Food & Love

Food has long been considered a language of love.

My mother expressed her love for her family by cooking delicious dishes and passing her knowledge of cooking and baking to me. I plan to pass this love to Jai as he grows up so he will cook and bake for his family.

But before Jai, there was Ash. And before Ash, officially, there was the dating/courtship period of our relationship. At the time we met and started dating I was taking temp jobs, this was during the depths of the economic downturn, and so my resources were limited for what I could do with him for our dates.

Being a gentleman, he offered to pay, but being independent I refused to let him pay for more than one date in a row without us at least splitting the cost. Rather, I offered to make him dinner at his apartment, for him and his roommates, as often as I could. It allowed us to spend time together, watch some movies/shows we had common interests and keep our costs low. Additionally, I could show him something I was good at to impress him.

Getting to Know You

I met Ash at a restaurant for a mutual friend’s birthday party. We chatted for a bit, I was interested but unable to really pursue him at the time. Several months later we reconnected after hanging out at another friend’s house a couple of times and decided that we wanted to be more serious in our relationship.

Ash’s birthday is at the beginning of the year and at that point in our relationship I couldn’t find work, so I had no money to buy a special present for him. We’d been dating for two months at that point and he told me, as he still tells me, that I didn’t have to get him anything special for his birthday. I insisted, so he suggested making him dinner.

Ash has never been one to hide his love for meat. Specifically, red meat.

I found a recipe for grilled steak with herbed butter, potatoes, and green beans. I spent the better part of the day making it for him because I wanted it to be perfect. Up to that point, I had made what I considered safe meals. These were meals I knew I couldn’t screw up but didn’t really show my range. Here was an opportunity to show my abilities. Fortunately, it was a success and to this day he comments about how much he loved that birthday present.

From then on out, I spent more time expanding my culinary skills to impress Ash. I would ask what he wanted to eat, he would buy the ingredients and I would throw something together in his kitchen for him. Most days we shared with his roommates, but some days we kept it for ourselves while we watched anime.

I had one obstacle in my cooking that I wanted to overcome, because don’t all overly ambitious partners want to do this?

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My Love of Cooking (& Baking)

Every superhero has an origin story.

My superpowers reside in the kitchen. I am not going to put on false humility about it: I am a great cook and baker. Are there people who are better? Absolutely, and I am not going to be joining any competition shows because I know there are plenty of people who are better than me. But I am good.

Growing up, cooking and baking was an act of love for my mother. Every meal contained a lot of passion, care, and flavor. Seeing her work in the kitchen was inspiring and made me want to be like her. When I grew up, I wanted to have a family tied together by my cooking just like we were with hers.

What follows is my introduction to the art of cooking (& baking) and how I fell in love with it as a hobby.

A Childhood Introduction

My childhood home was centered around the kitchen as the main gathering place – for eating, cleaning, and chatting. Many hours were spent there – most of the time with my mom working and me just watching her prep, assemble, and make. I would stand behind the stove and chat about my day at school while she made dinner or dessert.

I absorbed all that she did while I watched her work. Many times I was asked to stir something while she moved onto the next step and other times I felt comfortable enough to ask her questions: how can you tell the candy is ready? why does the temperature of the oven matter? what does a clean knife mean after inserting it into the cake?

I never saw her get discouraged in her work. Frustrated, yes. But not discouraged. If a dish didn’t work out quite like she wanted, she never threw in the towel. She would look over the recipe and realize that most of the time it was written badly. Her cookbooks are littered with marginalia to direct her future self on how to make the recipe a success. 

I didn’t stay on the sidelines either. My real introduction occurred when my mom had me help her as a toddler, with my first project using cookie cutters for a batch of Christmas sugar cookies. I would press the cutter into the dough and many times the dough would come out with the cutter, stuck. I would pull this dough out of the cutter and pop it into my mouth. I think out of a potential batch of 24 cookies, we successfully made 18. It was my earliest experience as a quality control tester as well.

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For the Love of Food

Food plays a huge role in my life and I could list all the cliche ways it’s impacted me.

One of my proudest moments as a child was when I cooked my parents a dinner with minimal help from my mother. I remember being so thrilled that I did most of the work myself and remembering to wash my hands after handling raw meat without prompting.

