Friday, March 19, 2010

If food is the language of love, then chocolate is Italian

posted Wed, 31 May 2006

I come from a family of Norwegian bachelor farmers. Well, not too many bachelors, really, because they don’t do much reproducing. Those Norwegians, they’re not real emotional people. They just sit in the corner and you don’t know what they’re thinking and they’re sure not going to tell you.

My mom is for sure going to comment that I have other ethnicities in my background, but I think the Norwegian trumps everything here. But my Slovak grandmother – she is sneaky. Those Norwegians aren’t going to go around getting all mushy saying, “I love you” every day. Or every year. But a Slovak will ply you with food. That’s the language of love for an eastern European. My grandma gets around the Scandinavian influence with her own secret code.

Every time I have ever gone to my grandmother’s house, almost the first, second, third, fourth and fifth thing she has done is offer me food. When you live through the Depression, you don’t take food lightly. It’s more than merely a hospitality thing. It is how she shows she cares about people.

None of that store-bought stuff, either. Nothing but the best for her family and friends. My grandmother bakes her apple strudel, her rhubarb bars, her poppy-seed torte, her everything from scratch. Cooking and baking is her love language.

For years, I have fought the pastry onslaught because I have worried about gaining weight. All the time I was fighting her (not knowing that resistance was futile), I didn’t realize that I was learning her language. I should have known it was inevitable – for my 18th birthday, my mother made me a cake and my entire family drove from San Antonio to Houston, where I was a college freshman, to celebrate. They didn’t have to come at all and they didn’t have to bring a homemade cake. (My mother would not be caught dead with a store-bought cake in her house.) But my mom speaks the language, too.

Now I find myself speaking the same tongue. When a friend is sick or has had a baby, I know what to do – make lasagna and a tray of brownies and drop it off at the house. When I was a contributing member of society, I made cakes for everyone’s birthday in my group. My boss’s boss had his 25th anniversary with the company – I made a cake. He was astonished. “No one has ever made me a cake once in the 25 years I have been here,” he said.

I didn’t love the people at work, but it was good management. I do, however, love my friends.

To cook or to bake for someone is a labor of love. To do more than throw some processed junk in the microwave – to think of something that someone will like, to shop for the ingredients, to chop, to fry, to beat, to frost – this takes time and effort. It’s a lot easier to buy something that is already prepared.

But all that says is, “I don’t care enough about you to make the effort.”

Baking someone a chocolate cheesecake from scratch (including the crust – with butter, not margarine – never margarine – I have never even had margarine in my house) and carrying it 600 miles on a plane – that’s love.

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