How Do You Get to Be a Kitchen Dahla
There aren’t any schools (at least not yet!). My journey into this profession began 18 years ago, when my kids were little. They developed sensitivities to wheat and dairy, which means they got sick eating sandwiches, toast, pasta, cheese, pizza, burgers, burritos, bagels, most cereals, ice cream, sour cream, muffins, and just about everything else the average American eats. So over the space of a couple days, I had to junk almost everything in our kitchen and figure out how to feed these two hungry little beings.
But I was able to piece together some solutions and we saw positive results. Seeing my kids get happily healthy as the result of a change in diet was mind-boggling 18 years ago. I thought pills were for healing and food was for stopping hunger-and it tasted pretty good along the way.
Of course what was also mind-boggling was the challenge this all presented. Enormous and overwhelming are words that come to mind. But the silver lining was having my mind opened to the powerful, fascinating world of food.
I learned that food was a whole lot more than hunger relief. And even more than a healing modality-nutritional therapy. It was creative. It was exciting. It was life itself.
I had a client say she never used fun and kitchen. Precisely the problem-and the reason for my mission: creating a new kitchen culture.
There’s me on the farm. At age 12, Dad decided to “go back to the land” and we moved from the city to a farm on Colorado’s western slope. I raised sheep and pigs, he covered the cows and chickens. George the rooster always nailed my sister and I when we were sent to rob the eggs of his brood. We had fruit trees that produced the most incredible fruit on the face of the earth and my first paying job was climbing 10-foot ladders to pick Paonia cherries-and then getting sick from eating so many.
Truth be told, we were pretty half-baked farmers. The real farmers in the valley humored us, but in their eyes we never got past “city farmers.” Nevertheless, those were the greatest of times with my dad, irrigating fields, building fences, clearing rocks from fields that unearthed new cropfuls each spring, chasing wayward sheep, rising at daybreak (even on weekends) to feed our crew of animal companions. Guess I had Barbara Kingsolver beat by a few years!
And then there was the “garden.” No, not the neat rows of lettuce, spinach, beans and tomatoes you might be picturing. My dad was too creative for that. Ours was a jungle, and before each meal we would adventure forth to find some treasures for dinner.
Which is likely where it all started. Long before organic foods were hip, and “local” and “sustainable” were married, we were eating our own animals, our own fruit, our own vegetables. Without even knowing it, I acquired a deep appreciation for the fine taste of backyard grown-and meanwhile formed a connection to the land that I frayed a bit, but never broke, thank goodness.
Then came the lawyer me. What can I say? Big firm, corporate stuff, lots of dress for success, great money. It was the 80s and we were done with all that hippie and post-hippie stuff. We boomers had grown up and gotten serious. And we were blasting our way into big-time material success. Although that’s way over, don’t be surprised if that logical left-brain pops comes out on occasion. At first, I wanted to recover from it fully, but logic has its benefits so now I’m in the process of balancing it.
Several business years followed six lawyer years. Being entrepreneurial is what we boomers were doing in the early 90s, and I was right there, starting a software business. Remember, that was the dawn of the PC, and all things computer were hot, hot, hot. Funny thing, however, something about the business game left me cold, cold, cold. I couldn’t figure out to enjoy money-making game. Silly me, I kept feeling like there should be more. Maybe those roots were calling.
Did I mention that in between law and business, I had two kids? 1988 began my mom years. Don’t ever think we are hired as parents just to help our kids grow up. The universe actually hires kids to help us grow up-really. The two kids I was blessed with helped me sense and have the courage to admit to the hole in my life.
And isn’t it interesting that the software I was then led to develop was all about making it easier to prepare the meals that are vital to family? Ahhh. . . a glimmer of meaning.
And isn’t it interesting that those two kids got so sick when they were very little, and the only way to cure them was through diet, specifically a diet free of all wheat and dairy, rich in vegetables and fruits, organic foods, real foods. And we got to see first hand, the every real connection between what we put in our bodies and how our bodies feel. Hmm. . . more meaning.
Shortly after my mom years began, I took a hiatus from both law and business, to focus on being a mom. And not only a mom, but a school volunteer. In the irony of all ironies, there I was, doing the two things I had sworn in my lawyer years that I would never do: being a mom and a PTA volunteer!
In this hiatus, I honed in on home and cooked a lot-experimenting always. This was all in the early 90s, before gluten-free and lactose intolerance were a common household words. Without much guidance, I had to figure out how to feed a family without all the pizzas, muffins, ice cream, bagels, quesadillas and mac ‘n cheese mixes that everyone else was conveniently feeding their kids.
The good news: It was entirely possible! Lusciously delicious, creative, inspired and fun meals were entirely possible without wheat and dairy. And kids would relish them. And they were everything the health experts were advising us to eat-vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins.
And best of all, if we just employ a modicum of organization, these kinds of meals are possible even with our impossibly busy lives! What a happy marriage of logic and home.
Somebody needs to know about this: Real food, delicious food, delightful food is possible, even for crazy busy people. Why not write a book showing how to get organized so we can all enjoy wonderfully wholesome food on a short time budget?
So began my writing and coaching years. Many joyous hours at the computer. I love to write and even better, I loved going to my favorite coffee shop for several hours of writing-especially when it involved a short reprieve from the 24/7 job of mothering.
At first, my book and coaching were all about saving time in the kitchen, because that’s what organization does best: save time by making us efficient. But I sensed there was more. Organization also makes it possible to get healthier meals on the table, which at the time meant low fat meals. But then I realized the picture was even bigger than that. Meals are more than just the sum of their fat grams and calories. Most importantly, there is the comfort they bring. Ultimately, isn’t that what food is really about? Bringing us refreshment, nurture-and comfort?
As my book finally went into production (a 10-year process, can you believe it), I began working with clients. Elise was my first, a specially-abled woman who lived on her own with the help of six rotating caregivers. Talk about learning from our kids-what we learn from specially abled is as powerful as anything. Her wise mother Jan sensed that mealtimes were falling short in Elise’s household, both healthwise and comfortwise. Jan, I and the caregivers began exploring attitudes towards meals and food, how meals were assembled, where cooking skills were valued and developed, how to better integrate Elise into mealtimes. Over the course of a couple years, a new energy pervaded Elise’s house and meals are now a totally different priority and experience.
Now the circle is coming round. The girl in her jungle garden is looking at a food world gone awry. When did fast food burgers eaten on the run from here to there get to me a substitute for a meal of real meat, vegetables, fruits and grains, grown compassionately and completely from the land, without processing and refinement? How can I help?
The problem is big. Thank goodness for books like Omnivore’s Dilemma that take the time to walk us through the slow, sad descent and how it happened. Explain in a nutshell:
Hard to believe all that happened in a few short decades. But it did and how we must repair and rebuild. How?
The birth of a Kitchen Dahla. And working to create a new kitchen culture of respect for food and those who prepare it.