- How food transcends time and distance and can remind you of who you are
- Antoni’s biggest cooking mistake (and how it might give us all a little permission to fail and try again)
- How food can help us to grieve
- What NOT to do when you deliver food to people who are going through a tough time
Antoni Porowski is a New York Times Bestselling Author and star of Netflix’s hit series Queer Eye. As Queer Eye’s food and wine expert, the self-taught cook brings with him a lifelong passion for food. Antoni’s first cookbook, Antoni in the Kitchen, was released in Fall 2019, debuting at #2 on the New York Times’ Best Seller List. His next cookbook, Antoni: Let’s Do Dinner, is set for release on September 14th, 2021. Born in Canada to Polish emigrants, Antoni is an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights everywhere, especially his family’s native Poland.
Have you ever watched Queer Eye? It’s an absolutely delightful show that can be found on Netflix. (P.S. I’m already SO excited for Season 6. It’s set in Austin, TX and looks amazing already.)
If you ever visit Montreal and check out Stash Café where Antoni worked during college.
Kate Bowler: What kind of food tastes like love to you? Maybe it’s great grandma’s potato salad or your uncle’s grilled cheese or mom’s lemon pie or those spicy Cheetos that take you right back to those all nighters in college or maybe the lasagna you received after the baby was born or maybe after your loved one died. There is something about food, in the thoughtful preparation, in the delivering, in the eating together that tastes like love. I’m Kate Bowler and this is Everything Happens. And I apologize in advance for making your mouth water, but today’s episode is all about food. Food that makes us feel less lonely in our pain or in our isolation or in our grief. Food that makes us and remakes us when we need it most. And who better to talk about it with today than my guest, Antoni Porowski? You probably recognize him. You should. You must. He stars on Netflix hit series Queer Eye as the food and wine expert. And he’s also a self-taught cook who is also a best selling author with his beautiful and delicious cookbooks Antoni in the Kitchen and Let’s Do Dinner, which I take as an invitation. And today I am so excited to be talking to him about the way food can bring us together, comfort us and offer us a bit of healing. Antoni, thank you so much for doing this with me today.
Antoni Porowski: You’re not making my mouth water, but like you made my frickin eyes water. Like OK the line about the lasagna like bringing lasagna to someone after they had a baby like that, that was one of the most purest things I’ve ever heard. And it’s like so triggering in the most beautiful way because so many of my friends have just had babies and I’m just like, oh, I like I heard that.
Kate: It’s such a vulnerable moment where we really do need other people to show up with something
Kate: Useful and hopefully edible.
Antoni: Hopefully, edible!
Kate: Your parents immigrated to Canada, and like so many Canadian kids, you grew up with a mosaic of cultures. I was so happy to realize, of course, vous etes un Francophone. You speak French because, you know, you’re from Montreal.
Antoni: Oui, bien sur.
Kate: Most cosmopolitan man on the planet, I imagine, because you’re also Polish that Polish food was a really important way for your family to express their culture and their history. I wondered if we could start there.
