The Rite of the Common Meal by Erika Johnson

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My sister, Erika Johnson, has her degree in Theology from Whitworth University. She’s spent her time since graduation traveling the world and exploring different areas of life and work. You can read about some of our travels together at our latest blog here http://erikaandkristenseetheworld.blogspot.com/

This week she shares some thoughts on communion and the sacred art of meals together.

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During my junior year of college, I worked in student life. My job included a lot of time-consuming meetings. In particular, I needed to meet with a number of people, individually. Because my schedule was already so hectic, I usually planned these to coincide with meals. No matter how busy we both were, we still needed to eat, so why not double up that time? Maximum efficiency enabled me to survive that year. I learned, though, that talking over a meal was not just an efficient use of time. Combining these activities both eased and deepened our conversations; the combination was, in a sense, sacramental.

The sacrament of communion, or the Eucharist, is referred to as a meal in the liturgy. The rite also reminds us, each time we participate, that the ceremony we now celebrate was instituted at a full meal. Although now we stand in lines to receive bits of bread and sips of wine, Jesus and his disciples were sitting around a table, enjoying a religious feast. And after his death and coming back to life, Jesus met his disciples on a lakeshore and cooked for them. Meals bracket Jesus’ act of saving the world.

I think that Jesus understood and used the power of sharing food and, by valuing and connecting with it, lent it a transcendent and holy quality. His use of meals — and even the language he used concerning food — deeply unsettled those who surrounded him. People were upset over his dinners with sinners and abruptly walked away when he said, “I am the Bread — Living Bread — who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live — and forever! The Bread I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.” (John 6:5)

It’s not hard to see why people walked away; this is disconcerting — and remains a mystery. But mystery doesn’t negate the power of Christ’s sacrifice. And, on a lesser level, mystery doesn’t negate the power of meals to draw us together. Just as, in the Mass, we’re told, “We who are many are one body, because we all share in one bread, one cup.” Somehow in sharing our common meals, we are knit together.

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Tradition!

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Growing up, we had a lot of food traditions in my family. I grew somewhat attached to these traditions and might still be a little bit of an enthusiast when it comes to holidays.

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After moving from Virginia to Colorado, when I was eleven, I was a moody, short tempered preteen who was obsessively concerned about life and traditions changing because of the relocation. That first Christmas after the move, I learned we would be celebrating the holiday with friends of ours who had decided to have tamales for dinner.

Since my mom grew up on an Indian reservation near Tucson, Arizona, I think she was pretty excited to have a Christmas that resembled her childhood memories. Being consumed in my own childish world, I could not be bothered to care about her and her resurfacing traditions. I was totally concerned with my own sacred rituals being ruined!

I’m not going to lie– those tamales were fantastic, but being the uprooted, and ticked-off child I was I could not appreciate them. Thankfully, people are loving and understanding and we had a full turkey dinner alongside the delicious Mexican fare. My mom and I have talked about that Christmas more recently and I have realized how easy it is to be selfish when it comes to customs what you are used to and what you expect out of a holiday or a tradition. This seems to get harder when you get married, move, intermingle families, and generally live life.

I think there is something heartwarming about traditions. This whole blog is about food telling us something about who we are and how we got to be that way. Knowing that people have participated in something for generations, traced back the recipes through families, and grown from childhood to adulthood with continued practices and tastes are observances that become engrained into you in beautiful ways. Yet as a more mature adult who can appreciate that my mother and father both gave up some of their traditions to raise us with the traditions now particular to our family, I understand more about having flexibility when it comes to the people you love and the food they enjoy. After all, isn’t the purpose of tradition to bring people together across time and space?

What are some of the traditional foods you grew up with and how did your traditions change as your life changed?

Thai Markets

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Last night I had a dinner party and made tom khaa kai or chicken, coconut and ginger soup- one of my favorite Thai soups. Arranging and cooking a Thai meal here in the States takes a little more doing, especially as I do not live in a city with a large Asian population.DSCN2837

My sister and I spent nine months in Thailand several years ago and fell in love with the food! And I fell in love with the markets!
Getting to know the market life was one of the biggest challenges and one of the things I worked the hardest at. My sister was working at a local high school, teaching English, and I was there as a companion. I not only had lots of time to wander the markets but it was required as most of what we ate was fresh and had to be purchased on a daily basis.

