Friday, October 29, 2010

I've been thinking

Actually, I've been reading and thinking.

My reading is The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by the Episcopalian priest, writer, and general lover of food, Robert Farrar Capon. Maybe you've read it before. I have. But books like this are poetry and scripture: one benefits from a regular reading.

In case you don't know about this book yet, let me introduce you. It is part of the Modern Library Food series chosen by Ruth Reichl, a book that is part meditation, part cookbook, part witty, one-sided conversation. It was, now that I think about it, the first piece of 'food writing' I consciously read. And, I am not exaggerating when I say, this book changed my life. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating. I read this book in a period of time that was life-changing, and reading it for the first time was certainly the First Communion of a childhood faith I had previously took for granted.

In Supper of the Lamb, Capon leads the reader to a sort of systematic theology of the culinary life by way of slow-paced reflection, meandering through the glories of festal and ferial cooking. He has the soul of the current Slow Food Movement, without the usual accompanying trendiness. It was written before the movement, in 1969. It is a classic among many of my food-loving peers, especially those who believe dinner can be more than the sum of its parts. It isn't only the chopping of an onion and the frying of cubes of lamb, it can be the beginning of a friendship or marriage, one glorious hour of candlelight and conversation, food and frivolity, or, it could be (just!) the rejuvenation of body and soul through a two-second pause in the midst of warm, tasty nourishment.

Capon writes delightfully and his recipes are good, but that is not the only reason I reread this book, and that is not why I am taking precious time to tell about it. I write about it now because this rereading, for me, is equivalent to a reconversion. It is one of those lovely and sometimes all too rare Ah-ha's in life, where we remember what we believe, who we are, and why we spend seemingly unjustified amounts of time and money doing things some people find silly. Like searching for, and buying California-grown mangoes, or persimmons, or the perfect booze to soak dried fruit in for Christmas cake (yeah, in October, post coming soon).

What Capon has been reminding me in the last few days of reading, is that, my experience with food is nothing if it is not spiritual. My experience of life and people is nothing if it is not often the feeding of that spirit to those around me. I have been getting by, barely surviving on only periodic food-loving. It isn't only that I've not cooked a real dinner more than once in the last two weeks, or that two nights in a row we had frozen pot pies. Food-loving and spirituality come in many forms. I love pot pies, and there is certainly soul in eating them. But I have fallen victim to rushing, to neither creating beautiful food, nor appreciating the beauty of the frozen dinner. Thus, I have fallen away from my religious origins.

So today I give you a food gift: the gift of no food. No recipe, nothing to copy and paste and print at a later date. I give you hunger. I give you a little contemplation, which is, as Capon tells us, a great part of good food-loving and more importantly, good life-loving. It is purposeful time-wasting. It is the opposite of rushing, and time-efficiency, opposite also of boredom or anxious fretting. This bit of foodie grace, this pause, this white space, is what allows the daily life to transform from common monotony into holy ritual. I give you a little Capon:

"The habit of contemplation...the ability to sit down in front of something and care enough to let it speak for itself--cannot be acquired soon enough. Accordingly, I invite you, too, to put your feet up on the stove. If some true believer in the gospel of haste comes along and asks us why we are wasting time, we shall tell him we are busy getting the seats of our pants properly shined up for the millennium."

Really, go buy, rent, or otherwise borrow this book, whether you've read it or not. It should be easily accessible when the heresies of hurriedness and boredom come slithering around your feet.

May your rear-ends soon be well-shined from sitting and ready for the good work of actively loving life. Hallelujah, hallelujah. Amen.


  1. This book sounds intriguing and thank you for your reminder about 'purposeful time-wasting and contemplation.' I'm in a book club and we theme the food at our discussion to the book - it's one of the highlights of the month - great food, wonderful company. PS Have been soaking my Christmas cake fruit since October!!

  2. i need to pull that book out again. thanks for the reminder of what a beautiful book it is... poetry and scripture, indeed! i especially need that reminder on a day like today, when somehow hurriedness and boredom had a little collision in my chest.

  3. one of my very favorite books ever. ever.