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The Scent of Slow

This article originally appeared in Comment magazine, the opinion journal of CARDUS.

"At present if we are reborn in Christ, the spirit in us lives directly on God; but the mind, and still more the body, receives life from Him at a thousand removes — through our ancestors, through our food, through the elements. The faint far-off results of those energies which God's creative rapture implanted in matter when He made the worlds are what we now call physical pleasures; and even thus filtered they are too much for our present management."
—C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

The scent of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking has slowly arrived in my kitchen, first via Julie Powell's book Julie and Julia and then the movie. I finally succumbed and began with Julia's simple sautéed mushrooms. Don't crowd them! Give them roooom! I should have known. It took awhile, but the result was so delicious a friend and I ate them straight out of the skillet. If you have a bit more patience, you can add wine and cream, reduce it and have a sauce so delectable it would make dead rabbits edible. Oh, wait, the French do . . .

So why do you think so many of us filed away Mastering the Art of French Cooking even though we knew of Julia Child's fame for years? Because we were into Bisquick and boxes, which isn't always bad — I'm not saying that you should never use a mix or the deli when appropriate. But we thought her recipes took too long. They were too complicated. They were too lengthy. And maybe because we were immured by the cooking channel philosophy so successfully captured by the fastest Happy Cook of all, Rachael Ray, who everyday tells us: "and remember, a good meal is never more than 30 minutes away."

Photo: Margie Haack

Again, I should know better. There is so much here where we live a thousand miles downstream that still gives off the faint scent of Divinity. Things we watch for and wait with anticipation, trying to be patient for eons of time, hoping it will eventually arrive. The exquisite vine-ripened tomato. The years required to mature a fragrant red wine. The hours it takes to get to Grandma's house where you can play games all day and drink as many juice boxes as you want. The extravagant saguaro cactus that waits at least fifty years before it grows its first arm pointing to heaven. Creative work that takes hours, days, or even years to find the right medium, the perfect word, the proper execution that makes you shout, YES!

More often these days I make an effort to contemplate, to participate in what comes to life in the kitchen. Scratch cooking and baking is somewhat counter-cultural and partly a spiritual exercise for me. It's my effort to deny fastness in order to slow down, appreciate, and taste the unfolding richness of what God has implanted in ordinary ingredients. Nasty tough cuts of meat turn to tasty burrito filling when infused with garlic and red chili and allowed to braise for hours in a Dutch oven. Slow-cooked German short ribs lavished with sliced onions, wine, and spices get brown and tender to the bone when you wait long enough. Crusty golden pound cake takes more than an hour to bake in the oven. But the best part always comes at the end when you share what you've made with someone who's been hoping and waiting all day for its arrival.

The transformation of my soul into Christ-likeness is incredibly snail-paced, and yet there are moments when I sense the heat of the Holy Spirit slowly at work within. As I wait for the consummation of all things, I paste this message on my forehead so as not to abandon faith and merely live on Twitters, chocolate, and other quickly available fixes for my impatient hedonistic self. Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6, NIV).

Photo: Margie Haack

Easy Cream Cheese Pound Cake
8 oz. cream cheese
3 sticks butter
3 cups sugar
6 eggs at room temp.
3 cups flour

Melt and stir together cream cheese and butter. It will look clotty and somewhat like baby spit-up. But don't worry. Pour it into a mixing bowl, add sugar and mix. Beat in 1 egg at a time. Don't overbeat! Fold in flour. Pour into large greased and floured Bundt pan (or 2 loaf pans). Bake 325 degrees for 1 ½ hours or until a toothpick comes out clean. Slice thin and eat plain or with fruit topping and a cup of coffee. Don't be afraid of the butter in this recipe. It's not like you're going to eat it all yourself, you'll be sharing it with dozens of eager people.

Margie Haack is co-director of Ransom Fellowship, a ministry helping Christians engage postmodern culture in ways authentic to the Christian faith and hopefully winsome in its expression. She and her husband, Denis, like to invite people into conversation through their writing and their home, giving unhurried time and safe passage to talk about anything, perhaps share coffee and scones. Margie blogs at Toads Drink Coffee and is editor of a quarterly newsletter, Notes From Toad Hall, where she writes about finding what’s funny, what’s holy, what’s suffering in ordinary, everyday life. She is also a grandmother, a lazy gardener, and a chocolate freak.

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Reader Comments (1)

Yes, cooking from scratch can be compared to redemption, but nothing like making bread.
1. the ingredients are primal (flour, water, salt, and yeast), but the end product can be so varied, depending on method
2. dough is alive, literally (in cooking, everything is dead or dying)
3. the "transformation" of the dough to bread
4. the yeast dies so that those who eat the bread live ("I am the bread...")
5. much harder to control the time (humidity, temperature, density all affect it)
6. and of course, the yeast connection between wine and bread

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbreadwild

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