By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published August 21, 2014
The kitchen is a world in itself. Here, soups simmer, steaks sizzle and bread bakes. Here, children shape cookie dough into animals and stars. Here, cakes rise and pies brown while a scrumptious scent fills the house.
I recently spent an entire day in this world. It started early with a bowl of oatmeal as I perused my recipe for Italian rolls and began assembling the ingredients. As the sun inched its way over the horizon, I added sugar to the yeast mixture and watched the tiny bubbles forming.
I poured a cup of coffee while marveling at how humble the ingredients are for good bread. Flour, water, yeast and salt—and plenty of patience. You needn’t be very talented to make this simple but sustaining food.
As I kneaded the dough, I said prayers for the people who would eat this bread. Some would be devoured by yours truly and her husband, of course, but I also pictured guests slathering the rolls with butter and smiling as they sank their teeth into the crisp crust.
Once the rolls were in the oven, I began the inevitable clean-up but then stopped in my tracks when I noticed the cookie jar was forlornly empty. And in short order I began mixing butter, sugar and vanilla.
Sneaking a bite of the sweet dough evoked memories of all the times when I was a little girl and hounded my mother about licking the utensils. Usually she relented, giving the bowl to one of her daughters and the egg beater to the other.
What she didn’t know, however, was that when her back was turned, my sister and I often snitched a dollop of dough before the pan went into the oven. I recall my mom complaining—while my sister and I assumed our most angelic faces—that the recipe didn’t yield as many cookies as it promised.
My mother’s kitchen was far from fancy. In truth, it would never make the pages of a home-beautiful magazine, unless it was the “before” shot. But that never slowed down the creation of mouth-watering munchies and decadent desserts.
Of course, not everything turned out fine. Sometimes the oatmeal overflowed and created a crisp crust on the stovetop. Sometimes a glass shattered, producing a sea of sticky orange juice on the cracked linoleum.
And sometimes I walked into the kitchen and found my mother immersed in memories and quietly weeping, her tears blurring the ink on a recipe written in her own mother’s hand so many years before.
Sometimes I picture the kitchen as the room Jesus is talking about when he says, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.”
While I’m helping my husband prepare a meal for guests, I whisper prayers that the roast will brown properly and the rice turn out fluffy. And I often pray for the people whose recipes I use, whether it’s a long-departed aunt or a new friend.
The memories of this special room are deeply rooted in our hearts. Who doesn’t recall childhood when certain foods were off-limits? I recall my mother’s stern warning “We’re saving that for company!”—and of course that particular treat was exactly what I craved when I came home from school.
And who doesn’t remember teenage years when you would swing open the refrigerator door, glance at the shelves laden with food and announce dismally, “There’s nothing to eat around here!”
Sometimes we get too caught up with trendy kitchens boasting all the latest bells and whistles. Who cares if the counters are faded, the floors worn and the appliances creaky?
Here is where prayers are murmured as the tea brews. Here is where we thank God for our daily blessings. Here is where the most important ingredient can be added to every dish. The one that costs nothing but means everything. All across the world, in the most humble kitchens of all, here is where love thrives.
Lorraine’s latest book is “Death Dons a Mask,” a mystery set at a small Georgia parish where the arrival of a young seminarian unleashes chaos. Artwork is by Jef Murray. Readers may contact the Murrays at firstname.lastname@example.org.