Wednesday, October 12, 2011
“Our hunger for the twenty-minute gourmet meal, for a one-pot ease and prewashed, precut ingredients has severed our lifeline to the satisfactions of cooking. Take your time. Take a long time. Move slowly and deliberately and with great attention.”
-Thomas Keller, French Laundry
I read this quote this Sunday as I sat with my husband at the one-of-a-kind Justus Drugstore in Smithville, Missouri. Jonathon Justus, the chef at the Drugstore, included these words in his menu, and as I savored my delicious, extended meal I pondered.
Pondered my relationship to food, and how this relationship reflects how I relate to the world around me.
Food is a mystery. A “mystery” not because it is unknown or unknowable—because eating is, of course, one of the most common, tangible, and mundane aspects of human experience. But yet food is a “mystery” in the sense that it’s full meaning stretches beyond itself. Food helps define communities; it is an expression of culture (family, ethnic, religious, national). Meals form families. Food is “the fruit of the vine, the work of human hands,” and as such it is the supreme cooperation between humans and the natural world. The clouds rain, sun shines, earth enriches. We tend the soil, plant the seeds, harvest. Then we cook.
And the action of cooking itself involves the whole person: her foresight, her hands, her mind, her time, her love.
How often I forget to enjoy the process of cooking and eating. I am tired at the end of the day, my emphasis is on speed and efficiency. This past year has been the worst; it is so difficult to slow down and consider the onions, the carrots, the roux. The first few months after I had Hattie I was plagued by anxiety: “How can I get everything I need to do done?” I asked, panicked. How long will the baby sleep? When will I find the time to [sleep, bathe, clean, read, write, exercise…eat…cook].
As the months have gone by my ability to balance has improved, the baby sleeps more consistently and is more easily entertained. I no longer live in a state of emergency. But a bit of the anxiety lingers, and I feel it when I cook and when I eat. Chop the vegetables as fast as possible. What can I prepare while the shallots carmelize? How can I be more efficient? When I sit down to eat I forget to look at my food, at my husband. Forget to drink water, sip wine, talk, breathe.
This past Sunday’s meal was a good reminder—a reminder to slow down. Enjoy the sight, smell, feel of the kale, the way the carrots contrast with the celery on the cutting board. Slow down. Slow down and eat. Reassure myself that I am not late, I will not miss my life—or my dinner.