I admit it. I shamelessly admit that I’m a person for whom being in my kitchen is an anchor to the heart. I don’t care how scrappy a kitchen it might be, how modest; if I can cook for myself, I am in paradise.
Today, I went to the Farmer’s Market. I bought perfectly green zucchinis, shitake mushrooms, and leeks. Then I went to the natural foods store and bought sweet potatoes, garlic and ginger. I bought cucumbers and peaches. The cucumbers were local and not smeared with wax or petroleum or whatever they put on the big agriculture produce. Ahhh. What am I going to do with all these the peaches? What with work and rehearsal and acupuncture and physical therapy and…I don’t have time for a pie.
I’m thinking…maybe a cucumber and peach salad. What spices? Maybe a pinch of salt and black pepper. Cumin? I’ll let you know how it turns out.
It’s 92 degrees and humid, but I turned on the air conditioner and the oven anyway. I chopped the sweet potatoes, tossed them in spices and olive oil, and baked them. I turned on the television for my favorite cooking shows (hint: do NOT come between me and my cooking shows). I pitted cherries, sliced a lemon and put them aside. Raw cherries make my throat itch, so I put them on the stove to cook and added sugar and a little water. When they were soft, I tossed the cherries with the sliced lemon. When they were cool, I covered them with vanilla ice cream.
Dear Lord (I always seem to be saying this), I have been too busy. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be still and give thanks for the skill of cooking. I’ve let too many moments go by without offering a prayer for the food I eat. I have forgotten how easy it is to forget — to make time to be close to home.
I sliced zucchini and shiitake mushrooms; I minced ginger and garlic. I added chopped leeks and leftover greens. Throwin’ a little water into the pot, I let the vegetables steam. And while they are steaming, I remember “saying grace.”
“God is great and God is good; and we thank God for our food. By His hands we all are fed; give us Lord our daily bread.”
That was the prayer we said as children until we were old enough to sit quietly through the grown-up prayers. That’s how we began our meals, every meal, everyday, 365 days a year, every year of my life that I lived in my parents’ home.
The stillness in that moment before meals is a potent memory.
As a child, I didn’t particularly like using the time to say grace. Depending on the person praying, it could be three to ten minutes before the food hit our tongues. I’d watch as the steam floating up from the stewed tomatoes became lighter. But the invisible Grace did not care about the tomatoes.
Despite my childish anxiety about food, the act of saying grace had great power. Power was in the humility dripping from the voices of those giving thanks. Power was in the protection released into the air; a grace.
It has been said that taking the time to pray, to express gratitude, acknowledge each other, or just to sit in silence before eating helps the digestion. I didn’t know that as a child. My thoughts were on the seductive smell of sausages and pancakes. Or the golden river of butter running through the crevices and valleys of fluffy mashed potatoes and homemade buttermilk biscuits.
But I also knew, even as my mind willed the prayers to cease, that there was magic in the air. Those times round the table are the times I remember as the best part of being home; times that I will always hold close to the heart.
My potatoes are done, the shitake-zuchinni vegetables are steamed. I’ve poured olive oil and Bragg’s aminos over them. I plate it all up with some “vegan” chicken salad and, sigh, I shamelessly indulge in the pleasure of cooking and saying grace.