Where did you learn to cook?

Today’s guest blog post comes from Kelly K., a dear friend and fellow traveler who I met when we were on the same graduate scholarship in Ireland. Kelly and I instantly clicked, I think partially because we have kindred spirits when it comes to nourishing others. Kelly is a wise old soul in a twenty-something body. She has been through more experiences in her years than most people experience in a lifetime. This has shaped her into a generous, vibrant and wise woman. I have been begging her to write a PM blog post for a while now, and am excited to share her wit and wisdom with you here. 

Where did you learn to cook?

It’s a great question to have in the back pocket – for that time when Dad’s colleague’s sister arrives with shishkababs to your BBQ, when your friend’s awkward cousin brought mini pizzas to her bridal shower, or when you’re helping your Irish boyfriend’s mother with the mashed potatoes. It is easily answered with a brief “my dad taught me to grill”, a long story about the Saturday afternoons at her Italian grandmother’s house, or a comment about Paddy down the lane who brought the gorgeous floury spuds down just that morning!  The question helps you ask about a person’s family without actually asking. It’s digging for something deeper than the recipe or the technique – its asking about the life story. Kind of like Peacemeals – it is a way of healing without actually talking about healing – by sharing a story and a common meal.

Kelly and Conor in Ireland, probably making potatoes.

Kelly and our friend Conor in Ireland, probably making potatoes.

As an American who has lived in Ireland for the past two years, maybe I’m starting to adopt the Irish propensity for indirectness. Maybe I’m just a nosy American and want to know about people’s lives.  Maybe I just like stories.  Whatever the reason, I love to know where people learned to cook.

So, in the PeaceMeals’ spirit of sharing, here goes.  Where did I learn to cook?

One of my favorite memories of all time: sharing epic breakfasts with Kelly when we helped run a B&B on Achill Island off the coast of Ireland.

One of my favorite memories of all time: sharing epic breakfasts with Kelly when we helped run a B&B on Achill Island off the coast of Ireland.

I learned to cook right after college when I was a caregiver for my mom who was diagnosed with leukemia. Together we went through of the best and worst 16 months of my life…for anyone reading this who is a caregiver or has been through cancer treatment  (or both)– you understand.  The joy of getting to spend those last months with a person you love, the pain of watching them suffer with treatments that are supposed to “heal” them, and the endless sadness of losing them. Chemotherapy, sappy rom com movie nights, physical therapy appointments, trips to the emergency room, drives to listen to the ocean waves, weeks on a ventilator in the ICU, seizures and 911 calls, a bone marrow transplant, and reading the entire Harry Potter series out loud.  And I learned to cook.

First off, Chemotherapy changes all of your tastebuds – the tanginess of fruit popsicles, Jamba Juice pomegranate smoothies and citrus Life Savers candies became a hit.  Tuna salad was the favorite one week, and inedible the next.  Everything was trial and error…constant experimenting, researching flavor combinations.  When we went for Mom’s bone marrow transplant, she became severely immune compromised and was put on a non-dairy diet (lactose intolerance mimics the symptoms of Graft-versus-host disease).  No fresh fruit or vegetables, no eating out (because of potential contamination in food preparation). So I cooked.  Good healthy meals that would give mom energy and tag-team with the cocktail of immune suppressant drugs to make the transplant “take”.  Cooking kept me occupied and made me feel like I could do something to help mom heal – indirectly. At the same time, I was learning about adversity, strength, health and gratitude – not by talking about it, but by living it.

When mom’s transplant failed and she passed away a few months later, the cooking stuck.  Maybe cooking was a way of staying connected to those big life lessons.  Maybe it was a way of nurturing my own body and fight off the waves of grief.  Maybe it was a distraction and excuse for surrounding myself with friends for weekend brunches. Nearly four years later, living across the ocean, experimenting with new varieties of potatoes and sharing meals with new friends, cooking is still a way of grounding me in lessons of health and gratitude.

So that’s where I learned to cook.  That’s my story.

Kelly and her mother. Beauty and strength.

Kelly and her mother. Beauty and strength.

1 Comment

  1. Katie Dwyer August 6, 2014 Reply

    This is an absolutely beautiful piece, Kelly. Thank you for sharing your story, and for making me think again about the healing power of service…and food.

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