Controversial Food

Who knew food could be so controversial? I know people have likes and dislikes. I certainly have particular food likes and there are things I will not eat.

However, a picture I posted Instagram and Facebook on the first day of January created a flurry of comments. I have a few food related groups I post to, including the Not the New York Times Cooking Community. I really hadn’t anticipated such a reaction.

I am not a fan of black eyed peas. I know that in some communities it is traditional to eat black eyed peas for luck on New Year’s Day. I certainly have had my share of them cooked by terrific cooks. I didn’t grow up with that tradition, so I don’t have any skin in the game in terms of having them New Year’s Day.

I pulled a ham bone out of the freezer and popped it and pinto beans in the instant pot after sauteeing carrots, onions and celery. This is what I posted with the picture:

I know, I know blacked eyed peas are traditional but I don’t like them, I think they taste like dirt. So instead I used a leftover ham bone and made ham and pinto beans. #newyearsday #deliciouswichita #2022 #roembachhouse #chezcindylee

In one thread someone was offended I said black eyed peas tasted like dirt. I responded I didn’t mean any disrespect. I feel the same way about beets. I can eat a bite or two, then all the sudden if tastes like dirt to me. One person years ago said to me, “well they can be earthy.” Yup, that’s what I said, “dirt.”

Others weighed in “you haven’t tried mine,” “pinto beans don’t count,” “come on, taste isn’t everything.” Others noted that in their tradition sauerkraut is traditional or oyster stew. I really hadn’t meant to stir up such deep feelings and yet….food does that, doesn’t it?

We have deep and strong roots to food. Our heritage, ethnic backgrounds and cultures are windows into what we expect for holidays, for important meals and what flavors we expect. I am midwestern, from German and English stock. So it’s ham for Christmas and Easter, Turkey for Thanksgiving, fried chicken or hamburgers for any summer celebration.

When I posted I really didn’t mean to disrespect any tradition. All our tastes comes from experience positive and negative. As the comments swirled I realized that traditions are important for our identity and our understanding of how we move through time and space.

In the community of faith, many of our traditions are similar. How we experience and how we receive the sacrament of Holy Communion is a case in point. Thousands of books have been written on the scriptural and theological understandings of the Lord’s Supper.

As a United Methodist, I understand Holy Communion as a sacrament: a visible sign of an invisible grace. I believe, in the bread and cup Christ is present in a real way. I do not have adequate time or space to delve into the theology of it.

The “how” we do the sacrament often seems more important than the “why.” When I was little, we passed out trays with little tiny crackers and little tiny cups. The wafers were tasteless and the grape juice was not quite enough to rinse out the chalky taste. In other traditions the wafers are round and the small individual cups hold with real wine.

More recently (as in the last thirty years or so) I have used “intinction” as the way to serve the sacrament. Each person is given a torn off piece of bread and they dip it in a common cup. I love communion this way as it allows me the opportunity to serve. In another blog post, I will spend some time going deeper into the hows and whys of the way we serve and what we serve.

Today, I want to note that our traditions around communion affect how we receive it. During the pandemic many of those traditions have changed and I, for one, am very aware of how I prefer to serve communion is not the best or safest way to serve it in a medical crisis.

I miss the big loaf of bread, but I have changed my focus to using small individually wrapped wafers and cups to proclaim that Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again! I remind myself that these tasteless wafers are a promise the time is coming when we will feast at the heavenly banquet. Perhaps more importantly, the time is coming when we can feast together with whatever preferred elements we choose.

I believe that food isn’t really controversial, food comes with preferences because of our traditions, our memories and our backgrounds. Holy Communion comes with preferences as well, but the sacrament always comes with grace.

Eight years ago I began to write a food blog in addition to my “church” blog. It only took about a year and a half for me to quit doing both. Time and life go in the way. I am working on a book about food and faith and preaching. This seemed like a good way to get back into thinking about how cooking and preaching are so similar AND how these arts impact my life of faith and service. Once a week I will be adding to this blog lifting up cooking, food, preaching and faith as deeply related to I am and I think to who we are.

I often find my center in cooking.  The french word “chez” means “at the home of” or “with or among.”  “Chez Cindy” is what I often use when I have a gourmet meal in my home and I title the menu that way.

For me, cooking means being at home or with friends or family.   I love how when I step into the kitchen, I feel the chaos of my life fall away and a calm and centeredness fill me.  Chopping, mixing, sautéing, grilling, baking all help me focus on what is in front of me and not get lost in all the craziness of my life.

