Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Art of the ordinary (repost)

Over at What's Wrong With The World , there is a rousing discussion going on regarding the rule of women. Some of the usual suspects have appeared, including a feminist I have seen posting on MereComments in the past. After she pulls a tired old (dare I say it?) canard out of her back pocket, attempting to dismiss a woman who is rather more well educated and mannerly than she by telling this other woman to get herself back to the kitchen, my friend, Kevin J. Jones , had this to say:

Educated minds produce more than a series of cliches. Please stop bashing the kitchen. Cooking is perhaps the greatest art of the ordinary. Anti-kitchen feminism has impoverished our cuisine and our family table traditions. It is an adjunct of fast food colonialism, to borrow academic phraseology.

That is so right, it's simply brilliant. It also speaks to one of the abiding joys of my life in the last couple of years. Since I left the angry religious feminist-me behind, it's been an amazing and (mostly) joy-filled journey. A time of discovering simple pleasures and real delight in the every day. I am back to baking my own bread, I've finally discovered a successful red cabbage recipe, Baklava is back on the menu on occasion and I may even experiment with my once-legendary Beef Stroganoff recipe to see if I can substitute Greek Yogurt for the sour cream . . . but perhaps not. Why mess with a good thing?

I take Kevin to be using "art" in two senses. The first is the sense in which art refers to a field of human endeavour (painting, sculpting, pastry making, etc.). In this sense cooking is an art of the homemaker. The second sense encompasses the skills, techniques and methods required to ply the craft of cooking.

The homemaker, kitchen wife or everyday cook can be an artist of the ordinary if she learns the techniques and applies herself to the use of these techniques with loving care and a little flair of her own. Whether it be decorating, sewing or any of the other homely (meant in the old fashioned sense) arts, she is an artist with her own palette. A still life is a still life is a still life -- or it can be if it is painted by numbers from a kit. But if the painter is Picasso or the Dutch master of the still life, Willem Kalf . . . it isn't simply a still life, it is a work of art. A turkey is a turkey is a turkey if you simply cook by the book. However, if you discover your own secret to making the holiday turkey all your own, people will beg you for your recipe.

But Kevin is right to speak of "the art of the ordinary" in another way, specifically related to food and the family table. Instead of looking forward to mom's meatloaf (and when was the last time you had a sandwich made of meat loaf the next day for lunch?) or that special way she does potatoes for the Sunday roast, we are cruising through the fast food drive up window, wondering whether to try the "next new thing" or simply get our regular serving of salt, fat, and food-like chemicals. We eat in our cars, mostly alone, and we forget after the first bite what we are doing.

We lose, in this process, fleshly connections. And, it seems, these connections are important. The French, despite what food police tell us is a horribly unhealthy diet, don't seem to be suffering for their wine and cheese. Could this possibly be because the French meal consists of small portions, eaten slowly, around a table filled with family and friends? The "Slow Food" movement, which started in Italy, is spreading across America now because people are longing for those connections -- and the enjoyment of food that itself is something so much less (and, consequently, so very much more) than the industrially-produced, semi-edible substances which fill the shelves of the center of the grocery store. It reminds me of television chef, Lidia Bastianich, who frequently welcomes her mother, her daughter, or another family member to the set to assist in the day's cooking. It also reminds me of the line with which she closes every show, something we could profit from if we aim for this more often than we aim for a drive through:

Tuti a tavola a mangiare! (translation: Everyone to the table to eat!)

P.S. The Flavor Bible is my newest tool.


Since this old post has received some attention this weekend, I am adding the old bio of Carolyn Custis James from the Common Ground website (the bio is where the term "kitchen wife" originated):

Carolyn is her husband's favorite theologian. She is not a kitchen wife. She does not keep house, cook, clean or sew, but she reads an awful lot and often talks to women (and sometimes men) from all over the world about women's struggles within the evangelical church. Lately, she has been reading a lot on the plight of women in the Middle East. She helped establish Synergy Conferences for women seminarians and women in vocational ministries, which is sponsored by her ministry organization, Whitby Forum, in alliance with Campus Crusade for Christ International and RTS/Orlando.

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