Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Feast of Simplicity

There is something about Louisiana that never leaves you.

Most of my colleagues from the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance posted last week of how much they miss being in the Gulf Coast area at Mardi Gras time. All of us who served in the post-Katrina rebuilding during the weeks leading up to the Lenten season have been to a parade or two. Some of us can even remember it.

What I learned about Mardi Gras from my time in Mississippi and Louisiana is that Mardi Gras is vastly misunderstood. Watching it on TV you would think there’s one big parade in the French Quarter of New Orleans where everybody gets embarrassingly drunk. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, folks. The iceberg is actually 15 days long with over 100 parades-- not floats, parades-- of people in costumes, playing music and throwing a variety of free stuff along the streets of New Orleans and the surrounding cities. And some of the parades are as dry as a bone and wholesome as a trip to Disneyland.

Mardi Gras has a long and detailed history and some of the krewes have been parading since 1872. My favorite is the Krewe of Selene, a group of around 500 women professionals who pay thousands of dollars each to make their float the best. Some of the krewes operate throughout the year with balls and elections of royalty. Some are just neighborhoods who love to dance and play music. The Treme neighborhood band was one of the first to dig their trombones and trumpets out of the mud from Katrina and get back to playing.

There are so many parades with different themes organized by so many different people that the newspapers print out whole guide books to which parade is what day and what it offers.

When I was in New Orleans in February of 2008 I consulted the guide book and decided to go to the Selene parade but ended up so busy that I missed it. I ended up going to one Slidell and left before it was over because I was cold.  But I can say that beads aren't the only reason to go to a parade.  Sometimes they throw quality stuff like souvenir cups. I would have taken my grandkids to that parade in a heartbeat..  I'm inclined to think it was sponsored by a bunch of soccer moms.

That week, my friend, Dallas  cooked up a pot of gumbo and invited a few of the PDA staff to come over. It’s always a fine old time when Dallas cooks even though the strongest drink she serves is Dr Pepper. I think there were about six or eight of us around her table that night and we just visited ourselves limp. That’s when I came to know Mardi Gras as a time in the spring when we can celebrate just being alive. You really don’t need more of an excuse than that.

I’m starting to have a new view of the whole Lenten season and Mardi Gras. As I travel the road toward simplifying my life I am starting to see what abundance there is to be found in simple living. I think I will call it the Feast of Simplicity.

Last weekend, both of our daughters and granddaughters came to visit. Here’s the thing about my kids: we talk a great talk about healthy eating but when it comes to actually eating the stuff we sometimes stray from the path. We are making strides but slowly.

That explains how I came face to face this morning with a refrigerator full of uneaten vegetables. So I conjured up some vegetable soup made from what I found on hand in the kitchen.

I took some of the homemade butter I had and threw it in a big pot. Then I started chopping, dicing and slicing just about anything I found in the kitchen:, onions, garlic, potatoes, brussel sprouts, sweet potato, cabbage, celery, red potatoes and an acorn squash. I topped it all off with some chicken stock I had made from the bones of a rotisserie chicken. After it all cooked I blended half of it into a thick stock and added a little sour cream. Then I added the other half of the vegetables back to the soup.

Most of the ingredients for the soup can be grown here in Texas. I’m not sure about the acorn squash. I am new to this whole squash thing so I don’t know much about them. Such a funny name for something to eat.

You might be surprised that I had homemade butter on hand. Emily had asked how hard it was to make so we made some. I had also taken her on a field trip to the local dairy who sells raw milk. The only way you can buy raw milk in Texas is from the source. They sell a wicked-good yogurt so we got some of that and also some of their cheese. And a loaf of artisan honey-wheat bread. I will put all of that on my table tonight.

I called up my neighbor to come share the soup with me for dinner this evening. It will be a simple meal made luxurious by the flavors of the earth and the presence of a friend. The meal will be spiced by laughter and conversation. We won’t be a parade. Not a drop of alcohol will be involved. Not a penny will have been spent. I already had everything I needed for this feast within reach.

In the meantime, I will spend some time outdoors today. I will walk the labyrinth and let my prayers drift from “please”s to “thank you”s and back again. I will marvel that the same Creator who filled the skies with stars also poured the molten rock and watered the vegetation that became the soil under my feet.

Wednesday, Facebook will be filled with vows of what people will eliminate from their busy lives in order to get in touch with God. I’m not sure we need to eliminate things as much as maybe appreciate the bounty God has already given us and live mindful of where it came from. We have such a bounty right in front of us: Glorious springtime weather. Natural and healthy foods. Companionship with fellow travelers in a crazy world. A love affair with our Creator. That alone is such an abundance that we cannot even measure it.

It is a Feast of Simplicity.

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