How ordinary acts can become simple comforts, and extraordinary delights.
It's cold here today—cold enough to perform a trick I find so amusing it may prove I haven't been getting enough B vitamins or something. Take a cup of boiling water outside, throw it in the air, and the water disappears in an explosion of steam, and tiny crystals tinkle to the ground. The temperature is supposed to plunge even farther below zero, and the wind is picking up. I'm at my desk holding a latte made with Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, my favorite African beans—possibly because it is said to "close with a hint of chocolate." I'm ridiculously predisposed to believe this descriptor, having a slight addiction to chocolate. I'm also a sucker for coffee gadgets, but, really now, the Bodum milk frother has probably saved me a fortune in what I might otherwise spend on this winter comfort drink. It's the size and shape of a little bottle rocket that sprouts a stiff metal fuse with a tiny propeller on the end. You place the prop end in half a mug full of hot milk; more than half, and you will certainly spray your windows and stain your nice sweater with sticky froth when you turn it on. It gives off a pleasant little hum and in a matter of seconds the milk is thick enough to pick it up in dollops.
Today I'm doing some rapid meal planning for Ransom Fellowship's annual board of directors meeting because Peggy, my favorite cook (other than myself) who was coming from Arizona to take charge of food, has just called and regretfully cancelled. Her husband, our vice president, is in the hospital with a serious infection. Although we'll miss them both terribly, we didn't think that leaving and telling him to deal with it would be a noble model of love and comfort for her.
This meeting for our ministry is in our home this year, and everyone is arriving in two days, mostly from warmer climes. They don't like coming to Minnesota in winter, whereas we proudly suffer it and sometimes even wish we were Canadians. It's a time for business, accountability, budgeting and goal setting, yes; but it's also time of joy, of being with fellow pilgrims who share amazing providences, astonishing defeats, arguments over best movies, books, wine and kingdom work.
I'm chewing the eraser end of my pencil and putting together a shopping list when two emails arrive. One is from Steven Garber who suggests it is "worth meditating on why it was that God in his infinite wisdom did not choose to become incarnate in Minnesota." I know how he hates the cold—he complains bitterly of it. But I also know he'll mostly forget it when I give him a hug and hand him a cup of hot tea and honey.
The other message arrives from our housemate, Anita, who walked to work downtown early this morning. She has lived with us these past months between one life and the next, waiting for committees and professors to examine her worthiness. (Really, her work is beautiful and they should pay her to join them). The weeks are long and trying while graduate schools trifle with her portfolio and decide whether or not to admit her to their landscape architecture program.
She writes, "Walking home last night, I saw a rabbit from the other side of 12th run at top speed into the backyard. Like that rabbit, I know there is safety (and some damn good food) at Toad Hall. The past few months have been a gift of warm friendship and true acceptance from both of you, which has, among other things, boosted my inner strength. Thank you so much for letting me stay with you, hog your guest room, and for kindly reminding me that there is hope and the future is not entirely bleak, even though I totally feel like the opposite sometimes. I am so grateful for the time I get to spend with you two, for the talks we've had, and for the ideas and laughter that has been shared. Oh, and, Margie, thank you for the delectable meal last night. Dilled rice could easily become a new vice."
Was it delectable? I'm absurdly pleased. It was only baked chicken breast thrown in a pan with olive oil, paprika, garlic, salt and pepper. A little parmesan grated on top. Steamed broccoli with fresh lemon juice squeezed over it. And dilled rice? Not costly or difficult to make, and so ordinary. And yet—and yet—I've always known that in offering a meal it's possible to serve more than mere food to one another. Still, this reminder is a joy. This is delight, to offer simple comfort that keeps our journeys from biting loneliness and lowers a comforting blanket over some part of the heart.
Lemon Dilled Rice (Serves 3-4)
1 cup rice
4 T. butter
1 small onion, diced
1 t. salt
2 t. dill weed (or 2 T. fresh dill, chopped)
2 c. water or chicken broth
1 lemon, juiced
In a saucepan, melt butter. Add rice and onion. Sautee for 4 minutes until rice turns opaque and onions are translucent. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Simmer 10 minutes. Cover and turn heat very low. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until rice is tender and moisture is absorbed. (Brown rice takes longer and may need a little more water.)