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Recipes for Life

In the quietness of the new year, after the children had returned to their places of residence, I found myself reflecting on the photos and memories of our time spent together over the holidays. These memories also included the times we spent around a table somewhere sharing meals, stories of the day and the usually noisy family banter.

There is something really significant about the connections between taste, smell and memory. Some foods remind me of childhood and the people who used to make them. Some foods I have tasted on travels to foreign shores in small café’s or bistros and some I have re-encountered from my familiar cooking books when Covid Lockdown meant staying in.

I remember, as a child, lingering in the kitchen whilst my Mother baked, in order to lick the cake dough whisks and sample a piece of cake fresh out of the oven. And times when, as we grew older, preparing the big Sunday roast included helping my Mother with mixing the roux for the white sauce and learning how to thicken the flavour-filled meat juices for gravy (albeit from lumpy beginnings). I realise that these times were as much about being in her presence as they were for the senses.

Susan Whitborne, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts believes that “Food memories feel so nostalgic because there’s all this context of when you were preparing or eating this food, so the food becomes almost symbolic of meaning”.

Foods we encounter throughout our lives leave embodied memories that frame our past, influence our present, and shape our future. Food memories speak through our senses; they are performed physically through our bodies, reflecting visceral self-awareness. Food memories have the ability to nourish or starve us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually depending on the narratives by which these recollections are re-created. These narratives, therefore, are the sites where affirmations, ambiguities, and contradictions inform an individual’s and group’s cultural subjectivities. Every time a food memory is narrated—in an oral, written, or performative form—the food recalled is reproduced as an embodied experience. Perhaps it is not food that defines our social and cultural subjectivities but the stories we tell about our food practices.

It seems almost natural then that food and memories find their way into the work we do as narrative practitioners. Iam inspired by Natale Rudland Wood’s article ‘Recipes for life’. In it, she explores combining food and counselling, if only in a metaphorical way. She divides Recipes for Life into three parts, being:

Part One: Foods and memories – exploring positive associations

Using questions like:

• Do you have a favourite food or meal?

• Do you remember the first time you tasted it?

• What makes it a favourite?

• Who cooks it?

• Does it make a difference if you cook it or someone else cooks it?

• Can you think of a time when you made something delicious?

· What does this food mean to you?

Part Two: Recipes for our own lives

Here, she invites an exploration of the ‘landscape of action’ and ‘landscape of identity’ with her clients, in order for them to create a recipe to use for ‘getting through hard times’, or the recipe for ‘making a transition in life’, or a ‘recipe for good relations in the family’, and so on. She suggests that this is not a recipe for describing one’s whole life, but a way of speaking about special skills, knowledge’s and ways of dealing with certain experiences of life. Every recipe is different.

And then, as with all recipes, ‘Recipes for Life’ consist of a number of different sections. The sections provide the framework for the process and include:

• Ingredients

• Sourcing

• Method

• Techniques/tips, and

• Serving suggestions/ritual.

I share with you a Recipe for Hope:


Four cups of hope

Seven eggs – separate conviction from courage and whip courage

A bit of unity

A dash of humour

A cup of granulated co-operation

200g of optimism (or as much as you have at the moment)

One spoonful of confidence so as to make the dough rise

We learnt this recipe from our parents, grandparents, and

people who were important to us, and we try to pass it on

to our children. There have been many changes throughout

the years but the aroma and taste have remained the

same. We hope you enjoy it!

(From Ligue Pimenta, Cecilia Lemos and Sylvia Fontes in Sao Paulo, Brazil)

As you read this, I’m wondering what food memories are being stirred in you? When you think of a favourite food or dish, what sorts of memories come to mind? Is it a time or a place, or a special event?

Might you have a Recipe for Life’s moments being called forth?


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