An Arkan-French Roast

*Just a little diddy for Ann Kroeker's Food on Friday series.  I love to see what the people are cooking over there.  You should take a look.

Amber bought a chuck roast on Saturday.  It was on sale and had a nice bit of fat on it, so she knew I could work with it.  I’m at my best with a cheap piece of meat and a lazy Lord’s Day; there are not two things more peaceful in tandem.

After salting and searing the slab, I chopped garlic, carrots, and onions and threw it all in a nice sized dutch oven.  And perhaps that’s when the blasphemy started.

We were out of hearty burgundy, and the wine shops around here are closed on Sunday, so I reached for what we had left—a half cup of flat root beer and some boxed beef broth.  Of course, as any good Arkan-French chef would, I chose my root beer carefully.  It was a 2011 vintage.  Very complex stuff.  Very rooty, not too beery.   At room temperature, one could detect slight notes of nuttiness and… who am I kidding?  The stuff tasted like dime-store sugar water.  But on southern Sundays you do what you can and offer the rest to your Maker.  Root beer and herbes de provence; it would have to do.

I placed the crock in a 300 degree oven and sat at the couch, trying to get ahead of the coming Monday avalanche.  The simmering smells of root-beer-braised beef wafted through our living room, and I was reminded of the words of the Psalmist:

“Oh taste and see that the Lord is good! ... Oh fear the Lord, you His saints; For to those who fear him there is no want.  The young lions do not lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.”

Good things, like cheap meat and strong onions.  Good things, like flat root beer, French herbs, and turnip greens.  Good things, like steady work, a steady family, and a steady church.

We live a good life here in the Ozark Mountain Range.  Even if it’s not too terribly complex.

The Church and the Mulberry Tree - A Child's Reflection

When I was five—maybe six—we attended an old country church outside of Dallas, Texas. The Shiloh Baptist Church congregated down a dusty road in an old cow pasture. Texans are nearly as fond of their cow pastures as they are of their churches, so you can imagine how fond everyone was of the Shiloh Baptist Church. It was a working class church. We met in an L shaped building. There was a long corridor of classrooms connected to what the Catholics would have called the transcept, except we were Baptist so we didn’t have transcepts, or Eucharist, or incense, or any of that. Every now and then the church deacons would uncover the silver serving trays that sat on a table bearing the inscription, “This Do in Remembrance.” They’d pass out wafers and juice and my mother would tell me that the church takes communion to remember the good gifts that Jesus brings.

I don’t think we were Southern Baptist, on account of the little old lady that always sat in front of us. She was every bit of ninety, prayed in tongues, and smelled like some combination of roses, lavender, and cotton candy. Every Sunday she gave me Wrigley’s Double Mint gum and tussled my hair. One Sunday, while my mother was singing a special, I acted up and the gum-lady thumped my head. I thought it a miracle how such fragile fingers could raise such a whelp. At the end of the service she turned to my mother, smiled efferdentlessly, and recalled what a good boy I was. She handed me a stick of Double Mint and winked. That was the Sunday I learned about reconciliation.

When my sister was six—or maybe seven—she was chosen to sing a duet with a boy one year older than she. I remember a lot of fuss being made about the duet, how cute those kids were together. I felt somehow embarrassed for her, like there was something bawdy about the whole ordeal, like the two kids were doing something very adult. The other adults didn’t see it that way, so I guessed it was okay. But for me, that was the day that my sister stopped being a kid. I guess it was a type of baptism, a confirmation of sorts.

The summer before we left Dallas my mother took me to the Shiloh Baptist Vacation Bible School. Those were the days before mega-churches had themed VBS, before they set up motorcycle ramps in their parking lots so that daredevils could turn double flips and brag about how cool Jesus was. Back then we just learned stories about a sinless carpenter-savior, how he loved the little children and saved them from the devil. They gave us gold-fish and cherry Kool-Aid for a snack. A little boy pretended it was communion, passing a fish to me and saying "let us pray."  The teacher seemed most upset. Communion was not for pretend, she said. I wondered why she thought we were pretending, but I didn't ask.

I hushed my questions and went to climb the mulberry tree instead.

Bread to Strengthen

The following post is part of Ann Kroeker's Food on Fridays series.  She's a good lady. You should visit her.

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You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.

Psalm 104:14-15

It is how the South comes to visit your newborn, like the wise men bearing rich gifts. Friends come substituting gold for lasagna, frankincense for garlic mashed potatoes, and myrrh for Framboise. They know he’s not the savior of the world, mind you, but they treat him as if he were manger born. Maybe they are entertaining an angel, unaware. It’s best to think about infants and strangers this way.

…wine to gladden the heart of man…

There’s this website where church ladies enlist for meal duty after the birth of a baby. The address reads “takethemameal.com,” which I appropriately read as “take the ma meal.” Amber asked, “don’t you think it’s read ‘take them a meal’?” To which I replied, “only if some Yankee created that web-site.” She laughed as if she were not the one raised in Mayberry, as if she were a Harvard educated, blue-coat sympathizer. “Yanks are easily misunderstood,” she said.

…oil to make the face shine…

Visitors ask to hold Titus, our newest who breathes double-time, compensating for a bit of a heart hole. They place hands on his chest and pray for strength and healing. They pray that he’ll be a strong man of faith, that he’ll be lion-hearted. He whimpers an infant’s amen, staring wide-eyed into the face of his newest friend. Love becomes tangible when baked into a homemade apple pie by the hands of a fervent intercessor.

…and bread to strengthen man’s heart…

Bless us, oh Lord, and these your gifts which we have received from your bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

**A tribute to those of you who graced us with bread, wine, and prayer over the last few weeks. Thank you, friends.

Letter to a Friend

Friend,  Lately I've been thinking about your first visit, that time you and your wife drove up from Texas to spend the weekend.  We were all standing in the kitchen and you were easing us into your story.  I remember something about a train, and foreign living--English teacher was it?  I remember you telling me that you had this notion of grandeur, the confirming presence that real existence lies somewhere above the perfunctory protestant life.

I was standing at the sink scraping crimson pearls from the center of a pomegranate.  They fell into a glass bowl filled with water so that the pith would rise to the surface.  No one likes a mouthful of pith in their pomegranate.  At least that's what Amber said. I couldn't actually recall eating pomegranate pith and neither did you.   You told us of that day when you stood on the beach throwing rocks into the ocean.  Something about the promise in an infinite circle of ripples.  Something about dying, falling in tandem with the baptism of the rocks.  Something about meeting Jesus in a metaphor that was meant for you.  Amber stood in the corner and cried "amens."  Matt and I stood still, quiet.  I looked down into the bowl to make sure the pith was rising to the surface.

The kitchen was a sanctuary that morning, quiet and brimming with good food.  I skimmed the surface of the glass bowl, pulling off the inedible innards and washing them down the sink.  The water spiraled counterclockwise, east to west on a compass dial.   Sometimes a kitchen is just a kitchen.  Sometimes it is a sanctuary for the Church.   Thank you for your story.

That Which is Spoken-The Bread of Life

On Fridays, I want to post scripture readings from those spending time on the collective. If you have a text you'd like to share, record it and send it to me (uploaded YouTube link will work nicely, as will any video format file). This week, because it seems to have been the theme, I read about the Bread of Life. The passage is John 6:47-58.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVfMkEIO90E&fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&color1=0x234900&color2=0x4e9e00]

Send any reading submissions to seth.m.haines at gmail.com.