Antoni: I’d love to start there. Whenever anybody brings up, like Polish food. It’s such a I think it’s been such a journey for me. Because when I was really young, my parents traveled a lot, and if we went on vacation with them, then it was always about which market we were going to, what the next restaurant was going to be, everything was food centric, no matter where we were. And if my parents went on holiday without me, like if they went to Sharm el-Sheikh and Morocco, they came back and we were eating tagine for a month, whether we liked it or not, it was just like orange zest and everything and more olives than anybody could ever ask for. But with Polish food, it wasn’t anything that I had an appreciation for, but I wasn’t didn’t have any negative feelings. I was just kind of indifferent. I remember when I went around high school, I moved to West Virginia with my with my parents and my sister stayed behind in Montreal. I loved West Virginia and I loved all my friends and I really loved my experience there. But there definitely wasn’t as much diversity as there was in Montreal. And for the first time, I kind of felt embarrassed. For my name, my heritage, Polish stereotypes, Polish food. And so I feel like subconsciously, I don’t think it’s a surprise that within less than two years of being there, I’d almost completely forgotten French and Polish. And you have to understand, like Polish was my first language growing up, we only spoke Polish at home. French was mandatory. You had to learn it at school. And I just wanted to kind of eliminate both of those sides to me. I even considered I remember like my name Antoni or Antek is like my Polish name. I wanted to change my name to Anthony just to Americanize it so that I can just like they did more. And it wasn’t until I was back in Montreal studying psychology in a university for my undergrad that I started, this is basically the rite of passage if you’re Polish in Montreal, you go work at a place called Stasch Cafe where you get your Polish card, not an actual card, it’s just a thing. So it’s a restaurant owned by you, previously owned by my auntie. And I was like basically I was like 19 or 20 and I started working there as a waiter and I got to meet Polish people who were my age who were actually really proud of who they were and showing up. When you’re in college, there are a lot of hangover’s, also drinking age is 18 in Quebec so just pointing that out, and there was nothing better than like going downstairs and having, like, the grandmas in the kitchen give you fresh perogies that I would put into some nice warm borscht just so I can feel like a human being again and get the color back in my skin because I feel like Casper the Ghost from the previous nights decisions, questionable decisions. It was kind of like a rebirth of like a gratitude and an appreciation for where I came from being around people who were like me and kind of like that sense of community. I don’t even remember what your question was, but I just went out of Polish journey and
Kate: I’m into the Polish place because that’s like it builds a bridge back to who you were and who you are. It’s amazing the food can do that.
Antoni: I think it does for all of us. On Queer Eye, I have noticed myself doing this, that whenever somebody is especially unconfident – is unconfident a word?
Kate: It is now.
Antoni: Yes, it is now. Now it is with us. If somebody is lacking, like if someone’s especially not confident in the kitchen, I feel like a good way or even as a person in general. I know with Jonathan it’s all about hair and grooming and makeup and with Tan it’s about having that outfit so you can feel good about yourself and the Bobby it’s the home that you have and with Karamo it’s like an inside job and self-help and that sort of thing. And with me, I really do feel like for me to to like becoming a confident person, so much of that has to do with this period in my life when I actually, like, looked back on my childhood and looking back at my heritage where my parents came from, the experiences that they had, the experiences of their their parents had, my grandparents, knowing where I came from, helped me become a confident, a more confident person. And I really do feel that that’s that’s like kind of a universal trait. Like if you don’t know who you are, how can you be confident? It’s understandable, you know.
Kate: Yeah. Yeah, it is. We need this story of who we are.
Kate: You know, if people haven’t seen Queer Eye, I have seen every episode. Each episode, each episode has has kind of the feeling of an intervention, but in the gentlest kind, like someone is struggling and then you’re there to help support different aspects of their life. And I wondered if we could talk about that for a minute, the idea of the not intervention-intervention, because when people are really struggling, you know, as much as that makes for interesting television, the whole idea of like the giant makeover isn’t exactly what people need right now. They need those small nudges in the right direction. And that’s exactly what you’re doing.
Antoni: Totally. I think that. In my experience, asking someone to change if there is no willingness is kind of like you’re not going to get very far. But if a person has an ounce of willingness, if there’s just they don’t have to know how, they don’t have to have the roadmap. They don’t have to have the path or the self-help book or that like route to self actualization, but if they just want change, then it’s it’s sort of an admittance that what you’ve been doing so far hasn’t really been working. And then it’s just asking open ended questions and getting curious and figuring out like, why do you want change? You want change for yourself? Do you want change for somebody else? I don’t think that there’s a wrong answer. A lot of people say that you have to change for yourself first, which I agree with, but at the same time, it’s like sometimes somebody comes into our life where we realize, like I really look up to this person. I really respect something about them and it kind of helps kind of like propulse- is propulse even a word. Am I just making up words today?
Kate: I- this language makes a lot of sense because it is those little I’m one of the things we talk a lot about is, is the idea of limited agency. That’s not like kind of the everything is possible sort of wild and throwing ourselves into being into just endless action or giving up that nothing is possible but finding those little places of possibility that just kind of keep like opening up our lives again.
