This is week four of our book club discussion on The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields. Join us every Monday morning as we dig into this feast!
I remember it like a dream--the Christmas of the open doors. I was young and in love with an Italian-American Catholic boy who had an extended family that could have filled up the entire heel of Italy’s boot. During the Christmas season it was this family’s custom to call on elderly aunts or matronly friends of relations. In the bleak white of winter, entire branches of the family would move from house to house in the old part of town—a parade of revelers delighting in shared roots.
For this shy blue-eyed country girl, it was another world. I clung to my beau’s hand as we moved in and out of the warm homes—afraid of being lost in this tumult. It was loud and it was wonderful. There was no shortage of conversation, hugging, laughter, or food. These beautiful old women filled their tables with the most amazing assortment of baked goods--elegant pastries and rich finger foods. Between bites, stories were told of the old days and of common friends or acquaintances. Remember when, they would say, and everyone would nod their heads and grow silent until the next round of robust travelers arrived amidst hugs and cheek kissing and much ado. One of the women commented on how, during the Christmases of the past, all of the families on the street would keep their doors open and people would go from one door to another, visiting and eating until their hearts were filled.
My cheeks flushed from the warmth of the sharing, my heart about to explode, I marveled at such a rich heritage. What a beautiful gift to pass down from generation to generation, this story of open doors and open hearts.
I think of this beautiful night when I read this week’s essays from The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God. I turn the words around in my mind. Words about how keeping kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, is about loving God...and loving oneself.
At its most basic level, keeping kosher requires you to be present to your food. Of course, so does the Atkins diet. The difference between Atkins and kashrut is God. We try out the Atkins diet because our physician cares about what we eat. We limit ourselves to kosher food—to return to the etymology, appropriate or fitting food prepared appropriately—because God cares about what we eat…If you keep kosher, the protagonist of your meal is not you: it is God. (Lauren Winner, Fitting Food)
Words about learning what really matters.
Over a glass of port, he had told us how his years of community organizing had convinced him that when love and theology conflict, love should always be our priority…as imperfect as my practice may be, love is the thing, the only thing. (Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma, Choice Cuisine)
Words about caring enough to try—stepping into a new place in love.
…I do know that as a blond-haired, light-skinned American of Dutch/English/ German/ Swiss/ Scottish heritage, nothing can make me a native East African, not even taking on an African last name. And even if it were possible, cooking chicken wat isn’t enough on its own to make me truly appreciate and understand a culture that’s so different from my own. Being truly Christ-like in an approach to foods and the cultures out of which they arise takes more effort than cooking a few dishes now and then…But I know, for me, this has been an essential first step…Sometimes literally tasting is a necessary part of the process, a step toward seeing…(Deborah Leiter Nyabuti, Cooking Chicken Wat)
Words about how love anchors against injustice.
We can side with conventional wisdom by blaming parents or government or the church. But loving thy neighbor does not command us to assign blame, it calls us to love. Love. I’ve finally realized that love is the soul of soul food. When black mothers had little to no material thing to offer, they poured all the love they could muster into the food they prepared. (Jacqueline Rhodes, The Soul of Soul Food)
As I turn these words around in my head, I realize the one ingredient these different essays share: love. We can talk about Jewish culture or African-American culture or Ethiopian culture or even the culture of sustainability. Each of these tables is set with love. This is the root we share.
As I consider this profundity, I remember the Italian matrons that shared their pastries with me all those years ago. And I can only borrow the words of Bill, a friend of Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma: I can’t believe we eat this well.
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!
Stir-fry Sesame Cabbage with Ginger
The Chinese treat their vegetables with a great deal of respect--stir-frying them quickly over high heat. In this recipe, the vegetables absorb the rich flavors of the spicy sauce while retaining their own flavor and crisp texture. It’s a delicious combination.
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoon peanut oil
1 ½ inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 large clove garlic
2 med. zucchini, thinly sliced
1 small green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 table spoon chopped cilantro
Zest and juice of one lime
2 teaspoons sesame seed--white are ok but black are cool looking
Salt and pepper (fresh ground Szechuan gives the cabbage a woody flavor!)
Heat oil in a wok or large frying pan. Stir fry ginger and garlic for one minute (put ginger in first--never put garlic in a pan first, always second or it will burn)
Add zucchini, cabbage, and cilantro and stir fry 3-4 minutes or until cabbage just begins to wilt.
Remove from heat, transfer to large bowl and stir in lime juice, zest and sesame seeds. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
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Attention:Leslie Leyland Fields is offering our HighCalling book club participants a special price on The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God. Just email her at [email protected], and she’ll send you the book for $22, including shipping! Thank you, Leslie!
Next week we will discuss the next three essays, that is: The Pleasures of Eating, Table Blessings, and Filled to Brokenness.