Writer Crystal Chan loves to cook. During the pandemic, she traveled home often, enjoying long stays with her parents. To show her gratitude, she would cook delicious and comforting dishes for family dinner. She shares a story celebrating the labor of love that goes into making a great pot of stew.
A little while ago, when I was visiting my parents in Wisconsin, I found an old cookbook that I had purchased in France. I’ve been visiting my parents as an extended guest throughout the pandemic, journeying back and forth between Oshkosh and Chicago. Gratefully, my parents welcomed my ping-ponging across the state line with open arms, saying, “Come, stay as long as you’d like. Leave whenever you wish.”
I love cooking, and I quickly found that making home-cooked meals for my parents elicited “oohs” and “ahs” and my stepdad’s famous understated way of declaring that he loved a dish, “I could eat that again,” he would say. Cooking was an excellent way to express my gratitude.
So, I took that French cookbook and found a recipe for beef bourguignon. The next day, I made the pot of deep, simmering broth, rich chunks of beef and vegetables and wine. My parents exclaimed how I was filling up the whole house with such rich smells.
There is something special about filling up the house with a loving smell of simmering food. I am a foodie, for sure, and I have found that it’s a very sensual way of taking up the space of a house. You put love into a pot, add a gentle flame and then surrender to the process of transformation. And somehow, this energetic field of nourishment and love, of which I am a critical part, fills up the whole house.
I love the meditation of cooking: You transform one thing into another. You take multiple ingredients and somehow they turn into a unity that, perhaps, an onion and a carrot could not have otherwise imagined. Then, if you’re lucky, even after you share your labor of love, the deep aromas will linger in the house long after the meal is over. That’s how love works — this resonance gently permeates, so that the moment you open the front door, it greets you: Love, savory and nourishing, both unseen and everywhere.
After hours of simmering, I declared that the meal was ready. My stepdad had set the table hours before in his wordless display of anticipation, so I poured the glasses of wine, reverently placed the food on the plates, and presented it to my parents with a flourish. To our stunned delight, my stepdad took his time eating — usually, he inhales his food. Now he savored it, feeling the flavors in his mouth, tasting the time and the deep love it rested upon. My mom excitedly asked me questions about the recipe and the process.
I told her what I could about the recipe. But the process? That’s harder because it includes unnameable steps: Feeling the timing of the food, knowing the exact moment the next step needs to begin, and finally, infusing the recipe with love.
Finally, as we sat back in our chairs, hands on our contented stomachs, my stepdad looked at me with sparkling eyes and said, “I could eat that again.”