Antoni: It’s slow. Change is slow.
Kate: Change is slow. And we sometimes because when it moves in the opposite direction, we can get so stuck. It always strikes me when watching you meet somebody is that is that people sometimes don’t realize just how, you know, change is slow, but decay is slow, that they can suddenly find themselves in a living room that hasn’t changed for 30 years or with clothes in their closet, that, you know, that just don’t fit them anymore or with only, you know, frozen meals in the freezer and they forgot what they even love to eat.
Kate: You’re encouraging, like, such a gentle, loving, like rediscoveries sometimes of who people were to figure out who they might be. I can just think of so many examples of how food was a part of the transformation with so many people that you met. I’m just thinking right now of the episode you did with Tom, who had like lupus and was really embarrassed of his skin and was embarrassed of not being, you know, in the relationship he wanted anymore and feeling like life had just passed him by. And you were like, OK, well, let’s open your fridge. Such it’s hard to find these places of beginning in our lives when sometimes just maybe too much was taken either too slowly or sometimes for people all at once. Yeah.
Antoni: Totally, I think it’s like you just have to kind of be like slow and gentle with it and with him, it just started out with. I mean, I made more than just guacamole, for the record, I just want to say
Kate: I know well, I know because I just
Antoni: I want to say I just want to say one thing. That was my first episode ever.
Kate: Do you want me to tell you what episode? Here is what I saw a man who was so embarrassed about how he looked and that he was living in this like giant plush chairs, you know, that he was like a lazy boy, a lazy boy.
Antoni: It was a crusty, lazy boy.
Kate: And he was eating like frozen microwave dinners the whole time. And he kept saying about himself that you can’t fix ugly. And he was so embarrassed of his life. And you very gently asked him to reconsider just a few things. That’s what I remember about that episode.
Antoni: I didn’t mean to make it all about me but I did.
Antoni: But it’s like the simple act of, you know, because he wanted to make a meal for his ex, who he still had feelings for, just like putting him into a kitchen and like making the salsa and preparing the steak for the quesadillas that like watching that like childlike wonder. Like literally when I cut open an avocado and he was like looking at it like he’d never seen the inside of one before because he’s only ever ordered to guac at his favorite Tex Mex restaurant or squeezing a lime and being like where all the seeds. And it’s like, well, limes don’t have seeds. And I’m not saying that I’m like trying to, like, insult him in any way, but just kind of like seeing that curiosity and that excitement. I think for a moment he was just taken out of thinking about, like what he hasn’t been doing right and instead he was just enjoying the process of change and the tiny little golden nuggets of information that we learn and then watching him prepare for Abby or for that ex afterwards and the way that she looked at him like she looked like Cinderella meets Jackie O. And she was like, what is even happening. Like, this man is making food for me. And he was like nurturing himself and making something and taking pride and putting care and also being of service and like doing something for someone else. Because when we learn about ourselves, we want to change and we want to be better. And I do think, like everyone talks about self care these days and we’ve had promo campaigns for Queer Eye about it, I do think it’s incredibly important, but I do think self care doesn’t exist without taking care of other people. It is a very symbiotic relationship. It’s great because you get to make someone feel good about themselves. And also for a moment, it gets you out of your head and thinking that you’re terminally unique and that you’re the only one going through something.
Kate: I think that is a special kind of magic, it’s that people magic that happens when you get to drop close to other people’s vulnerability. It does really help us escape our own. I mean, I’ve had a rough go of my health. I was diagnosed with stage four cancer when I was thirty five. And that has been a rough and has been a rough go. But one of the most beautiful things in my life is getting to be really close to people in their vulnerability. And it it does it creates this offramp out of sort of the accidental narcissism of pain, right? I know my my problems are so unique or it does feel really good, doesn’t it, to be close to somebody, especially someone kind of cracked open to the possibility of change?
