For the past month, a good night’s rest has been almost nonexistent. I wake in the wee hours of the morning. It’s still dark. The timer has yet to trigger the coffee pot into action and there’s still an hour or more before my backup alarm is set to go off. I lay with my eyes shut and think, “Am I still in Denver? Is Hunter paralyzed? Is this real life?” Then I open my eyes. Yes, I’m still in Denver. Yes, this is real life.

Anyone who has been through a season of suffering knows this reality. In the quiet, dark moments, we long for a moment of what we deem “normal.” However, normal has been redefined.

There’s no going back to the way things used to be. We push forward and focus on the present. Each morning, I allow myself a moment of normal. A simple cup of coffee feels routine.

Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher
Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher

One of the routines I’ve missed most the past month while in Denver is family meals. When Hunter’s occupational therapy team mentioned he would be cooking in their kitchen, he announced he would make jalapeno poppers. Hunter made a grocery list, and we set off for the nearby grocery store. We had the meat counter cut us a (beautiful) piece of beef tenderloin and then rounded up jalapenos, cream cheese, apricot jam, bacon and toothpicks.

Hunter is currently paralyzed from his chest area down. He hasn’t prepared a meal or spent time in a kitchen since his accident. The fact he didn’t need a recipe and could simply recall a dish he enjoys cooking and eating gave me a sense of pride.

I’ve failed in many areas as a parent, but one thing I have been persistent about is teaching our kids to cook. My grandmother and mom taught me how to cook. Our kids have learned how to cook from their grandmothers and me.

I’ve spent years experimenting with and exploring food, cooking, baking, gardening and entertaining for all sizes of groups. Our family routine is to eat meals together, oftentimes home-cooked, even if they’re simple. Thanks to our farm roots, food is a love language. Multiple generations can connect around food, and sharing food with others is something our kids learned by example in our home.

For instance, each December we host a customer and employee Christmas party for our family business. For many years, I made a spread of food to feed a couple of hundred people. Hunter has been my unofficial sous-chef since he was a child. He’s chopped, sliced and prepared jalapeno poppers, caprese salad skewers and potato skins — some of his favorites. He took those skills to college with him.

I watched Hunter sear the beef tenderloin, cut the jalapenos, smear the cream cheese and jam mixture, wrap the jalapenos with bacon and even add a toothpick soaked in water. For obvious reasons, it looked different — but it was comforting and routine at the same time. My homebuilder husband was sure to take photos and notes of the wheelchair-friendly kitchen.

Teach your kids to cook. Hunter is comfortable enough in the kitchen he didn’t use the Pioneer Woman’s jalapeno popper recipe I taught him more than a decade ago. He improvised and added his own touches, like the beef tenderloin. He most often makes the jalapeno poppers with wild game from his hunting.

In a season when I long for routine, watching my son cook filled me with comfort and allowed me to think of the future, rather than the past, while still being in the present.

With the poppers in the oven, the occupational therapy kitchen smelled a little like home. With Hunter and Nathan nearby, I thought ahead to the future rather than the past. I will cook with my kids again. We’ll share family meals. And someday, we’ll host a Christmas party again. This time, though, I might be the sous-chef and let Hunter take the lead in the kitchen.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.