26 March 2017; Kilworth Memorial Chapel
Today I’ll be reading a blog post that Jane wrote in December of 2014, just a few days before we shared a truly epic Christmas dinner at my house. What I recall about that day is that we fired up the laptop to watch Julia Child’s very first TV show, in the kitchen, while Jane and the boys cooked. But I confess I don’t remember what we ate. But Jane could tell you, in detail, the entire menu.
|Julia & Seth, chopping.|
In the piece I’ll read, Jane describes our cooking days, which began about five or six years ago. That was the year my family’s homeschooling adventures were coming to an end—my son and I were both sort of… finished… with each other, but he wasn’t old enough to enter Running Start. Honestly. We needed intervention.
Enter Jane and her mad cooking skills.
|Seth & Becca, summer 2015|
What Jane does not describe in her piece is her sheer delight in having created an absolute monster. According to Seth, my younger son and Jane’s sous chef, there are only two ways to do anything in the kitchen: Jane’s way… and the wrong way. The conversation will generally go like this:
“Mother. What are you doing?”
“I’m chopping this onion!”
Long pause, and a low, grumbling, “No.”
“Everybody’s different! Jane learned it one way, I learned it this way!”
At this point, he’ll sigh and usually say something along the lines of, “This is so disturbing. I can’t watch. Just go. Go read your book. Out.”
If you’re a parent, you see the dilemma.
On the one hand: Rude.
On the other: [**whispering**] Don’t have to make dinner!
|mise-en-place & matching red shirts|
Neither Becca or Eli had had the in-depth cooking instruction that Seth did, so they were typically also relegated to atmosphere duties. Last Christmas, they polished the silver—a job they weren’t too thrilled about at first. Eventually they warmed up to the task, and at one point, Becca said, “This is really nice stuff! And Eli replied, “Yeah! Now we can pretend we’re the Obamas!” Which is what we do now at every family dinner.
So as you listen, imagine this homey scene, the silly jokes, the laughter, the gorgeous gold-rimmed vintage china, the best ever Goodwill score, and shiny silver cutlery and candles. Oh. And one truly excellent chef’s knife called, mysteriously, Betsy.
Finally, last note before I read Jane’s own words. At one point in this piece she calls our little gatherings community. That surprised me a bit when I read it again yesterday, because it’s been so very long since we’ve started to say, simply, “family dinner night.”
21 December 2014
Food, by Jane Brazell
I've been bingeing on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. Oh, the thoughts that course through me. Allow me to set up a couple of things first.
I have been making my own bread since April of 2014. In May I made my own sourdough starter. It now produces bread that brings joy to those who eat it.
For close to two years I've been teaching a young man to cook.We started by creating dishes traditional to the regions he was studying in geography, along with teaching basic cooking techniques.
Cooking Day consists of our prepping, talking about international news, cooking, talking about movies, tv, and books, then eating while talking about our lives. We've made mistakes and burned a thing or two. We've created fusions not seen in restaurants -- and they're good. The laughter has been rich and full. We've created a community while we cook and eat. That brings me to Anthony Bourdain.
I'm a food/cooking show nerd. I'll watch it all. Somehow, I had put off No Reservations, nor had I read any of Bourdain's books. I'd seen him as a judge on cooking competitions and found him brash. I had seen one episode of No Reservations—where he goes to South Korea. He didn't eat dok boki. I had no need for him. Now, it's the holidays and I have time to binge watch something, and Netflix suggests No Reservations.
I jumped in and gave myself permission to jump back out if I needed. It took one episode, and I was hooked. Bourdain disdains the use of the term foodie. He finds "foodies" pretentious. I have long harbored the same thoughts. I don't need all the expensive items to make food that feeds soul and body. I need fresh, affordable ingredients. Bourdain eats at street stalls, local "hole-in-the-walls," and in homes. Homes where feeding the family is a daily toil. Homes that don't know that some would never eat the fish from their river because a Michelin star chef has not used it.
Bourdain sits in homes and eats the food of the people. My heart jumped. This is what I wanted to teach my young sous chef. Eat what the people eat. Find the commonality in all. We've found many one pot, warm, chicken based dishes. Doro Wat, Moroccan Chicken Stew, Coq Au Vin. All rich, warm, delicious, and a way to connect to those who live in different places and in different ways.
I love food. I love preparing it and eating it. I love finding the foods that connect people to their home. I love sharing food with people. I've shared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches which were the best thing I'd eaten up to that point in my life - because it was shared with someone I loved. Once a friend invited me to dinner at her home on a local island. We foraged for our dinner: dug enough clams for each of us; harvested dandelion greens for salad and nettles for braising; and plucked young fiddle-head ferns for sauteing. This still ranks as the best meal I've enjoyed. It was connection to the person who shared the meal.
My bread has become this to me. I can make something that will sustain friends and family. I think of those people as I prep my starter and then work the dough. I want to pass on sustenance and love. I hope it happens every time.
So, I plan another Cooking Day. They'll be ending soon, as Chef leaves for university in the Fall. He will leave with great kitchen skills, the ability to feed himself, and most importantly, the ability to build community. He will not be alone. I am excited for him; his world will be too big to hold, and it will have to be shared.
(While proofreading I've been listening to an episode of No Reservations. Bourdain is near Venice. He's sitting down in the middle of a family garden eating fresh tomatoes, basil, and some olive oil. He looks at owner and says, "Do you take this for granted?" [I had to look at the screen at that point.] The man looks at Bourdain, tears in his eyes and says, "No." This my readers, this is what it's about.)