Antoni: Yeah, totally. I mean, I do think food is is one of the most I mean, we need it to live literally, but also just like in terms of figuring out where we come from through food with, like, your beautiful monologue at the beginning of from like, was it like a lemon tart to I’m still thinking about that lasagna to just showing up for other people in the conversations that we get to have with, like loved ones around a table or just making perfect soft scrambled eggs for your partner before he starts his day and like bringing that to him, like whatever it is, no matter how simple, it’s like making a chili for my dog with bison meat and making sure I don’t put any onions or garlic because dogs cannot digest alliums, learning that she definitely can not eat mango skins because that was just a disaster for all of us. I don’t know how it got there, but anyway. Yeah.
Kate: So we have this lovely community here at the Everything Happens project, and I asked them if they wouldn’t mind sending in some stories to share with you about when food was love in their life. I thought you’d appreciate some of them.
Antoni: I’m loving it already. I haven’t even heard them yet.
Kate: This one comes from my friend Candace. She just moved into a home and her neighbor decided to have a party that lasted way longer than Candace would have preferred. And so sometime after 3:00 a.m. when the music was still blasting, she got fed up, got up, and then decided to bake him a pound cake, which she delivered the next morning with a kind but firm letter instructing him that she was not entirely thrilled and that her thought process was sometime after three thirty a.m. that she was thinking of him. But in the future, maybe he could think of her and the time they dropped it off and then she met him the next day turns out he was a music producer, which made sense of the music, but he apologized and said he would absolutely keep the music down. But he loved the pound cake and pound cake opened up that he was actually just struggling through his very first holiday without his daughter, who he’d just lost in a tragic car accident. And that the fact that she led with pound cake and kindness instead of just, you know, rightfully maybe prejudging the situation that it like opened up a friendship for them when he was lonely and actually just overwhelmed.
Antoni: Yeah, wow.
Kate: I just, I was like Candace will you send a photo of her and Tommy. And it just made me wonder if there’s ever been a moment for you where you needed people to just really to show up with food.
Antoni: Yeah. There’s this incredible powerhouse of a woman. Her name is Beth Barden. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri. She has a wonderful brunch spot called Succotash, where she makes her grandmother’s pancakes with this like awesome lingonberry sauce. And she also does a really great heirloom tomato lemonade that she serves in summer with her own heirloom tomatoes, of course. It’s my very favorite, and she did catering on Queer Eye while we were in Kansas City. And if you’ve ever been on a set, usually it’s like vats of food in like aluminum containers and it’s like it’s totally edible, it’s totally fine, but not not for Beth. She would show up with whether it was like some popcorn machine she bought for 20 bucks at a flea market and like a cotton candy machine. And then it’s like vintage chicken feeder filled with, like a beautiful Cobb salad with, of course, greens from her own garden, like she’s that woman. And I was going through just personally, I was going through like a really rough time because I felt like a season of Queer Eye dropped literally the first week that we were filming in Kansas City. And there was all of this like external success that was going on and all of this attention and all of this praise and all of this electricity going on publicly. And it was the complete opposite of how I was feeling on the inside, like I felt like I was just completely empty and not understanding why I was so unhappy and just thinking like I should be happy. I have all of these external things that I would suppose- that were supposed to make me happy. Why am I so sad? And I was just stressed with work and my thing is I have a very addictive personality and so I throw myself into things whether they’re good for me or not, and I just obsess over them. And work for me is definitely one that I have to check in and that I have to be very mindful of because I can just throw myself in fully and I can create a lot but the drawback of that is that I’m just not taking care of myself spiritually. And she saw that she felt it. And so she was helping me while my lovely coauthor and I, Mindy Fox, we’re working on the book Beth would come over and she would help with testing of certain recipes. And so I would like come back from like a full day of shooting and she would have like five dishes ready for me to try. And it was like five proteins. I would be trying like chicken livers or roast chicken, some kind of like fish and then chicken another way and then like a pork chop and and she would bring me food. I mean, she’s an excellent cook. So everything was always delicious, but it always included like little notes. The Tupperware was always insane and from like the nineteen seventies and it was like glass with like a weird like silicone lid that was like-
Kate: Yes! I know exactly that kind.
