When my friend Heidi was married, she forbade her family to give her a microwave oven as a wedding gift. She figured it had the power to harm her marriage.
I would never go to such an extreme. But I understand Heidi's stand against the microwave. It all became clear to me this past month while I was making gingerbread with a dear friend.
I don't think you can microwave gingerbread. No, it's a food that requires hours in the kitchen, preferably with a helper.
So, Chris and I spent hours mixing, rolling dough, baking, talking, listening to music and thinking out loud about the new year. We started about 6 p.m. and kept baking till after midnight, so we'd have ample walls and roofs for the gingerbread houses we'd make with friends who were coming the following day.
Of course we could have run out to buy goodies at the store instead. But I wasn't brought up that way. My mom never served store-bought treats to company, never took me to a fast-food place and very rarely — only when she was sick with the flu — gave my brother and me frozen TV dinners.
Instead, we made slow food in her kitchen, where there was never a microwave. We passed many afternoons and evenings chopping vegetables and talking, simmering sauces and talking, steeping ourselves in the fragrances of bread baking and beef roasting.
Mom taught me to follow recipes but not slavishly: Blend in more of the flavors you love best, she said. One teaspoon of cinnamon or vanilla extract was unnecessarily skimpy. Still is. My cookies and cakes are always enhanced with an extra-generous dose.
Had we used a microwave, there would have been a lot less conversation. And my cooking, then and now, would have none of the ingredients that make it rich nor the flavors that make it taste like my deliberate creation. Of course, it's easier to zap a frozen dinner or grab a cup of coffee at the drive-through window, and I still do that fairly often.
I can go for weeks without spending more than 10 minutes in the kitchen. I'm usually rushing for the door, stopping just long enough to scoop up a hand-held breakfast or lunch. And fast food is everywhere, making high-speed life convenient. But somehow, those meals in boxes are missing something. They taste good. But they don't satisfy my cravings.
Singer-songwriter Greg Brown summed it up in his song, "Slow Food."
"I don't want no food with cute names /No neon on a sign/A man can't live on advertising slogans/and conceptual design . . .
I want some slo-o-o-o-ow food/With all the love cooked in."
There's even a "slow food" movement, headquartered in (where else?) Italy. According to its Web site www.slowfood.com, some 560 convivia — groups of people who like a festive, leisurely dinner — meet in homes around the world.
Now I must admit that I have a long way to go before I'm consistently practicing this homily. Last year I was fortunate enough to travel to Ireland, another slow-food stronghold. In small-town pubs, where soup and soda bread fueled long evenings of storytelling, I've never felt so full.
But within a few weeks of returning home to Salt Lake City, I was back to my habit of eating lunch in the car on the way to meetings. It took the December gingerbread marathon, plus a deliciously unhurried Christmas dinner, to remind me that food can provide not only nutrients for our bodies, but also time — generous helpings of the time we need to nourish our relationships with friends and family.
This year, my resolution is to savor simple meals, prepared and enjoyed slowly, with plenty of conversation added.
Yes, I know it's mid-January, past the time for New Year's resolutions.
I'm taking it slow.