The dishes washed, rinsed, piled up to dry. The carrots and onions peeled, chopped, measured, cooked. The soup stirred and seasoned, tasted and seasoned again, and left on the back of the stove, barely simmering but not forgotten. The table wiped down, the floor swept, the groceries stowed in the cupboards. Dishcloths washed and folded and stacked and placed in the drawer, next to the clean and sorted silverware.
Stovetop splatters polished away, the garbage taken out, a chicken left to thaw in the refrigerator. Feeding the bread starter, lining up the dish soap and the sponge on the edge of sink, filling the kettle for tomorrow's first cup of tea. A clean cup on the countertop, waiting.
The kitchen is a place of tending, a place where we take care of things. When we tend to something, we create connection and over time this connection deepens into intimacy. Intimacy is a basic human need but more than that, intimacy tempers our idea that there's not enough, it soothes our restless yearning and the fearful little whispers that make us loose track of what's most important. It fills in the cracks and mends the weak places and sands down the rough spots until they're smooth and pleasing to touch.
In the kitchen we learn and practice and actualize these connections through taking care of small, simple things: filling the sugar bowl, mending a cracked plate, cleaning the meat from the leftover roast chicken for sandwiches and stock. We learn that we are always in relationship to something, be it the sink full of spinach, or another human being's desires or even our own restless thoughts. To be in relationship is to be vulnerable, and because vulnerability can sometimes be quite challenging for us, it helps to approach it all with a certain amount of tenderness, a gentle caring, a careful touch.
It's true that the kitchen can be a place for fierceness, too, and wild drama and toughness. There's a lot of birth and death that takes place in the kitchen, for example. This fierceness has it's important contributions and lessons, and it's own kind of connection and intimacy. If you've butchered your own meat or badly scalded your hand or had to fight a pest invasion, then you might know something of this.
But mostly the kitchen is where we make the soup, and fill the kettle, and fold the towels. It's where we learn the lessons of feeding and being fed, how to give and receive, and to understand what is most precious and what it means to take care of that.
This is what the kitchen can teach us, if only we would let it.
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ten-der tender/adj: soft enough for the teeth to go through easily; the point at which something is ready to eat; the leaves of a bunch of spinach, a ripe fig. Soft or delicate in substance. Not hard or tough. Ripe. Ripe and ready to eat. Yielding readily to pressure. Fragile. Of a delicate nature; so soft as to be hurt, crushed or broken easily. Requiring careful handling: a tender subject. Affectionate. Benevolent; compassionate; careful. With gentle feeling. Showing care, gentleness, sensitivity and feeling. - from the endpapers to Tender, vols I & II by Nigel Slater
Related: Weekend Meditation: Making Soup in My Mother's Kitchen
(Image: Dana Velden)