I come from people who believe food is otherworldly. Miraculous, even. We are simple people who have built our religions partly around food.
Take Baptists. When you are ill, before anyone at church even says a prayer you get a casserole. When you have a baby, the first things you receive are baked goods. At your funeral, nobody will come unless Cousin Bentley makes deviled eggs.
So you can imagine how wonderful it was to wake up to the smell of food this morning. All kinds of food.
I rolled over in bed to check the clock. It was 6:03 a.m. and I could smell things baking. I stumbled out of the bedroom into a kitchen that was lit up like the Las Vegas Strip.
There was the hum of an electric oven, the sizzle of a skillet, the smell of vanilla, the overwhelming taste of melted butter, and the whir of a KitchenAid mixer.
My wife was preparing about 10,398 dishes at once. She is what you’d call a bipolar cook. She cooks by frantic inspiration, sometimes standing near a stove for forty days without sleep.
When these bouts of inspiration hit, it is like watching a tropical storm in slow motion. Or a monster truck rally.
Mixing bowls sat on every shelf, each table, and on the top the fridge, loaded with cake batter.
I love cake batter. But I know from experience that I am not allowed to taste her cake batter with my finger. If at any time, my greasy digit desecrates her batter she will alter my anatomy with a pair of tongs.
“Mmmm,” I said. “Cake batter.”
And she answered me with a wild-eyed look often seen in “B” horror movies just before an unimportant supporting actor gets decapitated. She indicated she was about to reach for the tongs.
So I left the kitchen and watched from afar. My wife was cooking up a smorgasbord. There were chef’s knives on every flat surface, cutting boards with mounds of diced onions, minced piles of chlorophyll-soaked parsley, and miniature Everests of shredded cheese.
And bacon. My wife is always frying bacon. Sometimes she does this for no discernable reason. I’ve quit asking why because she always says, “I needed more grease.”
But I think there’s more to it than that.
I remember one time when I was in college, I took an art class. The teacher created a clay sculpture composed of naked people. And I’ll never forget what he said when he unveiled it:
“This is art, for art’s sake.”
None of us students knew exactly what he meant by this phrase. Most of us were too busy staring, thinking deep thoughts such as, “The figures in this sculpture are definitely not Presbyterian.”
But the teacher explained himself. He said that art needs no justification. It doesn’t have to make a political statement. No social or spiritual revelations. Art is just there to be—well—loved. And I really liked that.
Because that’s the way my wife approaches her kitchen. She works in butter the way some work in oils or acrylics. Her concoctions need no reason. It is food for food’s sake.
Watching her cook was like being a spectator in the studio of Rodin, Sargent, or Vermeer. I was seeing, smelling, and admiring the art of our ancestors. She follows recipes that predate her. That predate her great-great grandparents.
I watched her trim a slab of pie dough with scissors. I saw her test freshly baked layers of yellow cake with broken broom straws, then grease new casserole tins with bacon grease from a Maxwell House can.
She made two casseroles for our friend, Julie, whose mother just died. One casserole for our friend, Rena, who just had a baby.
Which brings up another subject. Casseroles.
They are important to our way of life. They might not seem like much to some, but they are everything to us Food People.
Casseroles accompany nearly every special occasion, such as funerals, weddings, baptisms, birthdays, SEC Championships, Columbus Day, Tuesdays, etc.
Our casseroles are always made with a minimum of six pounds of cheese and nine sticks of unsalted butter. And they are often hand delivered in blue cornflower Corningware dishes that never make it back home. These dishes simply become mixed up with another church lady’s kidnapped collection of bakeware.
These same dishes get delivered, redelivered, and re-redelivered all over town. Round and round the dishes go. From house to house. Like musical chairs, but with more saturated fat.
In our county, there are some Corningware dishes that have been in circulation since Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office.
Like I said. This is a religion.
After I watched my wife for a few minutes, she announced that she was leaving the kitchen to use the restroom. She asked me to keep an eye on things. And I did.
I stood in the middle of what felt like a divine laboratory, with everything bubbling and baking around me. The smells were enough to stop your heart.
I made sure nothing boiled over. I listened for oven timers. And I truly felt privileged to be here. Not just in this kitchen, but upon this Earth, where humans—despite what the haters claim—actually love each other enough to feed one another.
What a concept. People cooking for people. Chicken casserole for chicken casserole’s sake.
That’s when I noticed the cake batter sitting lovely in the windowsill. White. Pure. Thick. And the Glory of the Lord shone about it.
So anyway, that’s how I got neutered.