Food


It’s been an epic year for our little Kamin family.  Baby girl has grown by leaps and bounds. We switched to one income. Almost a year ago my father was diagnosed with kidney cancer and underwent two incredibly invasive surgeries, all while unsure if the c-word would win the battle anyway.  The circumstances and ensuing emotions, both new ones and those from stowaway baggage, have been exhausting.  I don’t have a lot to say about it yet, but a nap sounds wonderful.  🙂

Here are a few of the gifts in our lives that keep us afloat:

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thanksgiving

 

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Seriously.  These macaroons are quite the picker-upper.

Seriously. These macaroons are quite the picker-upper.

We are so grateful for the sustaining fellowship we’ve experienced through our faith, family, and community this past year.  It gives us great hope for the future.

Garden planning.  Because we need to see things grow this year.  Because we need the Lord to be caretaker of us and our work.  Because we want miracles to sprout in our backyard.  Goodness.

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“There seem to be but three ways for a nation to acquire wealth.  The first is by war… this is robbery.  The second by commerce, which is generally cheating.  The third by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein a man receives a real increase of the seed thrown into the ground, in a kind of continual miracle, wrought by the hand of God…” – Benjamin Franklin

I work at a grocery store.  The week before Thanksgiving is our “hell week”, so to speak.  Kicking off the retail season with the toughest work we’ll do all year.  Unpracticed customers are often cooking from scratch and entertaining family at the same time – enough to put anyone on edge.  Add to that the modern-day demand that your Thanksgiving meal be some forward-thinking, healthier, tastier, prettier, more impressive version than last year’s, and you can hardly blame folks for the panic they feel.

However, alongside the panic is perhaps the most communal holiday celebration of them all.  There is little political or religious offense available when you wish someone “Happy Thanksgiving!”  Smiles abound and reasons to be thankful even slip into short conversations about turkeys and vegan gluten-free stuffing.

From the chaos of carts and smiles and scowls yesterday, I went upstairs for a quick lunch and to make a last-minute plan for our own small Thanksgiving meal.  I flipped through month-old magazines, their covers torn off and sent back to the publisher for reimbursement, rejected and ready for recycling, but still full of fancy recipes, a few of which I may be able to pull off.  And there, of all places, on the third page of Real Simple, my friend, Mr. Chesterton, interrupted to have a word… and what a word it was.

“You say grace before meals.
All right.
But I say grace before the play and the opera,
And grace before the concert and pantomime,
And grace before I open a book,
And grace before sketching, painting,
Swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing dancing;
And grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

G.K. Chesterton, from an early notebook (mid-1890s)

So much fussing over a table of food, but is that really the focus of the harvest season?  Or the first thanksgiving feast my nephew is re-enacting at preschool?  We recreate the details we’ve inferred, with some plain omissions and substitutions.  (Or maybe there were marshmallows on the sweet potatoes back on Plymouth, too, I don’t know.)  We hope that somehow a lot of food and taking a turn before the meal to impress each other with the very deep things we’re thankful for will… will what?  Set us up to indulge in laziness for an afternoon?  Make amends with family members in time to get a better Christmas gift out of them?

What’s the goal of the day?  Is it a time to revel in our resources?  Maybe.  Is it a time to celebrate the grace that brought us here?  Definitely.  Would we celebrate if we were alone?  I wonder.  To whom would we voice our thankfulness?  What is grace or gratitude without community?  Where can they live without relationships?

So often in the what and how of holidays, I skip right past the source of celebration – my community.  A God who loves and cares, people who are vulnerable and allow me to be so.

Say grace, says Chesterton.  Speak blessing and thankfulness before meals, before the play and the opera, before reading a note that may be full of spelling errors, or hearing a song that may very well be better than the last one I wrote.  Speak grace before dishing up a serving of lumpy gravy.  Speak favor and pardon to one another.  Speak grace to the turkey (or soy bean) who gave its life for your sustenance.

Thank you to our community, near and far, for the gifts you bring to our lives, for the examples of grace, for the beauty you bring us from chaos.  Favor and blessing on you on this day of feasting and on each day that follows.

