“Each morning sees some task begin / Each evening sees it close / Something attempted, something done / Has earned a night’s repose.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
These days, we’re over here in our little house in Nashville waking at the same time every morning to put fruit on our toddler’s tray. Once he’s fed, one of us is reading in the living room while the other is taking a shower, and then one of us is changing a diaper while the other is prepping a second toddler meal. For a few hours each morning, I’m closing myself off in my little office with a window to the backyard trees and churning out SEO-optimized articles and webpages while little feet run around Tim at his computer in the kitchen or circle the white Ikea sofa and gray Craigslist chairs. Every afternoon around 3 or 4 o’clock, I’m standing at the kitchen island with whatever lineup of ingredients goes into that night’s dinner plans. Every night at 6 p.m., my little family of three is gathered around the farmhouse table Tim and our friend Terry built to eat for maybe 15 minutes a meal that took all afternoon to make, just before filling up the tub and getting Rocco ready for bed and reading him a story before he sleeps.
When you’re knee-deep in the regular routines of ordinary days, it takes imagination to see their significance, to believe that making dinner for your household is about more than just providing them with something to eat. When you’re propelled forward by the structured beat of washing diapers, wiping counters, turning in assignments and cuddling a child, it takes effort to believe that what you’re doing is about more than mere tasks. This past week, I read an article where someone said she’s having a hard time seeing significance in daily work, what with everything happening in the world today. When history is being made in baseball and politics, what’s the value of submitting to the ordinary rhythms of making daily dinner, of prepping beans and rice?
The joy and burden of daily dinner is the same joy and burden of any necessary work: it’s unending, challenging, not always convenient, not always fun, but, also, something we’re made to do, an opportunity to accept our role in the larger world and history in which we’ve been placed. In her article, “A Happy Home in a Hard World”, Sarah Clarkson talks about this reality when she talks about schedule, something she likes to think of “as rhythm, a structured beat so that the music of creativity and relationship can flourish within the boundaries of order and rest.” In a season of life when I am more scheduled than I have ever been, when Tim and I have a long list of responsibilities and commitments each week, her words speak life to my soul by reminding me that there is more than I can see in being faithful to the tasks, small or large, set before me. As I make another meal, clean another dish, I do more than just those things; I effectively step into the rhythm of the music I’m playing in, and so while maybe my part may be small, at least it’s in tune.
In Trevor Hudson’s book, Beyond Loneliness, he says being a friend of Christ’s likewise endows your work with meaning. “While our daily work provides a living for our families and for ourselves, there is more to it,” he writes. “Our work also provides a significant arena for living in tune with God’s dream. When we enter into the divine friendship, we don’t have to become monks or nuns or ordained ministers in order to work with God. Rather, we can recognize our daily work as the primary opportunity to partner with God in making God’s dream for this world a reality.”
In Tish Harrison Warren’s essay, “Courage in the Ordinary,” she writes something similar when she says, “I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day — an afternoon with a colicky baby where I’m probably going to snap at my two-year old and get annoyed with my noisy neighbor — without despair, the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough. ”
The meal of beans and rice featured in this post, a staple recipe from Nicole Gulotta posted at her site Eat This Poem, is everything you might think of when you think of ordinary, as its main ingredients are one cup of rice, a can of coconut milk and a can of pinto beans; it comes together quickly, even when you’re making it alongside a toddler who wants to be held; it’s served in a single bowl, where you can top the entree with accessories like avocado, salsa and chips, but only if you like; and it’s eaten with a single utensil, a spoon. It’s also more than you might think of when you think of ordinary, as it’s a hard-working, faithful and reliable dinner option, one Nicole says she’s often eaten once a week. Symbolically, you could say it’s a lot like our daily rhythms, our errands and bills and meetings and jobs–not glamorous, not flashy, but good. As there’s more to a humble dinner than we may see, there’s more to the practice of making it. As there’s significance in ordinary work, there’s significance in ordinary meals, the daily, necessary reminder of why we are here.
Beans and Rice
Very lightly adapted from “Something to Rely On,” Eat This Poem
Makes enough to feed two adults and one active toddler for dinner or, two hearty servings
2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
1 medium white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 (13.5 ounce) can coconut milk
1/4 cup water, vegetable stock or chicken stock
1 cup rice (Nicole uses basmati, and we used some sprouted wild rice)
1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Topping suggestions: Tortilla chips, salsa, sliced avocado, chopped cilantro, lime wedges
Heat the oil in your largest skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and stir around to coat. Let cook until soft and just beginning to brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and let it lightly toast for about one to two minutes, until it’s fragrant but not browned. Sprinkle with hefty dashes of salt and pepper.
Stir in the coconut milk, stock (or water), rice, pinto beans and cumin. Let this mixture come to a boil, reduce it to a simmer and cover. Cook for 15 to 18 minutes, until the rice is tender and the liquids have evaporated. Take the skillet off the heat and let everything sit for 10 minutes.
Scoop into bowls, top as you like and enjoy.