Leftovers As Love

why we cook for people we love

Ingredients? I’ve got the stinking ingredients.  (Painting by Joachim Beuckelaer, 1564)

“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.” ~M.F.K. Fisher

I’m scooping Thanksgiving leftovers into containers with tears in my eyes. Mashed potatoes, turkey, wild rice stuffing, cranberry pomegranate sauce, Aunt Tricia’s pecan bars and her pumpkin parfait are packed into a cooler along with mason jars of peach jam, applesauce, and salsa. They’re for one of my sons, who has a full day of driving to get back to his regularly scheduled life a few states away. He’s got a fantastic career, wide-ranging hobbies, and wonderful friends. I’m entirely happy for him and don’t for a moment want to hold him back. There’s just something about feeding him into the next week that gets to me in a tear-inducing way. I suspect it’s more than a mom thing.

There are names for people like me in nearly every language, some of them not very flattering. We lavish attention on people we love, in part, by cooking for them. We’re the ones foisting leftovers on you as you try to leave. We’re the ones who do our best to have (what we believe are) your favorites available when you visit — even if you last said you couldn’t get enough bean pate back in the 90’s. We’re the ones who hardly taste the food we serve, our senses already full from making it. We can be annoying. We can’t help it.

Speaking for myself, it’s not entirely about the people I cook for.* It’s about me too.

I can ignore serious pressing deadlines without a sideways glance when it’s time to cook for our weekly Sunday extended family get-togethers. For a few glorious hours on Saturday I make dishes for two meals the next day, sometimes happily getting up before dawn on Sunday to knead dough or roll out pie crust to complete those meals. I can also ignore my deadlines when we host one of our regular potlucks or, as we did last month, have a house concert here. Actually, I can rely on the Feeding People Excuse pretty much every day, whether I’m working in the garden or harvesting produce from that garden to make a pot of soup. Chopping vegetables is, for me, a more reliable way to enter that lovely state of flow than clattering at a keyboard, although I wouldn’t give up writing any more than I’d give up cooking.

All this time spent in the kitchen hasn’t made me more accomplished than anyone else. I have serious faults that include broiling when I shouldn’t broil, horrendous knife skills, an overly casual approach to measuring, and chronic delight in using strange ingredients when normal ones would have worked better. I’m also (rightly) accused of making enough food for a lumberjack camp. Which gives me all those leftovers to send with you…

But I can say this. The cells of our bodies are built by the air we breathe as well as by the food and drink we ingest. To grow that food, to cook that food, is to be part of nourishing life in those we cherish. This, to me, is one of the most basic ways to demonstrate love.


*Yes I ended a sentence with a preposition. I’m breaking rules outside of the kitchen too. 

9 thoughts on “Leftovers As Love

  1. I really feel this also as my daughters do, I was at a party the other night lavished with this wonderful bounty prepared lovingly by the hostess with more than required, I took two plates one for me and one for my partner to serve from a line of hungry guests,while waiting one said “let him get his own you will spoil him” I said ” I love doing it” I and my daughters love to serve it is our pleasure. To serve with pleasure to me is showing love.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For me, the collected remnants of several meals in the fridge don’t come under the heading ‘leftovers’. They’re just More Food, or Ingredients, or even Challenging Ingredients. And quite honestly, some of the best meals I’ve ever assembled have been Cooking The Fridge. I agree wholeheartedly that Cooking = Love, that feeding the ones you love is fundamentally satisfying, and that it is an occupation as deeply creative as all the arts. People who regard food as merely fuel are Just Not Natural…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Speaking as the recipient of many women who pack baskets (sometimes HUGE baskets) of leftovers, I thank you (and, of course, all the women who pack baskets specifically for me.) My husband always grumbles about eating the same things day after day, but he can cook his own dinner. I’m disabled and a basket of my favorite leftovers is the absolutely best gift anyone can give me!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m a food maker. Take applesauce made with the apples we picked ourselves and Ball jars of homemade gingerbread pancake mix (with instructions) to hosts on long-distance trips. I plan my cooking and skim off extra portions for 3 days before visiting my parents so I can take them some meals. Went to a relative’s house for Thanksgiving. “Bring leftover containers” they said. I took portions I thought reasonable for my family of 4. Then I saw my cousin shoveling what remained of the dishes she’d prepared in the trash. Whoa! That stuff was gluten-free & I go nuts keeping my GF DD, my milk-avoiding DS, and my cholesterol-challenged DH happy. Wish I knew I could have taken it all…glad to know there are others like me out there. Find the ones who appreciate you & keep loving them all.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not other kind of mom who doesn’t really enjoy cooking but who loves the act of nourishing the family so much that cooking is still a pleasure because of its happy ending. I think you might have to have children of a certain age and have experienced them coming in from a long drive returning home to a distant life to completely understand the feelings so beautifully captured here. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s