Food Grace

I received some birthday money in the mail a couple weeks ago. I stick to a budget very well, but it is hard for me to save any extra cash for very long. I like to spend it on what some people might view as frivolous: restock my wine, buy some good chocolate, maybe a pair of earrings I don't really need. Spending extra cash on whatever I want is an outlet that helps me stick to a strict budget.

So this morning, before story hour at the library, Evelyn and I wandered into The Wine Source. We were the only customers in there at the early hour of 10:00 am. I pushed her around in the shopping cart while she took off her hat, pointed to the cash registers, chewed on the expensive coffee bag I handed her, and wanted to eat the comté I selected from the expensive cheeses and salumi.

I bought a couple bottles of liqueur to use for a brunch Justin and I are hosting on Saturday, a demi baguette to go with my comté, some dark birthday beers, and another bag of Counter Culture coffee. Birthday money well spent, in my opinion.

Just now, I finished a lunch of roasted beets with wilted greens, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts. With it, I ate some baguette slathered with sweet butter and topped with slices of the comté. A crisp radish salad went on the side. I plan to make some pour over coffee this afternoon with the exquisite Counter Culture coffee that I so love.

Can you tell I am in the middle of reading a book written by the NY Times food editor? My palate is heightened with the finer things in life: wine, coffee, cheese, bread, beer. I live to eat, I don't eat to live.

I was recently thinking about food hospitality. I love to have people in my home and serve them tasty things. Sharing food is part of who I am, and I feel as though I am offering a part of myself to someone when I cook for them or invite them into my kitchen. This is wonderful and good. I give, they get, we are all happy.

Have you ever thought about the reverse? Have you ever been in someone's home, and they offer you something, and you only take it to be polite? Or worse, you refuse, spouting off something about, "Oh, I only eat local meat." Or, "Is it organic?" Or, "I prefer raw/pasteurized half-and-half in my fair trade, organic coffee. Not your ultra pasteurized half-and-half. It tastes funny." This was me, me, me. I have never actually said these things (except for maybe the local meat comment), but I have thought them in my head. And sometimes I have refused certain foods, which is fine, but there is no need to preach.

Everyone has their own food journey. My journey has taken years to get to the point where I care more about what I put in my body and what impact my food has on the environment than the price I pay for it. I am in a position where I can afford to pay more for organic produce and fair trade chocolate, tea, sugar, and coffee. Maybe not everyone is.

This is where, in my thinking, I thought of the term "food grace." Food hospitality is easy for me. Food grace has been a bit harder to learn. I think we should meet people where they are at. If they live on a diet of freezer meals and Folger's, they probably are not ready to switch to cooking farm-fresh produce from scratch and buying expensive, fair-trade coffee.

Last year some neighbors of ours invited us over to celebrate their one-year-old son's birthday. They have barely any money. They fought a lot. The man has cerebral palsy and has trouble walking; the woman has been applying to jobs but has a lot on her hands with her boyfriend's disability and her young child. They served us a meal of spaghetti with canned sauce, hot dogs with Wonder bread, and hamburgers. And we ate it. In that sort of situation, it doesn't matter what your food opinions and preferences are. You just eat to build community and show love.

Another time I was in a cafe with a friend. Evelyn was with us, and she was twirling around and touching everything and being cute. (This is the kind of place where it is small enough that she can wander around and not be in a high chair). An older woman came in with her grandson, who was maybe 7, and she started unwrapping a box of snacks. It was just before Christmas, and the snacks were little white cakes in the shape of Christmas trees with frosting and sprinkles. Something I would never even consider buying. The woman gave one to her grandson. Then she turned to me, eyes shining, and asked, "Can she have one?" I could feel her eagerness to give. A split second of hesitation gave way to an enthusiastic, "Sure! Thank you." I took the little Christmas tree cake and unwrapped it. I gave a tiny piece to Evelyn, whose eyes lit up after tasting pure sugar. A few more little bites, and then it was time to go. The mostly-unfinished snack went into my purse, and later into the trash can.

All this to say that I love how I eat and I wish everyone would eat whole grains, fresh vegetables, and good chocolate. And instead of preaching to them about how they should be just like me, I will look for opportunities to win them over to my team. Not to control them, but to share my true enjoyment of good food and  passion for being a good steward of the environment. And if someone excitedly offers you a little Christmas tree cake or a questionable hot dog on Wonder bread, just eat it. And maybe mention where your favorite place is to buy local meat.

Here is what's been cooking in my kitchen lately:

Beet salad

Sweet potato cheddar omelet

Chocolate Dump-it Cake

Make these pancakes when your milk goes bad

A favorite soup

Creamy Wild Rice Soup from Super Natural Cooking

Have a great weekend, everyone!