Paying attention: vinaigrettes, onions, etc.

To cook is to engage with small things. It has to do with paying attention to the detail. However grand the result might be (or not be, for that matter), a recipe is an accumulation of small steps. As any good cook will attest, the quality of the end product is a direct consequence of one’s attention to the incremental. Vinaigrettes included.

IMG_1611I suspect the same is true in many pursuits. It is certainly so in theology. In his book The Supper of the Lamb, the late Robert Farrar Capon — a theologian and cook of equal passion — dedicates an entire chapter to the onion. His point is beautifully made and well worth the cost of the book. It is a call to attention, in cooking and in life. Here is just a small extract.

Next take one of the onions (preferably the best-looking), a paring knife, and a cutting board and sit down at the kitchen table. Do not attempt to stand at a counter through these opening measures. In fact, to do it justice, you should arrange to have sixty minutes or so free for this part of the exercise. Admittedly, spending an hour in the society of an onion may be something you have never done before. You feel, perhaps, a certain resistance to the project. Please don’t. As I shall show later, a number of highly profitable members of the race have undertaken it before you. Onions are excellent company.

Once you are seated, the first order of business is to address yourself to the onion at hand. (You must resist the temptation to feel silly. If necessary, close the doors so no one will see you; but do not give up out of embarrassment.) You will note, to begin with, that the onion is a thing, a being, just as you are. Savor that for a moment. The two of you sit here in mutual admiration. Together with knife, board, table, and chair, you are the constituents of a place in the highest sense of the word. This a Session, a meeting, a society of things.

150px-The_Supper_of_the_LambRobert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection, New York: Doubleday, 1969, 11.

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