(by Mandy B. Fernandez)
What’s that growling noise? Is it a beast? A loose tiger? One might guess that two animals are in the wild, ready to pounce. Actually, it is my daughter, Lana, and me feeling grumpy, ready to snarl at the next person who speaks to us. Whose turn is it to strike and bite next?
The pandemic has our family inside our house all the time now—my children attending school, my husband and I working from home, and all of us trying to make the best of the situation we are in. We are lucky to have a nice habitat and individual caves for retreating. Yet some days, we are restless. We pace. We feel trapped. We begin to turn on each other. Since we cannot hunt for food (our groceries are delivered), we walk into the kitchen to feel like queens of our domain. We reach in the cupboard to find the ingredients for something that will satisfy our hunger.
The kitchen is where we gather for food and social time. The room is open. We have our best conversations there—about what has happened that day, what is currently happening in our community and in our world. When we are not talking, we have music playing so we can sing or dance. The soundtrack in our kitchen varies with the day and our moods, from Michael Jackson to Def Leppard, from Pitch Perfect to Dion, from Kelly Clarkson to Lionel Richie, from Disney movie songs to Green Day, and anything in between. We have even been known to grunt like Chewbacca from Star Wars while in the kitchen making food. That always seems to send us into hysterics.
Lana and I are both naturally drawn to help others, and to create, so we find peace and enjoyment in the kitchen. Somehow putting our hands into bowls, especially inside a sticky batter or mix, gives us a sense of calm. When the world around us feels out of control, we can control our food prep and cleanup. We are involved in a recipe from start to finish. There is comfort in that.
This is especially true with a foolproof recipe that lets us claim a small victory—our no-bake granola bars. Ours are not the chip-a-tooth kind of granola bars. They’re soft but strong, like Lana and me. They do not fall apart, but Lana and I sometimes do. Yet after we fall apart emotionally, making these bars helps us feel less broken. It helps mend our troubles. They are perfectly sweet without being too sugary. That could probably describe Lana and me too. We are compassionate and loving, but if you cross us or make us mad, watch out. Growl! Pounce! Strike!
Smashing, molding, and pressing down food is our free therapy. “Smack, take that, rolled oats.” Our hands may hurt afterwards from releasing tension. But as we get halfway through a recipe, we feel noticeably lighter, sillier. While making our granola, we flick syrup and peanut butter on each other’s arms. We are intentionally messy. Our two dogs hover around us, hoping for dropped crumbs.
Often, we make two batches and give one away to a neighbor or friend. I’m teaching Lana the value of self-care and then caring for others. We nourish ourselves so we can then think outward to help others. We love to surprise those we care about with treats—teachers, neighbors, and friends. I grew up in a family where casseroles and desserts were dropped off when someone was sick or injured. I still believe in that practice. But I also like to share food on random days when people are healthy and not expecting a care package. Good food and a kind word can mean a lot.
I foresee my daughter continuing to use food as I do—to cheer up herself and her friends. She is only eight years old, but I can imagine her a few years from now as a teen. She will sit among a pack of snarling, hungry animals. Only food and laughter will calm them down into purring, contented kittens. I will teach them how to care for themselves so they can experience pride.
That is the magic of good food. When time and love are put into a recipe, it turns our growls into grins. Then we stand ready to face the unknown. As I watch my daughter increase her cooking abilities in the kitchen, I see her confidence grow. It is that painful but beautiful release that we proud mamas face as we slowly release our cubs into the wild.
Mandy B. Fernandez is an award-winning essayist and short story writer living in Pensacola, Florida. She is the author of a children’s book, Kazoo Makes the Team. She can be found at www.writtenbymandy.com.
No-Bake Granola Bars
2 1/2 c. rolled oats
1 c. all-natural creamy peanut butter
1/2 c. pure maple syrup
1/2 c. chocolate chips
In a large bowl, combine oats, peanut butter, and maple syrup, mixing well until the oats are coated.
Gently mix in chocolate chips. (I use my hands.) Press mixture into 1 or 2 silicone baking molds. Freeze for 30 minutes, then remove from molds and refrigerate.
Makes 12 – 24 bars, depending on size and shape of the molds.