Sunday, September 4, 2011
Check the Box
Oh how many times growing did I hear those infamous and dreaded dinner time words, 'Charleston, eat your vegetables'! Heck, the better question may be how many times do I pronounce that same killjoy over my own children?
And it's really comical to expect anybody - let alone a child - to survey an ocean of delicacies presented to them only to assume they'll go straight for the vegetables, which, if we're true to American fashion, would be there only as nutritional afterthoughts, by which I mean, usually when we let our obsession with vegetables manifest itself, they've appeared at mealtime because we've read that eating them will make us live forever (thank you Time, People, Good Housekeeping, etc.), and having a veggie or two serves to temper the guilt of having a huge portion of fat and carbs on the very same plate. And we all know that an overabundance of fat and carbs just looks better with a little greenery around the plate!
I'm only saying what Julia Child noticed forty years ago; namely, she recognised a sharp dichotomy between American and French concepts of vegetables and their role in our cookery: 'The French are interested in vegetables as food rather than as purely nutrient objects valuable for their vitamins and minerals'. But here Stateside many meals that include vegetables are only there as if we're checking the box, so to speak. Most of us see vegetables not 'as food' but as medicine! We include them because we think we're checking a box that enrolls us in the responsible eaters club, whatever that may be at the moment. We might, then, technically eat our share of vegetables, but we tend to neglect the many tried-and-true techniques for bringing out the French objective of producing 'a cooked green vegetable so green, so fresh-tasting, and full of flavour that it really can be served as a separate course'.
Now, before you make this a French vs. the U.S. kind of issue - which it's not - I want you to ask yourself this arresting question: Do you really spend time contemplating how you might enhance your joie de vivre by including a well-prepared vegetable, or do you plan the other parts of meal first and then frantically figure out something green to include, especially when company is coming? Gotcha, huh!?! Like I said, we're just checking the box!
So let me share with you a lovely vegetable course that's accessible, fresh-tasting and even good for us, to boot!
Petits Pois Étuvés au Beurre
Baby Green Peas
1 10 oz. package of frozen select green peas (never used canned!)
2 TBSP unsalted butter
1 TBSP minced shallots
2 TBSP tarragon (if you can't get fresh, Penzey's is the closest www.penzeys.com)
1/4 tsp of sea salt
Pinch of pepper
16 oz. chicken or vegetable broth
Bring the chicken broth and minced shallots to a rapid boil over high heat. Add green peas, stir and cook on high heat for no more than 5 minutes. Immediately pass the peas and shallots through a colander and then place them in a serving dish that already has in it the remaining ingredients. Stir and serve at once. This must be done at the last minute, or the peas will lose their springiness and will require reconstituting.
A Final Word
And eating tasteless vegetables isn't the only box many modern Americans are checking these days. I meet tons of well-meaning folks who aren't afraid to tell you, 'O yeah, I'm a professing Christian, so let's move on to what we need to do'. And they mean to say, 'I've got my ticket punched, so I'm doing my part and God will do His'.
But do we really want to reduce the greatest reality of the entire universe to an insurance policy or a box that we check? This was the question our new Dean and President proposed to us just this week at Mass, and it got me thinking.
I think the answer is no, of course, we don't want to do reduce Christianity to a mere checklist or relegate it entirely to a one-time experience or lack thereof, nor, conversely, do we want a faith that finds its only comfort in voting for God, which is a way a saying we don't want a faith that finds its existence tied only to what it can deliver (St. Peter is blushing, no?).
You see, if Christianity means anything at all, it has to deliver what it promises. Otherwise, it's just another empty box that we're checking. It's no different than eating vegetables only because we think that's how we should vote. I mean, eating veggies is a fond thing, but if its only for a nutritional afterthought, have we really done anything worth while? Likewise, if we simply choose Christianity as another 'nutritional afterthought', does it really even matter?
But thanks be to God Christianity does deliver what it promises! And it does so because it's not about us making and then breaking promises; rather, it's about what God has and is doing for us through His Son Jesus Christ, and He does deliver.
He delivered us Himself - His Son - to live as one of us, to heal us, and, above all, to redeem us. That's no box to check, dear ones, that's a promise to be received, cherished and adored forever.