Latkes, Menorahs, and the French Phrase that Might Change Your Life

I have a student who already has a career in bread and pastries.  She’s a baker who works all through the night baking bread for local bakeries.  She’ll rise at 2:30 AM, work all night, and report to my 10:00 AM class covered in flour.  The smell of freshly baked bread precedes her and lingers when she departs. 

Last night, my baker student stops by to make potato latkes (pancakes) for my family.  She wants to share this special Hanukkah food tradition with us, and she even brings a Menorah to light at sundown.   As a Jewish daughter, she said the blessing as the candles were lit in her family, so she also proclaims the Hebrew blessing as a treat for my Christian family as the flames flicker.

But first, we make latkes!  She’s like a precision sportsman grating white and sweet potatoes with speed.  As my student cooks, I notice how organized and how peaceful she remains.  She carries on 3 different conversations, washes the dishes (and the floor!), and flips the latkes.  At no point is my kitchen disordered or dirty.  No stress, no worry. 

“This is amazing!” I remark. 

She looks over at me (while putting more latkes in the pan), and says, “Mise en place.” 

“Me za what?” I ask, laughing.

“It’s French for, ‘everything in its place’,” she teaches.  Apparently, every great baker knows this rule.  Before you start cooking anything, you enact mise en place.  You set everything up–all your ingredients, all your tools, all your supplies–for the entire project.  There’s no scurrying about and no energy wasted. Everything is exactly as you need it–mise en place

When the latkes finish, she turns them over onto a plate beside her, already lined with a paper towel–mise en place

When sundown falls like a grandmother’s shawl around our home, she has her candles and matches ready to light her Menorah.  Her Hebrew blessing is typed out in translation for us–mise en place

I serve Italian for dinner; my husband prays over our meal; we enjoy Jewish latkes as the candles burn down. 

But all night, mise en place resonates long after I should be sleeping.  Can I do that with my life?  Can I get everything ready–anticipating–so I offer spaces of peace and organization?  Those well-planned days are my best days.  No scurrying, no energy wasted.  I have everything I need right here before me.  Living with flair means mise en place

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What Your Underwear Drawer Can Show You

I run down the stairs with my purse swinging wildly behind my back and cry out, “I have to take the girls shopping.  They need new socks and underwear. I can’t find one thing for them to wear! “

“Are you sure they need more?” my dear husband asks in response. 

“Yes,” I nod my head. “Definitely.” 

We return home, and in order to stack all of our new stuff neatly in their drawers, it occurs to me to refold the little one’s underwear drawer because it’s a tangled vine of swirling tights, wads of underwear, and socks without partners. You can’t see a thing in there. 

This is why I went shopping. 

I dump the whole drawer out, isolate items, and begin the slow process of refolding.

Long Lost Pink Mitten

That underwear drawer had 30 panties (that’s thirty!), 10 pairs of socks, 4 leotards, 6 tights, and 1 missing mitten. Did I mention how many underwear?  Didn’t I?  Thirty.

I learned my lesson.

We have stuff to spare.  The mess just created an illusion that I was missing something.  Had I paused and assessed the truth of the circumstances, I once again would have found abundance where I perceived scarcity.  

What theme is this God continues to show me?  Living with flair means seeing God’s abundance. It might mean I sort through my life–isolate the blessings–and see all I have.  Once I’m organized, I find I have more than I need. 

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