It seems my whole life has been spent feeding others. Obviously, not my earliest years, but since I was about five I have been cooking, baking and feeding others. In those many years, my role as a “feeder” has shifted and evolved, but it has stayed with me. The crux is that I love to cook and I love to feed people. And yet, feeding others has a way of starving critical bits of your own self.
To be in the role of feeding others is often to be also in the role of looking for affirmation. As a cook, there is nothing better than the seat dance of a happy eater. A case in point? Several days ago my son’s friend was over for a play date and after eating lunch, I gave her a brownie. The batch was a gluten free disaster so I simply put the overly-gooey brownie in a bowl, warmed it in the microwave, squirted some whipped cream on top, and presented it, voila! Remember that special scene in When Harry Met Sally? That was our little lunch guest. “Ohhhhh. Ahhhhhh, this is soooooo gooooood! Ohhhhh!” Seeing her in obvious ecstasy was both funny and affirming. Here was someone who definitely liked what I was feeding her.
But it isn’t always like that around here. I now have to live gluten free and while most of the time I simply forego many foods my family eats, I have been trying to bake more gluten free community foods. There are a few problems with this objective.
First off, gluten free baking is way trickier than conventional baking. Almost every project I embark upon begins with a moment that looks like this photo. Yes, you are absolutely correct, it is a pain in the hiney. Sometimes I use mixes but they are expensive so I’ve been experimenting. The kind of experimenting that utilizes repeat trips to the library to read all the gluten free cookbooks as well as buying bags and bags of different gluten free flours to find what works best for our family. And by that I mean, what will Oldest actually eat.
Because this gluten free baker is also the mother of the pickiest eater on the planet. The kind of picky that has vomited onto his plate many, many times when forced to try the tiniest taste of a new food.
That kind of picky. So feeding him the new and decidedly un-gluten-like world of baked foods has been a bit soul-sucking.
The kind of soul-sucking experience that starts with “is this gluten free?”, is punctuated with “it’s not bad” and ends with “can I make myself a bowl of cereal?” That kind of soul-sucking. Because the baked product, such as pizza crust or banana bread or pancakes starts with all those damn bags lined up on my counter. There is a lot of effort baked into that damn pizza crust or banana bread or pancakes that are met with something a lot less happy than I’d like.
This gluten-free baking world of mine is not only labor intensive, it’s messy as hell. For example, I made a batch of Bob’s Red Mill bread the other night. I really like most of his products and love his commitment to feeding people wholesome food. But the process was painful I tell you. First off, the dough rose to look like some alien life form or cauliflower in a bread pan. One of the tricks to gluten free baking is changing your understanding of both the chemistry and the nature of baked goods, and in this case, the dough is quite sticky. So while I had smoothed the top with moistened fingers, I obviously have much more to learn about this particular bread mix. And even though the loaf of bread is tasty and quite fine for the purposes of bread, it is gluten free bread. And gluten free bread cannot be nor ever will be a close approximation of conventional bread. Combine that with an odd appearance, and you can probably imagine just how excited my Oldest was to try it. Yeah, about that excited.
And yet, he nibbled a smidgeon and uttered, “it’s not too bad for gluten free” as if his honest opinion was exactly what the cooking doctor had ordered. No, I don’t want him to lie. I just don’t want him to think things I make for him are “not too bad”.
And frankly, that’s what feeding others looks like all too often in my life. Utter chaos. Every tool taken out to be used and then cleaned before returning to its proper place. A messy floor. Bits and pieces of the process – some used up and some with plenty more life to give. And of course, feeding others is all about planning ahead – hoping ahead.
There in the back of this photo is a sugar pumpkin. A sugar pumpkin I will be baking early next week in order to turn it into gluten free pumpkin bars for me to eat on Thanksgiving. My sweet Middlest asked me to make them and I figured it would be the perfect gluten-free item for me to feel thanks-giving-for on that day which will include several non-eating-options for me.
Feeding others is an act of faith and hope. Having faith that the recipient will like it, hoping that he/she will be renewed and sustained by it.
For about two years of my life, I literally fed another human with my very being. I nursed all three of my babies although my first two kiddos didn’t have very successful experiences with the endeavor. But every time I nursed them, I experienced that sensation other nursing mothers know intimately – the sensation of your milk “letting down” and leaving you in order that your baby can live.
I feed others “table food” in spite of years spent with critical eaters, for much the same reason I fed three people “mama food”. It feeds my heart as well as that other part of me hoping against hope to see someone tip their head back and do the happy seat dance over something I have prepared for them.
I will never again feed a baby with something I wholly made myself. But I will spend the rest of my life feed others foods, gluten free or not, I hope will make their hearts and tummies happy and full. And along the way, I hope to feed my own self at least a tiny bit.