By Susan B. Apel
I was blessed with a mother who loved to cook. Our family was exceedingly modest of home and short on cash, but at 5:00 p.m. (the hour when blue-collar families like mine dined because it was imperative that dinner be on the table when my father came home from work), aromas of ham, or Friday’s fish, or meatloaf would follow the platters transported from the kitchen into the dining room. So what if oven-fried chicken showed up each and every week, becoming one of my mother’s signature dishes? It was crisp and lip-smacking salty.
Our family faced a crisis when I was in high school when my dad became permanently disabled and lost his job. My mother was now the family’s breadwinner. She worked full-time, took care of my ailing father and her two children, worried through every sleepless night that we would lose the roof over our heads. And still, she cooked. Dinner after dinner. Home-baked pies, devil’s food cake, Toll House cookies. Our family crisis lasted for years, but you could line up snapshots of our dinner table from before and after and never be able to name a difference. 
Almost exactly fifty years later, my husband and I are facing a different sort of crisis, a pandemic that has taken lives and shuttered the world. We are making new routines, though awkwardly. Our sleepless nights are stabbed through with worries about health, and politics, and the disappointment of loss. Not knowing exactly how to deal with this, I have reached back to my childhood and rediscovered my mother’s coping skills. I cook. Every night. Stir-fries, quiches, fish chowder, massaman curries served on basmati rice. Recently, a blueberry crostata, the crust of which was perfection. Cooking is therapy. Our dinner table is a pleasure, and a place we can count on. We are together there.
Photo by Susan B. Apel
Photo by Susan B. Apel
And there are communities of cooks. Early in the pandemic, a friend invited me to join a group on Facebook called The Self-Isolation Food Diaries. A little over 800 people post photos of their own kitchen therapy, also known as dinner. They range from simple sandwiches to multi-ingredient professionally turned-out gourmet meals. The first four random posts of this evening were Italian sausage and peppers, mushroom ravioli, rice bowl with kimchi, and a tomato pie. All of them thoughtfully prepared, maybe a garnish or maybe not. You can sense them being lovingly placed on a dinner table with a sigh of utter satisfaction. I can’t tell you the pleasure I get from imagining us all in our kitchens, continuing my mother’s tradition and her wisdom. No matter what, cook dinner. 
I just did. We dined at 7:00. Oven-fried chicken.

September 2020
Susan B. Apel retired from a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.
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