My love for food comes both as something to be enjoyed and something that nourishes me to survive. I love to look at a plate for how it’s presented to me when we’re in a restaurant, along with how good it tastes. I would like to think I am a bit of a foodie, but I am far from being obsessed. I think I have a passing appreciation over whether or not a dish is good.

I want to pass this love on to Jai, so as he grows older, I plan on teaching him how to cook and bake as soon as he’s ready. He’s already showing interest as our friend, Lady, was kind enough to pass along a play kitchen that he uses and mimics mommy.

Looking Ahead

For the month of September, I will discuss my relationship with food, how food played a role in my relationship with Ash, feeding a baby and toddler so they can start their food appreciation journey, and what to do to help foster a love of food and cooking in little ones. Every Friday will have a new recipe to enjoy that I am looking forward to sharing with everyone.

Before getting started, what are some of your fond food memories? What is your favorite dish to eat alone and a favorite dish to share? Leave your stories in the comments.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Toddler Life Lessons

Toddlers are too young to understand deep, philosophical lessons. They are too young to understand moral quandaries. They are too young to really grasp right from wrong.

As parents, we know that just because they can’t understand it, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taught. I feel like this is a “no, duh” moment many parents are saying to themselves right now.

Yet an issue I run into as I parent Jai with Ash is knowing what lessons to teach and how best to teach them. Questions I ask myself on a daily basis: is this something worth correcting Jai on? How do I correct him, with a warning or straight to time out? Should I follow the mainstream recommendation or go with my instinct?

A mentor once told me years ago, well before I met Ash, that you are never truly prepared to have a child. So if you want to have one, you have to just jump in and learn as you go. It won’t be easy, but the payoff will be worth it in the end when you have a functioning, well-adjusted adult that wants to have a relationship with you after they’ve moved out of the house.

But in order to achieve this, I have to begin training Jai to be polite, thoughtful, a good listener, able to share, and comfortable with adults as a toddler. The list is a bit longer than that, but those are the main concerns I have on a daily basis with a toddler.

As I am training Jai, I have to be mindful of several things: I’m an adult, what battles to pick and being humble throughout the whole experience.

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Have a Healthy Summer

For most of my adulthood at the beginning of each year, I fell into the mental trap of “getting healthy and in shape for the summer.” I wanted to have that perfect beach body, even if we never made it to the beach, and feel comfortable wearing cute summer outfits.

I never succeeded.

Life would get in the way, I would get distracted or frustrated with my diet and exercise and so I would enter summer either at the same weight I was at the beginning of the year or a little bit heavier.

Since I made significant lifestyle changes and stuck with them, I have found that I am finally entering the summer the way I always wanted to: beach ready and several cute outfits.

Still no available beach and rarely do I get out of my “mom uniform” because cute outfits and a toddler do not mix.

But I am experiencing something I’ve never before: staying fitness-minded and motivated in the heat. As I discussed on Monday, having MS and living in a hot and humid climate is not a good combination. I am finding that my motivation and my ability to stay fitness-focused is waning more than it did in the cold winter months.

What do I do? Well, I have to make some adjustments to accommodate this unforeseen speed bump.

Healthy Choices

The main thing I’ve learned is that my choices had to change in the summer months. This can range from the food I eat to the time of day I exercise to the intensity of the exercise I commit myself to complete.

If there is a day where I know I won’t be able to exercise for a while due to the heat, I have to adjust my eating to reflect that. Rather than eating heavier or caloric-dense meals, I adjust to more frequent and lighter meals throughout the day.

If we expect a high heat day or extreme humidity, then I will make sure to get out earlier in the morning to avoid dealing with either. 6:30am is usually a great time to get out, beat the heat and the traffic, and be home in time to say “good-bye” to Ash before he heads to work.

If it’s too hot or humid out to exercise, then I move any sort of workout indoors with the A/C blasting or a fan on me if I need to do something with intensity. I also need to make sure that keep drinking water throughout the day.

The hardest choice to adjust is the first one: I love to eat. So if I am having a craving for something particularly heavy, potatoes of some sort, I want to indulge it. I try to find ways to compromise or satisfy the craving with something else. Popcorn works best, but a cool piece of fruit will do in a pinch.

Remembering to drink enough water can also be a problem for me – so by carrying around a water bottle or cup can help remind me to stay hydrated. I need to keep drinking water if I am going to keep exercising throughout the hotter months.

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