Purchasing fruits and veggies was a lesson in language and patience. Being overcharged for being a ‘falang’, or foreigner, was not unusual. Rarely did this upset me as the price difference was never great but the more the girls and I interacted the more personally I would sometimes take it.

Buying the pre made meals was the best parts of the market. Not only did it mean that I didn’t have to make dinner but it was an entertaining guessing game. I would point to a curry and the girls would tell me it was made of something they didn’t think I would want to eat (I generally trusted them on that point) or was too spicy for me and we would struggle for a minute to decide if that meant that I really shouldn’t buy it or if I would just need extra rice that night. Returning the next night to tell them if I liked it or if they were right and it was too hot for me was always the girls favorite part and they would have a good laugh at my expense.

Asking a question in the markets of Thailand generally inspired a hushed conversation between the girls before they answered. Saving face is extremely important in Asian cultures and they were stuck trying to cover up for me and my poor pronunciation or confusion and then also covering up their own confusion and misunderstanding. A short conversation about the difference in curries could take half an hour if we were all on our best behavior. You learned to plan accordingly.
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The market was a place where you could easily get over stimulated. The sights, sounds, colors, and smells combined to lead you deeper into a fascination with the culture. We left Thailand in 2007 but the markets have left a lasting impression and finding an Asian market in the United States still inspires a bit of that same joy and confusion.

Ernest Hemingway

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Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough. – Ernest Hemingway

Healthy Habits by Kara Messenheimer

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Last week my sister Kara of karaofmuchknowledge told us some about her views on eating healthy and eating identifiable foods. This week she follows it up with some thoughts on snacks. Look up her blog where she talks about awesome books and her funny life…IMG_3136

As you look around and start to identify with your food, there is one thing to remember:

All cravings need at least 2 weeks to work their way out of your system. This means, cravings for fast food, candy, chips, etc will still hit you for a while! Stay strong! Go find a snack that you can identify or make yourself. Even if it’s a pb and j sandwich! Cravings do fade. Take it from the girl who was totally addicted to spicy chicken sandwiches from a 99 cent menu….

Things to consider stocking up on to help ward off cravings and keep you happy:

  • Edamame! You can get it frozen in the shells or out of shells. I microwave it with either soy sauce for dipping or a bit of sea salt!
  • Fresh popped popcorn- add your own salt or butter. I got an air popper from Goodwill years ago and it’s so rad.
  • Hard boiled eggs- easy to keep on hand and easy to take with you places!
  • Tortilla chips for the crunchy times! Fresh salsa and hummus are perfect for filling up too!
  • Wasabi Peas- these things get hot but are fun to crunch on.
  • Baby Carrots and other fresh veggies. I recently learned the benefit of keeping some chopped vegetables in my fridge. I can quickly stir fry them up with eggs for a breakfast scramble or just nibble on them when I need to! (this statement will be repeated in a coming paragraph)
  • Granola bars (check ingredients though and get as simple as possible)

Hopefully this helps get you started on avoiding cravings, staying full and “eating healthier”.

One of the best things I have learned is to not only grocery shop for fresh foods but to keep stocked up on items that will prepare easily for any nights you feel like crashing.

Like I mentioned about snacks, keeping chopped vegetables in your fridge is ideal. You can grab them for a quick breakfast scramble, a tasty stir-fry for lunch, or throw them in with some grilled chicken or bake them all together for dinner. It’s the easiest thing. I keep broccoli, zucchini, onions, sweet potatoes (already baked) and carrots all on hand in a Tupperware container.

Keeping fresh produce on hand can be tricking, I know I quickly forget about certain items and will find molding or mushy messes if I am not careful.  I have learned to buy basics and only have enough on hand for a couple days really. Yes, this means more trips or stops by the grocery store but it’s worth it.

I have learned to keep some organic mixed veggies in the freezer as well. For those times that you realize you forgot to make a vegetable stop and you are out of the fresh stuff. This applies to meats as well. I keep some chicken breasts or free range beef in the freezer for emergencies.

A couple other things to keep on hand for times you need easy meals:

  • Whole wheat pasta and tomato sauces (read those ingredients and go for organic and simple if you can)
  • Quinoa- cooks up like rice, has protein in it and is fantastic to use for anything!
  • Brown rice
  • Cans of different kinds of beans

These are my biggest staples for moments I can’t think of anything to cook and need to just throw something together.

Good luck grocery shopping, snacking and trying to “eat healthier”! You can do it, one change at a time.