“All I was did was flip a potato pancake into the stove, and then I put it back into the pan, and I said: Well, if you're all alone in the kitchen, nobody will know.”
—Julia Child in a 1989 interview for Fresh Air with Terry Gross—
Exactly. This is why I often sort out a new recipe when I am the only one who will be eating it. Chances are I will be able to eat whatever the result is, unless something drastic happens. And, if it works out well, voila…a recipe to add to the pool of what I can make and serve in community.
I love this kind of creative alone time. I have a playlist labeled “Cooking” that is music with soulful groove best appreciated at an elevated volume and with space enough for the occasional dance move. It is time to learn at my own pace; time to indulge the senses; time to marvel at chemistry and simplicity.
It is also a time of prayerful, grounding, concentration. Attending to the precision of my knife work is soothing to me…it helps ground me, gather me back from wherever my mind and spirit might be wandering. Finding the sweet spot of flavor balance also calls for a contemplative attention that focuses my senses and asks that they be clear and open. And in general, the more grounded and gathered and “transparent of senses” I am, the more open I feel to awe, to wonder, to creativity, to Spirit, to God.
The recipes that are most appealing to me do not involve complex steps or rarified ingredients. They are guidelines that teach me more about the possibilities of food’s potential to nourish, to satisfy, to delight. They involve paying attention, caring, learning, applying what I already know, and they invite me to enjoy the act of creating something pleasurable for the senses.
In some ways, this is not so far removed from my approach to prayer… Simple. Find what is appealing and learn from it. What allows me to pay attention? What leads me to greater compassionate awareness about the world around me and opens me to God’s presence in it? How do I delight in God? What does it feel like to my senses when I am in that centered, grounded, holy place with God?
I can’t help but believe that the same organic desire that draws me to the kitchen is what draws me to prayer as well. There is a hunger, a longing, that can only be met in that space. Sometimes the net result is poached chicken with layered flavors of white wine and thyme; sometimes it is a deep abiding feeling of being Loved and of Loving….in the difficult complexity of what that sometimes means.
Is it like this every time I enter the kitchen or sit to pray? Definitely not. Sometimes in both cases, the result, however well intentioned, is serviceable and no more. And with cooking and praying both, I can tell and so can others.
Working at both is something that benefits me and all of those around me. While I might be alone in the kitchen or alone in the morning with my coffee and the readings, the nourishment is meant for those around me too.
I cook alone to work out the recipe/technique—and then I share it. I pray…and then the day begins and I share the fruit of that prayer in how I make my way through the day, how I interact with others.
Time alone in creativity and contemplation... for the sake of God’s people. (Note to self: remember to leave room for the dance moves.)
You’ll find the dish that inspired this post here—
It was the white wine-onion-and herbs recipe.
While doing the chicken on top of the stove, I was roasting quartered golf ball sized potatoes in the oven. When all was done, I put one chicken breast on my plate along with a scoop of the potatoes and spooned sauce over the lot. Delicious.