If you think about it a bit, I’ll bet you can conjure up some defining moments in life centered around mealtimes.
Perhaps an important announcement in your childhood home. Maybe a proposal at a fancy restaurant. An epic fail turned legendary via embellishment over the years. A crafted masterpiece. How about a life-giving conversation. Trying your hand at your grandmother’s secret Thanksgiving turkey stuffing. Your Uncle’s prize-winning chili you ate at every family gathering.
To set the tone, here are a few of mine:
- I cannot even think about my childhood Christmas Eve dinners without practically tasting the fluffy, pillowy, round aebleskivers my grandma, aunts, and cousins used to toil over. Dipped in cream and sugar, because we weren’t afraid of joy.
- After eating Lord-knows-what in the bush for a month, my four Deputation teammates and I found it a welcome treat to buy freshly butchered beef and chicken, which hung victoriously in the window of a small, dusty, loud Nairobi street shop. Not wasting a second, we requested it to be prepared and grilled. It arrived to our humble table on a wooden plank, sizzling and juicy and hot. We subsequently devoured it with our hands after dipping the succulent chunks of meat in ripe avocado and salt, as was the custom.
- That lunch in Pienza with Ben; spicy sausage-laden arrabiata pasta and the best glass of Brunello this side of heaven. Two days in a row.
- Or the time the curry burned to the cheap pan in the ski condo, making “smoky” curry which was acceptable to exactly no one.
- That night my brother Josh and I were up late making salsa verde for Ben’s thirtieth birthday and as I cut through a tomatillo the knife kept going, deep into my hand. We proceeded to spend the entire night at the ER waiting for stitches. I wouldn’t take it back for anything. Also, the salsa was SO GOOD.
- Don’t even get me started on the Chocolate Stew with Wild Boar. I’ll say this. We tried to get fancy and we FAILED. Sorry, Bob and Jenny.
The common denominator in all of these experiences is that none of them were had alone. This is because meals are meant to be shared together. It’s in this communal moment of nourishing our bodies that we in essence nourish our souls as well.
Meals bring us together. They mark significant life events. They offer space for stories; sometimes they ARE stories in and of themselves.
Sometimes shared meals offer nourishment for the soul just as much as nourishment for the body.
I will never forget what I like to call my first experience of a true Sabbath meal. Ben has a friend named Dave who lives in Pennsylvania. He is a high school teacher during the school year, but in the summer months he becomes a true nomad. In fact, that is how Ben met him as a young 20-something. Dave would inevitably drive “out West” and often ended up in Jackson Hole, where Ben lived at the time. He was introduced to Dave through a friend one summer and before long Dave began to mentor Ben, visiting Jackson each summer.
Dave is an interesting and beautiful soul. He has a long white beard, gentle tone, and loving spirit. He is a man of God. He has a way of speaking that compels you to stop what you are doing and listen.
Soon after Ben and I were married, Dave was on one of his nomadic road trips and came to visit us for a few days in our small Seattle bungalow. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, he made himself at home in our kitchen to prepare an afternoon meal.
Ben and I sat at the kitchen table, students to his words and his craft. With no recipe before him, the basic ingredients came together effortlessly, seasoned and prepared under Dave’s careful guidance. Nothing was rushed; everything was prepared in its own time, naturally slow.
As we talked and shared about life and philosophy and stars and kitties and mountains and much more, I felt my default urge to rush, to hustle, to do all the things that felt so necessary right now, slowly start to fade. I became present in the moment.
And after awhile, I realized that there was no better place to be than that. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. We gathered around our tiny table in our tiny dining room. We sipped cool white wine, as we allowed our meal to roast to perfection in the oven, filling our home with warm and savory aromas.
When the meal was ready, I was surprised to find my soul had already been nourished, almost like an appetizer. A precursor to the main course, so to speak, which was rather straightforward: white fish and roasted vegetables. Simple flavors, yet one of the richest mealtimes I have yet to experience.
We sat in the kitchen and at that table for several hours, I’m sure, though by this point we had lost all track of time so who really knows. But it never once felt too long or too boring.
What I learned from Dave that day in my little Seattle kitchen about the art of nourishing both body and soul has always stuck with me, like a sacred gift I am meant to share.
With the weather having changed from warm summer breezes to brisk autumn leaves and on into the beginning of snow-kissed winter, my mind has been dreaming of cozying up in the kitchen and creating something warm and delicious. (Ok who am I kidding? I dream of this all year long. It just feels more acceptable when it’s cold outside.)
There are few things that bring me greater joy than cooking a really delicious meal and sharing it with people I love around a communal table. There’s something almost sacred about it.
The table is an equal-opportunity event. All are invited. All are in need of nourishment. All have something to offer. All are welcome. Breaking bread together elicits a sense of belonging. Distractions are put aside, technological or otherwise (or they should be) and we participate in the present moment, face to face, in one of the most simple tasks of our day.
There is one thing that brings more more joy, though. And it’s this: getting your hands messy together in the kitchen first. Just as it is therapeutic for my kids to squish their play-doh at the very moment I am typing this, there is something equally calming for me about chopping vegetables, mixing sauces, sliding a well-dressed chicken into a steaming oven, and rolling handmade pasta, hands covered in flour and dough.
One of my pastors used to say something about how life, in its most authentic form, is lived in the kitchen. He probably had something more sophisticated to say about spirituality and how the kitchen analogy ties into our relationship to Christ and it was probably way more eloquent than anything I’ll ever say.
But his words about the kitchen left a lasting impression, for it is truly the heartbeat of a home. It is where we are comfortable, free to be ourselves. It’s where we do the messy work before the presentation of the final product. It’s where mistakes are made, messes are ok, and real conversations are had. When the heart is thriving, its beat permeates throughout the home.
When we invite people into this sacred space of imperfection, we invite them into authentic relationship. Whether or not I remember my pastor’s exact words, I know there is a spiritual component to that.
So go ahead. Gather some friends, some family, some neighbors, some coworkers.
Carve out space.
Power down (as in devices).
Buy whole ingredients at the grocery story and go home and create.
Leave room for mistakes. Leave room for laughter and story-telling.
Cook a slow and lovely meal together.
A glass of wine won’t hurt. Dump some in your sauce, even.
It doesn’t have to be gourmet but please hear me when I say that onions and garlic sizzling in a drizzle of olive oil is in fact the beginning of every good and life-giving thing. Start with that. And if you want some good ideas of easy, fun, or even challenging meals that will engage your whole crew in the kitchen and leave your hearts and bellies happy at the table, check out my next blog for recipes and meal plans.
Buen Provecho, dear ones!