My Kitchen Sanctuary, My Kitchen Temple

Why do so many of us spend time in our workshops or craft rooms or gardens or, yes, kitchens? A longing, perhaps even a NEED, to make something physical. Many of us toil in the knowledge economy (as if baking a loaf of bread doesn’t require knowledge). We write papers or grade them, we balance ledgers, we sell stocks or software. So we carve and paint and plant and, yes, cook. Each act of creation turns us into God. We use our hands and transcend our quotidian human existence in the (realized) hopes that we have gone somehow beyond, even just by a nanometer, to bring forth something new in the world. Sure, we may bake that chicken casserole every Thursday, but it’s never really, exactly, the same. The chicken thighs may weigh a little more or a little less than last week’s. The onions might be oblong, where they were nearly spherical the last time we cooked this. Our senses continue to refine and we decide that sprinkling parsley on top will improve the flavor. In that respect, we home cooks have much in common with the wood carver who, using a new, different piece of wood, may carve the “same” spoon or the “same” toy, but (s)he knows it’s not an exact replica of the previous one. A close inspection—maybe not even a close one—reveals differences, however minute. Yes, our creative godliness is in the details.

We all should have places of respite and places that, regardless of religious or spiritual belief or lack thereof, evoke special feelings in us. For me, it is my kitchen. This is where I create, feel gratitude, share, reflect. The act of cooking, however simple or complex, brings me closer to humanity, a feeling of connection with the world and with the universe. It brings me closer to the farmers, the growers, the producers of my food. The acts of chopping, sautéing, scattering of herbs—the use of my hands—underscores what I believe to be a fundamental truth: that we, as humans, long to create objects and things, that are touchable, tangible.

In the sanctity of the kitchen, for those of us who find cooking somewhat of a contemplative practice, we may find, like an odd but welcome bolt of lightning, sudden realized peace and even joy. I recall washing dishes on one of those bitterly cold, windy Indiana nights, wrist-deep in soothingly warm, soapy water while standing in my kitchen, the warmest room in my house, and suddenly feeling an intense wave of happiness and calm. I didn’t know why, then, and it didn’t matter. I still don’t know why and it still doesn’t matter. Perhaps it was just gratitude for what I had—solid indoor plumbing and a shelter from the elements, elusive to some. I don’t know. But I felt peace. This wasn’t the only time I felt such peace in my kitchen, my sanctuary. I’ve felt it tipping and tailing green beans, a tedious task, as I prepared to cook a batch of loubia, sensing connection with the grower of those beans (in this case, organic farmer extraordinaire Wendy Carpenter of Modoc (IN)’s Christopher Farm).

If my kitchen is my sanctuary, my kitchen is also my temple. On Saturday mornings during the summer, I bicycle to my local weekly farmers market (Minnetrista), arriving as close as possible to the opening 8:00 AM bell. I inhale the atmosphere and the activity, perusing the unusual garlic varieties and eggplants and summer squash. I chit chat with the vendors and friends I encounter, buy what appeals to me or inspires me that week, carefully arranging my wares in my backpack (eggs at the bottom, tender greens and fragile tomatoes at the top). Then I cycle off for a post-market cappuccino, either at The Caffeinery (if the morning is leisurely) or Starbucks (if time is tight). Park myself on an outdoor chair, turn my phone off (completely—no vibrate or silent mode), and for the next 20-30 minutes, I watch the world. And then I head back home, putting the bicycle in the garage and walking into that temple of mine, the kitchen. Off comes the backpack and I unpack—and display—everything I bought on my kitchen island, a veritable offering to whatever culinary gods might be watching (of course, being digital times, I dutifully post a picture, with description, on Facebook). What grinning! What happiness! And then, to complete the Saturday circle, I cook.

Market produce inspector

I don’t really have a good conclusion for this post, other than to hope and wish that you all have your own personal sanctuaries and to let you know that I’ll be returning to this blog, albeit not necessarily on a regular basis (generally with posts about interesting food-related topics about the middle of the country, less often with personal essays). In the next few weeks, I’ll post a recipe for my cherry-sage bread, featuring dried Michigan sour cherries and Indiana sage (“Indiana” because it’s from my garden). There is much to know about the Flyover culinary world and so much to discover. Peace.