Food

B for Babette’s Feast and C for Compassion

Babette collects herbs.
[Source – The Criterion Collection]

Believing in a belief, conclusion-loving, pinning the words ‘this way, please’ on a dimly lit – could be dusk, could be dawn – sky, they followed the direction, unchallenged they went for ages, preaching and praying, walking as said… old eyes looking at the sky, chanting the words again when suddenly a dazzling shooting star strikes through the pinned message… which way now?

Round and round… for the fear of going astray.


Setting the fruit plate.
[Source – Vox.com]

In Babette’s Feast a humble group of elderly believers – tired, corroded by time yet hoarding time, finicky, daft and cement strict – are made to taste another route, taste literally, for they are invited to a feast, “a real French dinner”.

This 1987 Danish masterpiece directed and written by Gabriel Axel, based on one of Karen Blixen’s stories from Anecdotes of Destiny, termed by critics as “gastro-cinema at its most sensual and intoxicating”, “melancholy bliss”, and “a classic of literary adaptation”, in its simplicity and candour trespasses the humdrum routine life, and compassionately so… that you feel full.

Receiving an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, the first for a Danish film, Babette’s Feast most probably is also the first film ever to be mentioned in a papal document, Amoris Laetitia, as it is Pope Francis’ most favourite film and a recommendation too.

Watch the trailer now –


Story – Meet the sisters

Martine and Filippa, two elderly sisters, in a remote region on the western coast in Denmark, have lived a life of austerity, carefully always measuring the rules set – set in stone, grey and seashore stone, often used to hold the roof, the door, the window, sincere and sturdy stone, set in the 19th century – by their late father, a pastor, who named them after the theologians Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon.

Following the spirit of Protestant Reformation, the pastor had started a congregation, a group with a mission to follow the followers who followed from the beginning the grand words of the follower. Now long gone, the pastor’s congregation is being carried on, thanks to his two daughters.

Sacrificing themselves for a greater good, the two elderly sisters, when young, were heartbreakers; many suitors attended the mass just to get a glimpse of the two beauties. The suitors dared to fall in love, Martine and Filippa dared to love not one but all, and the pastor loved his rule books.

The pastor with his two young daughters, Filippa and Martine, followed by the Lutheran sect members.
[Source – IMDB]

Yet, two true lovers – a Swedish cavalry officer, Lorens Löwenhielm, and a classical singer, Achille Papin – heartbroken, never stopped loving Martine and Filippa.

When Babette Hersant, a refugee, appears on a dark rainy night, begging for shelter, offering to work as a housekeeper for free, showing Achille Papin’s recommendation letter, the two sisters take her in. Fourteen years pass by and Babette, as a cook, serves Martine, Filippa and the congregation with better meals, deftly using from whatever is available.

The handful of folks who stayed loyal to the congregation – attending meetings, reading hymns, sighing, lamenting, cursing, gossiping – forgot, in actuality, why the congregation was formed. Saddened to see the folks bickering, Martine and Filippa, nevertheless, wish to celebrate their father’s hundredth birthday (a modest supper followed by a cup of coffee, that’s the plan).

Babette serves tea.
[Source – The Criterion Collection]

Babette requests the sisters, and it is the first time she does so, to let her prepare the commemorative dinner – a real French dinner – and also allow her to pay from her own pocket as she has won a lottery. The sisters, thinking that Babette will soon return to France and it probably will be her last time cooking for them, agree with her.

When Babette’s ingredients – exquisite wines, quail, a turtle, a calf’s head, etc., – for the feast arrive, the villagers are dumbfounded and the sisters are scared, regretting permitting Babette for she is turning the modest supper into a fantastic feast.

Sacrifice

A sacrifice is something sacred, holy, often done either to appease a deity or for the sake of others by renouncing something significant. Tied down in such a manner, sacrifice carelessly brings comparison in the framework of our societies.

The old pastor, thus, got lost in comparison. Comparing the text in his rule books with capricious people, he made them march-past, sing, sit and stand like the written word. All hail, now!

The congregation listens to Martine… Hallelujah!
[Source – criterionforum.org]

He couldn’t ever think of letting his two sweet bookmarks, his daughters, step out of his rule books, and the daughters knew, and the daughters obeyed, and the daughters gently broke hearts, and the daughters worked hard to run the congregation, to make the commoners appreciate. Hail and sing and love thy neighbour!

The pastor adored his daughters, appreciated the congregation, and loved the rule books for he identified with it the most.

The daughters surpassed the good old pastor’s attempt to follow a righteous path, for they sacrificed with compassion.

Compassion

Compassion works without failing, ceaselessly, for all and that is it; not divisive in nature, all comparison vanishes when a compassionate eye turns and looks through it.

Martine and Filippa are compassionate, always giving. From young to old age, they lived for others, tending and caring, cooking and serving, all seasons, morning to evening.

Not a sacrifice, for comparison rarely touches them, they quietly live – like the wavy grass, the cold ocean-fresh sand, the smoke coming out of the chimneys in the village, the lit and silent candles – cherishing their duty, performing it with love. Love!

On a dark rainy night, the sisters take Babette in.
[Source – The Criterion Collection]

Love engulfed their old father’s rule books and became Martine and Filippa’s sole guide, without declaring it.

