Obsession. Duty. Love.

A Guest Post by
Angela Chenus

Food is a lot like love in our house, really.

There are dual forces butting up against each other with a surround sound of other voices chiming in with votes no one gave them.

That would be the five children.

Giving my child PB & J sandwiches after an infancy of breastmilk and pureed fresh soups did not seem like child abuse to ME, just to my French husband.

In between my American culture of frozen pizza, Oreos and Jello, and his of the table set with wine and water glasses for each meal, and a 3-course minimum, two ideas emerge.

  1. Sitting down to a meal of food you love with people you love, is a good thing. Enjoying the flavors, sensations and smells nurtures your soul the same way the food nourishes your body. It is a celebration.
  2. It is also a whole lot of work.

While I began my married life with the notion that if I was on a diet, Special K would be just fine for dinner, I quickly acquiesced with the French tradition of preparing real food twice a day, most days. How did this liberated, non-domestic American woman go from one extreme to the other?

The French Pace

It was first my experiences with long, leisurely dinners where the food was exquisite, the wine great and the company exceptional that inspired me to want to offer the same in my little apartment. The outdoor market helped me want to complete the job. It’s color, smells and sounds: I never could resist buying everything that looked good.

In France, the market is filled with greens in 15 varieties, half a dozen sorts of strawberries in hot competition, (mine are bigger! yeah, but these come from our region, small but the sweetest fruit you will ever taste! the only ones worth eating are the long ones from one department north!), counters of cheese, live chickens and rabbits, fish so fresh it is still moving, barrels full of olives and tomatoes so beautiful they make your heart ache.

Special K lost all appeal.

Despite my little brother’s remark on a visit– “don’t you guys ever buy any junk food?” — I have never been perfect in that aspect. On visits home, if I arrived at the airport in an expectant state, my father had instructions to come with powdered sugar donuts. Licorice remained a staple, when I could get it, for years.

Now that we live in the U.S., the clash continues, with a whole new set of conditions. We cook, every day, for every meal. I have battled the poor opinion my husband has of anything take-out for years. I know he is right; “grabbing a bite to eat,” is expensive and replete of any nutritious value in most cases.

We did the shopping, we have the ingredients, let’s cook. Right. Except. When we need to be in four different places at the same time…a pizza looks awfully appealing.

Clash of the Food Titans

Living with someone for whom food is an artistic and sensual experience does have its perks. For one, we never eat boring. For another, he does a lot of the cooking. But just try to go on a diet with all that good food smell coming out of the kitchen! And try to convince him that dinner at five is a great idea.

My sometimes fantasy: I cook; dinner is ready as he walks in the door. We eat. We take the big kids to an activity, put the littles to bed and still have a life in the evening.

Nope: not a reality. For us, the meal is the life in the evening. And in the end, this is a good thing.

After all, what would I be sacrificing for a faster, more efficient meal?

Moroccan chicken with spices which never before warmed the likes of my kitchen? Perfectly cooked rice as a bed for a perfect shrimp stir-fry? (OK, that was my dish to begin with); a Spanish omelette with as many french-fried potatoes per bite as egg? Barbecue-smoked salsa that goes with anything? Pork roast studded with garlic and rolled in pepper, and soups that vary all winter long?

All of this being prepared with love while the adults sip a glass of wine (or whiskey, for my favorite cook) and the kids help or play somewhere else. The neighbors stop in around mealtime, confident there will be a glass of something and perhaps a sample to take home.

Our kitchen is a hub; a mini-community in and of itself. We are lovingly composing what we will eat, and who we are as a family, meal by meal, day by day.

OK. Yes. There are some sacrifices. And it can be work.

But it is worth it.

This is another great guest post as part of the BIG QUESTION series “What is Eating You?” Thanks, Angela!


Angela Chenus is a homeschooling mother of five and a French translator, living in Iowa. You can read her lovely blog “A Homeschool Story,” where she will convince you that life as a homeschooler is beautiful, craft projects are fun and easy, and everyone should marry a Frenchman.