Update from the Kitchen

It started with a mighty crack that sent both dogs into full defcon 5 barking. The dishwasher, my stalwart kitchen companion who served 25 years without a single repair, had finally broken a door spring, and I knew there was no hope of a replacement part. It limped along for a few more weeks, loyal to the end, but a getting a new dishwasher was inevitable.

All new appliances seem to come with an attitude and require much drama with their installation. This time around there was no shut-off valve for the dishwasher and the one for the kitchen faucet wouldn’t turn the whole way so the hot water heater had to be shut down and well, on it went. I was informed that I needed to get a plumber to put in new valves (which I did but now there’s an issue with the hot water pressure in the faucet but that’s another story.)

The new dishwasher swept in like a fashion model on the runway, dressed in her chic chrome ensemble with this annoying (but oh so trendy) handle that sticks out a little more than I’d like but there was a six- month wait for one with a “concealed handle.” I put a load of dishes in, forcing myself to give up my long-ingrained habit of scraping and rinsing them first. “Put them in dirty,” the installer said. “The stuff in those little packets dissolves protein and food particles and if it doesn’t find any food, then it turns around and leaves etching marks on your glassware.” Wow. Nice, ok, so I’ll leave them dirty because I don’t want to be punished by the Cascade pod.

I was used to a dishwasher that sounded like a crew of sailors on KP duty laughing and joking as they slammed pots and pans around. My old dishwasher went to work with a vengeance and there was no question that it was running. If we wanted to watch TV, we didn’t turn on the dishwasher.

This machine takes polite sips of water and occasionally produces little sighs of effort but there is no raucous clamor of things being cleaned. This one is stealthy and just a touch arrogant.  I opened the door after the first load was finished to discover everything in it was wet. Not just a few droplets wet but needing to be hand-dried wet. A few phone calls later, I was told by a very helpful GE employee, that a “dry” setting must be chosen before each load or otherwise it defaults in all its ecological correctness to not drying at all. Who knew? I was used to just pressing “normal” and expecting the machine to operate that way. (In my defense, it should be noted that full instructions no longer come with an appliance. You must go online with your model number, sift through the website to find your 79-page product manual, select what pages you think you’ll need, and print them yourself.)

I suppose we’re settling in. The machine is cleaning my dishes (quietly) and drying them. I do like the top rack for utensils, and I’m gradually learning to leave food residue on the plates although at times that causes me great anxiety. (What if that cheese gets baked on forever???)

Meanwhile, across from the new dishwasher, the oven lies dormant, suffering from a blown baking element. The technician didn’t know for sure because the baking element in this five-year-old oven is hidden to allow for the less than effective “aqua bath” cleaning of the unit.  The “part is not currently at our distributor in Ohio, so it’ll be a few weeks.” Fortunately, we’re coming into grill season, and baked potatoes are great in the air fryer.

Church Kitchens

I belong to a church which holds an event we call Freezer Sale on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. From late June through November, a dedicated crew of parishioners spends every Saturday in the church kitchen preparing hundreds of soups, entrees, sides, and pies. Each item is made from scratch and then packaged, labeled with ingredients and cooking instructions, and tucked away into one of a dozen gigantic freezers in the basement.

When I tell people what we do, they are astounded that we are willing to devote most of our Saturday mornings for six months of the year to church. Astounded at the sheer labor intensity of cooking massive amounts of chicken and ground beef, stirring and cooling gallons of soup, peeling bushels of potatoes and apples, and rolling endless numbers of pie crusts. Astounded at the amount of planning and shopping and folding of boxes and schlepping of food down the steps to the freezers.  Astounded that this is not a once-and-done weekend marathon but an ongoing project for half the year, and that our church members happily volunteer to do it.

But they don’t see the powerful impact of this project from the inside. Yes, the profits go to support a variety of outreach ministries in the community. But I think what happens to those of us doing the cooking may be where the true ministry lies. We share our stories while we chop onions. We vent our worries and fears while rolling pie crusts. We laugh at the latest antics of grandchildren or pets while we load the cantankerous dishwasher.  We sit down afterwards to rest and share a communion of sorts. Coffee and baked goods after the liturgy of the kitchen.

One of our elderly parishioners used to come in every week to fold pie boxes or paste labels on items. He was disappointed if there were no boxes to fold. Someone would always keep an eye on him when he toddled down the treacherous stairs to the restroom.

Another gentleman only comes on days when we’re peeling potatoes or apples. He sits in the circle gathered around the trash can where we throw the peels, and regales us with stories of his days in the British Navy.

Freezer sale potato peeling

A young woman away at college pursuing her culinary dreams comes home for a weekend and shows us everything she’s learned about biscuit dough.

When we need something, whether it’s a few new skillets or a few new freezers, someone among us steps up and makes sure we get it.

We bring what we have to the kitchen. Whether it’s cooking skills or financial skills to figure out the pricing or connections to farmers who can get us good produce or simply a willingness to help, it is all welcomed and needed and cherished, as is every person who shows up on Saturday morning and says, “What can I do?”

Bev with corn

Just like worship in the sanctuary, work in the church kitchen requires blind faith. While we husk corn on a hot summer morning, we don’t see the elderly widow savoring her chicken corn soup on a cold night three months later. While we wait for the onions to caramelize, we don’t see the family tearing into chicken enchiladas while an exhausted mom sips a glass of wine, knowing her children will be fed something nourishing that they enjoy. Nor do we see the college student microwaving a container of homemade mac and cheese while cramming for exams, a welcome change from his usual fare of pizza or ramen noodles. We don’t see what our profits may provide—a winter coat for a child, a rental or fuel oil payment, Christmas gifts in a room that might otherwise be empty.

We know that our faith is a lot like the freezer sale— not a once-and-done Sunday only project, but an ongoing effort that requires lots of people helping us along the way. That it’s not always easy and that we don’t give up even when the dishwasher leaks and the soup won’t thicken, and we run out of cheese for the quiches. That we believe in the far-reaching and abundant Grace of something we can’t see or touch. That showing up in the church kitchen on Saturday mornings is our way of saying, “Here I am, Lord. What can I do?”

 Freezer sale pies