By Meadow Linn
Niagara Gazette — My favorite holiday movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The part that always brings tears to my eyes is when a tiny ornament on the Christmas tree chimes and George’s daughter Zuzu says, “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings” and George realizes that Clarence finally got his wings.
Holiday decorations, Christmas songs and even Christmas confections are rife with stories about and images of angels: however, most of us don’t spend much time during the rest of the year thinking about them or believing in them. My first response is generally skepticism when I hear stories of angel encounters; however, I’ve come to see that there might be more truth than fantasy in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
While walking in a city park with my mom when I was a child, I was transfixed by something I’d seen on a nearby bench. Although my mom couldn’t see what I’d seen, she allowed me anyway to run through the grass to get a closer look. Sitting on the bench, I found what I’d been looking for. It was an angel. A real one. Unlike Clarence, this one already had its wings. Since I was a little girl and the veil between this world and the divine was still thin, I was able to meet my angel, even though the other people in the park couldn’t see him.
From where I was standing, slightly behind a tree, I could see that the angel was intently focused on something. My angel was … eating! Typically, religious iconography doesn’t depict angels doing worldly things like enjoying a meal, and I’ve never heard stories of angel encounters involving food, but this angel was most certainly having an afternoon snack. As I’ve been passionate about food and cooking my entire life, it seems fitting that the one time I’ve seen an angelic being, he was eating.
Unfortunately, as I got older, I lost the ability to see angels, and I also stopped believing in their existence. I spent many years trying to fit in and be “normal” and as a result, I lost the openness that allowed me to see the angel in the first place.
However, the one thing that has remained constant throughout my entire life is my love of food. I wonder now if the angel eating in the park was somehow a harbinger of what was to come. When I was 18 years old, I began catering my mom’s summer workshops and retreats and have been doing so ever since. There’s quite a bit of thought, skill, and even luck that go into providing healthy and delicious multi-course meals, three times a day, to a large number of people. Over the years, I’ve weathered a few mishaps in the kitchen, but mostly I’ve been extremely lucky. To explain my good fortune and seeming dumb luck, a few years ago, half-jokingly, I started to say that I had a kitchen angel guiding me.
At first, it seemed just like one of those things you say, but then I remembered the angel I’d seen as a child. I realized that I did, indeed, have a kitchen angel.
My angel guides my hand and gently nudges me toward the correct amount of seasonings, the best cooking temperatures and the most delicious flavor combinations. I’ve discovered that he seems to be most present when I’m cooking for groups, as though he knows that whatever happens when I’m cooking at home will be OK, but I really need his divine guidance when I have large numbers of people counting on me to provide them with sustenance.
A few months ago I had an experience that cemented my belief in my Kitchen Angel. The menu I’d planned for that evening was extremely ambitious, a five-course authentic Vietnamese meal for 25 people with only two hours to do it. Perhaps a bit crazy, but I was just so excited and inspired by the sweet, salty, and fresh flavors of Southeast Asia that I wanted to share as many dishes as possible with the guests at our retreat. With only 30 minutes until the group would be arriving for dinner, I was still washing rice, peeling winter squash for a curry, and grating vegetables for a salad. Generally, I work better and feel more inspired when my workspace is tidy, but the kitchen was a mess. There were piles of food and stacks of dishes everywhere. As the heat began to rise in the kitchen, and I was beginning to feel increasingly frazzled, I remembered my kitchen angel. Although I’d never done this before, I decided to consciously ask for his help. Within minutes of requesting assistance and expressing gratitude for all the other times he’d quietly aided me, the most remarkable thing happened.
Time stood still.
I continued to chop, slice and stir, but the clock stopped moving. Even now as I write this, I’m thinking this sounds absurd, but that’s what happened. What had been heaps of raw vegetables just moments before was now simmering on the stove in a delicious coconut curry, and the rice was happily steaming in the rice maker. Only after I was able to return a bit of order to the kitchen did the clock once again start ticking. The meal wasn’t yet finished, but it was starting to look like I might actually be able to pull it off. With just 10 minutes before the dinner bell and still work to be done, a number of workshop participants showed up and offered to help. With their assistance, we were able to get everything completed and on the table on time … and the meal was delicious.
It felt as though my kitchen angel was present in his divine form, but also I think he may have had a hand in the arrival of the human kitchen angels as well. It was such a joy (and a great help) to have the seminar participants volunteer to help during those final crucial minutes. Although part of me remains skeptical and wonders whether a clock can really stop moving, there’s another part of me—the same part that saw my angel as a child and tears up during “It’s a Wonderful Life,” knows that magic and divinity are everywhere when we take time to open our hearts and walk in gratitude for all the magic that surrounds us every day.
Meadow Linn is the co-autco-author of “The Mystic Cookbook” and the creator of “Savor the Day,” a blog filled with personal stories, photos, and recipes. To find out more, visit www.meadowlinn.com.
Italian Apricot Claufotis
1 lb. fresh apricots, peeled and halved
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown rice flour
2 large eggs
1/4 cup canned coconut milk (not light)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
vegetable shortening for greasing the pan
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Grease a 10-inch pie plate with vegetable shortening. Line the pie plate with the apricots, face up, in a single layer. In a medium bowl combine the sugar and brown rice flour. In the same bowl whisk in the eggs and coconut milk. Add the vanilla and mix to combine. Since the brown rice flour does not contain gluten the batter can be whisked until smooth without worrying about making the pastry tough. The batter should be the consistency of pancake batter.
Pour the batter over the peaches, making sure to distribute evenly. Place on the center rack of the preheated oven and bake until golden, about 40 minutes. This can also be made with other fruit such as cherries or fresh prunes.