I’ve talked about “starting the conversation.” I recently experienced family joining in the conversation without even being asked, with a real sense of grace.
My aunt and uncle invited A (my boyfriend) and I for a meal. After several times going back and forth about what to cook, and what I could eat, they took the awkward and uncomfortable right out of the conversation and invited us to make a meal with them.
(When I am invited to eat at someone’s house, I often will invite them to mine instead. It’s easier to host when you have life-threatening food restrictions, to avoid the questioning and ingredient-label-reading. Making a meal together though – this was a new idea for me!).
Together we set out to cook a safe meal. I would be able to see all the ingredients and collaborate in the meal, reducing my anxiety (and some of theirs, too) and creating something safe and delicious.
We made ugly ravioli.
As it turns out, Aunt H and Uncle J love cooking and finding fresh, healthy meals to make from scratch. They have since taught me that making cheese is easy and that cornbread is delicious. On that night, they taught us that making ravioli can be safe, yummy and also unintentionally comical.
“Welcome, come on in, you guys!” Aunt H greeted us at the door.
“Thank you so much for having us,” I answered as we all exchanged hugs.
Before we knew it, Aunt H was at the stove stirring a fresh batch of tomato sauce and telling me about the fresh ingredients while Uncle J, A and myself took turns holding the sheets of fresh pasta we were handing off through the pasta roller. We used more and more hands as we counted and the pasta grew longer and longer. We learned that it is very easy to lose count when you are chatting while rolling pasta out 25 times, and our conversation was interspersed with “15 – is it 15?” – “yes, wait – no that’s 16 times”.
Uncle J pulled out some snacks, handing each can and bag over to me to read over the ingredients before diving in. I happily shared which snacks I needed to check, and which foods were generally ok, relaxing as I settled into the care they were putting into my meal.
And we decided to add spinach, farmer’s cheese, and feta to our ravioli. I had a moment of panic when I realized we were using frozen spinach.
“Aunt H – um – do you mind if I – do you still have the spinach package?… Could I check the ingredients?” I asked, the dreaded awkward questioning coming up. “Frozen vegetables sometimes have ‘spices’…”
“Oh, sure, honey! It’s right here. I think it’s ok, but go ahead and look.”
I took the package, relieved that she was not offended – in fact, it felt like the opposite, she wanted me to feel comfortable and stated she would prefer I check the labels if it would make me feel better. It was such a gift to be treated not with defensiveness but with welcome!
We rolled out the pasta until it looked to be the right thickness, having lost count somewhere along the way. We placed down the long strips of pasta on the clean kitchen counter to begin stuffing, piecing together and cutting out our ravioli. As we brushed the pasta with egg, it dawned on us that perhaps we should have done something else as well…
“Oh, no!” we laughed as the pasta came apart, gently tugging at the edges. Without flour underneath the pasta strips, the ravioli had become glued to the counter. We chiseled the ravioli, firmly adhered to the counter, piecing together the unsealed, misshapen edges as best we could.
A and I decided to get creative, wrapping loose ends of pasta around the ugliest ones to hold them together. Aunt H and Uncle J knew better, and laughed at our naïveté as we convinced them to boil the ugly ones anyway.
They came apart in the water, bits of unstrung pasta floating to the surface.
“You’re eating this one, A!” I laughed as the biggest ball of ravioli (if you could call it that) bounced in the boiling water, bits of spinach drifting out of the ravioli and into the water.
“Mmm, looks deeelicious,” he replied with a cheeky grin.
“I promise, Aunt H, we will eat the ugly ones!” I claimed as she ladled them out.
“You’d better!” she answered, laughing.
She and Uncle J arranged them on a plate, and they were beautiful to our stomachs if not to our eyes. We hashed out the ravioli process, figuring out where we had gone wrong and how to do it better next time. Not only did we have a delicious meal, we had a fun experience cooking together and found a new way to share the conversation – without my food restrictions being a burden on the meal!