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Learning new skills

Cooking

During my married life, there were periods of several years when I did more cooking than my wife, though she was a good cook. Her professional life kept her away from home for many evenings, so I cooked. I enjoyed cooking, and I was reasonably good at it. We enjoyed our quiet meals together at home.

One evening during my wife’s final year of life, I was cooking dinner, and she was at the kitchen table visiting with me. I said, “Do you know that I pray the prayer of the Pharisee?”

She was puzzled, so I reminded her of the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee in the temple. The tax collector beat his chest and prayed for God’s forgiveness. The Pharisee prayed, “Lord, thank you that I am not like other men!”

I said to my wife, “I also pray nearly the same prayer as the Pharisee. I say, ‘Thank you, Lord, that I am not like other men…I can cook!’”

We both laughed, and I have often been thankful that I can cook, especially now that she’s gone. I cook most of my meals, and I like the independence and economy my cooking provides.

If you haven’t cooked much in the past, I encourage you to develop your skills. Cooking can be gratifying, and it gives you a degree of independence you won’t have if you must eat out all the time. Eating out is expensive, and it can become a chore. Your home-cooked meals can be healthier than restaurant food: probably cleaner and more varied, and you can control the fat, carbs, salt, and sugar. Try some recipes from the internet to build your repertoire. Dr. Google can provide lots of cooking help. Make judicious use of some packaged or frozen meals to speed things up and eat out when you must, but don’t be a slave to restaurants. You will build up your cooking skills just by using them.

Even if you have done a lot of cooking before, you now confront the task of cooking by yourself and for yourself. When I became a widowed man, I became weary of hearing widows say, “It’s hard to cook for just one.” I was unsympathetic, thinking to myself: “Okay! Cook for four, eat that twice, and freeze two meals for future use! How hard is that?”

I was in my third year of widowhood before I felt an emotional weight about cooking for myself. It became harder for me to think of my next meal and to start work on it. I knew how to cook, but I didn’t feel like doing it. Then I began to understand the widows’ lament: it’s not the physical work of cooking for one; it’s the emotional effort of cooking when there is no one else to cook for. But cooking can be its reward, once you start a meal.

It’s often said, “The shortest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” The same is true with at least some women. I almost always feel better if I cook for company, and men and women alike enjoy the meals. Occasionally I have a friend over for lunch or dinner, and my enthusiasm for cooking revives.

My companion at mealtime is usually the TV. Hearing the news as I cook simulates the presence of another person, so I nearly always check the news or the weather while eating. If the news is jarring or boring, I sometimes watch a Smithsonian Channel documentary, an old show on YouTube, or a portion of Netflix movie. I’m told watching TV is a bad habit, but it works for me.

Mealtime is an important time for social life as well as personal renewal. Listen to your body and your feelings to find the right mix of meals at home and time away from home. Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner with a friend at a restaurant, but have the comfort of your own home cooking, too.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com

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