By Susan Ohanian, Contributor
Since I’m a retired teacher of roughneck kids as well as a volunteer cook at the Senior Center, it seemed inevitable that I’d read Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up—and What We Make When We Make Dinner.
Liz Hauck, a Boston high school teacher who volunteered to cook dinner once a week with adolescent boys institutionalized in residential care, has a mesmerizing tale to tell. The title offers a fitting recap of what’s inside. There is plenty of grief here, and, although the reader is left furious with the way our system ignores and abandons these boys, there is also the saving grace of the groceries.
The New York Times reviewer offered fulsome praise, pointing out that this is not a redemption story. But along with grief and anger, the reader is left with a feeling of awe and gratitude for this tenacious woman who practices her own philosophy of doing what she can. She writes, “When in doubt, we focus on the food.”
Here’s how The Times reviewer ends her column: “We know that systems fail, but food is revolutionary… Hauck’s focus throughout the book stays on the boys themselves, and her gratitude toward them for welcoming her into their house. It turns out that showing up to cook and eat with people once a week allows for startlingly deep moments of connection and community. That’s all that happens. And it’s extraordinary.”
I hope it’s not too steep a segue to say that my time as a volunteer cook at the Senior Center, with its total focus on food, has also offered “startlingly deep moments of connection and community.” And lots of laughter. Even when our huge pot of roasted tomato soup exploded, setting off the automatic alarm that caused Fire and Rescue to come rushing to the rescue, there was lots and lots of laughter. And we learned to beware of adding baking soda to hot tomatoes.
Early on, I wanted to help the people putting on wonderful lunches at the Senior Center, but I swore I’d never enter the kitchen. So, for weeks and months I kept to the outskirts, washing tables, wrapping silverware, taking out the garbage. I have no idea of how I found myself one day making Moroccan lentil soup or bread pudding. I’d just say the bonhomie of that kitchen has a way of luring people in. And the secondary moral here is that there’s great need of potato peelers as well as master cake makers.
The first and last parts of Hauck’s book title offer a lot for us to ponder: Home Made…What We Make When We Make Dinner. Yes, Monday Munch is definitely home made, and what’s made is definitely more than just what appears on the plate.
I hope that as the Senior Center gradually gears up for a new season of wonderful meals and moments of connection and community, people will give our kitchen a try. Liz Hauck provides the guide:
Do the best you can.
Be willing to improvise.
Come back again.
I would just add: Buy local. My copy of Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up—and What We Make When We Make Dinner comes from our great book store, The Flying Pig.
Note: You can find menus as well as interesting food notes at the Senior Center website.