The best part of planning a wedding is registering for stuff. Not sure how they do it nowadays, but circa 2001, BB&B set us loose with a scanner gun. So fun, this scanning of all the things, and such a farce when it came to the kitchen section.
“You know I don’t cook, right?” I reminded Matt after he scanned the mother of all counter-top appliances – the KitchenAid stand mixer. Put me in charge of cooking, and I’d better be able to pour it out of a jar or phone it in. He acknowledged, but the KitchenAid mixer remained and someone (thank you, Candy!) bought it. No regrets because there’s nothing like a shiny and untouched stand mixer to make a counter look special.
Fast-forward several years into our marriage and life was a bit of a mess. Working through our carefully laid plans was like navigating a minefield, with each step setting off another explosion of reality vs. expectation. Reality won out every time, leaving Matt and I more emotionally and spiritually exhausted than we’d ever been (and have ever been since). We were physically exhausted, too, but we still needed to eat. We still liked to eat. Could we cook food that we liked to eat? This question, unlike all the others, was at least one we could figure out a meal at a time. I started by cooking pantry basics – bread, yogurt, granola …
“Why do you make your own chicken broth?” a friend asked me at the time.
“Because I can.”
My response wasn’t a boast, but a humble admission from a time of my life when cooking a good meal for my family was about the only thing I felt I could achieve. Maybe we didn’t have enough money to eat out, but I felt like I was conjuring bonus food when I boiled down the remnants of a whole chicken after our family dinner. Maybe we wouldn’t ever make enough money to buy a house, but we could fill our rental with homemade smells of chicken simmering with carrots, onion, celery, and garlic. Maybe a quart of chicken broth only costs $2, but I could make it for a quarter of that.
Because I can.
It was in these lean years that I came to a working understanding of Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 (NIV):
I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.
I was first introduced to these verses in the 90s, courtesy of the song “Tripping Billies” by Dave Matthews Band: Eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Great song (great fiddle!). I jammed to it while writing this post, but Dave’s take is off. Couch the sentiment of these verses in the rest of Ecclesiastes, and it’s not a blank check for doing whatever we want. It’s about how we can find satisfaction in weariness. It’s about choice – a choice to chase for more or to stand still and appreciate what God has granted.
Fast-forward again to now. Matt and I look better on paper than we did then, but that can change in an instant. An instant. And so I still believe cooking good food and eating good food is one of the best ways to spend our days, and somewhere in the past few years we met friends, Stephen and Joy Becker, who believe the same.
There’s never a good time to cook for a whole day, but our annual SmokeFest makes the time. This past Saturday, I was prepping pierogies, greens, and rhubarb crisp at 5 in the morning and Stephen set the ribs to smoke on the grill by mid-morning. By the time our family arrived to their house with chili for lunch, Joy was pulling a homemade apple pie out of the oven. We spent the afternoon pinching pierogies and making more sides, catnapping by the grill, laughing at the children, yelling at the children, putting the children in timeout, and vowing not to invite the children to next year’s SmokeFest.
Because there will be another one. Because in a world that boasts satisfaction at every turn and turns up empty every time, there is this: That everyone may eat and drink, find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.