Since early adulthood, I have had the joy of cooking for others. In my late teens and early twenties, it mostly involved helping my mom prepare for her beloved parties. I could spend hours in the kitchen making puff pastry swans or chocolate covered fruit. My only “reward” for this was the smile on my mother’s face and the oohs and ahhs from the party guests as they looked at the food admiringly. At that time in my life, that was enough.
As I grew older, I realized that cooking for others was an act of service for me. I loved to invite people over and prepare a delicious meal. It wasn’t that I was showing off – often my guests were just as adept in the kitchen as me. It was that I loved doing something special for people I cared about. I loved spending hours working on something that would bring joy to the special people in my life. I loved sitting down to a candlelit meal with friends, drinking a good wine and watching their faces as they tasted something I had created.
During my late twenties and early thirties, there was hardly a month to go by when I wouldn’t find myself preparing dinner for a friend in need. At this time, it was usually due to the birth of a child. Usually the first week after returning home with an infant is wrought with stress and exhaustion. It was good to know that by simply preparing a meal, I could alleviate the added burden of deciding ‘what’s for dinner?’ I knew first-hand how comforting this was. After the birth of my second child, friends showed up at my door with food daily for two full weeks. I felt blessed and very appreciative.
As I’ve gotten older, cooking for others has become less frequent – but no less important. Friends who were once having children are now dealing with other issues. When I’m asked to prepare dinner now, it’s usually for someone recovering from surgery, dealing with illness, coping with the loss of a parent, struggling with depression or any number of other life stresses. My heart breaks for my friends. In so many ways I feel powerless to help. But I can cook. I can spend hours in the kitchen preparing food – driven by love and empathy for those dealing with this unfair world. Most probably don’t realize the amount of emotion that goes into the food I prepare. Most may not understand why simply picking something up from a restaurant and delivering it to a door feels less satisfying to me. When I’m cooking, I feel like I’m giving. I feel like I’m helping. I feel that in some small way, I’m making a difficult situation a bit easier for someone I care about – even if only for a moment.
Next week, I’ll have the privilege of preparing dinner for another friend and my head is already spinning with ideas. The planning for me is as important as the actual act of cooking. I’m hoping that I can make this friend’s day a little brighter – a little happier. Thinking about this brings me joy. It reminds me of the importance of those in my life. It reminds me that when I go through difficult situations, my friends will be there for me – each in their own special way – as they always have been before. Serving others is comforting to me. It reminds me how connected we all are – how similar our stories will ultimately be – and how we are never completely alone.
I’ve decided to include one of my favorite recipes to take to friends. This one isn’t original. It comes from a friend who owned a Mexican restaurant in North Richland Hills for more than 20 years. Make it for a friend, or make it for yourself. It’s good either way.
Chicken Enchiladas with Sour Cream Sauce
- One rotisserie chicken, skinned and boned
- 1 dozen corn tortillas
- 1/2 cup cooking oil
- 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
- 1/4 cup butter
- 3/4 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 (4 oz.) can green chilies
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine cheese, onion and chicken. Fry tortillas in a large skillet, one at a time for about 15 seconds each, just to soften. Spread a newspaper or paper sack on counter to drain tortillas after frying. Spoon chicken mixture on all 12 tortillas, roll up and place seam side down in a large baking pan.
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour and add chicken broth. Cook until mixture thickens and begins to bubble. Stir in sour cream and green chilies. Cook until heated through but DO NOT BOIL. Pour sauce over tortillas and bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve piping hot.