In the last 30 years (read: my lifetime) I’ve had the fortune of watching several members of my family grow to very old age.  Eight of them lived to their eighties, one all the way to one hundred.  She especially grew sweeter as she grew older.  Her body became dependent on the help of others, and her heart seemed to follow, finally embracing what it had always needed.  She doted on her great-grandchildren, spent hours studying the pictures of a great-great grandchild she’d yet to meet.  She was tiny, sweet woman with beautiful wrinkles, bright eyes, and terrible hearing.  Her eyes were clear and blue through the end and she taught herself to read lips with them, so that while she struggled to participate in group discussions, she persisted with one-on-one conversations and tenaciously kept abreast of her family’s affairs.

My childhood memories of this woman are distinct from the later years.  I have clouded images of an old house with a fascinating church organ we were not allowed to touch.  It was slightly dank and the pink-tiled bathroom may be solely responsible for my continued aversion to that color.  Nana didn’t talk with us much then, that I remember.  She worried a lot and had neck pain that bothered her intensely.  She mostly sat in her rocking chair and adjusted her  brace, her feet occasionally touching the floor.  My sister and I would sit across the room or explore carefully outside while we waited for the visit to end, never stepping too close to the small fence which continually sank further over the eroding cliff that bordered her property.

When she moved into the retirement home, it was with readiness for her life to wind down.  She could no longer take care of her belongings or keep herself in health.  She whittled that house down item after item to fit into a small kitchen-less studio and anticipated a small and quiet ending.

But she was wrong.  Nana lost her independence, the home where she raised her child, the neighborhood she had inhabited for fifty years.  She gave up what had become her life, and she then came alive.  She signed up for water-color painting and we each have her paintings displayed in our homes.  They are simple, but beautiful.  She took a tai chi class and felt the pain in her neck lessen.  She had friends to lunch with each day and took it upon herself to learn the geography of her new town, though she never drove a car again.  She took pride in “treating” us to breakfast with her saved up dining points and wasn’t satisfied until the table was filled with every variety of juices and Eggo waffles available.

Most people in my family maintain that giving up her home and responsibilities added many years to Nana’s life.  And when eventually her health outlived her money, her dependency, and her joy, reached yet a new level.  She became less and less the woman we had known, or even she had known.  If you ask Jaron to do his impression of Nana, he will put on his best high-pitched voice, turn his head to the side while he snaps his wrist and says, “Oooohhh, ooh!!”.  In her later years it didn’t take much to make Nana smile and even an attempt at a joke in her presence got you the rich reward of that expression which Jaron felt the need to master.  She thought less and less of herself and became younger and more beautiful in the process.

As I approach the second third of my lifespan, I think often of Nana.  Here’s to the force of aging.  Here’s to the loss of our self-sufficiency, control,  and possessions, which we would never accept if given the choice.

Tonight I’m making salad for my aunts and uncles.  Watching the vinegar reduce.  Watching it become sweeter over heat.  Thinking of my Nana, and looking forward to an evening basking in the beauty of the people surrounding me, while I can.

(It’s a fun autumn salad, if you’re interested: Caramelized Beet and Goat Cheese Arugula Salad)

I applied for a job yesterday that I desperately hope to get, working at a local organic food store called The Turnip Truck. There are many reasons it would be awesome – it’s two blocks from our place, I’m there a lot of the time anyway, and there is no product I believe in more than fresh, local, organic food. Please, oh please, I want this job.

Slow food has changed our lives. When Jaron and I moved to Illinois we slowly began to cook more (not a lot of entertainment in that town) and to use the local produce as Mireille Guiliano was teaching us to do. Two years later we are different people. We rarely get sick, we’re confident in the kitchen, and we have a new understanding of the earth and of sustenance. We have gone from spending more money each month on Dayquil than on vegetables to feeling like healthy, able-bodied people (with about 50 lb. less baggage between the two of us).

As I was reveling in the idea of being able to help people make the kinds of purchases that are so beneficial to their families and their communities, I was struck by how far we’ve come. It’s been a drastic change, maybe the most drastic I’ve experienced in my life. And the easiest. It came not from hearing about cooking, or watching Food, Inc., or even watching the numbers on the bathroom scale rise and rise. Those things made me want change, for sure. But what made me follow through was actually tasting the difference.

