Sunday, October 26, 2008

In the Kitchen...

"The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest." ~Thomas Moore

Tonight I took my time cooking a simple meal. It's Sunday and I wasn't going anywhere. There was nothing pressing to do. The house could have stood a bit of cleaning, but, again, it's Sunday, so the work will wait until tomorrow.

It felt nice to take my time. I put some sweet potatoes in the oven to bake. I had made a vivid-green, fresh-tasting and delicious, apple-mint chutney earlier today and had it in the refrigerator. Half an hour or so before dinner, I marinated filleted Orange-Roughy pieces in lime juice, salt, and thyme. When the sweet potatoes were done roasting, I fried the fish in olive oil, and when it was cooked through after not-too-many minutes, I put it in a dish to keep warm in the oven beside the sweet potatoes. I then sauteed some thinly sliced onion crescents until they were soft and golden, and then I added the chutney to the onions and stirred until it was heated through.

As easy as that, the meal was ready, and it really was delicious. Melissa and I each filled more than half of our plates with sweet potatoes smashed with butter and sprinkled with salt and fresh-ground pepper. The fish was set beside it, and the chutney-onion mixture was spooned over the fish.

I set our places at the counter, and Melissa and I sat together, eating and visiting for a while. Our meal was exactly the sort I enjoy more than any other. Light, simple, wonderfully flavorful, and filling. And, best of all, it was enjoyed with very good company. (The recipe for the fish and chutney came from Padma Lakshmi's book, Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet.)

Kitchen work is good work. God has provided a wide array of beautiful, delicious food for us to enjoy, and we have the blessing and privilege of turning it into a meal. Sustenance. Nutrition. Beauty. Enjoyment. Thank God I have good food for today.

It really is no small thing to make a good meal and set the table, whatever the simplicity and perceived ordinariness of these tasks might suggest. I'm convinced that the care and love that go into these routine acts alter them, just as love and care alters everything we do. Making the meal and table nice tends to slow people down. Light a candle. Settle in. Eating together creates closeness and community because hearts are open when love is the behind the doing.

But even if those who come to the table are distracted or rushed, hurrying through the meal and leaving the table without saying much, and not helping to clean up afterward, we are quietly offering them beauty and calm and goodness. It's there. And when it is there consistently, it tends to wear down the defenses, smooth the sharp edges, soften the harried spirit. And even if it doesn't, well, we are offering love, and that is a good thing. We do it as unto the Lord.

And the cleanup afterward brings back peaceful order. I think Blake had the right idea when said, "All in order, sweet and lovely." I know I find something sweet and lovely about restoring things to order. I feel calmer, more at peace, more relaxed. We do well when care and attention are given to planning meals, selecting quality foods, preparing the meal, setting the food out in an appealing, pleasant manner, and sitting at the table to enjoy it with thanksgiving. If we set our minds to see it this way, cleaning up afterward is really a privilege. We have been richly blessed.

I've been extra busy in the kitchen lately, mostly using and enjoying the CSA produce that I'm still getting every week. There's been a lot of winter squash, plenty of greens, tomatoes (yes, Laura A-- tomatoes are still coming out of our farmer's hoop house), lots of sweet and delicious beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, peppers, garlic, and more. This fresh, organic produce is wonderful, and I'm enjoying every bit of it. I hate that the CSA pickups will end in four weeks.

Oh, and I want to tell about something I made yesterday. It's a raw, vegan parmesan cheese substitute. Melissa is lactose intolerant. Not only that, she is now almost certain that she is also allergic to milk (which is a step beyond not being able to digest lactose). So, she has cut every form of dairy out of her diet, even raw and cultured, which she seemed to tolerate fine for awhile. This change is not easy for Melissa, as she loves cheeses and custards, Greek yogurt with honey and cinnamon, ice cream, and smoothies made with kefir. It seems that whenever we think of something good to cook lately, we are stopped short with, "Oh, that has parmesan cheese in it (or on it)." Or "that requires butter." Or "there is cream in that (or milk)."

So, I bought Melissa a little jar of something called "Parma!." It's a raw food, vegan substitute for parmesan cheese. Or, it can simply be thought of, not as a substitute for anything, but as a nice thing to sprinkle on certain foods. On the jar, it says to try Parma! on pocorn, salad, soup, pizza, and more (coming from a raw food company, it's interesting that most of these foods are cooked).

Melissa and I both really like the taste of the Parma!, but it's sort of expensive, so I had a look at the ingredients, and it appeared quiet easy to make. Raw walnuts ground well in the processor. Add nutritional yeast and sea salt, process to mix, and that would be it. We had all of the ingredients here, so I messed around with the amounts until I had something that is pretty close, if not an exact match, to the original Parma!: 1 c. walnuts, 1/4 c. nutritional yeast, and just a little over 1/4 t. sea salt.

Even though I'm happy with the flavor of my homemade Parma!, next time I'm going to soak and dehydrate/crisp my walnuts because they are so much more flavorful that way (and still raw). They're actually supposed to be better for you when soaked, too. And I'm going to order some Red Star Nutritional Yeast-- it's supposed to be the best kind, both for taste and nutrition. I bought my nutritional yeast in a bulk section, so it may not be at optimum quality right now (it may also contain MSG as some nutritional yeast does).

Anyway, if you're into raw food or a vegan diet, or even if you just want to try something tasty and nutritious, this is really good, and making your own is a whole lot cheaper than buying it in the store.