Antoni : Yeah. That she’s, that’s her and she just like she knew exactly how to, yeah, to just like speak to me and I would come home and I’d be like OK, I’m ready to work. She’d be like no, you’re going to sit down.
Kate: Yeah. Yeah.
Antoni: Then she would just, like, make me eat and we just wouldn’t talk for like 20 minutes and sometimes I would just start crying out of nowhere. She wouldn’t even ask me why. She just treated it as like it was like a non-issue. And then we would just, like, get back to work. And she knew what I needed more than I did at that time. And she just kind of like had that instinct. Yeah, it was it was like a really hard time and I was too embarrassed to share with anybody that I was going through a rough time because, like, I shouldn’t be doing that. I should be grateful for all of these, like, awesome external things that I have going on. And I should be expressing like a tremendous amount of gratitude. But I was just feeling so empty and she made it OK to feel that emptiness and to be able to, like, sit in my feelings.
Kate: Yeah. Sounds like she knew how to feed people and nurture people. It’s a precious kind of presence. I love those people who just kind of scoot- like they just pull up a chair. I wondered if you could talk for a second about some of the best practices when it comes to bringing people food, when they’re going through a hard time. I went through a really long season where I just I really didn’t have the resources to take care of myself and my family was really overwhelmed. When I was- when I really needed people. People really signed up to take care of me. And I was I was kind of a little embarrassed and tired and overwhelmed, but really grateful to have people be those people in my life. You love simple, beautiful food. And I’m sure you have some advice about bringing it to people’s homes, like I might add, but just to start us off, like feel free just to drop it off and don’t feel like you need to visit with that person for two hours, especially if they’re really tired and they just really want they really want the food not necessarily also company.
Antoni: Totally. I think the rule that I would kind of apply, I always I love to impress people. I love to have people try things that they’ve never tried before and discover new things and just kind of like look at the look on their face when they’re taking a bite of something and they’re experiencing it for the first time. That said, when I’ll tie it into having a dinner party, I’m having somebody over for the first time. I always want to go really ambitious and make something I’ve never made before. Big mistake. Huge. What’s that from? Pretty Woman. When she goes into the store afterwards. Big mistake. Huge. Wow. I’m gonna have to watch that again. Anyway, that took a turn. This is this is my brain and my ADD. But anyway, I always want to make something that I’ve never really made before and the advice that was given to me that I still don’t take most of the time but I try is like make the thing that you’re comfortable with that you’ve made a hundred times because it might be old for you, but for this person, they haven’t had it as many times. And comfort can mean different things to different people. For some people, it’s getting Ina Gartens’ Beatty’s chocolate cake that has coffee in two different forms that just add the right amount of bitterness with like that perfect buttercream frosting and just like the spongiest, most delicate, airy cake. And for other people, it’s a nice baked ziti situation and they just want cheese. And for others, it’s just something really clean and simple, like a roasted salmon with some, like, lightly grilled asparagus with just like light char marks and some fresh lemon to put over and that’s that’s what that is. I don’t think that there’s a hard, fast rule on what that is. But I would suggest like just find out what but what is comfort to that person.
Kate : Yeah, that’s lovely.
Antoni: And put care into it and put intention, which I think is incredibly important. That’s why I love cooking.
Kate: Yeah. That was such an important is such an important part of making people feel less lonely or reminding them of the people who love them. People sent in some really lovely stories of that. Like one person told us that every year on her brother’s birthday, her and her mom make his favorite foods even though he died 22 years ago and that it’s part of the ritual that they just once a year have a minute to get together and to remember him. Or another friend who had a baby during the pandemic. She said, My Mennonite mother in law, God bless Mennonites, dropped off supper every Thursday night for four months as she adjusted to being a new parent. And then every meal included dessert, she said Pavlova quality, dessert.
Antoni: Pavlova quality. I really admire the specificity.
