Breaking Bread: A Family Tradition

Several years ago I stopped cooking— literally. Having spent more than 30 years slaving over a hot stove, preparing meals for my family had become a mundane and uninspired duty carried out day after day, week after week, year after year. So I went on strike.

Much to my relief, my family adjusted quite well. With only one (vegetarian) teenager still at home and a very accommodating husband—both with extremely busy schedules—it actually made sense to have everyone fix their own meals. My job became one of making sure there were plenty of fresh, healthy ingredients on hand so that no one had to resort to ordering out for pizza or Chinese on a regular basis.

The following fall my teenager left for college and my mother-in-law came to live with us. Suddenly the “do-it-yourself” dinner plan no longer applied: I knew the expectation would be that the three of us would sit down each night to a hot, home-cooked meal.

I have to confess I dreaded returning to old routine. However, something quite unexpected happened: I started to enjoy cooking again. Maybe it was because I had had a break from the kitchen, but I suspect it had more to do with my mother-in-law, Evelyn. She loved my cooking. For her, it was a refreshing change from her own, and a welcome reversal from serving to being served. While I now had a new audience to whom I could show off my culinary expertise.

One by one I introduced Evelyn to my signature dishes, and to my great delight, the joy I’d once felt as a young wife preparing meals for my new husband began to resurface. By New Year’s she and I were planning menus together, sharing kitchen secrets, and bonding over meatloaf. By spring, what had for decades been a solitary—and often thankless—endeavor had become a rewarding team effort. And when the three of us—husband, wife, and mother-in-law—sat down in the evenings to eat, converse, and enjoy each other’s company, we shared the time-honored ritual of breaking bread among loved ones. Food’s gift of bringing people together—at a banquet, in a pub, or in my own humble kitchen, is one I will never again fail to appreciate.

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