Monday, January 7, 2013

Breaking Bread Together

It isn't just that I like food.  I DO like food but what really turns my crank about good food is its underpinning of fellowship and community.  
The purchasing, planning, preparing and sharing of the meal is the very stuff of life to my way of thinking and upbringing.  
As a first born daughter in a family of seven kids born on top of each other, cooking for crowds was second nature;  feeding the five thousand didn't seem like such a stretch.  
And quality mattered! according to my mother's strict code of kitchen ethics.
I'm the gal who went to see Julie & Julia three times in the theatres.  
The gal lucky enough to browse the Julia Childs exhibit at the Smithsonian in the same year -- 
with her exceptional, understanding husband alongside! (The same man who, without a murmur, replaced a perfectly good kitchen table with a beautiful custom made 60 inch round to indulge my dream for face to face dining).
Ahhh.  Long and happy sigh.
My foodie soul found home here at Laity, particularly after reading 
Setting The Table 
by Laity Lodge Chef Tim Blanks pictured below 
serving up his corn chowder and black bean soup.
I have his permission to share his well-earned wisdom on the subject verbatim, 
after which there will be no doubt as to why my soul resonates perfectly with his quote: 
"I'd say some of the best work of the retreat center takes place at the dining table"

 If the subject is meals, I have opinions.  About preparing them.  About serving them.  About setting the table.... in fact, let's start with that, with the table.  Yes, every meal needs a good setting.  And yes, the food has to be my best.  But to truly invite -- to welcome all comers -- a table has to mark off an area of well-being, a safe place to share yourself and, in every sense, to make room for the person next to you.

Last year the Lodge hosted its first food retreat, and to know Laity Lodge or me is to know that a good meal hardly stops with the food.  But before we get to Laity Lodge, I want to detour through a couple of scenes that illustrate my strong feelings about the importance of the table.  
Detour one:  my boyhood home, wherever it happened to be.  In most houses today the biggest dust catcher is the dinner table -- we know that.  But when I was growing up, the dinner table was our family circle.  As kids, my brother and I had two certainties:  Sunday's meant roast beef and 6:30pm meant family dinner.  Period.  So while my father's work moved us across datelines and meridians, at the stable center of the Blanks' spinning sphere was the family meal.  
Next example:  picture my wife, Amy, and me at our first dinner with Barbara Dan and Howard Butt -- pre Laity Lodge employment.  We all had on our best that night; the table looked like a spread in a House Beautiful magazine.  But settings and people have chips and cracks if you look closely, and flaws are part of a good table's safety perimeters.  My personal chips that night were about coming out of addiction and alcoholism to faith as I shared my story with Howard and Barbara Dan.  
When I was through, Howard said simply, "You're safe with me".  And that evening we feasted.
Now we fast forward to Laity Lodge's first food retreat where participants, just as I do, tend to arrive packing their own opinions.  All good.  Divergent views welcome.  I say often that the magic around a table trumps the quality of the cuisine.  So we made certain that the tables for the food retreat served up our dining philosophy to also feed every person's human need to be himself or herself.  As feedback (good word) came in, I saw that we'd dined well.  We told stories (best meals, worst meals).  
We weighed in on the importance of the table in our lives.  We laughed.  We never advised people to try to get along or to get to know each other; we didn't have to.  
I expect to serve more of these retreats at Laity Lodge, and each time I'll hope our guests go home to stir up more magic.  To eat is human after all.  
But to nourish the soul.... that's a meal;
that's what Laity Lodge is about.
I'm grateful to be in the kitchen.
As chef of Laity Lodge, Tim Blanks sets meal tables to know and be known, to grow and share.
Amen brother Tim.  Thanks for nailing it so perfectly!
Oh, and for making our first food retreat precisely that, 
a place to know, be known, grow and share.

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