April 25, 2022 - Marisa Guerin, PhD
Is there a wooden spoon in your kitchen?
There is a high likelihood that most readers will answer, “yes”. Somewhere in the midst of the silicone spatulas and tongs and ladles, most of us have at least one wooden spoon. I like to imagine that most kitchens around the world are equipped with a wooden spoon, whether that is West Philadelphia, or Paris, or Kenya, or Japan. I might be wrong about that, but the image means something to me.
The humble wooden spoon is an ancient instrument for stirring a cookpot; I don’t know when it was first fashioned, but it has lasted for generations. Whether it is over a fire or a high-tech stove-top, we still cook in ways that connect us far back into our ancestry. My great-great grandmothers hailed from the Philippines, from Spain, from Ireland, from Germany; and all of them would know just what to do with a wooden spoon and a pot of soup on the stove.
We may have rocketed into a modern future with the inventions of the last 150 years, but the story of the human community is so very much older than that. Our supposed maturity as a civilization is betrayed by our failure, so far, to figure out how to live peacefully with other people and to share what is needed for the flourishing of all. That level of human development may take us another couple hundred years – that is, if we don’t mess up the planet too badly in the meantime.
To evolve towards a future of tolerance and support for the common good, we won’t be relying mostly on technology. We will be relying on human emotional, intellectual, and spiritual capacities – the cries of grieving parents whose children die in war, the moral imagination of youth who dream of a fair future, the courage of individuals who speak up when others suffer from oppression on account of their race or gender or religion, the creativity and energy of ordinary people working together. I know it is a slow process, with almost as many setbacks as moments of progress.
I think I wouldn’t have much hope for a better future if it weren’t for the fact that I remain a person of faith. I trust in mystery of a loving God who loves and suffers with us and whose Spirit animates the best in us even in dark times. And the best in us sometimes comes down to a pot of soup, a loaf of bread, and a table for sharing food with those we love and also with those we don’t understand, yet.
In that dreamed-of future for a human community of justice, peace, and mutual care, we will still be served by the practical simplicity of a wooden spoon. Perhaps our spoons might remind us of our past and our future, and signal the opportunities we may have each day to spin the world every so slightly in the direction of love.
And just to give your spoon something to work with, here is a recipe for a favorite supper; it is called a soup, but it is substantial in the way that risotto is. Bon Appetit!
Creamy White Bean Lemon Pesto Orzo Soup (Adapted a bit from a recipe from “Half-Baked Harvest” on the web)
Time required is 20 minutes; makes 6 servings, extra can be refrigerated or frozen for another night.
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot (or equivalent piece of an onion) chopped
4-6 cloves garlic, smashed (or a teaspoon or two of minced garlic from a jar)
Red pepper flakes, to your taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups dry orzo pasta
6 cups lo sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 can white beans
Salt and black pepper, to your taste
½ bunch of kale finely shredded (or a cup or two of frozen chopped spinach)
½ cup basil pesto
½ cup whole milk (or a mix of lower fat milk and half-and-half, if you don’t stock whole milk)
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus some for topping the plates
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, add shallot or onion, garlic, ad chili flakes a cook until fragrant, just a couple minutes. Drop in the butter and let it melt, then stir in the orzo. Stir (with wooden spoon!) and cook until golden, 1-3 minutes. Pour in the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the beans and the kale or spinach. Season again with salt and pepper. Simmer 8-10 minutes until the orzo is al dente, stirring often. It should become very creamy.
2. Stir in pesto, milk, parmesan, lemon juice and zest. Cook another few minutes until warmed through.
3. Divide among bowls and add more parmesan and black pepper. If you like, also sprinkle on some fresh herb like dill, parsley, or basil.
The orzo will soak up the broth over time. If eating left overs, add more broth or water to thin it. It should be creamy, but with just a touch of liquid.