Remember when we sat in stackable plastic chairs as Dr. Pace preached in the Activity Center? Our St. Luke’s footprint looked so different back then. I’m thankful I was there one of those mornings. In his sermon that day, Dr. Pace talked about family dinner, about the importance of talking and laughing with our children, of establishing and nurturing real connections, while sitting down to share a meal. He referred to the family table as a “love feast” and gave us some gentle reminders to keep it loving as opposed to stressing. I remember feeling emotionally overcome, as if Dr. Pace was speaking just to me.
At the time, I had been mulling over a return to work. My three children were all in school full-time and I was ready to get my feet wet again. I had gone to culinary school in San Francisco about 15 years earlier and worked as a freelance writer and recipe developer for magazines like Parenting, Cooking Light and Sunset. I taught occasional cooking classes out of our home, and friends would often ask me what I was making for dinner and what my family liked to eat, and I would happily share some of my easiest recipes and tricks to help these friends get dinner on the table.
Sitting in the gym — or Activity Center — that day, I felt a pull and a call, and knew I needed to listen. My purpose was to help make weeknight family meals easier, less stressful, more approachable and, if nothing else, taste good. It’s a simple formula in our house. On Sunday afternoons, I shout out, “Any dinner requests?” and the menu gets set for the week. Having a game plan helps me start the week with less stress. I typically shop once for the week ahead, and planning this way has an unexpected bonus—we can feed our family of five pretty reasonably. But more than that, it lays out our intention to sit down together as a family every night. It’s like hitting the pause button on life. And after hearing Dr. Pace’s sermon that day, I realized the sanctity of that time. Our tradition is “roses and thorns,” or sharing the beautiful and the challenging from everyone’s day. Everyone participates, even Mom and Dad. Not every dinner at our house is blissful and prayerful, but it is TIME that we have carved out to look at the faces we love the most and share a meal together. It feels almost sanctified.
After hearing Dr. Pace’s sermon that day, the plan for my return to work crystallized. I decided I would find someone to build a WordPress site to house the hundreds of recipes that were sitting on my computer and get some of my favorite easy weeknight meals online. My business is called Smart in the Kitchen, and my website (www.smartinthekitchen.com) launched in January 2017. I started teaching weekly classes out of my home and met with Central Market to pitch an “easy weeknight meals” class series that I teach monthly. Whether I’m teaching the proper way to cut an onion or how to make carnitas in a Crock Pot, my strategy is to teach my students simple recipes that are easy to pull off at home.
Dr. Pace didn’t know it, but he helped me to accept my calling that day: encouraging the weeknight family meal. And now, when I get photos and texts from friends and students sharing their dinner photos and children’s comments, it gives me an overwhelming sense of gratitude, happiness and excitement. Eating together, and cooking together, is sharing and expressing a deep love for the people we most want to nourish.