Salad days.

I do not enjoy making salads. It’s the lettuce that does me in – the washing and the tearing and arranging. And then you’re not even done! There are still more vegetables to be chopped! I like salad, but I don’t always feel that it’s worth all the effort. If we were in the habit of eating salad, it would be one thing. But it always seems to go to waste, dumping the remains into Big Bunny’s cage to see what she will do with them. This feels like an incredibly terrible thing to admit: I do not have the patience to make salads.

Two Christmases ago, my aunt gave me The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters. I flipped through it and thought it was useful, but this week I sat down and read it. It’s the kind of cookbook that needs to be read front-to-back, going into great detail about selecting food as well as preparing it. She gives advice on choosing the best foods, advice that we have been following, at least somewhat. I think my aunt knew what she was doing when she bought this book, is what I am saying.

The main guidelines of the book are that we should eat locally and sustainably; eat seasonally; shop at farmers’ markets; plant a garden; conserve, compost, and recycle; cook simply; cook together; eat together; and remember that food is precious. Together, I feel that Mike and I do those things to the best of our ability, except for that whole “plant a garden” thing. That one we do not have down. Well, I take that back. We can certainly plant a garden. We just can’t seem to keep a garden alive.

What struck me the most about this book, though, was how Alice Waters seems to have all the time in the world. Or at least she takes all the time that she needs in order to get done what she feels is the most important thing. I think food is pretty important – I talk about it a lot, I think about it a lot, I enjoy eating a lot. I would say that I enjoy cooking, but like everything else in my life, I try to rush through it. Not Alice Waters. Listen to her talk about preparing a salad:

Wash the lettuce, gently but thoroughly, in a basin or bowl of cold water. First cull through the lettuces, pulling off and throwing into the compost bin any outer leaves that are tough, yellowed, or damaged. Then cut out the stem end, separating the rest of the leaves into the water. Gently swish the leaves in the water with your open hands and lift the lettuce out of the water and into a colander. If the lettuces are very dirty, change the water, and wash again.

Dry the lettuces in a salad spinner, but don’t overfill it. It’s much more effective to spin-dry a few small batches than one or two large ones. Empty the water from the spinner after each batch. Any water clinging to the leaves will dilute the vinaigrette, so check the leaves and spin them again if they’re still a little wet. I spread out each batch of leaves in a single layer on a dish towel as I go. Then I gently roll up the towel and put it in the refrigerator until it’s time to serve the salad. You can do this a few hours ahead.

Several years ago, I watched my mother iron a pair of pants, another activity I often rush through. She took her time, pressing down all the seams, making sure the pants looked their absolute best before she moved on to the next pair. I, on the other hand, just want to be done with the pants. It’s no wonder her pants always look better than mine.

Similarly, I can’t really imagine being patient enough to take the time to make a salad in the way Waters describes, placing each leaf of lettuce on a dish towel after it has been dried. It makes me antsy just to think about it. But reading this book, I have been convicted about that a little bit. Rather than buying into the busy-ness of our culture, I tried to take my time this weekend. A small example was the weekly grocery run: rather than rushing through the grocery shopping, I tried to enjoy the time alone, choosing what was best for our family from the list. I would like to at least try to take time for the things that are important to me. Food is important, taking care of my clothes is important, having my house be clean is important. I would rather spend my time doing something else, but I should give those things the time that they need, let them be done right and truly.

This poem resonated with me this week because I think that it is about those things as well: making an effort to do the best work that we can, taking whatever time that it needs. It’s hard for me to remember it, but ironing well, cooking well, mopping the floor well . . . those can be acts of worship, too. God has given us this gift of life, including food and beauty. When I take the time to honor his gifts and appreciate them, I am more blessed by the beauty and abundance around me than when I forgo making that salad because, you know, I just don’t have the time.

Illumination: Mary Pearson’s Recipe Book, 1755
by Sarah Kennedy

And what was there to do in the hours
of the boiling fowl, of bread dough
swelling in the bowl? She could make

another batch of ink, dye another dress
she’d only wear on Sundays. Violet, or blue,
this time, she thought, but didn’t rise

from the chair. Instead, she dipped
her quill again, having just blotted dry
her note at page forty-seven’s receipt for ginger wine:

Mrs. H uses one Lemon to each
gallon. Results approved.
How many times
she’d added a flavor, a spice—cinnamon

in the rice pudding, a sprinkle of cloves
in the cake—but who had ever noticed?
He wanted his food heaped high, and, yes,

he praised her, a good wife, a fine manager
of her domain, but had he even once paused
at a bite to reflect on its difference from yesterday’s

taste, the beauty of plums, preserved in honey,
glowing in a white bowl under candlelight?
Like blossoms, she mused, tracing circles in circles

in the blank space on the first page,
just above the chicken fricassee.
In and around Mary Pearson, Her Book,

one word to each corner, the letters’ points
enveloped (though no one would ever see) like petals,
she imagined, or perhaps a woman’s curves.

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