Monthly Archives: January 2015

Eating, Tables and Deeper Things

This blog is mostly about food. About Eating. As the subtitle says, it’s about ‘the food we eat and the tables we share.’ It’s recipes and words, reflections and quotes, suggestions for reading and good places to eat. But underneath it all is a deep sense that the business of eating is about far more than good taste.

I am a religious person, a Christian. Not just in some cultural, nominal sense. It runs deep. In fact the older I get the more I understand this faith of mine as part and parcel of who I am. It’s more identity than it is belief. It’s not so much a creed — a set of propositions or sacred rituals, or a sacred book to hit people over the head with — as it is a way of living. Personally, I’ve found in the story of Jesus the inspiration to live differently. It’s about life as a table, a table full of good food and company, a shared table of grace, community, forgiveness and belonging at which all are welcome.

Inspirations in this are many. One of those is Sara Miles, a North American journalist, writer and activist whose understanding of faith is refreshingly grounded in the most tangible, immediate ways. For Miles, if faith is not connected at the most human levels — the levels of food and the daily justice of sharing tables — then it’s really not a faith worth having.

This is my belief: that the heart of Christianity is a power that continues to speak to and transform us. As I found to my surprise and alarm, it could speak even to me: not in the sappy Jesus-and-cookies tone of mild-mannered liberal Christianity, or the blustering, blaming hellfire of the religious right. What I heard, and continue to hear, is a voice that can crack religious and political convictions open, that advocates for the least qualified, least official, least likely; that upsets the established order and makes a joke of certainty. It proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new. It offers food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and pious, and then commands everyone to do the same. It doesn’t promise to solve or erase suffering but to transform it, pledging that by loving one another, even through pain, we will find more life. And it insists that by opening ourselves to strangers, the despised or frightening or unintelligible other, we will see more and more and more of the holy, since, without exception, all people are one body: God’s.

UnknownSara Miles, Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion, New York: Ballantine Books, 2007.

Image: A Dutch Interior – Grace Before the Meal (oil on canvas) by Evert Pieters (1856-1932)

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Van Gogh’s table

“The Van Gogh family ate where they lived, in the back room of the parsonage. Like everything in Anna’s life, food was subject to conventions. Modest and regular eating was considered crucial to both good health and moral wholeness. But with two cooks in the tiny kitchen, Anna could indulge her middle-class aspirations to larger, more elaborate repasts, especially on Sundays. If evening meals were the daily worship service of the “cult of the family,” Sunday dinner was its high mass. These quiet extravagances of four- to five-course dinners left a deep impression on all her children, especially Vincent, whose lifelong obsession with food and sporadic attempts at self-starvation mirrored his turbulent family relations.”

UnknownAn extract from Steven Naifeh & Gregory White Smith’s Van Gogh: A Life, Random House, 2012. Picture: ‘Still life with a basket of apples’ by Vincent Van Gogh

Bread

Sometimes words are as beautiful, as sacred, as those things they describe.

Each night, in a space he’d make
between waking and purpose,
my grandfather donned his one
suit, in our still dark house, and drove
through Brooklyn’s deserted streets
following trolley tracks to the bakery.

There he’d change into white
linen work clothes and cap,
and in the absence of women,
his hands were both loving, well
into dawn and throughout the day—
kneading, rolling out, shaping

each astonishing moment
of yeasty predictability
in that windowless world lit
by slightly swaying naked bulbs,
where the shadows staggered, woozy
with the aromatic warmth of the work.

Then, the suit and drive, again.
At our table, graced by a loaf
that steamed when we sliced it,
softened the butter and leavened
the very air we’d breathe,
he’d count us blessed.

Richard Levine, A Tide of a Hundred Mountains, Bright Hill Press, 2012.

Apricot and olive oil cake

So it’s my last day of leave, my daughter departs for India tomorrow, and apricots are in season. These factors converging, tonight’s dinner was one of lamentation, celebration and some serious apricot consumption.

My choice for an apricot dessert was further inspired by two factors. First, a week ago we headed up a friend’s farm in Nagambie and picked the most gorgeously delicious apricots straight off the tree. In contrast to the mealy things commonly available in supermarkets, these were a reminder of just how close to divine fresh stonefruit can be. Secondly, I salivated over a recent episode of the SBS series Made in Italy with the ever-so-slightly attractive Silvia Colloco. She made an apricot and olive oil cake. Actually she called it a torta all’olio e albicocche, though if I tried to say that you’d be laughing too hard to read on. So I won’t. Oh, and just so things are clear, I salivated over the cake, not Silvia.

IMG_0133So tonight we feasted on home made pizzas (which weren’t half bad!)  and still-warm-from-the-oven torta all’olio e albicocche doused with fresh ricotta cheese and drizzled with honey. At least my lamentations had a sweet ending.

You can find the recipe here. No need for me to restate it. Oh, and don’t leave out the Sambuca. Your beloveds may not appreciate the smell of it straight from the bottle, but in the cake it adds a bite too good to do without.

Really, you should do this. It’s sinfully easy, and it’s good.

Pomegranate, quinoa and feta salad

My beloved has a thing for pomegranates. Truly. So much so, I reckon if it was me or the fruit I might be out in the cold. Granted, a ripe pomegranate, prized open, is a thing of remarkable beauty. The Ancient Egyptians considered it a symbol of prosperity and the Hebrews had a thing for it in love poetry. While I’m not convinced about the poetry, I do know that keeping my beloved well fed is a proven lure to entice her home each day.

With that in mind, I devised a salad of pomegranate deliciousness. Ok, so maybe I’m not the first off this particular fruit salad block, but it sure is good – light, low in calories and just the right blend of a herby, nutty, sweet and sour.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 pomegranate
  • 2 cups of quinoa
  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • A generous handful of plump sultanas (certainly not those ones that have been sitting at the back of the cupboard for a decade)
  • A nice thick slice of good quality and salty feta cheese, crumbled
  • A handful of pine nuts, toasted
  • A bulging handful each of fresh coriander leaves, flat leaf parsley and mint, roughly chopped
  • A clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 red chili, deseeded and finely diced
  • The juice of two large lemons
  • Plenty of ground black pepper and sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar

Here’s what you do:

It’s really simple.

First, de-seed your pomegranate. Oh, and if you’ve not done pomegranates before, it’s the sweet ruby seeds you want, not the pithy shell. If you don’t know how to do it, you can watch this.

Second, cook the quinoa according to the directions on the pack. If your quinoa is packetless, simply add to it to about 4½ cups of water and simmer away for fifteen minutes or so. The water will be absorbed and the end result you can fluff with a fork. Once it’s cooked, spread it out on a flat surface and let it steam dry.

recipe-image-legacy-id--1201639_11In the meantime, combine all remaining ingredients along with the pomegranate seeds and let it ‘infuse’ for ten minutes or so. Then simply add the potion to the quinoa and mix it together.

It’s ready!

Love me, love my pomegranate salad.

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