Often my “job” my “ministry” does not result in results that are easily measured.  Cooking, however, immediately connects me with the food I prepare and with the people who eat it.  If I have paid attention, what I create provides satisfaction for…

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To die for cookies!

I haven’t baked cookies since Christmas.  Now, I love cookies and my husband loves cookies, but he will eat at least one dozen in a sitting.  He can’t keep his hands out of the “cookie jar” so to speak.  Anyway, a “real” food blogger, Ali Ebright, whose family I have known for a very long time and know her by association, posted this recipe yesterday.  Run on your computer to her blog:  Gimme Some Oven and make these cookies.

They are called peanut butter banana cookies, I mean what could be better?  Peanut butter and bananas rock!  The only reason I made them is I had two overly ripe bananas.  I used one of them.  I may make another batch with the other.  Personally I can only eat so much banana bread, this was a perfect way to use a ripe banana!

I don’t know why I can’t upload a picture….but go to Ali’s blog and you will see it!

Quick Weekday Meal

It’s Holy Week in the life of the church.  In my “other life” in my job as a pastor, this is one of the busiest times of the year.  Cooking is my outlet, but during the time I need it the most, I often am not able to cook.  Usually, I am not home on a Wednesday evening and certainly not during Holy Week.  It has already been a long week and I had a funeral service today with a graveside an hour out of town.  With a great deal of encouragement, I took the evening off.  There was nothing I had to be doing, I have service tomorrow with some rehearsal afterward, Friday service and Saturday rehearsal for Easter.  My husband, of course, had to be at church.  So I cooked a quick spring dinner.

I had been to the farmer’s market on Saturday.  I had a bag of baby spinach and spring lettuce.

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Add a english cucumber and hydroponic tomato from the market and I had a salad.

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I then made what is often called “spring pasta.”  It is light, easy and uses spring vegetables.  I had a few spears of asparagus from the garden, some frozen peas and some other pantry ingredients and I put them together.

Most recipes if they use a “meat” they use pancetta.  Really?  In Kansas?  I actually have some frozen, but I did a real Midwest switch and diced up 2 slices or regular back and fried them until they are crisp.

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Pulled them out of the skillet added one diced shallot, 5 diced shallots and when they were done, I added I diced clove of garlic.  I used oiive oil as well as a little of the bacon grease.  When the onions and garlic were soft, I added about 1/2 cup white wine and reduced it.

While the bacon was working I had boiling water and added penne pasta.  After nine minutes I added a cup of frozen peas and the asparagus I had cut up.  After two minutes I drained it and added it to the onions, garlic and bacon, added maybe 2 tablespoons of the pasta water, chopped parsley and 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese.

With the tossed salad with a red wine vinaigrette and it was dinner.  Simple, fresh and tasty and fed my soul and my body.

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Fresh Tomato Day

I don’t know who exactly creates these “national” food holidays, but according to but according to www.food.com today is National Fresh Tomato Day.  I mean really, April 6?  Today is Fresh Tomato Day?  At least in Kansas and I suspect in many other places, there are no real vine ripened tomatoes on the horizon for  two or three months.  Most tomatoes in the grocery store taste like cardboard.  

Having said that , last year I discovered some tomatoes that at least make the wait for the vine ripened ones tolerable.  They are grown locally and hydroponically.  It is grown by Cheney Lake Tomatoes and they grow large slicing tomatoes, red and yellow, small cluster tomatoes and cherry tomatoes.  The reason why I love them is not just that they are local, they look like this:

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Is that not beautiful?  Sliced it makes a beautiful BLT, bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.  However, yesterday, I had a hankering for something that always tastes like spring to me: pan con tomatoe.  It is a spanish dish, that is basically tomatoes on bread.  I purchased the tomatoes in the Kansas Grown Market (first day they were open for the season.)  I also bought bread from one of my favorite bakers, they use local wheat and their bread reminds me of the bread I used to eat in Europe.  Crust and Crumb was the perfect bread for the pan con tomatoe.

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So the first thing to do, is slice some baguette and slice the tomato in half.  That baguette slices will be either toasted or grilled.  I grilled mine at the same time I was grilling chicken for our spinach salad.  Then you grate…yes, grate the tomato with the biggest “holed” grater you have.  If you have an old fashioned box grater, perfect.  The largest tomato you can find, like this slicer is easier to use.  You grate the meat of the tomato the skin stays behind.

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Once the tomato is grated, then grill the bread and use a halved garlic clove to rub over the hot bread.  You will then drizzle with good olive oil.

