Originally published in The Commons issue #234 (Wednesday, December 25, 2013). This story appeared on page C1.
WEST BRATTLEBORO—As the weather bites down hard and cold, another round of holidays has begun.
Our Crazybusy Culture is now heightened to a crescendo-like peak, as people cram cooking, baking, party-making, party-going, community-serving, fund-raising, church-attending, and merriment-expecting into their already gridlocked schedules.
Oddly, in a time when the landscape begins to hibernate — drawing its energy into its core and preparing for winter’s calm slumber — human inhabitants choose to trample over this natural cycle with mall-thronging, hymnal-howling, and a cocktail-sloshing, extroverted frenzy.
It is the time of year I desperately crave to live in another culture — one where they are not inundated with the religious panic and gun-point reparations that the U.S. claims as the “Season of Giving.” Americans consume most savagely — a materialistic school of piranhas — eating, drinking, partying, shopping, and … yes, giving.
Now, I’m Jewish, so I might be a tad bitter. In my culture, I’ve often seen giving as a prudent and logical exchange offered within an obligatory barter system, as opposed to our soul’s joyous release: John gave me a check for $50 on my birthday, so I will gift him something with a value equal to but not exceeding $50.
If there were a cultural deity one could sue for punitive damages, I surely would. All I want is to experience the winter weeks until mid-January in peace and quiet. Instead, it’s louder and more cacophonic than the rest of the year, combined.
So, what’s a bitter Grinch to do? Challenge myself to focus on the true essence of the season. For you, a gift: the most important ingredient in the kitchen, as described in this excerpt from my book, The No Recipe Cookbook. Use it in every single meal during the holiday season.
* * *
When my son Sammy was born, I asked my midwife how many times a day he would nurse. She replied, ”About 50.”
I thought, “What the hell is she talking about? He’d be eating constantly (and I’d be nursing constantly)! What am I, an IV? She must’ve said 15.”
She didn’t. She said 50. And she was right; eat constantly, he did. Well, nurse constantly. As an infant, he relied on me as his sole (soul) nourishment, and nursing was the way he received it: food, touch, comfort, connection, communication ... in short, love.
Now we know about the “love drug,” oxytocin — a neurochemical released during nursing which promotes bonding and builds the immune system. Nursing also stimulates NGF — neural growth hormone — which initiates brain-cell growth (neurogenesis), regulates hormonal function, and repairs damaged or aged cells.
Science understands how we nourish with more than just nutrients. At the time, all I knew is that this child needed to eat love more than he needed to eat food.
The most valuable ingredient in the kitchen is the rarest. Cooking needs love.
Without it, cooking is a job, a thankless chore that merely wastes one’s time. With love, cooking is a ceremony, an act of concern and affection. Cooking becomes an art and a pleasure.
* * *
It is not only cooking that needs love. Eating is another lost art that used to be as much about gathering and sharing as consuming. Eating has taken on a more robotic and dismissive quality these days.
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