The Way to the Heart is Through the Stomach

My dad was one of the few people I have ever known who hated to eat.

I can’t imagine what his mother did to him. She was beyond abusive. (If you happen to be of the ilk that believes all kindness and goodness gets you to heaven, well Dad’s mom is not resting so peacefully in the bowels of Hell.) For some reason she hated her middle child and it was clear to all of us who knew him as Dad or husband that among the things she did to him, she made sure he hated food. I heard her one time in a drunken stupor admit that Jack Jr. just wanted to nurse all day and she made sure he didn’t turn into a ‘titty baby’. She said it with rancor and disgust and even to my young ears with not quite enough knowledge in the space between them to understand everything, I heard the loathing.

My mother on the other hand came from what can only be called poor white trash stock and food served to appease the somewhat hopeless life in which her family toiled. The youngest child, a late baby, she was her mother’s favorite. Her mother chose food to drown her sorrows and hoped to teach her daughter to do so as well. At many points her family owned restaurants, cafes really, and even when they weren’t cooking for Cox’s army, they cooked for Cox’s army. And most of them ate as if they were Cox’s army.

So these two married.

And my mother would spend the first of her married days, striving to entice her husband to eat over the copious amounts of hard liquor it was his want to consume and then in the later years as he became sober, just to keep meat on his bones.

Her enticement became an effort in producing charming side dishes, lots of them that would accompany whatever main dish she had contrived. The final touch would always be desert, which was most often the only thing that he ended up eating. (I am sure there must be evidence that even recovered alcoholics have a predilection towards all sugars, even the non fermented kind.)

I remember lots of meals my Mother made but it’s mostly Sunday dinners I recollect. My brother and I would come in after walking home from the church about 10 blocks away and the house would be steamy with smells that even now make my mouth water thinking about them. Brother Neil would wander off somewhere, Dad would be in his room brooding, depressed, or praying and I would take up station as unwilling but obedient sous-chef.

We would set the table with paper napkins and ice tea spoons and once all the small little dishes, not much more than tappas type really, graced the table, we would offer grace. Sometimes Dad had meandered in but most often he said, “start without me”. That’s how much he hated food. Despite the amazing smells and complete attention to seduction for sustenance, he couldn’t overcome what his momma had tortured him with.

I’m here to tell you two things:

1.       I don’t think I have ever had an eating disorder. I like food, a lot. There have been times I have overindulged in food, but for the most part I consider my eating habits within the norm. So what this tells me is that despite the environment I came from, despite the fractured ideas of food that came from both sides of my family tree, something worked right in those enticing meals my mother prepared.

2.       The other thing I want to tell you is that I think it is distinctly because we sat down at as a family as much as possible. (I also think it was because God was sitting around with us, called down specifically, but that is a slightly different story, although very important one.) But I do believe that good can come from just sitting together at meal time, even if you aren’t wont to say Grace.

Through the 36 years of marriage, I have off and on done well at sitting my family down for a meal. Most people do it at the holidays, but there is something even better about doing it just because it’s the middle of the week. I’ve come to the realization, that although our family dynamics have changed around our dinner table, with one in heaven and two sons on their own, there is still something very good about coming into a house where sweet aromas and loving attention to providing nourishment does more than just fill tummies. It fills our hearts. It opens our mouths.

It just does.

So I have been making a pact with myself to not give in to the ease of eating out so much.

This week, whether you are the husband or wife, male or female, child or teenager, or single here’s my advice, sit down and eat dinner with those you care about.  Make the time to make a meal and sit down at a table well set with silverware and loving intentions. Sit across from each other and break a little bread.  And then do it again next week.

So in the spirit of encouragement and inspiration, give a pot of chili a try! Call your momma or your uncle, get their recipe and make it. Or go to the store and buy  a pound of hamburger and try mine below. Set your table with cheese and crackers. Don’t expect miracles right away. There might be a little spilled milk. There might be a little grumbling. But keep it up, because trust me, there is something very strange not reported in the annals of medicine, that indicates there is a direct line of love from tummy to heart in everyone.

Easy Chili

1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup diced onion2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 (16-ounce) cans kidney, pinto or black beans, drained and rinsed
2 1/2 cups Salsa – Thick & Chunky
1 (4-ounce) can Diced Green Chiles
2 teaspoons chili powderSalt and pepper to taste

Cook and drain the ground beef, onion and garlic in large skillet until beef is browned. Add the beans, salsa, chiles, chili powder and cumin. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low; cover. Cook, stirring frequently, for 20 to 25 minutes. Garnish as desired before serving.