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Top with the tomato pulp and a sprinkle with salt.  Eat and enjoy!  This is one of the BEST ways to enjoy a really good, really ripe tomato.  

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In Spain it’s served as a light side dish, but whenever it is served, it is delicious.  As I said earlier, these tomatoes are not vine ripened, but oh, they work until late June and early July when you can pick your own or the market is filled with them.

For dinner, I served this with a spinach/lettuce/herb salad topped with grilled chicken.  The lettuce and herbs were from the “garden” on my glassed front porch.  Topped with granny smith apples, some cranraisins and a shaving of aged gouda, this salad with the grilled chicken and the pan can tomatoe was a perfect way to begin to feel like spring had sprung.

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So, for a food “holiday” that seems a bit early in the season, if you can find some ripe, wonderful tomatoes, this is a great way to celebrate!  Happy Fresh Tomato Day!

 

Simple Supper

As I have said, on numerous occasions, I have a need to cook.  Cooking relaxes me, it centers me, it makes me calm.  I badly sprained my foot on Saturday.  My husband was having his fifth root canal.  I knew we would need to eat tonight, but also knew I would need to do something simple and easy to eat.

I went with an old stand by: Pasta Puttanesca.  I often will serve it with grilled salmon or chicken, but the original recipes just calls for the sauce and the pasta.  It is vegetarian, but not vegan as it has anchovies.  I have to say, if you are not vegan, don’t cut the anchovies, they add a “umami” flavor.  Truly, unless you use too many, you will not know they are in the sauce.

Anyway, back to the pasta puttanesca.  It is a recipe, probably from the mid-twentieth century, but the “myth” around it is far more interesting.  “Puttanesca” comes from the word “whore” in Italian.  The myth is that prostitutes could cook this quickly and leave it on the stove to eat between customers.  A similar word “puttanata” means “of no worth.”  Probably closer to the truth, was a meal thrown quickly together of ingredients that were of “no worth.”  Regardless, it is simple, quick and oh so good!

The ingredients:

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Almost all pantry ingredients.  The parsley grows on my front porch; olive oil is always available, kalamata olive, capers, anchovies from the refrigerator and the garlic, onion and fire roasted tomatoes and penne pasta out of the pantry.  Easy!  I put water on to boil for the pasta, heated up the skillet and added olive oil.  Diced the onion, popped it into the hot olive oil.  Finely diced two garlic cloves, rinsed two tablespoons of capers, diced up two anchovies and 1/3 cup of kalamata olives.  

Once the onions were cooked, I added the garlic, cooked it a couple of minutes and added the olives, the can of fire roasted tomatoes, the capers and the anchovies. Added some fresh ground black pepper. At the same time I added the penne to the boiling water and cooked for 11 minutes.

Then I added my secret ingredient:

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I added about 1/8 teaspoon of hot smoked Spanish paprika.  Traditionally, it calls for red pepper flakes.  I am not overly found of red pepper flakes.  Hot smoked paprika….on the other hand….I love!  I use it for all kinds of recipes.  It adds heat, a little smoke and a lovely flavor.

While the pasta was cooking and the sauce was working, I diced up some fresh parsley, tossed a salad with fresh spinach, mesclun mix with a apple/honey cider vinegar with olive oil.  Once the pasta was cooked and drained, I tossed the pasta with sauce, parsley, topped with parmesan cheese and served it with the tossed green salad.

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It was simple, it was tasty and allowed me to cook and enjoy a very simple supper with my husband.

Spring is in the air

I am so ready for spring!  I am not the only one.  This winter has been particularly long and bitter cold.  Of course, Kansas’ winter has not been as brutal at those in the north and north east.  Nonetheless, I am over winter and ready for warmer, longer days with time for walks and sitting on the deck and eating the produce that spring and summer bring.

Today, there was actually a thunderstorm.  I heard the rumbling of the thunder, but missed the hail at home.  I was in a minor emergency clinic attached to my doctors office praying that I only “sprained” my ankle/foot and that I did not have a break.  I did not.  However, feeling like an idiot, it makes me sad not to be out on a beautiful day, the rain just makes it easier.

I was ready to begin planting.  Seed potatoes are cut and drying and I have some seeds ready to sow.  

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Don’t they look awesome!  I wanted to get the radishes and spinach out.  I actually have lettuce growing on my front porch, but the spinach just isn’t working for me.  So, I planned to get some in the garden for harvesting in about 6 weeks.  It is a month too early for the beans and a couple of weeks too early for the carrots.  I am ready to start some tomatoes and peppers as well on the front porch for planting in a couple of months.

