I am the daughter of a wonderful cook. While other people were growing up on casseroles, I skipped home to Salad Nicoise and Gazpacho. “We are having a Great Dinner From Life!” my mother would say. Great Dinners from Life was the name of a cookbook she loved and used. But the truth is they were all great dinners from life. Even now, when I am with my mom at her dining room table, a sliver of cheese with an apple feels like a great dinner from life.
I love to cook and people assume that I learned to cook from my mother. It is not that simple–my mother did not teach me how to cook. She did, however, teach me that cooking was a joyful, generous, and creative process that was not complete until the meal was shared. She taught me what the kitchen was supposed to smell like and feel like. I learned that cooking is a creative outlet that added meaning to meaningful time with others. The only thanks required was that we would linger at the table. The meal was not over until my father complimented my mother, “Great Dinner, Sparks.”
Last weekend I remembered all of this as I cooked in her kitchen. Though my mother did not teach me how to cook, I learned through osmosis that ingredients are not meant to be alone. I learned that they work best when they are carefully paired with others: orange and chocolate, onion and celery, mint and lemon. Last weekend, my nieces wanted to learn how to make Fettuccine Alfredo. Butter and Cream. Pasta and Parmesan. And then we got creative and added another pairing: Shrimp and Spinach. Fettuccine Alfredo became Fettuccine Aunt Annie and Her Lovely Nieces. And it was delicious. Of course it was, the Alfredo recipe came from Great Dinners from Life.
I know I learned about language the same way I learned about cooking. And in the same place. Language is a joyful, generous, and creative process that is not complete until it is shared. Words are not meant to work alone. They work best when carefully paired and grouped with others. They are meaningless until shared. Words are the ingredients of the feast. And it is at the feast they are best learned. Taught in isolation, words are tin cans 0n a pantry shelf– right and wrong answers waiting for a test. They need to be opened, poured, mixed, and enjoyed. Language in a classroom that is rich with authentic opportunities to read, write, think, and speak is a constant invitation to something greater: Come to the table. There is a place for you in this feast of words. You are invited to this Great Dinner from Life.