Friday, October 5, 2007

The Instinct to Feed Everyone

As the nights get colder and the leaves turn, my instinct is cook for everyone I know. I want to feed people. My kitchen is small but I have a blue enamel pot that can hold the fragrance of bay and cinnamon and home. I have a cast-iron skillet seasoned with the memories of the charred skins of hot chilies, of sweet onions simmering into a golden mess, of crispy fried potatoes and bitter greens, of hot garlic broth and cornbread rising in the oven. My kitchen is small but it holds an endless amount of love. It is scented with the fragrance of summer rain misting the open windows, of eggs sizzling at sunrise, of long conversations over black tea, of pies made with hands that have known the earth.

My instinct is to feed people. I want to pour all my love and gratitude into simmering soup and rising bread. All day, as I bend over in the fields, harvesting and weeding and taking down trellises, I am thinking of what I will cook for dinner. We harvested the first of the cauliflower and broccoli this week. I think: curried cauliflower soup, fried rice with broccoli and soy sauce, braised cauliflower with cabbage and cumin. The stand is stocked with winter squash and pumpkins and all day as I sell them, I think: roasted kabocha with apples and onions, butternut soup with sage and chipoltes, baked acorn with maple syrup, curried pumpkin soup, walnut pumpkin bread, delicata stuffed with fennel, apples and cheddar.

I’ve always loved to cook, but recently it has become something more than the need for a good dinner after a day at work. It has become a prayer. My instinct is to cook slowly and deliberately, to notice every distinct flavor before I blend them together into something whole and unique. Everything that goes into a soup pot is its own miracle. It seems important to me to remember this, to add each ingredient the way you compose the lines of a poem, with reverence and wonder. It is important to bow to the dark, spicy scent of cumin seeds toasting in a dry skillet, to notice the texture of them, freshly ground, as I stir them into the thick broth of beans and tomatoes It is important to watch the swirls the wooden spoon makes as I glide it through the pot. My instinct is to cook slowly, to chop with precision, to listen to the sound of my knife slicing through onions, to bend my head close to the steam rising from pot and let the fragrance of bay and oregano cleanse me. There is a prayer in each thing done deliberately, in each remembered act. Food is the most basic element of our lives. My instinct is to gather all my gratitude into big pots of stew and soup, into long-rising bread and slow-roasted vegetables, to make each bite a prayer for everyone who eats at my table.

Everything on this earth is fragile, and nothing lasts. The sun is setting now, and I have been sitting outside, watching as the light changes on the leaves. I am about to go into the kitchen to make corn chowder with the last of the fresh, sweet corn. I will set the onions sizzling, shuck the corn, simmer sweet potatoes and a bay leaf with a little cinnamon and cream. I will bless the walls of my house with the fragrance of garlic and coriander. Food is the most basic, the most solid. Cooking is one of the few prayers I know how to speak. I can work with soil, harvest vegetables, and cook food that warms the tips of your fingers and the edges of your heart. Gratitude isn’t worth anything if you keep it to yourself.

Good food opens our hearts and widens our capacity for tenderness. It brings out our laugher and reaches down inside us to the dark places where we keep our tears. It eases our aches and makes us whole. This is what I have to offer the world in this season of bountiful endings: white beans with kale, potato pizza, mulled cider, cornbread with honey. The leaves are turning and the nights are lengthening and under the cold white moon and the waning winter sun, I will be in the kitchen, making of it a sacred place, saying my prayers with a wooden spoon, speaking love with the scents of bay and cardamom, singing my gratitude with chilies and tomatoes, simmering my blessings into pots of potatoes and corn, kneading my wonder into oatmeal bread, pouring my joy into pumpkin muffins, baked apples, and black bean soup.

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