Cooking With Brad: Nourishing My Family As An Act Of Devotion

I’ve always worked hard and poured a lot of myself into my career. Some years ago, I moved with my family to a new city for a new job. I immediately set about trying to prove myself by working long hours. It did not help that the culture at that office was to work long hours anyway.

I was out of the house for about twelve hours every day, on my way to, at, or from work. It made me tired and sometimes it was all I could do to come home, plunk myself down with some Wendy’s, and read the paper before going to bed.

A Personal Crisis

And then it got worse. Work got busier, and I was gone longer hours. There was more stress at the office, too, so I had a lot on my mind all too frequently. I was preoccupied and absent.

I was disgusted with the father I had become. I began to feel a sense of desperation, as I grew further and further from my family.

The feelings that were plaguing me probably aren’t gender-specific. I know women in the workplace feel the same way I do, only with even more layers of guilt and shame as tapes roll in their heads about the supermoms they are supposed to be. But, I don’t know as much about how they feel as I do about how I feel, so that’s where I am writing from. I am writing from the desolation of the busy parent who has to work.

If you don’t know what I mean, then I applaud you because you have found your own solution. But, if I am speaking to you – or a part of you – or to a fear you have about what you’re becoming as you rise to vice president of your firm – if you understand – read on.

My Solution: Become The Nourisher

I want to share with you a piece of a solution that I found to that growing chasm of distance.

I threw myself into a new role at home: nourisher. I don’t mean “provider.” We’re not talking economics here. And I don’t mean “nourisher” in a  New-Agey kind of we-are-all-one way.

What I mean is that I threw myself with gusto into preparing, cooking, and presenting our meals. And it has persisted to this day. I cook things from scratch. I go to the market. I bake. I fill the house with kitchen smells whenever I can. I’m not militant about it – I’ll pop open a can or nuke a frozen chicken nugget when the occasion demands. But when I can, at least a few times a week, I make real food.

The result? Nothing short of a subtle miracle.

First, my kids have come to see me as integrally a part of their lives instead of the guy who comes home just before they go to bed. I feed them. They see it. They even help, sometimes. This is not to say I was totally absent beforehand. By no means. But, I often felt absent. If you are a busy parent, you know what I mean about the sense of failure you can have as another workday passes and you still haven’t watched your son’s new skateboard trick or helped with your daughter’s algebra. Well, maybe I don’t do all that all the time. But at least I feed them.

Second, I find myself approaching the family with much more devotion – in a tangible, needed way. I am giving rather than taking. It’s right there in front of me, proof positive. As I stand at the kitchen counter, literally kneading our daily bread, I think about how the kids will like their sandwiches, what they’ll say later when they taste the extra butter I baked in. I look forward to the questions when it comes out of the oven: “Can I have a piece before dinner?”

Third, and this is not trivial, I am proud. My wife is proud of her husband who knows how to cook. My kids are proud of their daddy and think he should open a restaurant. To colleagues, I casually mention that I bake bread from scratch – without a bread machine!

Fourth, I know more about what my family is eating. I’m not a health food junkie, but I like the family to eat food that at least feeds them. I worry that we’ll get obese like 30% of our fellow countrypeople.

Fifth, I have a hobby that doesn’t take me out of the house. I am home, where I belong.

Sharing What I’ve Learned

I know there are a number of people who feel as I do, so I thought I would try to share what I’ve learned about how to cook. I’ll be sharing recipes regularly from here on out. So it’s easy to find, I am giving the series a title: “Cooking With Brad.” You’ve already seen one of my recipes, the one for “Super White Bread.”

I come at it from the standpoint of someone who didn’t start with any prior knowledge. I did not grow up in a household where we cooked very much, so I picked it all up as I went, as an adult.

And, while I like to keep the time required manageable, I don’t approach meals by trying to cram it all into 30 minutes or make it so easy that all I do is open a can. That’s not the point. The point is to put some of myself into the cooking, so I feel that connection. So my recipes come from that standpoint.

If you don’t want to spend the time, then these recipes might not be for you. But, even in the midst of a very busy work life, I found that I could set aside a few hours on a Saturday and Sunday for sure, and could often build a super dinner a couple of times a week. The trick is to make it a priority.

Our family recipe book
Our family recipe book

These recipes are ones I have collected from many places and made my own. (You can see the binder I made to the right. Sometimes that’s just an addition of more salt or sugar. Other times, it’s mixing two recipes for the same thing together. The key is to make food that fits into a busy house, is fun to make, and pretty fool proof.

So, please do follow along. Enjoy the recipes. I have tried to give as much information about that how as I have about the what. For instance, how to tell whether the griddle is hot enough for pancakes, not just what goes into the batter, Because cooking is all about the hows – how do you stir? Where do you put the spoon?

My hope is to collect all of these recipes and tips into one publication, so watch for that.

I am especially interested in learning new recipes and hearing about how others have embedded nourishing their families into their lives. So speak up in the comments!

I hope you enjoy and find your own way to connect with your family.

Published by

Brad Rourke

Executive editor of issue guides and program officer at the Kettering Foundation.

10 thoughts on “Cooking With Brad: Nourishing My Family As An Act Of Devotion”

  1. Love this, Brad– I’ve already started sliding a little into this myself, and I identify with “coming into this as an adult.” I’ll definitely read these with interest. BTW, speaking of bread, no doubt you heard of Mark Bittman’s no-knead variety. We do something similar, but it’s faster than his 18-hour rise time, more like 3 or 4 hours I think. I can’t find it online but this seems similar:

  2. Thanks Brad-
    so funny I am in the middle of writing almost the same blog post!
    Making bread every Friday is my way of praying- it’s when I stop everything, take 20 minutes and connect and be mindful of how grateful I am for everything we have.
    That and I love the way my house smells as it bakes.

  3. You should create a Twitter account that points to the Cooking With Brad blog posts. Not a separate blog, but a separate Twitter account like “@bradcooks”. People who know you will appreciate being able to quickly ID those posts, and those who don’t will follow you because of a shared food interest and end up finding out what you do for a living, anyway.

  4. And your Facebook friends always enjoy the photographs you post of your culinary creations.

  5. Thanks everyone for those nice comments!

    Angelique, I will have to think about your idea…..


  6. Food blogs are great. Cooking is such a great stress reducer – it is creative, with almost immediate gratification, and there is interaction with all the sense as well as your family. I’m self taught, and Jacob has been cooking since he was little – it is so great for kids to Lerner to cook!

    My passion is soup – I’m forever collecting recipes and I’ve started a blog about soup. It is Maybe we can swap recipes!

  7. Nirvana,
    wish i’d read this in good ol’ 97, when it all hit the fan for me.

    Still i’ve moved on now and have started to bake my own cakes, i fancy trying different breads too, as i live on my own and think the price of small loaves is absurd. xQ)

  8. Brad – I loved cooking with Brad. I can totally relate to learning to nourish your family. I’m also making a real effort to nourish my family and not just feed them. Looking forward to reading more installments of Cooking with Brad. Nancy

  9. Congratulations! I have a similar philosophy, developed in large part by reading Ellyn Satter’s work. I am not related to her, nor do I work for her, but I am an avid fan and promoter of her work. Her “How to Feed a Healthy Family” is a must-read, as is “Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense.”

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