Eating Together: Relationship Building

Isn’t there a saying that the family that eats together stays together? Maybe not, but it has the ring of truth. A couple days ago I thought and wrote about cooking, but eating is much more than cooking. (And, in fact, some of my cooking doesn’t get eaten at all…). Social eating builds relationships, sharing food is a gesture of good will and caring. We meet at restaurants, we make our dining rooms welcoming, we serve meals at wedding and funerals, we can’t even watch a sports event without bringing out the game food. Food just seems to hang around wherever we gather.

First the candle…

Even my daughter who experiences misophonia, manages to value our times around the table, many of which take place in restaurants. We were being treated to a birthday brunch one year in a cute Mexican place in Seattle. I remember that meal because of the sauce that exploded all over Esther, after she blew out her celebratory birthday candle.

Then the memorable hot sauce splash. But we laughed as we cleaned up.

Other times our long walks would end up over coffee and cupcakes in a cute cafe. Over the years both daughters have also cemented their relationship with their Grandma over coffee and donuts, a tradition I don’t think will be changing anytime soon.

These two have bonded.

The challenge in this is making sure the relationship we are building is with people, not with the food we are eating. How do we do that?

In these days of toxic relationships with food like anorexia, bulemia, and fad diets, I’ve had to give my relationship with food some thought. I do use food to counter stress, to reward myself and to relieve boredom- yeah, it does all that quite well, but it’s not always the healthiest way to do those thing. Studying the psychology of eating this year through Noom (which I have blogged about numerous times) has been helpful to me. At least I am now aware of the difference between my relationship with food and my relationship with people through shared eating.

It can get complicated.

Yesterday I was tempted to take a picture of a beautiful, grilled chicken salad as it was set in front of me. I confess I have pictures, lots of them, of plates of food to illustrate a good keto meal, or a recipe that turned out great. But this time I thought, no. I’m going to enjoy sitting with my daughter, son-in-law and husband, in a gorgeous outdoor setting, while someone serves us good food as we talk, laugh and build relationship. Just sayin’…

You might even say that “waiting to eat” provides good opportunity for building relationships. I’ve done so much of that.

Cooking: A Means of Relationship Building

Everybody eats, and when we are together it makes sense to share the job of getting a meal together. It’s called cooking, most of the time, and it’s one of my least favorite jobs. Knowing that I have to think of something to eat, two or three times every day, for the entirety of my life sounds like cruel punishment to me – made tolerable only by sharing the load.

My children have sometimes made the job easier, but a lot of our bonding over food is because they have made it more complicated. Youngest daughter E decided to be vegetarian in her early teens. My memory of those years is foggy, but there were a lot of brownies, and peanut butter/jelly sandwiches for her. The rest of us ate everything, but it was hard for me to think I might be shortening her life by not feeding her better.

Oldest daughter J, on the other hand, was early into amateur chef behavior. Even on our hike on the Appalachian Trail, she was the one who had to bring real coffee, and fixings for blueberry pancakes. Now I have given up learning how to use all the machines she has in her kitchen. Electric crepe griddle, blenders, choppers, mixer, espresso machine, ice cream maker, air fryer, steamers, driers, toasters, more – I just can’t think of them all. I find cooking with her very interesting because it’s about the only time I really use a recipe, and I get to learn a new gadget. I am in awe of her knife collection, and her many pans.

Looks dangerous, I know. What are all these?

Cooking with E became easier when she started eating more food and searching out some of her health problems. We spent time on special diets like the autoimmune protocol, where we did things like making spaghetti sauce out of beets, and talking about umami, and boiling bones for hours and hours. One of her favorite recipes from childhood is still the meatloaf made out of everything except meat.

We had fun making ordinary food. No beets were involved.

Even though I don’t like to spend hours in the kitchen on fussy food, I have inherited a gene that demands food on social occasions. I get it from Mom, better known in the family as Cinnamon Girl. She always make the cinnamon rolls for our family gatherings and although we have all tried to learn, no one does it quite like she does. The feature film “Cinnamon Girl”, made by my marketing guru brother, is a family treasure. It was supposed to be a tutorial for us all, but we laugh so much that it’s more of a comedy documentary.

I find that bonding and relationship building over and around food is really pretty available, easy and satisfying. I text the daughters and send pictures when I make milk soup. We laugh over our dinner menu of popcorn, just popcorn. We have rituals involving donuts and ice cream. Maybe it’s not all technically “cooking” but that’s where I put it. Just sayin’… close enough.

The chicken is sitting in a really awesome pan! Also, all those spices in matching bottles – I’ve never been able to do that…

Caught!

I think I have mentioned before that I’ve been online with Noom, learning about the psychology of eating, weight loss, and healthy lifestyle. Yesterday evening as I was finishing the day’s lesson, this came up and I knew immediately what it meant for me. I was caught.

