Thursday, September 13, 2012

Cooking with the Holy Trinity or The Philosophy of Making Soup

Today at work, at the request of my coworkers, I made soup, and admit I leaped at the chance to do so. Why? Because I love cooking and well, French Onion Soup is one of my specialties. (Search recipes and you'll find it's a specialty of a LOT of people, so take that with a grain of...whatever kind of salt is your favorite.)  :-)

I work for a priest who is a self-described "foodie", so yesterday I informed him of the plan so that if he so desired, he would be entitled to try a soup he had in the past expressed he really wanted to learn to make. He was taken a little by surprise (in his unassuming way) and while he was happy with the idea of a "soup day", he asked about the reason...was there an occasion he didn't know about but should recognize?

No...but...uh....well, I finally decided right there on the spot on a 94 degree day after a long hot summer from Hell that as the temp was supposed to drop, "We're celebrating it not being 90 degrees!"

He laughed and agreed this was a most excellent reason to make soup! And further, because he wanted to learn how to make French Onion soup, he asked me to show him what I do. No problem. I let him know when I'd be cooking (taking into account the Mass schedule and the reality of the priestly life), and he nodded his agreement.

I chopped the onions yesterday afternoon, marked them properly and placed them in the 'fridge in the industrial parish/school kitchen. Unfortunately, this morning when I arrived bright and early to begin the process of actually  making the soup, Father was busy with other more important tasks so I began, thinking of how to describe the process to him. It's not difficult but I appreciate his sentiment of wanting to watch how someone does something; it has more impact than mere words. (I personally hope to learn some of his own techniques as he is quite the chef himself...what I know pales in comparison as I know very very little.)


While chopping onions of course I wept as everyone does, and all I could think about was that someone was going to walk into the sterile stainless-steel kitchen to find me, all by myself, weeping alone with a knife in my hand. 
What would I say?  
I thought of the viral video of the "Girl Who Really Loves Cats!" and there was my answer.
"I just really love onions! ...promised myself I wouldn't cry *sob*  I want to hug every onion but that's CRAZY! You can't Hug. Every. Onion! I want them in a basket with bow ties..." 

And then the men in white coats could drag me off to the funny farm to play with goats and chickens and horses and take long naps. Not a bad plan, really! 

But seriously...

Cooking a boatload of onions for a large quantity of soup always takes longer than expected, but I don't mind the process. As I watch a few cooking shows (OK, I'll admit those guilty pleasures are Hell's Kitchen, Master Chef and Kitchen Nightmares), while standing in that kitchen today I considered how real chefs run around with several pots on the fire...literally. I was nearly bored with my one simple pan of very simple onions and butter. Truly, I would have been more comfortable moving from dish to dish and returning to cook the onions. I could only move potholders, ingredients waiting to be used, and dormant utensils around so much between stirring the pot!

Once the onions and roux were ready, though, I added them to the already-hot broth in the crock pot, introduced  the seasonings and journeyed to my office down the hall for the normal work of the day. An hour later I returned to taste, adjust, stir, and re-cover. Throughout the day this was the pattern, at different intervals, always adjusting.

At one point Father came to the kitchen with me and helped with a taste test. He was encouraging but we both voiced "something was missing."  Neither of us could put our finger on it. I knew it meant I had to keep working at it. Thus is why cooking is often considered an Art.

Labor of Love

Making the soup for my co-workers was a labor of love, and I realized as I was cleaning up all the pots, utensils, cutting boards and everything that had been used, it was also a service. The priest that was there before had remarked upon the occasion our department cooked a meal for our volunteers, that what we placed into the food was love, and that's why it was good.

It was a profound observation on his part. Cooking can be fun, but it can also be real labor. The days I have spent in the kitchen, both at home and at work, cooking for many people, I have ended with aching feet, knees, and back. The prep, the actual act of cooking, serving the food, replenishing, and cleaning, then schlepping things back to their places take a toll. It can be very hard work!

Yet it's a joy, and it's a joy that comes both from loving the work and perhaps, recognizing on some level that it is also a sacrifice that gives maybe an even greater joy to the one who receives that particular gift: the food being created.

At the end of the day today, all of the soup was gone. While there were leftovers, two portions went home with a co-worker for herself and her husband, and another went home with someone else who appreciated not having to cook tonight.

This time (it's not always the case) I got to have some of the soup and even sit down and enjoy it with Father and a few co-workers. In the past, there have been times that I only received a small taste of the final product, that which was served to the guests of honor. I admit that, inside, I cringed a bit and was a tad resentful. Here I had worked so hard and had so much angst about making sure the food was PERFECT, and didn't get hardly any at all!

Yes, I'm a bit ashamed at that very human response, and had to work hard  in those times at suppressing it; I had to remind myself that it was a service, I wasn't cooking for myself but for others. I had offered to make the soup, then AND today, because I like it, can cook it consistently and people who tried it really loved it; it brought them joy. I therefore I have "labored" to bring them that gift of joy.

This all seems so sentimental but there is still a greater point to make, and while soup is the predictable metaphor, there is always a deeper meaning to the things we do as human beings. 

While I was driving home today, reflecting upon the day (as I always do), I pondered the process of making soup and the conversations I'd had about it with Father and my other enthusiastic co-workers.

I explained to Father the practical, logistical end of cooking, because that is a shared technical interest. I spoke with another about the tantalizing process, to elicit anticipation as she is a huge fan of this soup and has recently had a craving for it. With yet another, I spoke with him about the deeper process, that of choosing the right ingredients and right flavors for the best outcome, and also the need for both following the recipe and experimentation in cooking.

As I spoke with each, I couldn't help but think back to what the prior priest said about the nature of our food; that it is an expression of ourselves, and that it is the love that goes into it that makes it taste so good.

It's true. It's true of anything. It's why Gordon Ramsey praises in his show's participants their "passion for cooking".


I love that word, "Passion". When we have "passion" for anything, it indicates something we truly love, and maybe something we'd DIE for. Think about it. Think about what people who have a "passion" for something are like. Think about your OWN "passions". Perhaps you wouldn't truly be willing to physically die for something, but what in your life do you sacrifice for those things you love so much?

I already in this blog introduced the idea of a sacrifice of love, so it isn't a stretch to see where I'm going with this concept.

While driving home today, it occurred to me how much the process of cooking, and in this case, making soup, is so much like how God works in our souls.

Tintoretto Christ in the house of Mary & Martha
I had described to my co-worker how I choose the best ingredients I can afford especially when cooking for others. It's because I respect them and also want to give them, through my cooking...myself. My very self. The best of what I can offer them.

That's what God does; He created us all in His image and Likeness.

I had described earlier in this blog some of the sacrifice and suffering that comes with cooking, all for a joyful end for those who are to benefit.

That is what Jesus did; made the sacrifice so that we all might live in glory with Him for eternity.

And I described the love, observed by a prior priest, that gives taste and understanding to the food that is served.

That is the Holy Spirit.

Today was a good day, because I got to give of myself in a special way, in something I don't normally get to do, and my gift brought joy to those who partook of it.

I just wish I could approach every task, philosophically and theologically in the same way as I do in making soup, and perhaps that is something to be pondered in an entirely different post.

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