Tasting the difference has removed the feeling of “rules” in being healthy. It’s made us desire what is good for its benefit rather than for its lack of “badness”. I like getting sick less, I like knowing my food is from the earth rather than a factory. But I love the way a plum tastes when it’s been ripened naturally, in season. And I love the sustenance and warmth of buttery Yukon potato and kale soup in the winter, a favorite meal with only four ingredients.

Eating this way has required sacrifices. It’s a bit more expensive and it’s less convenient. But our lives are sweeter this way. We invest a little more money and time and are rewarded with vitality, appreciation for our neighbors and for the earth, and the sheer pleasure of eating flavorful food with our loved ones.

This is a change I believe in – a change that makes me believe there is hope for other problems that previously seemed impossible to solve. Dreams that once seemed as far away as feeling at home in my skin used to seem.

If you are feeling a lack of warmth in your life, have a new friend over for a nourishing meal. In fact, try one out at our house. We’d love to have you.

Yup, I did it.  I launched a new blog.  No plans to neglect this one, but where this blog is loosely focused, the next will be almost absurdly focused, solely on stews, soups, and microbrew.  I’ll be sharing our favorite recipes and sources and plugging our favorite matching beers.  The brew aspect will likely be fewer and farther between based on our current budget, but still an important component of my very favorite meal, a hearty bowl of stew and a 1/2 liter of nice, hoppy beer.

My love for stew is multi-faceted.  There is the warm and cozy feeling it gives me – the way it communicates love and alludes to hours of smells developed in the kitchen.  The fact that I feel connected to history and the world-over by eating from a bowl and making food stretch, the way people have for centuries.

There is also the health factor.  It’s hard to overeat on soup, because of the liquid.  The human stomach is designed to hold a lot of food.  This is because more nutrients come from low calorie vegetation than animal food sources and we need that nutrition.  We crave meat (some would say) because it’s supposed to be more difficult to come by and a boost of fat and protein that is harder to get through nuts and vegetation.  So, onto the scene comes stew, a way to make vegetables especially palatable, develop and infuse pleasing flavors, and stretch meat to what we can afford/accomplish/apply.

Soups and stews are the little black dresses of the culinary world.  They are timeless and easy to dress up or down, suitable for most any occasion.  They make life easier by often creating less mess in the kitchen and lasting for several meals (some are easily frozen for later in the month).  They are easy to make ahead of time for guests.  Nothing has helped Jaron and I eat at home like stew has done.

So, I invite you to check out my inaugural post of one of Jaron’s favorites.  This one is not seasonal (gasp) but easily enjoyed year-round, at least in our house.  It’s a rip-off of the best dish to come out of Carrabba’s, sausage and lentil soup.

Step one in our move to Nashville was to sell the house.  The plan was to stay with some friends for the couple weeks we anticipated being out of the house before the big move.  It sold and closed so quickly, however, that the amazing Koons were faced with losing their guest room for eleven weeks instead of two or three.  You can imagine the upheaval we have created in their home.  If it doesn’t seem too drastic yet, you should know that they have an indoor cat.  And Banjo without his backyard can find little more entertaining than trying to sniff Scot the cat’s bottom.  Scot the cat, as you can imagine, is utterly offended at the attempt.  Adult supervision is required for them at all times.

We are incredibly fortunate, blessed, awestruck to have one very hospitable couple who put us up for six weeks when we moved to town and yet another to house us for almost three months on our way out.

But as important and helpful as the roof over our heads is, the thing I am most grateful for is these experiences of community living.  More than the crunch of going from, between our two households, seven bedrooms and three bathrooms to three bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms, I have been struck by how much more lived-in this space is compared to our previous one.  In the best way.  Every day there are great smells coming from the kitchen and not always at the work of our own hands.  There is someone home to catch up with at the end of each day, and more stories brought to the dinner table.  And as of yet, always a quiet place to retreat for quiet conversations with our spouses or  reading.  Or writing a blog.

In some ways this is great practice for moving into a small apartment very soon.  But it also makes me sad to imagine that quiet apartment.  Grilling out with friends will take more planning again.  Food will last longer and not be as fresh.  And no one will be betting on how long the pet staring matches will last.

As we get older, experience living in different climates and cultures, feel the renewed importance of simple things, the lesson I’ve been most blessed by over and over is that community is the most important gift we have.  Whether it’s over a bible study, a flooded city, or an open flame and some chicken, life is sweetest in good company.  May we find it and offer it wherever we go.

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