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Cooking for Others

Today I’m finishing preparations for my annual Father’s Day tradition: making dinner for my dad and brother. I’ve been doing this for somewhere around 9 or 10 years, largely because that’s about how long my brother has been doing the Trek Across Maine, a 180-mile bike ride over three days that’s always Father’s Day weekend. It means that by the time he gets home on Sunday, he doesn’t particularly feel like cooking, and since my dad used to be the one to bring him home, it wasn’t always something he felt like doing, either.

It’s not a surprise that I decided that my present to them would be to make dinner. I’ve always enjoyed making food for others. As with so many, it’s one of the ways I express appreciation of people in my life. When I was younger, it was mostly baked goods, since I didn’t do much cooking, but no one really complained about the cookies, brownies, breads, cakes, cupcakes, and pies.

Once I started losing weight and actually cooking, though, I began to gravitate towards bringing healthy dishes – salads, soups, stir-frys, vegetable side dishes, fruit, etc. Except that I still enjoyed baking, too. So when I started being involved in young adult services at church, while I tried to make sure we had something moderately healthy, we often gravitated more towards sweets. That precipitated a bit of an existential crisis about it.

As I wrote in my book: “It put me in a rather strange position. On the one hand, I was careful about what I ate, but I was also providing lots of food, some of it not terribly healthy, to others. Did that make me a hypocrite? I struggled with that for a while before realizing that what other people ate wasn’t up to me, particularly because some people could get away with eating those things much better than I could. It actually worked out quite well because it gave me an excuse to bake and create all the foods I enjoyed, have a small taste, and then share the wealth.”

That was so important for me to understand. I didn’t want to be obnoxious about my food choices, forcing them onto others. I just wanted my example of eating, which sometimes included eating those sweets in small amounts, to show people another approach. It was a little hard to let go of the self-righteous feeling that I knew what people should be eating, until I realized that made me no better than all the other diet “experts” out there. We alone know what our body needs and can handle; who am I to judge what others consume, without knowing what else they’re experiencing?

For instance, on Father’s Day, after doing all that exercise, my brother actually needs quite a few calories, even though he is well-fed on the Trek. And since part of the deal is that he and my dad have to agree on the meal, it usually turns out being pretty well balanced. In the past, I’ve done things like tacos with side veggies and dessert, broiled scallops and bread and salad and pie, but the past few years chicken pot pie and Greek salad seems to be a winner, as well as some fruit pie for dessert (typically strawberry-rhubarb, given the time of year).

So these days, when I’m preparing for meals like this, I can do so without that inner angst, instead having a joyful heart, and knowing that the love and appreciation I feel for them will come through in the food.

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