With the rain, it is probably just as well that I didn’t get the pansies outside in pots, nor the seeds planted, but I am so ready to begin to see the seedlings start.  The warmer days the nights where the light is lingering finds me itching to see spring flowers, green buds on the trees and to anticipate the wonderful goodness of fresh vegetables.

I love food.  I know you are not supposed to say that, but I do love food.  I, have particularly come to love the freshest food I can find, whether from the garden or the farmer’s market.  That food is nothing like what comes from the grocery store.  It is the bounty of the earth at its best.

So, resting up my foot, I am making plans for a marvelous spring and summer full of the freshest, tastiest home grown or farmer grown fruits and vegetables.  Food like that is a gift, of life, of home and of God.

Book Review

I was in the library a couple of weeks ago doing study work for a new sermon series.  I picked out eight books, but decided to peruse the “newest” books in the library.  I was, of course, drawn to the cook books, I found one that I allowed myself to check out.  I really enjoy Mark Bittman.  I own his How to Cook Everything and often reach for it among others when working with a new ingredient or recipe.  His newest book VB6, Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to lose weight and restore your health for good  was published late last year.

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Let me begin by saying I am not looking to lose weight and not looking to begin a vegan lifestyle.  Mark Bittman has been touting this book and lifestyle long before he wrote this book.  To make a long story short, he was overweight, his “numbers” were bad, was pre-diabetic and he needed to do something.  Honestly anyone who has done the research knows that changing one’s eating habits is essential.  Less meat, less dairy, more plants and whole grains are necessary.  

Mark Bittman is a food critic and a restaurant critic.  He is a columnist for the New York Times.  Food, obviously is his life.  Food, for all the joy and delight it brings, is nourishing, but can be deadly, particularly in the United States.  Mark Bittman calls it the “SAD” diet; the Standard American diet.  Too much fat, too much salt, too much sugar, too much processing so that the food most people eat is stripped of nutrients.

None of this is new, nor a surprise to anyone who attempts to be healthy.  VB6, is Mark Bittman’s way of addressing the horrible way most people eat and a way to change his life.  It is not a magic “diet” there are no points or calories or special foods.  It is simply a way of changing the way one eats that is more healthy, promotes the planet through the eating of less animal products and can help one lose weight.

It is an interesting read.  I shared earlier that I am not interested in becoming vegan, however, what this book did, was affirm in many ways how I am already living.  Twenty years ago, when my husband and I began dating, we ate much differently.  When we would go out to dinner, he would eat a 16 ounce steak and finish mine 8 or 10 ounce steak.  We would have a baked potato, loaded of course with sour cream and butter and maybe a salad.  Now, when we go out to eat, we will split a 6 to 8 ounce steak, the sides and both have a salad.  At home, our meat portions are quite small with lots of vegetables and often a salad.  Instead of splitting 12-16 ounces of salmon, we will each have 3-4 ounces each.

My point is, that this book is pretty common sense.  Eat only plant based foods before 6:00 or 5:00 or whatever your supper time might be, then eat what you want.  It takes away that fear  of “I’ll never be able to eat my favorite_________(you fill in the blank) again.”  It encourages a healthier balance and moves people away from a diet that often leads to obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a myriad of other health concerns.  Mark also encourages cooking.  Processed food, even vegan processed food is not as good as eating fresh food one has prepared for one’s self.  He has a 28 day plan, a way of personalizing one’s eating pattern, pantry staples and restaurant recommendations.

The plans are not difficult and have plenty of options.  There are not a huge amount of recipes, in that sense, his other books are better.  What this book will do, is offer a blueprint, a plan for those who want to eat better, more healthy, and one that is better for the planet.  

It was an enjoyable read for me, I do love cook books.  There were no surprises, but I appreciate his personable writing style and invitational approach.  You can visit his website http://markbittman.com for more information.

 

 

Playing with recipes

Back when the food network actually showed cooking shows, I loved to watch them.  I guess I “get” the competition shows, but mostly I find them disrespectful to food.  I am sure all cooking shows end up wasting food, but some of the competitions seem mean spirited.  Like most “reality” tv, the money becomes more important than the tasks at hand.  

I won’t belabor my point, needless to say, I miss the real cooking shows.  Some are still shown during the day, when I, of course, do not have time to watch.  When I do, I find myself watching, thinking and wondering about how certain recipes work.

So the other day, I had time to watch Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.  I enjoy her ability to put together a relatively simple meal.  She, of course, has shops I can only dream of in Wichita, Kansas, nonetheless I enjoy her style.

