Walk into any professional kitchen and you will most likely find two things at a premium: knives and cutting boards. In fact, in many restaurants, it is customary for the chefs to provide their own knives. Practically, it means when you get a hold of a cutting board, you make the most of it – and you use it more than once. Of course, it has to be washed well if you are using it to prepare raw meat of some sort, but as far as veggies and bread and most other things, the way of the restaurant world is you wipe it clean between each action (or flip it over) and keep working on your next project. Whatever the task, it works best when you clean your work area of whatever you were working on before and then move on to the next thing.
How nice it would be if life were so easily segmented.
A chance to submit a piece of writing this week brought with it the residue of relationships and the trace elements of insecurity that somehow seem connected to much of life (at least for me) and have set me to thinking how I might clean my board, so to speak, so I can make a clean offering to the project. Perhaps it begins with finding a new metaphor.
Soup making is a regular activity in our kitchen. I love making soups mostly, I think, because it means seeing what new thing can come from things that already exist. Our soups, for the most part, are made from what we have on hand; other than some dried beans, we don’t order anything exclusively to make soup. After brunch on Sunday, for example, I set aside the last of the pinto beans (along with some extra we made), the salsa fresca, some caramelized onions, and some sautéed poblano peppers to become our soup for tonight. All I have to do is add some vegetable stock (our beans are vegetarian – I’ll keep them that way for the soup), adjust the seasonings, and puree the mixture and we will have something wonderful to offer our customers made from the things we carry, if you will.
Granted, the leftovers of life don’t always offer such a flavorful recipe, but the creative tension that lies between cleaning the board and making the best of what is left appears to be the path I’m pulled to walk in these days, if I wish to do more than let my insecurities get the best of me. And I wish. I want to clear out those things capable of turning toxic and hang on to all the tasty tidbits that add flavor to what I have to say. Sometimes those are easier to distinguish in the kitchen than they are in the rest of my life.
One of the lessons I learned from one of my chef mentors is you make soup ahead of time. You don’t, for instance, make tonight’s soup this morning. The bean soup I’ll finish today will be for tomorrow night or Thursday. We have a chilled carrot soup with orange and mint I made on Sunday that has been waiting to debut today. A little time lets the flavors marry to become what they want to be together, rather than merely a collection of ingredients. A good soup takes time, and patience. When we heat it up to serve, I will check the seasoning balance again to see how they have matured together, what they have become given some time.
Sometimes our insecurities get the best of us (and by us, I mean me) in situations seasoned too heavily with history. I struggle when I feel pulled back into who I was, rather than who I am in these days. Growing into wholeness as a human being requires some of the same sense of timing and patience as soup making, it seems; rechecking the seasoning and the ingredients added to my life along the way will help me remember who I am and who I have become, even as I step back into a context that connects to who I was. Growing into that same wholeness requires I clean the board, if I am to make an honest offering, and wipe away what is not healthy or useful and get to going on the work at hand in the context of the relationships as they are in these days, not as what they once were.
The best cooking is simple. By simple, I don’t mean quick or expedient, but well-chosen ingredients prepared in a simple, patient, and straightforward way that allows them to, well, be themselves. When we were in Turkey a few years back, my favorite dish was made of eggplant, tomatoes, onions, parsley, and olive oil. That was it – and it was amazing. Life, perhaps, is the same way. I have an invitation to write, which I love to do. I have a chance to lean back into an old friendship to find something new. The call, then, is for me to work in the same simplicity, patience, and straightforwardness and trust that it, too, will be a flavorful offering.
Thanks for listening while I worked this out.