My father-in-law from the first go-around was a wonderful cook. Creating delicious meals was his avocation. I came poorly prepared into that family-by-marriage, having grown up with a dad who literally did not know how to boil water and a mom who fed us dinner from terrible 1960s recipe cards. (Isn’t that tomato aspic … Christmas-y?) Julia Child was that lady Dan Ackroyd made fun of on Saturday Night Live; and who was James Beard?
My father-in-law had taken cooking classes at Beard’s brownstone in New York City.
My kids grew up eating impressive holiday food, and I learned what I could along the way, until I became a pretty good cook. But this is the first Christmas I will take on a dish that is more of a multi-day project: Cassoulet. I’ve made a detailed grocery list, and I’ve marked out which parts of the preparation need to happen on which days, making allowances for the somewhat inadequate gas power of our stove here at the Manse. (Let’s just say you can’t use the burners at the same time you’re cooking something in the oven, unless you don’t care what happens to the latter.)
I’ve been thinking about it for months, and I have wavered more than once, only to be reinforced in my intention. My former sister-in-law photographed the Cassoulet pages in her dad’s Michael Field cookbook and sent them in a Facebook message. A friend who used to be a caterer offered up her gigantic Le Creuset Dutch Oven, the kind of pot you don’t buy for something you may never make again. A Twitter buddy assuaged my anxiety with a better-explained timeline for the recipe courtesy of Bon Appétit.
And I read the Cassoulet recipe in my circa 1982 copy of Joy of Cooking, which told me that this peasant dish – what? – from France was pretty much a combination of every kind of meat a farm family could have pulled together for a special meal, plus beans. Surely, with proper forethought, I can make this happen. My Cassoulet will not have all “the meats,” but it will have enough, and my sons will stand in the kitchen with me cooking for days, and if all goes well, it will look something like this.
Pastors and preachers bring so many things to the feast at Christmas: our personal histories, and our faith traditions, and our study of scripture, and long-held local practices. We do our best to find a recipe for worship and proclamation that combines revolution with respect, commentary with candlelight, and carefully-planned mood moments with space for mystery to break forth. I know you have done your work, planning the way services will unfold, balancing the words and the music, always considering timing, and taking seriously your responsibility to say enough but not too much about what it means for God to come into the world, in the flesh, to be one of us. In some ways it feels as impossible as the countdown to Cassoulet, doesn’t it?
While I am cooking, I am also praying for pastors and the congregations they serve. I have confidence in you, and in your recipes.
Adapted from a message I wrote for the RevGalBlogPals Weekly e-Reader.