Kate: One person said we don’t make it, but we eat goodberries custard to remember Dad on his birthday. He died 11 years ago. His birthday was Saturday. My youngest, who never met him, looks at the calendar and it says 8/21. It’s goodberries Papa Day, which is such a sweet way to bring to bring memories even to people who don’t get to directly remember them.
Antoni: Absolutely. And I think as as as much as I preach the gospel of making things from scratch and like doing it for yourself, I do think that there’s like those memories are tied to the experiences that we’ve had at restaurants or from, like, our favorite bakeries and all of that. I think it’s incredibly important. There’s no judgment there.
Kate: Part of your no judgment, too, I think, too, is just letting people try and even if it doesn’t mean it doesn’t turn out fancy, that it can be part of this lovely thing. We have this lady write in to say that her best friend had died in 2001 and she and her friend had had these risotto cookoffs and they usually ordered it in restaurants. But after she started making it every year and she said she makes it now with her daughter, risotto is meditative. You can’t rush it. And I love it. It’s also delicious. I like the idea of, like, just letting food make us take time with whatever emotion seems like it might be too hard to have just all at once.
Antoni: Absolutely. And I think you touched on something really important, being able to make mistakes and not you want it to be perfect, of course, you want you want that person to be able to see, you know, the success of the fruits of your labor. But haven’t we learned anything from Julia Child, like go on YouTube? If you’re having, like a crappy day, look at literally any single demo of anything it is that she makes. So in an episode of Queer Eye, we’re in Japan for the first episode, there was a lovely woman named Yoko-San. Yoko, she lost her, she lost her sister to cancer. She saw sort of like there is this concept in Japan called The Lonely Death. And they’re sort of like. A shame that’s attached to this is how she explained it to us, I don’t mean to generalize or stereotype in any way, but she was explaining that there’s kind of like a shame that comes with certain people when they’re feeling ill or they’re near the end of their life. And she saw the experience that her sister had in the hospital and she didn’t want anyone else to experience that after she lost her. So she opened up a hospice in her own home and she started taking in people. It ended up being where she actually gave up her own bed so that somebody could sleep in. And the two months or three months before we came to see her, she was sleeping under her dining table. I asked her when we first met, like, what do you want to learn how to make? And she loved American culture, loved Audrey Hepburn. Her and my dad have that in common. And she had always wanted to make an apple pie. She never made an apple pie. So I decided I wanted to make a tarte tatin which is kind of like an open face upside down apple tart, had I ever made one before? Once or twice. Had I failed miserably? Absolutely. So I was watching YouTube videos the night before because I couldn’t really practice, we had tiny little kitchens in Japan and we were filming like nonstop and you get to practice the recipe once or twice in my apartment before. But I was watching Julia and she made one and she takes it out of the oven and flips it over without letting it cool for a minute. And the whole thing just like collapsing all over the place. It was just like it was a slip and slide of apples in their own caramel sauce. She did not flinch. What did she do? She grabbed a little mesh sieve and powdered sugar and she said no problem, covered it with powdered sugar. Put her hands, shove the apples in together. And she’s like, great success. And she was behaving like she just got a gold star from presentation in a cooking challenge. And she couldn’t have been happier. And I just started laughing to myself and I was like, stop freaking out. Like, it’s supposed to be fun. Enjoy the process. If you make a mistake, if you screw up royally, if you roasted chicken and it’s like pink in the middle. Nobody wants that. You’ll laugh about it one day and you probably won’t make that mistake again.
Kate: That’s so good. That’s something I think we hear again and again from people who just like, what they need is the memory and the time. You know.
Antoni: Yes, totally.
