Joy in the cooking

I recently visited an art gallery in Zionsville, Ind. It was, in its previous life, a church but now is home to a quaint café and displays the amazing paintings and works of artist Nancy Noël.

While vaguely familiar with some of her work, it wasn’t until I walked into the “sanctuary” and gazed at some of her paintings that I recognized her art. I had been given one of her books with angel paintings.

Obviously, I hadn’t remembered her name, but her style of painting is unforgettable. The way she captures children and animals, especially their eyes, gives you a glimpse into the very souls of those she paints, and it’s hard to imagine that it’s just a canvas. I won’t bore you with a lesson in art studies, but one of her books, “Joy in Simplicity,” is a cookbook with beautiful paintings, and it has given me a new insight into the joy I have always felt in cooking. On the back of her book is this description, “a fresh look at cooking with a reverence for life.”

While I have always loved to cook and share that love with others, I’m not sure my mindset has been so holy when it came to the actual cooking.

I remember being a young girl and wanting to do more in the kitchen than just wash and dry dishes. Mom was a decent cook, but not adventuresome. She wasn’t too keen on the idea that letting me cook might make more of a mess, so my kitchen experience didn’t really commence until off-campus living my last two years of college.

My five roommates and I divided up the chores for cleaning, laundry, cooking, shopping, etc. I always asked to trade for their cooking and they seemed happy to oblige. I began to experiment and try new things (within a 1970’s budget). I felt the joy of cooking and feeding others … not a bad way to get a few dates either.

Fast forward to my newlywed days. I loved being in the kitchen. Larry seemed to love that I loved that! I seemed to have found a confidence, or maybe it was just ignorance, in choosing recipes and having friends over to try my newest dishes. Trust me, they weren’t all successes. Once, I chose an elegant Strawberry Soup, and to this day can’t convince anyone that it really was delicious, you just have to train your palate for a cold soup! But I still remember how proud I was to have conquered the recipe and have it look just like the picture in the book. I apparently wasn’t afraid of criticism either … or laughter because there was plenty of both.

My father-in-law relished the many cakes, pies and other homemade goodies that my mother-in-law made so easily for her family on the farm.

Whatever I contributed to a family dinner was widely complimented, which made me feel accepted and encouraged me in new directions. Although, my father-in-law said a pie should never be cut into more than 6 pieces. An eighth was just too small!

I still find great joy in cooking and my waistline can vouch for that. I still do a bit of experimenting with new recipes but find that sharing a meal that I’ve prepared with friends or new acquaintances most always leads to a more personal relationship.

There’s something about partaking in the planning, cooking, and eating that crosses boundaries of unfamiliarity. Maybe the reverence for life when it comes to cooking lies in the respect we have for life’s requirements to actually live. I find it hard to separate art and food and life. I find great pleasure in sharing in it all … so here’s to finding reverence in the joys of life that sometimes feeds our souls.

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