The other day, she shared a recipe she had gotten from another chef for Asian Salmon.  Watching her create the marinade I had a gut feeling this would not work.  It looked interesting, but I just thought WAY too much soy and other ingredients.  When I went to look up the recipe, my hunch was played out in the comments under the recipe.  Too salty.

So, I was still fascinated by the concept.  So I decided to experiment.  I had tried a recipe that I loved using a wasabi pea crust over salmon.  So I took 1/4 cup wasabi peas and put them in my mini food processor.

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Truthfully, I had forgotten how much I love wasabi peas.  Not too hot, but so crunchy!  I did eat some, I admit.  I pulsed these until they were the consistency of bread crumbs.  

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I then added 1/4 cup panko.  Which would create the crust later.

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Then I used some of the ingredients for the marinade.  Soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, garlic, lemon, ginger and added: hot mongolian oil (just a couple of drops) and hoisin sauce and a little bit of olive oil.

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1/2 cup soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon Fish Sauce, 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, 2 Tablespoons Rice Wine Vinegar, 2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce, 1 Tablespoon Sesame oil, 1 garlic clove minced and 1 Tablespoon grated ginger, a couple of drops of Hot mongolian oil and 1 tablespoon olive oil.

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I had 2 5 ounce Faroe Island salmon filets.  One of the joys of living in Wichita is having a marvelous fish monger in the Seafood Shop.  I poured half the marinade over them.

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Added the panko/wasabi pea mixture over the top.

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Poured the rest over of the marinade over the top and let it sit 15 minutes. I heated up the oven to 450 degrees

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I put the salmon in the oven for 10 minutes.  After 8 minutes I turned the oven off and left the salmon in until the timer went off at 10 minutes.

I served it with black rice I had cooked in the oven (an Alton Brown recipe)  and sauteed baby bok choy and red cabbage.

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It was good.  Still, a bit more salty than I would have liked.  Next time I will use the lower sodium soy, and add more wasabi peas to the crust.  My husband made all kinds of encouraging noises as he snarfed, I mean ate dinner.  

I  have to admit, I play with recipes all the time.  I can not remember the last time I made something exactly the way the recipe written.  Sometimes I just do not have all the ingredients listed so substitutions are in order.  In almost every case, the food is good and life is good.

 

Summer food in winter

Living in Kansas makes for an interesting life.  Not the least of which is the weather, which changes sometimes several times in a day.  in January and early February we suffered through sub-zero temperatures with snow and ice and biting winds.  Then, all the sudden, the temperatures started to rise and the snow melted.

All of the sudden, we had two days where the temperatures reached the sixties and one day it was 70 degrees, with very little wind.  Trust me, in Kansas the days with little to no wind are few and far between.  I took off work early and my husband and I hopped on our bikes and rode a little over ten miles.  Yes we are still feeling it, but it was so worth it.  Seventy degrees in February, with little wind and it would be a sin against God not to take advantage of it.

So the other sin would be not to grill out and eat outside when it was so perfectly beautiful.  After the bike ride, I fired up the grill and proceeded to think about what I wanted to do.  Summer food in winter can be difficult.  The garden is dormant and it is hard to replicate the sheer wonder of summer produce.

Nonetheless, I wanted to try.  In the midwest, there is a wonderful dish that uses fresh green beans, some bacon, ham or fatback, onions and new potatoes out of the garden.  The joy of course is picking the green beans and digging around to find those new little potatoes.  Throw them in a pot and cook up a “mess” of them.

I had a handful of fresh green beans in the refrigerator.  I had purple fingerlings in the basement harvested this fall from the garden.  Now purple potatoes are truly ugly when cooked in water (think gray mush), but are lovely roasted.  I decided to snap the green beans, half the purple fingerlings, add some yellow onion and some carrot for color.  Tossed them in olive oil, added some salt and freshly ground pepper and put them in a grill pan.

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So far, so good.  I had the green beans, potatoes and onions taken care of.  Next for the “pork”  I had two boneless pork loin chops.  I seasoned them with some homemade mesquite seasoning and put them on the grill.  So I had the makings of, in musical terms, a “riff” or an improvisation, of an old school summer dish in the middle of winter.

It plated up like this:

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Sitting outside in seventy degree weather on February 18, was a joy!  Here is my husband ready to enjoy his meal:

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Such a gift of a perfect day in the midst of winter.  I know there are many cold days yet ahead, and a few warm ones thrown in for good measure.  On this day, I enjoyed the harvest of last fall, a bike ride in near perfect conditions and a meal that was almost sacramental in the sharing with someone I love.