losing my religion (and coming home for a visit)

Alliums are a religion in south Louisiana. Everything I ever learned to cook there began with the “holy trinity” of onions, peppers and celery, followed by a heap of minced garlic. I’ve heard some cooks extend the sacred metaphor, likening garlic to the Virgin Mary. This might seem to relegate the pungent bulb to secondary status, but in Catholic Cajun country, the daily rosary can take on a greater importance than weekly mass.

Any ritual worth its salt soon seeps out of its learned context. The funky sludge that forms the background of jambalaya, gumbo, etouffee remained with me even as I expanded my culinary repertoire. Italian red sauce, southwestern black beans, even vaguely Asian stir-fries — all began a hefty pile of onions and garlic. Streaming eyes and fragrant fingers were an inevitable by-product of feeding myself.

I’ve heard some preachers warn that yoga has the insidious power to distract souls from the faith of their fathers. Well, in my case, it wasn’t insidious at all. As a newly minted teacher, I became a regular studio assistant, which meant getting up close and personal with practitioners in a small, sweaty room. And so, in an effort to practice kindness toward my fellow yogis, I deliberately abandoned the holy trinity (not to mention the heavenly bulb).

These days I only teach three months of the year, but I’ve broken with those early cooking rituals for good. Part of it, I think, has to do with the fact that I’m growing so much of my own food, and I mostly prefer to let each bright shining vegetable speak for itself, without too much complication. When alliums do figure into the equation, I’m aware of them in a way I never used to be, and I’m now picky about not only the particulars of the plant, but also the size of the dice and the amount of moderating heat applied.

Last summer, as an experiment, I grew some garlic. A very modest investment gave me a good-sized crop, and this winter I find myself cooking more in accordance with my upbringing. A pot of soup might begin with a head of roasted garlic and end with a raw clove, ground to a paste with a bit of salt and stirred in before serving. In the height of the sniffle season, I figure my body is glad for its natural antiseptic qualities. And I’ve spent much of December and January in Roseboom, so in the mornings I practice alone—no one but me notices the faint odor that  clings to my fingertips and seeps from my pores.

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One Comment on “losing my religion (and coming home for a visit)”

  1. Mike Says:

    Surviving all the snow OK?

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