Right before the beginning of the school year, a friend and I got together to cook up eight gallons of chili. The pot was big enough to fit one, maybe both, of my kids — a holdover from Linda’s years in catering.

Just that morning I was trying to get a few kitchen tasks out of the way, while my kids made each other miserable and the floor a mess. I was trying to do seven things at once, which meant that I left my coffee cup in the laundry room, a pot burning on the stove, and when I ran down to the basement I couldn’t remember what I was there to get. I was caught in a web of negative thoughts and miserable.

So imagine my surprise four hours later when I was singing to Old Crow Medicine Show and chopping 10 pounds of carrots, feeling happy and relaxed in Linda’s kitchen. The to-do lists were out of my mind and I was focused on our task at hand. We got a few other things cooked up while our kids played inside and outside. We were trying to get ahead on our meal planning and we froze quarts of chili for weeknight meals. This has to become a monthly ritual, we agreed (secretly hoping we could do it more frequently).

Then, a week later, another friend came to my house (with two kids in tow) and we made granola and some sauces in preparation for Dirt’s Eat Local Challenge. It was just as much fun — kids playing, mamas chatting while we worked, a satisfying stack of prepared food for the week. While Linda and I were cooking, she remembered the tamales of her childhood — one of her favorite holiday foods and made by a kitchen full of family. In my family, we celebrated Shabbat with a special meal every Friday. But my mother never liked cooking, and while we had a full table, the kitchen was often empty but for my mother.

I have been in a kitchen slump all summer — I expected the fresh fruits and veggies of summer would save me from it, but it was company I needed. Adult company, to be precise. Our time together felt more like a holiday, more like a celebration of food, and I went home with a head start on our meals for the month.

Raheli Harper