I love cooking. Baking still alludes me–mostly because my current kitchen is too small for me to be brave enough to dabble in pastries and delicate items. But, cooking, on the other hand, is somewhat of a necessity. So I’m learning…what knives are best with different jobs, branching out from just meat and potatoes, how to make complete meals. I guess this “newly wed” stuff is meant for burnt casseroles and sausage that’s too spicy, not enough oil in the pan, too much salt in the cookie badder, smoke alarms–ok, this doesn’t happen all the time-just over the past year or so.
Anyway, in my mess of a cupboard I have a shelf devoted supremely to spices. More than I know with what to do–and some I haven’t even opened-they just take up space. In the back corner of my spice shelf sits a little jar of bouillon cubes- vegitable flavor. I don’t know how often, or if ever, you’ve ever cooked with them. To be honest, I don’t know if a “real chef” would ever go near those things. But I’ve seen them used to create white sauces, season stews, and gravy. These cubes are about the size of a sugar cube-around the same consistency as well. Thick, grainy, dense. I remember licking one once when I was little (I assume my Mom was using it to cook and I got curious when she turned her back…). The quickest way to describe them is…salty.
Pop one of those dogs in your mouth and its all you can do to not spew it right out. After all–its contains enough seasoning to last for an entire masterpiece of stew…It’s far too much to handle at once. Too concentrated, too fierce and overwhelming. So, traditionally, the cube gets thrown in with some water-and broth is formed. The more water you add the less intense it becomes–by adding less water you get a…’richer’ taste.
I heard God compared to a bouillon cube. You know, God’s too much to handle all at once, so God makes things possible for us to digest. Just by adding “water” we can get a better grasp on God. We can savor the holy flavor, the mystery of the un-understood ingredients, and we can use God to season our lives.
The theology makes logical sense. A God that comes in a modern distinct-easy-to-hold-on-to shape is very desirable. Just add water, and enjoy. Some religious people prefer a very diluted understanding of God, while others seem to get together on a regular basis to dine on bouillon cubes–hardly enjoying the encounter–but enduring it because that’s what God wants us to do…Perserverence.
I find it impossible to believe the God who had a hand on making the chicken, pork, beef, lamb , cilantro, oregano, rosemary, ginger, the lemon, basil, tomato, the olive, and the onion chooses to set aside the creative thinking of the kitchen, the wonder of a knife and a learning hand, and settle into the indiscernable, unidentified, dehydrated block of “seasoning.”
Have you ever tasted soup made from real stock? Into a giant pot you put leftover bones from a leg of lamb, or a Thanksgiving turkey–things that should be ‘thrown away’ have a second life at hand. Combine them with a few carrots, onions a bay leaf, simple water–and heat. Something entirely new is created. You can’t suck the water out and shave down this creation into a little cube.
But the cube is what we know and love-or hate. Cooks before us or around us have said the boxed seasoning packets work just as well. Eventually this gets circulated more and more until the cube is the norm and genuine stock is uncharted and undiscovered territory. We have settled for second-rate. For a fake. For an idol. We think we know what chicken soup should taste like (and we all know how much Christians love “Chicken Soup.” I hear it’s good for the soul). But when we taste the real thing we have to re-categorize our food and reintroduce vocabulary back into our senses to explain what’s going on. We need to be taught this new perspective–something organic, not artificial. Something that redeems the garbage scraps to bring out a new masterpiece. Something that’s not easy–it takes great pain, time and effort–and the results are not cheap.
I’ve heard it said you have to give your life to cooking in order to achieve a great meal worth eating. You must daily dirty your hands with potatoes and onions, tear your skin while picking fruits from the vine, endure the heat of the hot sun and burning stove. It must not simply be food to consume. It must be art to enjoy, love to enrich, warmth to strengthen, a life for a life. How can we settle for ‘life’ from a can or out of a bag? Sacrifice. We must take the life of one to have life now. With the life we now have, we must give it away for another.
A life for a life.
To live life is to have life.
To have life is to be given life.
To be given life is to give it away.
A new way of looking at cookbooks: Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb