I called my Grandma last week for advice about pie crust made from scratch for my pretend thanksgiving gathering. She's my domestic expert - the neighbor lady who is always volunteering to drop off baked goods for baby showers and has a steady store of homemade cookies in the freezer. She's that kind of grandma and I know she loves my phone calls for domestic advice. "Oh, honey just buy one," she said, which didn't sound as fun (though I'm sure it was much more practical).
Instead, I Macgyvered a recipe involving a (knock-off) food processor and let my butter-chunked dough plates cool for 2 hours in the fridge when I ran in the park. While warming (but not boiling) apples on the stove and manhandling an unconventional pie recipe to fit my NYC kitchen, I cut up sweet potatoes for a maple mash situation. I was a little nervous I would end up combining both recipes in a typical disaster, but I managed to keep them separate.
Mid-bake I realized I was supposed to brush on egg whites to the crust... who has a pastry brush? Not this girl. I pulled the pie out and smothered some across the top, but I knew it was a mistake (that I ended up scraping off later).
My lumpy, delicious smelling creation came out about 15 minutes before we walked out the door. We maneuvered it into a paper bag and then inside a tote with the maple mashed sweet potatoes and a bottle of wine.
The kitchen is sometimes my favorite place because it is where magic is made - the magic of gatherings and spread tables and finger licking and... community. Community gets baked inside kitchens, even if they are skinny like closets and even when they don't have pastry brushes.
And there is magic in the preparation. Maybe that's why people like to crowd in the kitchen space.
I don't know if my mom would call her kitchen method "magic" - but I do know what it felt like to crowd in and taste the spaghetti sauce, to keep one eye on the broiling toast in the oven and the other eye on the fruit salad, to run out to the garden to cut a head of broccoli so it could be smothered in cheese. There was nothing gourmet or fancy about what she did in there, but we wanted to be close to the preparations because it was magic.
Soon enough, all seven of us would sit down around the long wooden table in the dining room and my dad would end grace with the words, "...bless this food to our bodies and our bodies to your service." I'm not sure where he picked that up, but I like it. And we all knew that it was code for, "dig in" so it was a pretty popular phrase amongst the siblings.
All that preparation in the kitchen happened so we could gather and "pass the food to the left, leaving our right hand free for self service." All that sweat in the kitchen got us to sit around in a circle, scooping out large helpings and chatting about the day and the farm and the news in our little town and the news in the big world.
I've been thinking a lot about preparations, since I'm hosting real thanksgiving this Thursday but also because Advent is a season of preparation. Next Sunday is the first day of Advent and it seems fitting that it should follow a week of thanksgiving. I can't imagine what these last few weeks must have been like for Mary as she made preparations to give birth to the Messiah - what her prayers must have sounded like and how her fears must have felt.
Preparations are magical because anticipation is hidden inside.
When my brother Samuel "sampled" the chili and when my sister Christina "tested" the stir-fry, a scolding would accompany my mom's raised eyebrows, "It's not dinner time yet." Because preparations are about something that is going to happen.
I don't want to rush past what it feels like to anticipate.
I don't want to lose the magic of the kitchen space, preparing for something wonderful. I especially don't want to waste the magic of preparing to celebrate Christ's birth. If you are looking for a way to celebrate the season of Advent with your family, this Advent guide from the Gospel Project is free right now. I'm hoping my roommates will agree to be a family for the next month, so we can anticipate our Savior together!
Thanksgiving (crowded kitchens and tables and stovetops) is a great place to start.