Let me first present some of the elements in play... A. My eyes were (and still are) dilated from a trip to the ophthalmologist B. I was traveling on roads I'd never driven to a place I'd never been C. I got bifocals for the first time and was wearing them home...D. While driving in the pouring rain E. By now in the dark.
Home was a most welcome destination.... And for reasons that went beyond personal and public safety.
As I wandered the mall, passing time while my glasses were being made, I found myself thinking about polenta. Yes. Call it grits, call it cornmeal mush, call it polenta. This is what occupied my mind while watching frantic last minute shoppers with bags hanging off each arm; watching red faced babies bellow for their dinners to mothers on cell phones; watching teens cruising one another while wearing elf hats, Santa hats, and Goth-meets-Emo silver studded clodhoppers; all to the tune of tinned music and the scent of cigarette tinged, perfume schpritzed air.
Me? I was with a pot of polenta. I was imagining the process I will follow tomorrow night when making it for the first time. A slow and steady stream...whisking all the while...marvelling at the creamy science of deliciousness. I was mentally dicing mushrooms and tossing them in with the garlic and onion and hint of olive oil for a quick swish around before adding the zucchini, the yellow squash, and the tomatoes....
I half chuckled to myself when I realized what I was doing...in the middle of the Too Much-ness of retail swarming, I was cooking a meal. Why? I thought about this while watching a group of children play hop-scotch on computer projected Christmas ornaments, bouncing around on the floor.
There is something essential to me about cooking. Yes, cooking leads to eating leads to living...but more than that, there is something that I find holy, something of God, in the process. There is mystery, creativity, sensuality, ritual, and there are culinary sacramentals... There is formula and there is freedom, there is community and common-good. There is interiority and there is sharing. It is about bringing things together in harmony and creating texture and flavor that pleases, nourishes, and piques curiosity. Cooking can be an act of welcome, an act of well-making, a coming home.
Home. Yes, overwhelmed in my senses by the neon exterior nature of shopping malls, I was yearning for home! That is to say, yearning for God to be what fills me...and being grateful, so grateful, for the spaces and times where I learn the marvel of what that means and what that calls forth over and over again....whether with my students, with friends or in community, in silent morning prayer, with pen and notebook, or a pot and polenta...
Thank you for this post! It is beautiful. I also love cooking as a form of prayer. :-)
I have linked your blog to mine. I hope that you do not mind.
I don't know whether aspirational US foodies have "discovered" polenta, as British ones did about a decade ago. All I know is, to us Italians, there is nothing aspirational about polenta! It is humble peasant food, cheap and filling for long winters and poor families - certainly not to be served at elegant dinner parties!
Of course, for some, it's comfort food, wrapping them in warm childhood memories; for others, it's traditional, and simple enough to make. But interestingly, although I have seen all sorts of food advertised on Italian TV, I've never seen an ad for polenta flour!
So I found it really interesting that there you were in the Mall of Plenty and Too-Muchness, dreaming about polenta, that lowliest of food...
When I have had polenta here in the United States, it has been called "grits" and has been served for breakfast...hardy, tasty, hardly elegant. Don't know about its discovery among aspirational foodies. I think my mind went there, precisely because of the "lowliness..." I wasn't trying to glorify it...only say that the simplicity of it, the go-with-ness/adaptability of it, touches how I understand simplicity and transparency in the presence of God...as opposed to the heavy, somewhat oppressive, feeling that came with the shopping mall.
Grits are served for breakfast in the southern states and are white and plain; at dinner I have had "polenta" that is yellowish and delicious and served as a side with beef. I have never tried to cook any myself.
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