Communal Cooking

Last week, I took an unexpected trip to Goshen to help our my daughter who had been hospitalized.  http://revcindylee.wordpress.com  After making arrangements for things at church, I threw things in a suitcase and boarded a plane and finally made it to Goshen.

The first thing on my agenda after visiting my daughter in the hospital was to take care of everything at the house.  There is nothing worse than being sick and having three small boys at home and a husband who was doing everything he could to juggle everything.  She also has wonderful in-laws that were pitching in to make sure the boys were cared for in her absence.

Sometimes, you just need your mom.  She asked and I went.  Didn’t think twice.  Friday I cleaned house, she returned home and the boys were thrilled.  Now it was time to think about cooking.  A household of five needs food and even though the boys are 6, 4 and 3 they eat a lot!

First thing Friday morning we started with coffee, Grandma’s special coffee.

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Coffee is made with 3/4 to 1 teaspoon of sweetened ground chocolate, a bit of hot coffee to blend it and then filled with hot milk, usually two cups are necessary for a long day.  Following coffee, we cleaned house and then in the afternoon we prepared supper.  They decided that spaghetti and meatballs was on the menu.

Middle son Cai is gluten intolerant, so we we made gluten free meatballs and then cooked the gluten free pasta.  It was wonderful!  The younger two helped with the meatball mixture….but didn’t want to get their hands dirty!

On Saturday, we went to the Goshen Farmer’s Market.  We ate at Rachel’s Bread for breakfast.

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The market is marvelous.  i picked up lovely asparagus, lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes.  So beautiful, so tasty and ready to make wonderful food.  That evening, my middle grandson, Cai, cooked together.

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We took some of the lovely vegetables from the market and stir fried them and served them with brown rice.  Cai loved it!  With my help, he had his first lesson in using a knife to cut vegetables.  He is only 4, but did a great job with some assistance.  The most fun was firing up the stove and adding the vegetables one by one.

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I believe some of the best cooking is communal.  Sharing the tasks of preparation, cooking, and serving creates a space for love and grace.  We smelled the vegetables as we were chopping and then cooking them, smelled the combinations as they sizzled together.  When it was all done we added a sauce and watched it thicken.

Finally of course, one sits down a the table.  We said grace, then passed around the rice and stir fried vegetables.  The family ate, laughed and enjoyed each other.  I watched Cai dig into what he had created and ate and ate and ate.  The food was fresh, crisp, and tasted good.

I am reminded at moments like these that life is good.  I was grateful for the time to be able to take care of my daughter, her family and to create meals with my grandsons and to freeze some for the future.  Sharing that time, that food with family, was wonderful.  Cooking with my grandson, was priceless.    

 

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Fresh Fish

I love fish.  I do not know how that happened living in Kansas.  It is not like there are very many likely sources for wonderful fresh fish.  The Arkansas River is polluted and there are usually yearly warnings about not eating anything you catch in the river.  

There are stocked ponds with walleye and bass and catfish.  I can remember eating fried catfish with my grandmother, caught just a little while before out of a farm pond, until I almost burst!  I have an even earlier memory of fried smelt in Minnesota, but most other early memories revolve around canned tuna and salmon.  You remember:

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It could have been Bumble Bee or Starkist, but this was what we ate more times than not, if you don’t include fish sticks.  Salmon patties, or tuna noodle casserole, tuna salad for sandwiches or tuna pasta salad were staples.  I still enjoy eating them.

I have no idea where my love of fish came from.  In the middle of “beef” country, I could easily eat fish three or more times a week if I could afford it and had the time to prepare it.  A few years ago, a fresh fish market opened in Wichita.  One can buy fish at the local grocery store.  Some have quite large “fish” markets, but most of the fish is “previously frozen.”  They are finally not stocking as much farmed salmon, but it takes some dedication to find out whether or not it is farmed or where the fish comes from.

The Seafood Shop opened in 2008 and I was in their door the second day they were open.  When I host a special dinner they will special order fish for me.  Their case is filled with fish flown in fresh.  The exception would be the shrimp, although occasionally fresh shrimp is in the case.  You can ask and find out how sustainable, country of origin, whether or not it is factory farmed (not ever in my experience) and “smell” any of the fish to check for freshness.  They have several types of fresh oysters, usually P.E.I. mussels, plus some entrees they have prepared to take home and cook.

Truthfully, the cost per pound is higher, but in my experience the flavor in unmatched.  My schedule doesn’t permit me to cook more than two or three times a week, so cooking good fresh fish once a week is worth every penny.  Since the serving size for my husband and I tend to be 4-5 ounces, I can enjoy wonderful fish without much guilt.

Each time I go in with an open mind, then decide what is for dinner by what is in the case. I can make roast some Irish salmon with braised brussels sprouts and roasted sweet potatoes, purple potatoes and onions.

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Or in the summer I can grill some Coho Salmon and serve it over a large green salad.

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Or  grill some Ahi Tuna, shrimp, red pepper and red onion and serve over Asian Green beans.

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I particularly love the summer months when I can go to the Farmer’s Market or my garden and find fresh vegetables to go with the fresh fish.  The colors, the scent, the taste makes each meal seem like a feast.

I have become more committed to finding the freshest ingredients.  Supporting a business like the Seafood Shop helps small and local businesses, plus the added benefit of getting exactly what I want.  I wish I lived in a place that had a Farmer’s Market open all year, but when our Markets are open, I shop there as much as possible.  My shopping becomes as much about the relationships I form with the business owners as about the food.

Living intentionally, shopping intentionally, cooking intentionally and eating intentionally is a deeply spiritual and religious exercise.  For me it means paying attention: mind, body and spirit.  Cooking and feeding myself, my spouse and others connects me to them.  The relationship I share with business owners connects me to to them.  Paying attention to the money I spend, the places I spend it and on what I spend it speaks to the values I wish to hold and long to live out.