Monday, February 11, 2013

Lessons From the Kitchen, Part 1

Food is never just food. It is flavour, texture, soil composition, nutrients, germination, pollination and a community of ingredients working together to bring out the best in each other. Today, for instance, I made small tarts with leek, sweet pepper and blue cheese. That is only the end of the story, however. There is a whole history to each ingredient, and I must respect this and work with the food to create something tasty. It is not my talent which produces something edible; it is joining in a great work that has already begun, adding my hands and a bit of love to create a new dish.

Leeks. Leeks are one of my favourite vegetables - an under-appreciated, rarely-used, milder version of an onion with a hint of garlic. What I love about them is that they grow where other vegetables can't: in sand. Sand is not good soil for food; it lacks nutrients, it is too loose, and plants cannot take firm root in such conditions... except for leeks. Leeks somehow manage to not only survive in sandy soil; they thrive.

Blue cheese. I would like to know who discovered that mould on cheese is a good thing! Somewhere, somehow, someone took a risk and came to the delightful discovery that what was destined to be thrown out because it was no longer good was actually a culinary delicacy. These days, one pays a high price for such mould!

Sweet Peppers. Each sweet pepper would not exist if a bee had not come along and pollinated a tiny white flower. Each one would not exist if a seed had not spent many days - unseen and unknown - in the depths of the ground. Each one is, in its own right, a small miracle.

Tart Crust. Such a seemingly insignificant part - the crust - yet one must add just enough water to allow the dough to hold together without activating the yeast prematurely. It is a careful dance of chemistry and one must know the molecular properties of each ingredient and how they work together.

There is also the oven, of course, in which the food must be put and subjected to high temperatures to bring about the property changes of each ingredient: dough rises and becomes flaky and crisp, sweet peppers release their sugar, leeks become soft and aromatic, and blue cheese melts and holds it all together.

My kitchen creations are filled with lessons and symbolism which challenge and teach me on difficult days. Am I willing to work behind the scenes - unknown and unseen - in order to produce something beautiful and nourishing? If the soil of my life is less-than-ideal, will I not merely survive, but choose to thrive? Can I handle a little bit of "mould" and turn it into a sought-after delicacy? Am I grateful for the community in which I am a part, that holds me together and brings out my best flavours? Will I embrace the fiery trials and let them transform me into a fragrant offering to the world? I hope so! I would much rather let the obstacles and difficulties of life become catalysts which yield beauty, hope and child-like wonder at the small miracles of life, than become a burnt and bitter offering that complains about the unexpected and often-painful challenges that present themselves.


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