There are certain things that can trigger such deep, intense memories… it’s almost as if I’m transported back to the day and time in question. I’ve had this happen as a result of listening to music (this song instantly takes me back to “Senior Week” in Ocean City, Maryland, for example), seeing a particular photo (the snapshots of my kids after they were newborns can almost instantaneously summon all the related feels), or encountering a certain smell (mint Chapstick will forever remind me of my dad, who seemed to always carry them in his pocket throughout my childhood). Recently the process of preparing a recipe I must have made 100 times was the cause for such a memory.
Triggering happy memories
I stood at my kitchen counter, cutting broccoli into tiny little pieces for a salad my husband loves. (I love it too, but seeing as how this was his birthday it was more important that he loved it.) As I brought the paring knife across the broccoli crown, I was suddenly back in the dining room of our previous home 3,000 miles away, watching my friend, Cari, cut broccoli more beautifully and efficiently than I’d ever done. I paid attention and began to model her movements, from the way she held the knife to how she separated the stalks.
I had plenty of time to learn because we were prepping for a fundraising dinner that would serve several hundred people. Flats and flats of broccoli donated by a local farmer were spread throughout my house.
These memories remind me of other times I prepped meals with other people…
- Each fall for many years, I—and whoever I could drag along—picked dozens of pounds of apples at a local orchard, then spent the following Saturday making dozens of pies to fill our freezers and keep us pie-full for months to come.
- When our kids were younger, our family calendars were filled with school activities, sports practices and games, church events, and what seemed like an unlimited demand for our time. So a bunch of us prepared freezer meals together, to give us easy meals we could go-to on those busy nights.
- And, of course, there were many holidays and celebrations where I chopped and whisked and baked and swept next to aunts, grandparents, siblings, kids, parents, neighbors, colleagues, and friends.
Whether we’re making apple pies, broccoli salad, birthday cakes, or entire meals, both my body and soul have been so nourished by the process of preparing food with friends and family.
Unfortunately, meal time can also bring up bad memories for many people.
My current job has me supporting a non-profit organization who works under the premise that everyone deserves nourishing meals every day. One of our newish endeavors is a nutrition education program taught through a trauma-informed lens. This means we use a trauma-informed framework to build resilience, develop cooking skills, and increase awareness of a healthy diet while exploring the relationship between food and complex trauma on the individual and community level.
If you forced me (the non-public health team member) to sum it up in two words, I’d put it like this: cooking therapy. The world has art therapy, equine therapy, aqua therapy… why not cooking? It makes beautiful sense, actually. We all need to eat. Every day. And we need to eat in such a way that our bodies are nourished, or else we put our bodies at risk. But sometimes, our past experiences (or as some people say: our habits, hurts, and hangups) get in the way.
Working with this organization is a wonderful way for me to use my marketing and design skills as well as what I’ve learned caring for foster/adopted kids and their families.
Parenting almost 20 foster kids and living with more than two dozen adopting families has taught me a lot about trauma: the good, the bad, and the ugly. These experiences have shown me how our bodies have a wonderful way of being able to heal, even from the most difficult trauma. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of hard work, but it’s possible.
The key is connection—specifically, connection with other people.
I believe our need for one another is built into who we are as humans. When God created the earth and everything in it, he said it was all good… except for one thing. “It’s not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) The only aspect of creation that was not good was the idea of us being alone.
Connection as healing
In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel Van der Kolk writes,
Social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety. No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love: These are complex and hard-earned capacities.”
The notion that cooking certain foods can bring up happy memories for me only serves to reinforce what my colleagues are putting into practice. Preparing and enjoying meals with friends and family is an activity that can deeply impact us, for the better. Prepping broccoli salad for 400 people may sound like a daunting task, but doing that while also developing new friendships? Priceless.
Broccoli Salad Recipe
I first made a version of this recipe after tasting its deliciousness at my Aunt Barb’s house about 13 years ago. I’ve made variations of that original salad dozens of times since then. At this point, it might probably be more aptly named “Broccoli Plus Whatever Else is in the Fridge Salad.” But here’s how I made it most recently…
- 1 large or 2 small heads of broccoli, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 red onion
- 1/2 lb. cooked bacon (or 1 small package of real bacon bits)
- 1 c. shredded cheese (cheddar or whatever flavor you prefer)
- 1 c. shredded carrot
- 1 c. red or black seedless grapes, halved
- 1 c. sweet corn (cut from 2-3 ears of cooked corn on the cob or canned)
- 1/3 c. sugar
- 1 c. mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp. vinegar
- Chop fruit and veggies. Fry bacon, if it’s not already cooked.
- Add first seven ingredients to a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, mix sugar, mayo, and vinegar until well combined.
- Pour dressing over the rest of the ingredients in the large bowl. Mix to combine.
- Cover and chill at least one hour (preferably overnight) before serving.