Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Cutting Edge

Thinking in Wednesday's kitchen...

I'm cooking today. Who isn't? Those of us fortunate enough to have an abundance of resources, food, shelter, and family are busy making our lives crazy trying to out-do our sisters, mothers-in-law, aunts, and grandmothers with our culinary bravery. Forty-eight hours from now, the cycle of the season says there will be jeers and curses over the lingering leftovers and the extra tight jeans. But, today it's fun in the kitchen, all of us still able to imagine the magazine cover holiday gathering with oooohs and aaaaahs and mmmms over plates full of what I call "comfort gourmet."

The term seems to cover a menu that includes green bean casserole and pumpkin creme brulee, doesn't it?

I'm working on the feast components today with a new knife. At this point, I'm really delighted to still have all ten fingers...although I do have a couple of big bandages already, and there is still much to chop, slice, and dice. Every knife in my drawer is too dull to cut cold butter, so I opted for a couple of relatively inexpensive, but sharp, knives available at an upscale kitchen supply store that also sells the pumpkin butter that I must have every year (or the holiday will be ruined). I picked up the knives when I went for the pumpkin butter - knowing full well that I'd probably lose a finger. Oh, the sacrifices we make for the cause...(so far, only a little blood has been given up, but watch closely for typing errors after the holiday weekend to determine the result of my reckless finger roulette).

This new knife thing has made me think a bit about our ruts and what happens when we venture into those moments that require a little closer attention to things that have been routine. What happens when we stretch just a bit to incorporate a new person, place, thing, or idea into our otherwise rote daily experience? When we've been cutting with dull knives for years, a sharp one thrown into the drawer poses a bit of a threat. I'm here to confirm that for you.

As we sit on the brink of a season that is ripe with tradition and expectation, and the stress caused by tradition and expectation, I'm wondering what might sharpen the holiday for me and my family. It seems every idea for something new comes with a bit of fear and trembling over the wave of uncertainty that could result from tangling with tradition. Will there be slicing pain and blood over suggestions to spend less money, eat less food, sit more attentively, breathe more deeply? What if we say no to shopping altogether this Christmas? What if we conserve trees and electricity and energy by resisting the urge to deck our halls with the usual Norman Rockwell grandeur? What if we really sit with the story of Jesus for a while and ask ourselves, each day, "How is my life like his?" Or like Mohammad's? Or Buddha's? Or Krishna's? Or even that guy's downtown who's been getting up at 4 AM every morning for 15 years to make soup for the homeless (in my town, this is Frank Deutsch)?

Ouch. The cut is a little too close to the bone. We love our ruts. There is comfort in using the same knife to slice the carrots, or buy the gifts or dress up the house...we can do it without even paying worries.

It's more fun with a new knife though. I promise. You'll like the new result.

So, spend a day or two thinking about your dull holiday ruts. Sharpen the focus, if nothing else.

May I suggest - for starters - that Christmas does not come from a store? Try that sentence around the turkey leftovers. Let me know what develops.


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