When I was researching ideas for observing Lent, I came across a website that promoted preparing and eating simple meals (e.g. soups) as a spiritual experience. I had never considered cooking as a spiritual experience, but I had had a spiritual eating experience, so the idea resonated with me.
I like Ethiopian food. Don and the boys don’t care for it, but occasionally, I could convince Don to go to an Ethiopian restaurant where we used to live (I chose to eat there to celebrate the day I became a Canadian citizen). I also went there to eat with Simon when Don and Peter were gone to Scout camp. I always got a combination plate so I could have some of everything–how could I choose just one thing to eat? The leftovers were always mine; no one else wanted them.
One time in particular, eating leftover Ethiopian food became a spiritual experience for me. As I scraped the food from the styrofoam container onto a plate, I thought of how many Ethiopian people were hungry at that very moment and I made sure not to leave a morsel. The combination of leftover food had more of the foods that weren’t my favorites (because I had eaten more of my favorite foods in the first place), but it wouldn’t do to be picky when people in this world were starving. I warmed up the plate in the microwave and sat to eat, carefully tearing the injera (spongy sour flatbread) and using the pieces to pick up the soft vegetable stews and remaining pieces of meat. I ate every last bite of food, feeling myself in solidarity with the poor as I ate.
Peter is on spring break from school this upcoming week. Don wanted to go on a trip for spring break, but I didn’t want to go. Clara still naps 2-3 times a day and doesn’t nap well away from home; taking her on vacation would just be stressful. So Don decided to take the boys to the Twin Cities for a 4-day weekend (Saturday through Tuesday) to do some big-city things while I stay home with Clara and enjoy having free time to do my own thing when she sleeps. It’s a win-win situation. I decided that I would eat vegan while they were gone, as a Lenten exercise in intentional simplicity.
I have been re-reading Melissa Fay Greene’s powerful book There is No Me Without You (I originally read it around 2008 or 2009). This incredibly moving book goes back and forth between telling the story of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia and the story of one remarkable individual’s response to the resulting orphan crisis. With Ethiopia on my mind, I wanted to eat vegetarian Ethiopian food. There is no Ethiopian restaurant anywhere near where I live, so I decided to attempt to cook some myself.
Today, during Clara’s morning nap, I made misir wot, red lentil and carrot stew. It was a wonderful spiritual experience. As I chopped carrots and onions, measured and rinsed lentils, inhaled the exotic spicy scent of berbere (which required me to add two new spices to my already-well-stocked spice cabinet), and stirred the stew, my thoughts drifted to Haregewoin Teferra, the orphaned and abandoned children she cared for, their parents and other family members, people who are hungry, children who have been adopted, and children who are now waiting for families, and I prayed for them.
Whether it turned out well or not, I would have eaten the misir wot. I was cooking and eating in solidarity with the poor, and the poor don’t have the luxury of turning up their noses at food that isn’t exactly to their taste. (I remembered the Bongú can–like a coffee can–in the refrigerator of the volunteer house where I stayed in Haiti, in which we put our leftovers, piled in an unappetizing mélange, for a local family to eat later.) However, the misir wot turned out to be amazingly good. Clara and I savored it for lunch (at least, I savored it and she ate it without complaint) and I am eagerly anticipating eating the leftovers. My first foray into Ethiopian cooking was an unqualified success.
I didn’t attempt to make injera because it looked intimidating, but the misir wot was wonderful to eat all by itself. If my future attempts at Ethiopian cooking turn out as well as this one, I might spend the money on a griddle and try to make injera too.