Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Food in the presence of fire

(A post from Sunday - one of the joys of living off grid in the way that we do, is that the internet is a luxury, and an intentional choice, that is only available in town - before or after work, or on my space-phone...  And so you see, posts are sometimes a few days late...)

A timeless Sunday spent watching kittens watch birds through the windows, drinking coffee and reading cookbooks.  Planning winter feasts.  Soul food, this sitting in winter sunlight with the warmth of burning wood; abundance in its truest form. 

The making of a meal is not merely the preparation of ingredients, but the feeding of a person and the celebration of life.  The abundance that exists within each and every meal is easy to loose sight of.  To forget that each clove of garlic, each onion or carrot or salmon or potato is the manifestation of so many rays of sunlight, so many grains of dark earth and drops of crystal water.  To forget that the giving of food to others, serving a meal, is an act of loving service that has gone on for millennia, defining our species, connecting family and community.  To forget that each bite we take, be it quick and hurried, or in the company of others with a lit candle, is an affirmation of our own lives, of our place within the web of life, and a poignant reminder to be grateful that we have this bite to eat.  And this. 

I spend some portion of my day, every day, in the kitchen in front of counter and stove.  Midweek, I try to minimize the time and energy after the long drive home, and explore what all can be made with a slow cooker, and how many ways to sauté veggies quickly over pasta.  But some days, when there is nothing to do after work and 8 pm seems a reasonable dinner time, or on the weekends when I like to think that I have nothing but time, I make meals that are a celebration.  Sometimes they are simple and sometimes elaborate, but each is made with love and each is eaten at the table with a lit candle.  Most meals I make begin with the chopping of onion or of garlic, sautéed in olive oil and sometimes a bit of butter.  When I first read Barbara Kingsolver's "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," I remember smiling in an instant feeling of kinship with her when she made the same statement about the beginnings of her family's meals.  In that rhythm of chopping and slicing and dicing the pungent beginnings of a meal, there is a space for ritual.  I am not as fast as professional chef, who dices garlic at dizzying speeds, but I am not slow either, years of daily practice have ensure a steady speed – but it is a constant speed, there is no rushing such a task, no shortcuts.  First the papery outer skin of the allium is peeled off by fingers that have learnt the trick of it, then the knife pulled from the drawer is sharpened, it slices first one way, and then another; sometimes it is accompanied by tears as it opens the heart of the allium.  Then golden oil sautees pungence into a richness and a mellowness to savor. It is followed by the dance of ingredients and boiling water, of herbs and pepper, and finally culminates in the pas de deux of meal eaten with my darling man over the flame of a candle.  The repetition of this process, day after day, becomes a ritual and an act that borders on the sacred; uniting me with my own self past and future, and with the countless men and women who have and who will eat food daily in the presence of fire.

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