In the Company of Onions and other Love Stories
This is week two in our book club discussion of The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers On Feasting and Fasting Toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields.
As I sit down to write this week’s book club post, I am at loose ends. How does one write about four outstanding essays in a single, concise article? It simply can’t be done.
So I make soup instead.
The snow coming down outside has me longing for comfort food. A steamy bowl of hearty deliciousness is calling my name.
Hello, white chili, I say.
I still have broth and leftover turkey in the freezer from the Christmas feast. These must be put to use soon. I check the pantry. All the usual suspects are there. No canned green chiles. I take some dried Poblanos, carefully cut down the side, and gently scrape out the seeds. Then I crumble them a little and soak them in a bowl of water. Missing too, are navy beans. Not even a can of Great Northerns. I pull out two cans of black beans. This shall be called the not-so-white white chili.
I spread all the ingredients out on the counter. The meat is thawing, the oil is heating, and the peppers are rehydrating. Time to dice the onion.
As I slit through the papery skins with my knife, I am thinking about Fr. Robert Farrar Capon’s essay, The Heavenly Onion.
Onions are excellent company, he says.
I smile at the thought, but know I will be crying soon. Capon tells us to spend at least an hour with our onion—greeting it, observing it, dissecting and entering it.
I address the onion.
If I spend more than five minutes with you I’ll be bawling, I say, as my nose starts to run.
But I do like the feel of it in my hand and soon the skillet is crackling with the sounds of those tongues of fire sautéing with garlic and other vegetables. The house takes on a delicious scent and I am happy. I am thinking of my husband, who adores white chili.
Preparing a meal truly is A Way of Loving, I think, as I remember the title of Stephen and Karen Baldwin’s essay.
…when we offer food thoughtfully and with respect, caring for and honoring those present at our table, it creates an atmosphere where sharing, laughing and relating happens naturally. Offering our hospitality is a medium of grace that opens hearts to deeper things. It is a simple way of loving.
I let their words settle in to my heart as I stir. And I am filled.
My mind wanders. I remember R. Gary LeBlanc and his call to Go Feed People. How a ministry to feed the broken was born out of his great compassion. The scent of cumin tickles my nose and I picture Mr. LeBlanc in his portable kitchen feeding the hungry after Hurricane Katrina. I picture him in Haiti handing out food and remembering his grandmother.
…She prepared authentic food in abundance, but more importantly, she served joy, comfort, love, and support. I hoped to do the same.
This gift of seeing and then doing is something that has been on my mind this week. The story of Ted Williams--the homeless man with the gift of voice—has captured the nation’s imagination. But it is the story of the man who discovered him that turns my head.
When asked why he videotaped the homeless man and shared his story, Doral Chenowith, a videographer for the Columbus Post Dispatch, said, “It's part of my faith. You may not be able to help someone with money, but you can at least say hello, how you doing, and look (emphasis mine) at them.”
Rev. Jennifer Kimble Casto, Chenowith’s pastor, told reporters that Chenowith often invites homeless people to the church. When he looks at the homeless, she says, he doesn’t see white noise like so many do. He sees a child of God.
Fr. Capon tells me that man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are.
When I pay attention to the food I feed my family…does it help me love others better? Not just the ones I am feeding, the ones I already love. Does it help me love strangers—a homeless man perhaps--with a greater love?
In her essay, And She Took Flour, Denise Frame Harlan makes a good case for mindful cooking leading to mindfulness in other areas of life.
…Any real curiosity about food will spread to gardening, and any real curiosity about gardening requires learning to compost. A few years ago, I began to explore how fabric is made, how colors are blended. All of these touch an ever-expanding affection for God’s people and every corner of the world which is in need of love. Far from idolatry, the more I live, the more I look at a blade of grass and know that for this Jesus died and was risen, glorious indeed, for this and for everything.
Yes, I think, as I slowly add the vegetable mixture to a simmering broth. This is a way of loving. And a way to see the world with a greater love.
As a special treat, Laity Lodge’s Executive Chef, Tim Blanks, will be sharing some of his recipes with us during our book club discussions. Thanks, Tim! Enjoy!
Tim’s Chili Ribs
2 Table spoons kosher salt
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons anchor chili powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
¼ sup sweet smoked Spanish paprika
10 pounds baby back pork ribs
¼ cup honey
½ cup Whiskey
To make spice rub:
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and blend well. Pat the ribs dry, then rub with the spice rub. Place ribs in a tightly covered pan and refrigerate overnight.
To make whisky glaze:
Combine whisky and honey in a small sauce pan. Bring to boil on a medium heat. When the sauce slightly thickens, remove it from the heat.
Prepare a charcoal fire until the coals are covered with gray ash.
Grill the ribs over very low coals for about 1 ½ hours. Keep BBQ covered and barley vented. This slow cooking( about 275-300 F) is to keep the ribs tender. Just before removing the ribs, brush them with the glaze. Grill for 5 more minutes, then brush again very lightly with glaze.
Serves 8 to 10 people for dinner or more for appetizers.
For those that do not have a BBQ, an oven will do in a pinch--but half the fun is being outside with friends and smelling like smoke.
**Next week we'll be discussing the next three essays, that is: In Praise of Hollandaise, Tasting the (Animal) Kingdom, and Things that Fall and Things that Stand. Please join us!
Photo by Cuba Gallery, used with permission via Flickr. Post by Laura J. Boggess, author of the Wings of Klaio series.