Lessons from the Kitchen: Where the Joy of Food and the Beauty of Connections Meet

Julia Payne · May 6, 2020

With food comes a lot of opportunity for connection. Many moments of creativity and learning happened in my family kitchen. My Dad was always experimenting with recipes while I was growing up and, in retrospect, I think that’s where a lot of my curiosity for cooking comes from. I remember one evening when he called for everyone to come to dinner and he had made a chicken bake covered with Lay’s Potato Chips, which is so silly to me, but it has been over a decade and I still haven’t forgotten this memory. To give my Dad a little more credit, he has made some wonderful dishes for my Mom, sister, and I, and I always look forward to his omeletts when I go home. 


One of my favorite articles in food anthropology is Farquhar’s Food, Eating, and the Good Life, where she describes the sociality of Chinese cooking traditions through a friendship between two older women living in Beijing. She concludes that “food has power to express positions in a complex field of social differences, enhance local and global ties, compensate for old and new difficulties, and generally give form to life” (Farquhar, 2006). I find it so discreetly poignant that eating, something we do every day and that we depend on, can carry so much unseen history. I have distinct memories of my Mom making a tuna burger recipe for dinner that has been passed down generationally; the smell of breaded walleye in the morning that my Grandma prepared after my Poppa and I’s returns from the lake; learning to make paella abroad with a group of strangers; and coming together over a big brunch with friends in college. This “power” of food that Farquhar mentions is what makes those moments memorable to me, and is what gives me energy to continue learning how to cook. 


With that being said, we’re putting a bit of a spin on the blog this week and sharing some recipes. Under the current circumstances, schedules are likely hectic and routine has been disrupted. Instead of hot lunches, families may find themselves needing to prep an extra meal in the middle of the day. Instead of the bell schedule, teachers and students are faced with creating structure around remote learning. I hope the following ideas offer some practicality, nourishment, and opportunities for human connection. They are scalable recipes that include flexible ingredients, with the intention that you can piece together something using what you already have in the kitchen or throw in some of your own creative flavor. 


ChickPea Miscellany

This is a quick recipe with endless combinations - easy to whip up for just you or a large group. Include leftover vegetables or repurpose a seasoning that you don’t use often. A great combo is dill, celery, bell pepper, pickle, red onion, and mustard on pumpernickel bread.

Prep Time: 5-15 minutes

  • Ingredients for 4 servings:
    • Base
      • 1.5 cans of chickpeas/garbanzo beans
      • Large spoonful of mayonnaise 
      • Salt & pepper
      • Bread of choice
    • Add-ins
      • Vegetables: chopped carrots, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, onion, celery
      • Herbs: dill, cilantro, or parsley
      • Condiments/spices: paprika, curry, cumin, turmeric, mustard, garlic, lemon 
  • Directions
  1. Mash the chickpeas, leaving some as whole beans for texture
  2. Incorporate the mayonnaise until the chickpeas are evenly coated
  3. Season with salt and pepper
  4. Chop up and mix in your selection of vegetables, herbs, condiments, and spices
  5. Enjoy on its own as a salad, or make it into a sandwich with your favorite bread


Sweet Potato Snack:

A snack full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals to give you a boost. 

Prep Time: 8-10 minutes

Cook Time: 22-25 minutes

  • Ingredients for 3-4 servings:
    • 1 lb of sweet potatoes
    • 1 tbsp of olive oil 
    • Salt to taste
  • Directions:
  1. Cut the sweet potatoes lengthwise (skin on), into fries
  2. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and coat evenly with olive oil
  3. Sprinkle a bit of salt on top (dry rosemary also tastes great)
  4. Bake for 22-25 minutes at 425 degrees, or until golden



Artichoke Spinach Pasta

This recipe requires a little more time, but cooking the noodles in stock and combining with fresh vegetables is a fun way to change up the usual pasta night. Sub out the artichokes, mushrooms, and spinach with tomatoes, zucchini, or asparagus.

Prep Time: 8 minutes

Cook Time: 22 minutes

  • Ingredients for 4 servings:
    • 16 oz of any pasta noodle
    • 2 cups of spinach
    • 1 can of artichoke hearts (15.5 oz)
    • ½ cup of sliced white or crimini mushrooms 
    • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
    • 3 cups of Vegetable/chicken broth
    • Juice of 1 lemon
    • Red Chili Flakes (optional)
    • Pepper
    • Extras
      • Chicken
  • Directions:
  1. Sauté the minced garlic in olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat until translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes
  2. Add the artichoke hearts, sliced mushrooms, and red chili flakes and sauté for another two minutes
  3. Slide the vegetables and garlic to one side of the pan, then place the pasta on the other half of the pan. Spread the pasta as evenly as possible so that most of the noodles are in contact with the bottom of the pan
  4. Pour the vegetable/chicken broth over the noodles and vegetables, and let simmer on medium-low heat for the recommended cooking time or until noodles reach preferred consistency. Stir occasionally
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the juice of 1 lemon
  6. Add the spinach and mix until the leaves are cooked down
  7. Top with optional chicken breast to add a protein boost to this pasta dish
  8. Serve warm with a bit of cracked black pepper on top



Frozen Banana Bites

A three-ingredient dessert! 

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Freeze Time: 30-45 minutes

  • Ingredients for 4 servings:
    • 3 bananas
    • Peanut or almond butter (or just your favorite nut butter)
    • Chocolate chips
  • Directions:
    • Slice the bananas into small circles
    • Top with a dollop of peanut or almond butter
    • Place a chocolate chip or two (or three) on top
    • Enclose in tupperware and put in freezer for 30-45 minutes
      • These can also be frozen overnight and enjoyed the next day!



Who knew that I would pull lessons of confidence, open-mindedness, imagination, and giving from my Dad’s cooking? Or that 10 strangers from around the world would come together to learn how to make a traditional Spanish dish and exchange life stories while doing so? Food is a necessity, but it can do a lot more.



Especially during uncertain times, accessibility and having the energy and ability to make a meal is difficult. Nonetheless, Margaret Visser says it well, “We use eating as a medium for social relationships: satisfaction of the most individual needs becomes a means of creating community.” The meal doesn’t have to be fancy or complex. Enjoy a quiet breakfast before the loudness of the day sets in, laugh with a relative as you learn a family recipe, or indulge in the quality time that can come from sharing a home-cooked dinner with the people you love. 


Farquhar, J. (2006). Food, Eating, and the Good Life. In C. Tilley, W. Keane, S. Kuchler, M. Rowlands, & P. Spyer (Eds.), Handbook of Material Culture (pp. 145-160). California: SAGE Publications Ltd.



Julia Payne

Julia recently graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in Psychology, Medical Anthropology, and Global Health. At UW, she was involved in the Dream Project and Pipeline Project to support K-12 students in finding both academic and personal success. She is very passionate about social justice and believes that improving our education system through social-emotional learning is a strong way to address social inequity. She enjoys handling logistics for CharacterStrong and centers her efforts on coordinating educator trainings.