A spicy sweet potato dish that I love to make.
I'd share it with you if you were here!
Well, a few of you brought up some food books you have recently read, are reading, or want to read soon, and I got all motivated to write a post because this is one of my favorite topics.
I love reading cookbooks and food books. I read food memoirs; books about global and local food issues; books about growing food; books about chefs and restaurants; books about the history of a particular food; books about fermenting and preserving foods.
Those of you who have been around me through the last few crazy years and various moves and kitchens I’ve inhabited know that, through it all, I’ve loved my cookbooks, my food, and my cooking. I used to have tall book shelves burgeoning with cookbooks, but it’s narrowed down now to three and half sad shelves. I needed to get rid of those books, but I truly miss some of them. Like old friends. That may sound a bit overstated to you, but not to me.
I think if I had to narrow down my hobbies and pick just one, it would come down to food. I have a blast reading about food and cooking and the whole world that revolves around it. I love learning about how cooking works, planning what I want to cook, and then actually doing it.
When I feel tired and drained, and I can’t read another word in a text or spend another moment in front of the computer screen, I will likely grab a cookbook and sit down to read through it. I’m not there to look at recipes only; I’m there to be transported to other places—other countries, other regions, other kitchens. And in that book, I spend time with someone else who loves doing what I love doing: knowing about food, knowing about cooking, and then doing it. And they love it so much that they had to share that love with me.
Food is one of our most fundamental needs, and it is one of our most beautiful, creative gifts. It is a gift from God to us and a gift we give to others. It brings families and friends together. Eating together routinely has such power that it keeps families closer, makes children better students and makes it far less likely that they will get into trouble or have a sense of being unmoored. Conversation over a meal is something that has many levels of impact for a lifetime, and when the meal is prepared with care and love, convivial alchemy seems to occur.
Do you think it is by happy accident that God made eating one of our fundamental needs and then gave it tremendous social and spiritual power? Have we not caught on to what God is doing when He brings us together at the table again and again? He didn’t command us to eat together with our families every night so that we will be blessed, but there is an intuitive wisdom in it, carried down through centuries and cultures of food and hospitality. Look at how the people of Israel were instructed to live regarding hospitality toward others. Sharing food is a fundamental act of love and compassion and goodwill. It is a profoundly spiritual act. We’ve lost our vision for what eating together can and should mean, in our homes and among our friends. It matters.
I’ve talked about it before, but I’ll say it again. My family (when my children were young) was part of a Friday night Bible study group. And every single Friday night, we had a potluck—a very low-key, relaxed potluck. We never made a food plan. People just brought what they wanted to bring (if they could), and we let it all fall together however things were, gave thanks, and had a memorable time of visiting and laughing over food before the study began.
We all believed that eating together created a spirit of friendship and openness, and we wanted to do that together routinely. We also knew that planning, meal themes, and assignments for what each one should bring added pressure to the affair, and we didn’t want that hanging over anyone. It wouldn’t be light and fun to have a food assignment every week.
Well, one night, my family showed up, and the teenagers were waiting on the front deck. “What did you bring?!” I laughed and said, “A little quiche?” They laughed back, “Everyone else brought dessert!” My family’s tiny quiche was the only main dish. So some of us joined together in the kitchen, laughing and joking heartily while we made tuna fish and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There were leftovers in the fridge that got heated, and we pulled together this and that. But mostly, it was a dessert potluck. It was really funny and really fun. And unforgettable.
It doesn’t matter what you have except that you have a warm, generous spirit, and a sense of humor. Food can be too serious nowadays. Too perfectionistic. We are awed by the Marthas of the world and a bit intimidated by those who emulate her well. Oh, I love a well-cooked meal, but there’s absolutely nothing better than family or a group of friends who love each other and sit together to share whatever they have, even if it’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
I guess that’s what I get from the type of cookbooks that are my favorites. Besides the instructions on how to cook a certain type of cuisine or food really, really well, there’s another spirit that reigns over that one. And that is to drop the perfectionism and enjoy sharing food with others. It is such a fundamental act, and it can be truly transformative. God’s gifts are like that.
(Can you tell that this post started out going one direction and took on a life of its own, going entirely somewhere else? I just went with my stream of thoughts because the topic is important to me. And I'll talk about specific favorite food/cookbooks soon!)