Cooking to me, is all-encompassing. It incorporates all of the senses, all of the emotions, all of the actions – just about anything. It’s an act of love. The act of love.
When just about anything can be a love language, it makes sense that cooking would be mine. Cooking, baking, eating, and food in general. The whole lot.
Cooking, to me, is all-encompassing. It incorporates all of the senses, all of the emotions, all of the actions — just about anything. It’s an act of love. The act of love.
Since I first learned to cook (between the ages of five and seven), I’ve had a habit of making too much food. Preparing dinner for four instead of two. Eight servings instead of four. Essentially, if you take the two’s multiplication table and go on and on — that’s how much I intuitively increase the proportions, even when I’m following a recipe.
To most, that would be a bad habit to curtail — a waste of food, too laborious, simply too much. To me? It’s just enough.
The more people I cook for, the happier I am. There’s nothing better than watching someone take their first bite of picadillo you poured your entire day’s worth of emotions into. Or, on the flip side, to painstakingly prepare their favorite dish exactly how you made it last time and the time before that to make them happy. To show you care.
Not only can food perform these wonders, but it can also transport us. It’s no secret that food is nostalgic. It is perhaps one of the easiest ways to stoke the flames of the amygdala.
Remember that infamous scene in “Ratatouille” when the food critic tries his food and is immediately flooded with images of his childhood? Food did that. It has the ability to bring us back to moments of comfort and solace. I find that of all the wonderful acts cooking performs, it is the most impressive.
No matter how tired I am, if someone asks me to cook, I, like my Abuela, will make someone something to eat.
My grandma never stopped in the kitchen. From morning to night, my favorite old lady was in there. Her hands trembling from the Parkinson’s didn’t stop her— until one day, it did.
Her response was to become the backseat driver of everyone’s hellish landscapes. She somehow became more protective of the kitchen than ever before—a literal menace to this day.
Think: we’re preparing for Noche Buena, and my aunts and I have been in the kitchen for hours trying to get everything ready for the festivities ahead. Behind us, she’s throwing out drawn-out NOOs when we throw in too much Adobo.
I thought you seasoned with your heart, grandma? Sorry, would our Cuban ancestors disapprove of a splash more of Mojo?
Meanwhile, we’re keeping the rice from boiling over, and I’m hunched over the stove, ensuring the sugar for the Flan doesn’t burn. We may as well be spinning plates, and this woman still has opinions.
The temptation to task her with watching water come to a boil is strong on days like this … But, God, how I love her. (I promise no one’s twisting my arm as I write this, my family’s collective love language is teasing one another.)
Before then, no matter what we picked up from the common food pantry that week, she made sure she tweaked a dish to everyone’s liking.
She taught me to salt a dish to my Tio’s taste he had when he was eleven and liked things a bit too salty, to add Sofrito to my mom’s dish when she was 22; to cook the puerco to my Titi’s taste when she was only seven.
Everything was made perfect for everyone eating it. No stone was left unturned. When it comes to taking someone back to a time, they felt the most listened to when nourishing their body; my grandma got it.
Especially when it came to me.
My mother was no cook, but my grandma lived next door and made sure she made my favorites for me every night when she was taking care of me when my mom was working late.
As a small child (and to this day), ropa vieja is my favorite, and she made sure to throw that into the rotation of our meals as much as I wanted. Even if it meant disregarding others’ favorite meals (including her own). Cooking something you’ve had too much of for someone you care about is love in its purest form.
Now, it brings me no greater pleasure than to cook or bake something that someone will love. Having the ability to take my best friend back to their favorite birthday by baking their favorite cookies is my superpower.
It is something that transforms my day in seconds. Sure, sometimes I’ll whine about it if I’m cranky or had to substitute this for that, but all of that goes away when I see the look on someone’s face after their first bite.
Cooking is love. It is of utmost care. It has all of the intimacy of a relationship wrapped up tightly into a granule of rice or the pouring of coffee creamer. It is my life and our shared love as a species. It is its own language.
Header illustration by Lauren Fernandez