Kate: My strongest memory of the first snows in Winnipeg, which is always usually at Halloween when whatever Spanish dancer costume that I had is now ruined with five layers of ski pants. It’s a very attractive Spanish dancer. It’s not a lot of agility. My mom would always make these little fried apple fritters, and that’s how we got to celebrate like the first snow. And the Mennonite family that I got welcomed into by my husband, the grandma was always so amazing at being like, here’s how you make homemade Mennonite buns. But now to the most important thing, how you scale it by about two hundred, because that’s the number of people coming over. But like the ability to scale things with this delightfully. I don’t know how many people are coming, who knows how perfectly this is going to turn out. Yes, we are nightmares with Jello, but that is our culture. I just sometimes I don’t think jello needs to go in, that’s, I feel like that’s not what the Lord intended. I’ve always loved the assumption that it was going to be the fact that it invites people in, all the better if it’s delicious. But but even so, it’s going to be that the thing that holds us.
Antoni: Yeah, I remember I was visiting my sister in Ottawa. That’s where she lives. And my dad drove from Montreal and it was the first Christmas Eve and several years where the three of us spent it together. So I’d always been in the States. And we used to celebrate as a family, the five of us, and we won’t get into it, but basically like we don’t celebrate anymore to put a long story short, and so it was really special to my father that we got to celebrate the three of us and Polish Christmas Eve when you’re Catholic is it’s kind of like the feast of seven or nine fishes of the Italian situation where you just pairing prepared five different ways. You have a beautiful fish, like a nice Chilean sea bass or like a nice like a halibut or something. And of course, I decided to take it upon myself to make dinner for everybody. It was, so there was a small group of us. My father went to the fishmonger in Montreal on the South Shore and picked up a beautiful halibut filets and halibut is like it’s a it’s a fancy fish, it’s like one of the most expensive cuts. It’s lean. You definitely don’t want to undercook it. It’s not like salmon where you can have it medium rare. You want it to be perfectly cooked, but if it’s overly well done, it just gets dry and tastes like a slipper and it just starts to fall apart. And so he spent like one hundred twenty dollars on fish for like four of us, which is like it’s a lot. Like restaurant pricing. And I was like, I got this, put it in the oven, started doing a bunch of other things. It stayed in there like not like two minutes longer than it needed to. I could have lived with that. It was like a good solid 10 to 15 minutes. And my father, who’s like super easy and like doesn’t really complain or have strong opinions about like getting upset about anything, is just like a people pleaser like me. And he just tried it and he was like, woooow. And we just all started laughing. And it was like this emotionally charged, like we all knew there was like this undercurrent of missing what Christmas used to be like for the family, but also like appreciating that we were able to be together, so it was very happy, sad, and we just had this like exploding laughter across the table that I just, like, screwed up Christmas Eve dinner. And now they’re thinking, I’m going to make this big meal, big shot son on Netflix with a cookbook and like, he can’t screw up fish. It was like we couldn’t even finish it. We like it was just in my family, like, you don’t leave anything on your plate. He finishes everything. That’s what we were taught. We didn’t eat half of it. We went straight for the bread and butter. It was a bread and butter dinner.
Kate: It was the feast of the Styrofoam fish about Styrofoam. Oh, hey, guys, that reminds me of the Christmas where somebody in my family who shall remain unnamed, John, he convinced my mom that that the chicken had been left out too long to thaw, that she had then just prepared into took her about fourteen hours to make Christmas dinner. And then we were all sitting at the table and we just heard some shuffling in the other room. And and my mom comes in and she’s just holding like a couple of sad side dishes and she’s like, I’m sorry, I threw it out and we were like, what? It turns out that she, in a fit of stress, had thrown out Christmas dinner. She’s like, don’t worry, there’s a samosa place open. And so then the samosa’s arrived two hours later and they had misheard the order. I don’t know what my mom said, but there was only seven desserts. I thought that was that was the day to the Christmas of two failed dinners. So may we celebrate many, many feasts of bread and butter with our loved ones.
Antoni: I love I love that.
Kate: We were we were very forgiving. Just joking, we were so irritated about it, we brought it up for years afterwards. Antoni, you are the king of hospitality, by which I mean you invite everybody and thank you for your soft heartedness and just having this conversation today.
