Take these turnips, for example. They sit there on my cutting board, their lush green tops posing as many questions as the cheerful white globes themselves. What to do with them? Raw or cooked? Whole or chopped? Simply roasted or something more elaborate? Glazed? Wilted? Steamed? Pickled? Served together or separately?
The near infinite possibilities of raw ingredients are limited only by a cook's imagination. With raw ingredients, we begin at the beginning and all the decisions are ours. This can be thrilling or daunting, depending on our skills and confidence, and how much we enjoy a challenge. All of the decisions are ours, and the responsibility and the credit, as well.
The immediate challenge of raw ingredients is time. While a can of creamed corn can sit on the pantry shelve for months (years?) an ear of corn needs attending to pronto or much of what is good about it will be lost. TIme quite simply cannot be ignored, or not for long. Nor can we ignore the broader sweep of the seasons or the influence of the current weather. Or how long it takes to coax the rawness from an ingredient into something more complex and desirable — or not, of course. One of the possible decisions is to do very little, or nothing at all.
The immediacy and tension of this race with time creates an intimacy that, to me at least, is more than just pleasant: it is necessary. This is how we love the things as no one has thought to love them. This is how we lean in closer, look deeper and discover what lays hidden within. We can survive on the safe and distant diet of canned goods and processed foods but it will be only that, a survival. Far, far better is to take the risky path with something that is equally invested in time as we are, equally perishable and equally weighted with potential.
Of course there are evenings when the weary cook enters the kitchen with barely enough energy to lift a can opener and in these moments whatever it is she eats will mostly be about convenience. But hopefully, this is a rare occurrence. Hopefully, we can learn to create the balance in our lives that shows us what to love and appreciate, and how to love it like no other. To be engaged with and appreciative of something — let's say a handful of turnips — is to be, in that moment at least, worthy of it and real.
Dear Darkening Ground
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Dear darkening ground,
you've endured so patiently the walls we've built,
perhaps you'll give the cities one more hour
and grant the churches and cloisters two.
And those that labor--let their work
grip them another five hours, or seven,
before you become forest again, and water, and widening wilderness
in that hour of inconceivable terror
when you take back your name
from all things.
Just give me a little more time!
I want to love the things
as no one has thought to love them,
until they're worthy of you and real.
Related: Weekend Meditation: Procrastination
(Images: Dana Velden)