Warrior Words: Dinner with a philosophical old cat lady

I’ll confess: I’ve never been to a “real” high school party in my life. Maybe it’s because I’m not-so-secretly a philosophical old cat lady inside, but I’ve never been tagged in a goofy basement photo on Facebook, or elaborated upon a wild story about my weekend to eager Monday morning ears. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been too busy in the kitchen all of these years.

As my friends will tell you, my favorite thing in the entire world is cooking for other people. Nothing gives me more pleasure than meticulously planning menus, spending hours rolling fresh pasta by hand, and delicately assembling decadent desserts just to see the look of delight that spreads across someone’s face when he or she takes a bite. To me, the best feeling in the universe is knowing that something I created could make another person smile.

When I look back on the past four years, I’ve realized that my most treasured memories all revolve around a dining room table, whether nearly choking on roasted cauliflower while laughing at a friend’s ridiculous antic or putting down a roll because something profoundly genuine has been divulged. I’ve hosted tea parties composed entirely of vegan desserts, spring soirées where I forced my poor 10th grade English class to wear dresses and bowties, Valentine’s Day dinners featuring risotto and excessive amounts of chocolate fondue: Each has been meaningful, each with both delicious food and delicious company. I don’t regret never going to a “traditional” bash, simply because the meals I’ve shared with friends have always left me satisfied with a greater appreciation for the beautiful individuals seated in my kitchen.

What’s amazing about cooking is that I’ve been able to take it with me anywhere I go. A few years ago, I studied abroad for a month in France, and I’d make American favorites like tacos and chocolate chip cookies for my host mother and her family. I have fond recollections of all of us sitting together on her apartment balcony, watching the sky fade through pinks and purples while chattering away in French. When I volunteered at a farm on Long Island last summer and friends came to visit, I put together a six-course field-to-fork meal, showcasing vegetables I picked and dug myself in each dish I prepared. I’ve made dragonfruit sorbet on the Big Island of Hawaii, roasted local tubers in St. Lucia, baked banana chocolate chip muffins at my best friend’s house for her grandparents: It doesn’t matter where I am, or what the kitchen looks like, because as long as I have good ingredients and some nice people to feed, I can create a meal and a memory I’ll cherish.

While I love the process of cooking itself, the chopping of vegetables and the sizzling of a sauté pan, I see what I prepare as a mere vessel for the simple joys of human interaction. Though we’re all different in our backgrounds and passions, we all like to eat, and if we put away our technology and give ourselves the opportunity to be present with our food and our company, meaningful connections occur. Give it a try sometime, even if you aren’t the most accomplished chef in the world. Pull out a recipe, fold some napkins, and be open to the conversations that flow forth. Regardless of whether you’re serving spaghetti or soufflé, someone will be happy that you took the time and energy to cook and listen and care.

This is what you will remember, not the crazy nights forgotten the next morning, not the pictures posted on social media, not the gossip passed back and forth on couches — you will remember the moments of truly being with the people you love. That’s what’s really important in life, after all.

Abby Schiff is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four classmates.