evening on a cold winter’s night is one of the pleasures of the season. The conviviality of this time spent together is enhanced when you ask your guests to participate. Friends become family and family become friends. Someone brings along a specialty dish and others work side by side to put finishing touches on the meal. Shoulders relax and worries dissipate. A volunteer steps in to toss the salad; another to serve the drinks. Older kids help the younger ones do a puzzle or decorate cookies. Someone passes the appetizers. A father and son catch up on things as they stir the gravy. Old memories pop up and tidbits of community news filter in. Laughter and sharing tasks bring everyone together in common purpose. And, delightfully, the goodwill not only percolates through the entire evening but resonates for days and days.
“Body and mind, unconsciously, welcome the camaraderie that cooking together brings to the table,” said Laurie Zalk.
Preparing and sharing food promotes wellbeing on all levels. Psychosocial research has shown that cooking together reduces anxiety as well as depression. It also improves social skills and self-esteem; helps us feel more relaxed, connected, and joyful. As a result, sharing the work creates a sense of cohesion that affirms connection and sustains community. This is how it all plays out in real life – from kitchen to table:
•When people join in to help out, they’re drawn into the present moment, away from their worldly concerns.
•Chopping, stirring, and preparing the feast to the beat of background music moves the body and elevates the mood.
•Casual conversation and working together forge a feeling of inclusion.
•Setting the table and lighting candles brings in an element of ceremony.
•Eating, drinking, and toasting together form a bond of good will.
It’s easy to see how such an evening would nurture body, mind, and spirit.
My recipe for success. With a little help from cookbooks, inspiration from friends, and years of mindfulness, I’ve honed a reliable recipe for success. Although timing, guest list, and menu are important, the key ingredient is setting intention. For instance, if I plan an evening to share the love of family, friends, or community, everything gets infused with my intention. The shopping, cooking, setting up, and cleaning up are all buoyed by a positive energy. The lighting, background music, and table décor set the stage so when guests walk through the door, the message is clear: this evening is about celebrating a bit of love and bonhomie. There’s no fixed expectation other than coming together and being together. Perhaps some people are holding social space, chatting, and connecting. Others are gathering in the kitchen sharing last minute tasks and the joy of helping the feast come together.
Once food is served and guests assembled at the table, it’s important to pause and connect with the occasion as well as each other. A simple ceremonial gesture such as a blessing, song, or silent moment will suffice. Everyone’s hungry, yet no need to rush. Savor the flavors. Feel the joy of being together. Let it in, soak it up. The host sets the pace. If kids are part of the feast, planning an after-dinner activity means the adults can linger longer, enjoying each other’s company. After the guests depart, candles snuffed and dishes cleaned, I make a point to send a bit of the glow onward.
Winter is the perfect time to gather in the kitchen and share the joy of cooking together! Why not sign on for an adventure to do just that? Our own Laurie Zalk of Our Daily Bread fame offers individual cooking/baking classes in your home or hers. She’s also available to teach small groups such as book clubs, newlyweds, kids, and men only. What about a birthday party where the guests make the cake? Perhaps you’d like to learn how to cook cauliflower-crusted pizza, easy and delicious desserts, or yummy food for special diets. Just let Laurie know what you have in mind, and she’ll design a class with reliable, uncomplicated recipes. A few years ago, my husband participated in a class with a group of men tasked to source a meal, on the spot, from Laurie’s pre-stocked refrigerator. After they put together a fabulous stir fry, they sat down to enjoy both meal and conversation. A total success! Find out more about Laurie’s offerings at cookandbakewithlaurie.com. Contact her for reservations or gift certificate: (805) 689-2416 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking for a bit of culinary inspiration for a scrumptious winter feast? Local food writer Pascale Beale’s cookbook, Winter – A Menu for All Seasons, series is the perfect resource! This book has eight three-course menus sourced from the author’s French culinary heritage. Her other cookbooks featuring salads, fruits, and vegies are equally wonderful with more fabulous recipes and menu ideas. Having cooked from these books many times, I can attest that the recipes are delicious and the photos mouth-watering. Check out her website pascaleskitch en.com to see the whole collection including the latest, Salade II – More Recipes from the Market Table. You can also purchase the cookbooks at our local book sellers or online.