Friday, April 24, 2015
We had a potluck at church the other night, and a presentation from a guest from far-off land, a lovely gentleman who has more knowledge and insight about boots-on-the-ground disciple-building in his little finger than I have in my whole self. Some of us had already met him, and experienced his quiet and powerful presence at our bible study.
For a pot luck, and I usually try to bring something. I was casting about as I drove from church back to the house, and I wondered: how's that spinach from the weekend?
Last weekend I made a big pot of spinach and rice as my beloved likes it-- a childhood favorite recipe, fragrant with dill seeds, passed on from her Greek aunty, and which she has entrusted to me. But I was thinking of another recipe from my own childhood, a favorite called Green Rice.
My mother made Green Rice only once. My parents, hardworking small business-owners (they eventually owned two liquor stores), had signed me up for sailing lessons at something called the Margate City Yacht Club. Lest you think I grew up in Newport, Rhode Island or some such money-soaked place, the Yacht Club was a piece of waterfront property on the inland waterway. On it sat a crumbling Depression-era house, fitted out with furniture odds and ends donated by the families who parked their sailboats in the great big (maybe an acre and a half?) cement-paved parking lot. It was modest. Most of the families whose kids sailed there were summer residents, folks wealthy enough to have a second home at the shore. We lived here year-round, and sailing lessons were a luxury. My parents bought me a Sunfish, about as small a sailboat as existed at the time, and I spent five summers between ages 10 and 15 sailing it almost daily from June through August.
Back to the Green Rice. There was an Event at the Yacht Club, and it was organized by one of those elegant Philadelphia women who probably sat on the Board of the Symphony. She asked the mothers of the Yacht Club students to bring dishes to the Event, and when they agreed, she provided them with recipes, along with a lovely, kind of fancy handwritten note of thanks.
The note was signed, "Fondly, M_______."
I'd never seen anyone sign a note like that.
We were so out of our element. I was probably 11 or 12, and while I didn't understand all the intricacies of the social discomfort my parents experienced, I understood enough. That "Fondly" made my mother and me look at one another with wide eyes. Not because M_______ wasn't perfectly sweet and kind. She was. But... we were intimidated. And awed. And a little infatuated with it all.
The recipe was for Green Rice. You take some cooked rice (about 4-1/2 cups, for me that translates to 1-1/2 dry) and mix it with some chopped onion (2 medium), chopped fresh spinach or parsley (about 6 ounces, more is fine), a couple of eggs you've beaten up, and three cups of milk, as well as (gulp! it's for a lot of people...) a stick of butter, melted. You're supposed to throw in some shredded Swiss cheese, but I only had a gorgeous hunk of Romano, so I grated a ton of that into the mix. Place in a buttered casserole dish, and bake at 350 for 40 minutes or so, and then I grated more cheese on the top.
As I took the fragrant casserole from the oven I thought of my mother's nervous pride as she presented her own at the Yacht Club.
As I shared my casserole at the Pot Luck, I thought about this particular story of my childhood feeling so present to me in the cooking of it.
As I listened to the story of our guest, I thought of all the ways our lives are so radically different, and yet connected through the simple acts of eating a meal together and sharing stories.