Thursday, July 12, 2012

I Love to Cook

I love to cook. Since moving to North Carolina, I watch a ton of Food Network shows. So many, in fact, that my family jokes that our TV has only one station. Before we had cable, I watched PBS cooking shows. I read recipes. I create recipes. I have, in the past, reviewed cookbooks and written recipes for “Home Cooking” and the now-defunct “Amateur Chef”.  In 2001 my husband and I were lucky enough to go the races at Bristol to research and write an article for them about how NASCAR drivers eat on race day.
My whole extended family likes to cook to one degree or another. From modest cooks who deliver their special dishes to family reunions to several professional cooks and chefs, we have competitive grillers, food carving artists, meat specialists, food stylists, salad makers, casserole creators, and bakers. Bakers galore. While we each have our weak points, there isn’t a one among us who can’t follow a recipe to produce delicious baked goods. 

Gee, does that sound like a community of sweet teeth? Sweet tooths?

In addition, we like to provide an abundant amount of food. If we aren’t sending food back with someone or eating on it for a week after, well, we just haven’t done things right.

On the one hand, today, we have people like us, who just adore cooking and dining. We have the people who love to explore new ways and new foods to cook. We have people who share love by sharing food. However, we also have school bake sales under fire, rampaging obesity, and restaurants competing to serve you the largest, hottest, baddest plate of food you can find.

What is food? Is it sustenance? Fuel to run our bodies? An emotional crutch? A way to love?

There are those who think food’s sole function is to fuel our bodies. Among them are athletes and others concerned about health who urge us to eat in moderation only those foods that benefit our bodies. That’s not a bad thing. I’m all for eating healthy foods. And I agree that we should be careful about putting balanced combinations of food into our bodies. Yet, I think there is more to the picture than filling up at the table like cars at a gas station.

Practically every culture and society attaches more to food than the simple task of fueling the body. Meals are events, opportunities to gather for fellowship or celebration. Meals are exercises in diplomacy. be it familial or international. Meals are a way to show welcome and love.

This point of view does not dictate relying on food high in fat, sugars, and calories. It does imply making people feel comfortable, which in turns mean having things that are satisfying and fun and having enough to eat. I think it also suggests serving a variety of foods, well-prepared, in moderate portions and allowing guests to enjoy everything they eat.

I didn’t grow up Southern, and my family’s parties were primarily for family, not outside guests.  I didn’t get the early hospitality training that so many Southerners get at mama’s knee – or from the air they breathe, I’m not sure which. However, there was a story I read a long time ago about a rabbi who went to dinner that influenced my thinking greatly.

Now, the rabbi was the guest, not the hostess, but he was aware of a unique kind of ‘hospitality’, the desire to above all else, make the other person comfortable. As the dinner guest, he received a plate of matzo ball soup. This soup is made with chicken broth heavily laden with fat, often referred to as ‘schmaltz’. To his dismay, when he was served, there was a fly in his soup. Now, not being in a restaurant, he couldn’t exactly fuss at the waiter and ask for a fresh plate. And he didn’t want to make the hostess feel bad. While he might have been able to overlook personal squeamishness and down the soup anyway, consuming a fly broke his faith’s dietary rules. So, his dilemma: which was worse, eating something his religion said he shouldn’t, or mortifying his hostess by exposing her culinary and sanitary faux pas? The rabbi was sorely conflicted, but the thought won out that it was far worse to inflict pain on his hostess than to break a dietary rule. So, cleverly, he used a chunk of matzo and fat to pin the fly to the side of his dish. At least now his food was only tainted by the bug’s presence, and his hostess’s  reputation and serenity was intact. Imagine his consternation later when, on handing his hostess the empty dish, he discovered the fly was gone – with only one route by which it could have left.

This, to me, represents the true spirit of hospitality: to make the other person feel comfortable and at ease.  To make them feel both secure and trusted in your presence. Inviting someone to share food at your table is indeed a statement of trust. Serving them food that you prepare (or even purchase) is a commitment to concern about their state of being. Sharing food that you enjoy, that provides pleasure as well as sustenance, is a gift that can build relationships and strengthen bonds. Food becomes celebration.

                                                                 photo (c)  courtesy kaminnick 2011

Yes, we need to use the gift of food resources God has provided wisely. But, wise use does not have to mean stoic, constrained use. It can mean joyful, thoughtful use that provides as much pleasure as it does nutrition. I think that is using the resource in an abundant way, taking full advantage of it. I think perhaps that is part of what it means to live the abundant life.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Airport

Before we moved to Fayetteville, back in 2004, my husband started a new job. It was listed as including about 40% travel, but that quickly morphed into 95% . While we'd always avoided these sorts of jobs for him (being a couple that did not like separation), this job was a good one that he was enthusiastic about, and the only thing on the horizon. Plus, he was already committed. It all worked out well, leading to where he is today. 
He had several adventures to relate to us about his travels. Recently he was digging through some files and found the first email he'd sent us about his first trip out.  Herewith, 'The Airport'.


I figured I'd borrow a page from Meg's book and let you know what has been going on here. First, the flight.

Air travel (at least according to United) just isn't that great. Take this in the context that United is in serious financial difficulty, and you'll understand.

First, the flight attendants seemed way too casual. They bungled the required seat belt instructions, and things went down hill from there. Mid-way, they came on the intercom and announced that they would be
serving the requisite snacks (about 6 peanuts) and that (1) there were no cups (2) they weren't going to be able to provide water 'cause of  1, (but there would be soda), but due to no ice, it would be warm.

After landing at Dulles, we taxied around for about 10 min, and then were herded into a bus, which gave us a grand ground tour of the airport. There had to have been 40 of us, and the bus seated about 20, so
the rest had to stand and grab ahold of a jungle gym like mess of poles and horizontal bars. Most just grabbed the person next to them. We rode around for around 10 minutes, and then made it to the terminal.

The baggage claim area was up a flight of stairs, down a corridor, down 2 flights, through a construction area, around a couple of sharp corners, back up 2 or maybe 3 flights of stairs on a non-working escalator,
down a few more twisty passages all alike, and then into a huge area with a dozen or so baggage carousels. You had to consult a bank of monitors listing every flight since Kitty Hawk to figure out where your baggage would come out. The baggage already knew this of course, so it hid underground and laughed while you tried to find the right monitor and then the right carousel. Eventually there was a cosmic concatenation,
and baggage began to emerge from the carousels. These things are evil, slanted beings, and you had better be able to run along side to grab at the handles which even though there are ones on almost every side of your bag, there are none close enough to touch. Did I forget to mention that due to the number of people, you have to accelerate, miss, and decelerate in about 18 inches? Wait till the next lap, and repeat. Enough of that.

The to-hotel trip: I met a really nice guy who offered a taxi, (actually it was a large Mercury sedan with leather upholstery, little English, and no meter). Just $29 later including tip, I was deposited in the BACK parking lot of the hotel. It was a dark 9:30 PM, and I estimated that the wedding reception had been going on since at least 2 that afternoon. I needed to get to the FRONT to check in, and it was an open bar, so even though I wasn't wearing a tux, the bride's father offered his condolences for my coming in late, and just drop the bags in the corner, and here's my wife,
and why didn't you leave your bags in the room right after I have another drink for you? She's married, you know.

I was going to tell you about the job, but all my letters are used up. More on that later.  Miss you all, and this are going to be FUN!