Yeah, how did they know?

I have wondered quite a bit in the last three months “Why isn’t Shirley writing and staying in touch with the world of readers?” I guess she just didn’t feel like it. She is retired now and doesn’t do things she doesn’t feel like doing.

No, wait. That is so “not true”, on several levels. Does anyone ever get to stop doing anything they don’t feel like doing? I’m still doing some of those things, and I realize there are benefits involved. And it isn’t really that I don’t feel like writing – it’s more that it takes time to write well and to say something worth putting down. And strangely, for me, there is something sad and serious about introspective writing. I just haven’t wanted to add “sad and serious” to my life. I’m ignoring that. It’s difficult and challenging to write consistently.

But I am a writer, and writers need to make writing a habit. Noom has caught me and made me commit to a blog post this morning, knowing that I would feel better in the long run if I faced the challenge. There is science behind that, and more. Facing challenges is a matter of the spirit. Realizing that something is difficult, and then doing it anyway makes me more able to do it again in the future. Another good thing about Noom is that it asks me to find some affirmations and repeat them to myself regularly. Here are mine:

I will be blogging in August about a lot of random things, about Noom, about the end of summer, and about facing challenges. Would love to hear your comments.

Mealtime Meltdown

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I’m getting ready for a book burning…

I have been fighting with my computer all afternoon and it has left me in a poor mood. At least that is what I’m going to blame it on.

Mealtime meltdown, and I’m not referring to some three-year-old who doesn’t want to eat his broccoli. It’s me. I’m at war with the idea of fixing food to eat. Although I like eating as a rule, and probably eat more than a lot of other people I’m starting to harbor a great dislike for planning meals and cooking them. It’s work. Repetitive work. Often unrewarding work.

I suppose it’s like anything else – if I would view it as my job and not an interruption, I would approach it more reasonably. In fact, I must have approached it differently for the past 40 years or my family would have starved to death, hired a live-in chef, or spent way too much money eating out. I must have liked cooking back then, but everything has gotten so complicated lately.

These days, almost all food is suspect. It either causes cancer, or kills off our beneficial bacteria, or is loaded with hormones or environmental poisons. We have to eat keto, organic, gluten free, free range everything. We have to eat our food in a 6 hour time window, drink enough water to float a boat, and avoid comfort food in general (and bread in specific). We are bombarded with messages like “food is medicine” and at the same time we are sold a zillion supplements and told to ask our doctors for prescription meds for everything from depression to skin problems. I’m confused and I kind of want to stop eating, kind of…

The husband came to me this afternoon around 3 pm. “What did you have for lunch?”

What he really meant was “what can I have for lunch?”

It’s evidently less demanding if he asks it that way, which he often does. I had just started in on a blog post for the business site and my creative energy, which was already faltering, disappeared completely with the interruption. There was soup in the refrigerator. Mom made it yesterday. After leading him to it, we discussed what I thought was an explanation and a plan. At least it was my plan. We had a late breakfast and we would have an early dinner in about 2 hours. But he was hungry so I dished up a bowl of soup to hold his hunger at bay until then.

You might think that I moved in with Mom to help her with her meals, but that is not the case. She has pretty much given up on the way the husband and I try to eat (or not eat). She eats when she is hungry. The timing might be 4 am, it might be every 4 hours, and the deciding factor on what to eat might be whatever is about to spoil in the fridge. She likes to hide in her room and eat. We do intersect at the table, for a meal, a few times a week but we are most often like ships passing in the night, SYSCO trucks passing on the freeway…

After giving up on my computer problem, and aware that the fated dinner hour was closing in on me, I went in to see if Mom wanted to eat dinner. The process of figuring out WHO wants to eat sometimes gives me time to think of WHAT to eat. She had stuffed herself, her words, with a taco salad not too long before and wasn’t really in the mood. She must have figured I was frustrated with “food think” because she came out to the kitchen and got her leftovers out for me to fix for myself and the husband. Why not, I thought?

So, I warmed, chopped, sprinkled, arranged – all those annoying little activities – to produce our salads and called the husband to eat.

“I’ll take about a third of that” he said. “You can put the rest of it away for later. I just ate soup and a sandwich.”

Okay, just put me in a straight jacket and lock me up. I could have been reading a book or something fun instead of standing in the kitchen FIXING FOOD for someone who doesn’t want it. I am constantly vacillating between guilt (what? There’s nothing to eat?) and frustration (you made food – I don’t want any).

I will admit, it’s not easy living with me in charge of food. I am prone to disregard my stomach. I can tolerate the same menu day after day. I can eat water for food, or take a walk and skip the meal altogether. I love doing so many other things more than worrying about what to eat.  When it comes to food, there is one thing I can say I love. I love friends who love to cook and invite me to eat, and you know who you are. Just sayin’…