The Absurd and Amazing Adventures of Cafe Girl: Just What I Need

August 13, 2009

Just What I Need

I just finished reading Barbar Kingslover's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It chronicles her family's one year of trying to eat food either grown or raised locally, on their own land, or choose to go without. I'd first heard about this book on NPR's The Splendid Table over a year ago, and this summer, I started reading it on a plane ride to Chicago.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has prompted me to reconsider the local Farmers' Market. The theory is that organic and locally grown is not only better for you, it also tastes better. In the weeks that I have shopped at the Farmers' Market, I have found this to be true.

The catch with buying organic and locally grown is that the food does go bad faster. That part is a bummer. When you're single and have a seventy-hour a week job, cooking, while extremely enjoyable, is a challenge. Farmers' Market food has to be cooked relatively quickly, or it does go bad. And then that $3.00 zucchini has to go into the trash. As my mother would say, "That makes my heart hurt."

I learnt this the hard way three weeks ago. Thoroughly inspired by Kingslover, I went to the local organic Farmers' Market in Santa Monica on a Saturday morning armed with $40. I wondered how far it could go. I needed to feed a bunch of people at a poker party that night, as well as make some meals for the rest of my week. I wandered around stalls with bright red , crisp green and yellow summer squash, deep green avocados, bushels of fragrant basil and cilantro. I was in heaven. I spent about $20 and left, excited, ready for an afternoon of cooking.

I only had time to cook for the poker party that Saturday afternoon and decided that I would cook for the rest of the week on Sunday. Sunday afternoon turned out to be an emotionally hard time, and then the work week started, and my locally grown produce languished. First on my counter, then in my refrigerator. The next week passed in a blur. I missed the Farmers' Market that Saturday and realized I had no food in my refrigerator except for the withered zucchini and squishy tomatoes from two weeks ago. I had bought more food than I was ready to eat or cook.

I've done much better at the Farmers' Market since. I do the mental math in my head, three recipes involving tomatoes only requires three large beefsteak tomatoes and a half a pound of assorted cherry tomatoes. A zucchini cookie recipe only requires two medium zucchini. Any more and the food would go to waste.

Shopping this way has made me ask -- what do I need, and what can I realistically manage this week?

If the food is cheap, I'm likely to purchase more than I need and let it go bad. I think about buying $2.50 a pound organically grown broccoli much more carefully than $0.89 a pound supermarket broccoli, buying only as much as I can cook or freeze. The net result is that I actually spend about the same that I would spend at the supermarket, the food tastes better, and I'm not throwing out unused food.

Juicy, bright red tomatoes may inspire my desire to make pasta sauce from scratch, but I simply won't have the time. It's too sad to make excellent produce wait on me and my schedule. I'd much rather let someone else who has the time enjoy this produce at its peak.

What's so fascinating is that I'm really developing the discipline of choosing quality over bulk and getting only what I need. Not to withhold from what I need, but also not to over indulge.

My Farmers' Market experience has led me to ponder this same discipline in my walk with God. I've found in the past few years, I've read a lot of Christian inspirational living books, attended a lot of seminars, classes and conferences, sometimes in lieu of actually sitting down and reading the Bible. Truth be told, that's my spiritual version of cheap, bulk produce. It's so much easier to rely on a book or a gifted teacher to tell you what God 'really means' as opposed to sitting with the Word of God and wrestling through the passages, looking up the Greek and Hebrew, getting on your knees and asking God what He's truly saying.

Relying on God for what I need each day is a challenge. I do start each morning praying, Lord, give me what I need to get through the day. I don't have a list of what that is, mostly because I honestly have no idea. Mostly I hope to get through the day without bursting into tears in a conversation or collapsing from the heaviness in my chest. Often times, I ask God for a scripture that will speak to me and soothe my soul for the day.

And then something sort of insane kicks in, and I have this overwhelming belief that if one piece of scripture that speaks is great, five pieces of scripture that speak are even better. I type words like "hope" and "truth" into the search bar on Biblegateway and off I go, one verse after another, never stopping to think, and wait, and let it soak into my spirit. Is scripture what I need? Absolutely. Can I manage twenty verses about hope today? Probably not. Like those tomatoes waiting to become pasta sauce, the twenty verses about hope wait sadly for me to get to them. Meanwhile, my soul goes hungry when what would have been wise was to chew on that one scripture passage slowly, savoring it, and letting it nourish me.

At the end of the day, getting just what I need, not more, not less, is about trust. With locally grown organic, I trust that the extra dollars I pay are worth it for the sheer tastiness of the food. I trust that because this is California, the Farmers' Market will always have something in season that is delicious, and that I don't need to buy twenty zucchini and freeze them for later. (Zucchini doesn't freeze well anyway.)

With God, the trust is a bigger challenge. I not only have to trust that God knows what I need, but that He hears me when I ask for those needs. I have to trust that what God brings is exactly what I need to get through the day. Sometimes, what God provides looks like nothing at all. And sometimes, it's like succulent peaches, sweet, juicy, quenching all my hunger and thirst. In times like this, it's hard not to want to horde -- who knows what tomorrow will bring?

This isn't a lesson that's new or unique to me. A people group learnt this a long time ago -- the Israelites wandered through the desert for 40 years. God gave them exactly what they needed with instructions to only take enough for each day, and twice that on the weekends. Anything in excess of that went bad overnight. The Israelites had to learn that with God, they would get just what they needed -- nothing less, but nothing more.

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