Prior to dating my husband, I made a lot of questionable decisions regarding boys and men.
Like spending my nineteenth summer dating a divorced 29 year-old with an ecstasy and coke problem.
I’ll call him Jersey.
For three months, Jersey and I waited tables at the same chain steakhouse in Florida. Once we started “dating,” (a.k.a, getting high, watching TV, and fooling around) he made himself okay with the fact that I wasn’t going to give him my virginity, as long as I kept paying for groceries. At the time, this felt fair to me.
One night, while I watched Jersey prepare a truly succulent baked stuffed pork chop with whipped potatoes, gravy, and sautéed spinach on the side, I asked him:
“Where did you learn to cook?”
“Hunger,” he replied.
“Sounds funny, but it’s true,” he said. “There’s never a better time to learn something, then when you need to know how to do it. When you don’t make a lot of money for a good long stretch, you figure out just how hungry you can get. And how to make what you have, taste as good as it can. What we have tonight makes it pretty easy. But, yeah, I’ve been hungry a lot, so I learned to cook.”
I hadn’t thought of this conversation with Jersey in nearly fifteen years. But tonight as I made my family a perfectly cooked strip steak topped with a creamy sauce of caramelized onions, shiitakes, and kale, along side velvety baked sweet potatoes, and a salad of english cucumbers, grape tomatoes, and ribbons of fresh basil, the scene played out in my head.
Truth is, I didn’t learn to cook from hunger. I’ve never gone hungry…but I was raised by parents, who were raised by parents, who had. Generations of barely making ends meet. The original Quick Fire Challenge so to speak – figure out how to feed an entire family with tap water, canned goods, and whatever you pickled from last summer’s garden. You’ve got thirty minutes on the clock. Go.
As I plated tonight’s hot meal for my husband and son, I felt an intense and warm calm come over our entire kitchen.
“Dad, taste the steak it’s really nice and juicy. Perfectly cooked, Mom. Congratulation, you are NOT Chopped.” (We watch a lot of Food Network)
I laughed and thanked my four year-old for his sincere compliment. And then I said another, silent thank-you.
Thank you for keeping this day, our home, and my life free of addiction and naked pantries.