Antoni: Thank you for your meaningful questions, your anecdotes. You’re like smooth, buttery, ASMR-y voice it just like completely calmed me down. It’s like I haven’t been chugging coffees all day. I just feel very relaxed. I didn’t even meditate today and frankly, I don’t know if I need to after just spending an hour with you, I genuinely mean that.
Kate: Food can remind us of home. Home in the form of my husband’s Mennonite family’s roe cooking buns that always go with watermelon that we eat every Canadian Thanksgiving, even when we’re hundreds of miles away or in Antoni’s Polish perogies that taste like his family’s kitchen. Food can connect us with one another, like the miscellaneous Tupperware I still have under my sink from casseroles left on my doorstep when I was too sick to cook. Or in Christmas dinners that are far from perfect but end in laughter and resentment and inedible halibut. There is something about food in the thoughtful preparation, in the delivering, in the eating together that tastes like love. So, my dear, may you taste love in all its forms. May you find it in the preparation of your favorite dark chocolate cake with extra sprinkles. May you receive it over a generous pour of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or in a warm cinnamon dolce latte. May you taste it when you make chocolate chip cookies like mom used to. Or in this simple delight of a grilled cheese that reminds you of your dad. May you show it when you drop off lasagna to a new parent or send a gift card to a grieving friend. In all of our eating and cooking and gathering and sharing, may we taste and see the love that multiplies.
Ainsley: Hey, my name is Ainsley. During the pandemic we had a baby. Covid cases were surging and we were in a lockdown, so we didn’t have the in-home support we might have had otherwise. For a baby gift, my mother in law made and delivered us meals every Thursday for four months and my mother in law is mennonite and cooking is her jam. So we ate so well. We feasted on corned beef, pad Thai and mango salad, pavlova, ground cherry pie. There was so much that was hard about those early days, but we felt so tenderly cared for by those Thursday night dropoffs.
Eileen: Hi, Kate, it’s Eileen, my memory that connects food with love, features risotto, my best friend Sue, who was a foodie before the term was coined, introduced me to it while traveling for business in the 90s. We ate it in Chicago, New York and San Francisco, and I’m sure wherever else we could find it. She showed me how to make it and we both loved how it couldn’t be rushed. You have to stand over it and really minister to risotto as you add the broth and wait for it to absorb. In that time you can chat, grate cheese, pour wine, etc., but you stay close and connected to the dish. The years she fought cancer, we had a risotto cookoff and of course we both won. My girls never met Sue. She died before they were born, but they know of her as if she’s living through so many of my stories and through risotto. As soon as fall comes, we make it most Sundays until spring. I think it’s a delicious part of her rich legacy. Thank you so much for asking.
Megan: Hello there, my name is Megan. My mom and I make her lasagna and cherry cheesecake on my brother’s birthday. He passed away 22 years ago, but making and enjoying his favorite foods allows us to honor, remember and grieve him all at once. It is a physical act with a tangible product and in a way it allows us to create new memories with him even though he is gone.
Kate: Oh, hello there, I just wanted to pop in and let you know that when you preorder my medium sad book called No Cure for Being Human from any retailer in any edition, we will send you a free 18 inch Navy blue pendant. You know, one of those triangles that you hang on your walls to fit in with all of the hipsters? Yes, those. That way we can all have a reminder that it is OK to feel human again today. Go Team Human! Preorder and learn how to receive your free pendant by going to nocurebook.com. That’s nocurebook.com.
Kate Bowler: Our work on the Everything Happens podcast. And with the Everything Happens initiative is made possible because of our partners and generous donors. Lilly Endowment, the Duke Endowment, Duke Divinity School and Faith in Leadership, an online learning resource and a huge thank you to my team who makes this work not only possible, but fun. Jessica Richie, Harriet Putman, Keith Weston, Gwen Heginbotham Katie Mangum, AJ Walton, Katherine Smith, Mary Jo Clancy, J.J. Dickinson, and Jeb and Sammi. And if you’d like to be a human with me, come find me online at KateCBowler. I also have a weekly email that might be the right dose of love and courage you need sign up at KateBowler.com/newsletter. This is Everything Happens of me, Kate Bowler.