But their habit of following the late pastor often led them to troubled states – the congregation was decaying unnaturally – and the rule books offered no solution. Round and round they went.

Who brought a change then? Who?

The act of giving a wounded Babette a place to rest, recover and serve, turned out to be that shooting star that struck through their fixated way of living… unawares the sisters stirred the scene and ripples of change began. It was a simple act.


Story – Babette’s preparing the feast

It becomes a grand affair, Babette’s feast, with the turtle soup and amontillado sherry, buckwheat pancakes with caviar and sour cream and of course, Champagne Veuve Clicquot 1860, then quail in puff pastry with foie gras and truffle sauce, accompanied with what the sisters were earlier worried about – they had asked, seeing the bottles of alcohol, “Surely that’s not wine?” and Babette had replied honestly, ‘No, that’s not wine. It is Clos de Vougeot, 1845!’

The sisters don’t say anything when dining, they had made a pact with all the community members, all of them won’t participate in this “witches’ sabbath”, they won’t accept pleasure and commit sin by describing how good the food is… so they eat everything quietly, the salade and dessert and the champagne and then the cheeses, fruits, sauternes, the coffee at the very end with the Grande Champagne cognac.

They chewed, sipped, swallowed slowly, sheepishly at first, then heartily tasting the fantastic joyful scrumptious heavenly meal, though never ever saying a word about the food, they do talk about their differences, mistakes, fraudulence, foolishness, love for the congregation, the old pastor and the lovely sisters.

Full and happy, pleased and welcoming, they then feel good and so, compassionately sing together, holding hands in a circle like little children.

“Mercy imposes no conditions…”, says General Lorens Lowenhielm.
[Source – The Criterion Collection]

The only one who did acknowledge the excellently prepared and presented dinner, is Lorens, Martine’s former lover, a General and married man now, who attends the dinner with his old aunt – the oldest member of the congregation.

Savouring every combination that is served, relishing the elegant, rounded, rich wines, he shares an anecdote about a woman chef, an artist, a culinary genius, who was behind the success of a renowned restaurant in Paris, and how this meal reminds him of the time when he once dined there.

Thanks to Lorens, the others get to know about the intricacies that made every dish so special. ‘Hallelujah!’ They sing together, the old hymns, looking at the night sky, and this once, find only the stars twinkling, not the pinned message.

Bidding goodbye, Lorens shares with Martine –

I have been with you everyday of my life. Tell me you know that.

Yes, I know it.

You must also know that I shall be with you every day that is granted to me from now on. Every evening, I shall sit down to dine with you. Not with my body, which is of no importance, but with my soul. Because this evening I have learned, my dear, that in this beautiful world of ours, all things are possible.

Sacrifice

The turtle haunts Martine.
[Source – The Movie Screen Scene]

Food chopped and sliced, butchered and boiled, softened, sweetened and spiced for the feast. The running food cycle does not appear like a sacrifice, one depends on consuming food, until one doesn’t.

The running food cycle turns exploitative when one species begins to burden the others, when storing food becomes the norm, when one has only two-minutes to cook. Nothing is sacrificed other than one’s health in such a case.

Says one of the members of the congregation – “Man shall not merely refrain from but also reject any thought of food and drink. Only then can he eat and drink in the proper spirit.” She then sips the champagne quietly.

The good food overpowering each one of them gradually, humbly, without a desire to win over, makes them forget the yardstick to measure goodness. They forget to compare.

Even though they follow Lorens’ lead – copying his manners, what to eat first and how exactly, for the exotic feast is absolutely new to them – they do so without fear. Conditions imposed faded away when they sat down to eat the meal.

Compassion

Babette once worked as the head chef of the famous Café Anglais in Paris, she is the culinary genius – an exception – Lorens spoke about; her passion for food guided her to experiment freely.

Fourteen years pass by and Babette, a refugee from a revolution that devoured her husband and son, scarred and impoverished her, learns to live, daily, by doing housework and cooking, serving meals to the congregation, learning the local parlance, cracking deals with vendors, experimenting with the home-grown herbs … she learns to live by doing nothing extraordinary.

In daily living, emptying herself of the past, she finds space for the present. Paying absolute attention to her chores, unknowingly she falls for it, and when she wins the lottery, after a little contemplation, she decides how to spend it – by cooking a proper feast for the congregation. Money doesn’t bother her now. She prepares a sumptuous meal, setting the stage well with beautiful silver and chinaware, brightening the mood with candle lights.

Head chef, Babette Hersant – an exception.
[Source – The Movie Screen Scene]

Perfectly, she conducts the performance – what is to be served, in combination with which drink, after exactly which dish – with the help of a local kid and the General’s in-waiting coachman, without taking the centre stage even once. Allowing the two helpers and herself to taste the food and sip the drink at the end, knowing well that the task is done.

Her food transforms all the guests; her passion takes the form of compassion; everyone feels grateful for one little thing or more. With the happy chaps gone, the two sisters come running to thank Babette for turning their father’s hundredth birthday into a wonderful celebration, something to remember her for when she returns back to Paris.

But she is not going back to Paris, says Babette, revealing that she was the head chef of Café Anglais where a dinner of twelve costed just the amount she won in the lottery (10,000 francs). Greatly surprised to know this, the sisters worry for her as she is back to being penniless, Martine says, “Now you will be poor for the rest of your life”, but “An artist is never poor”, says a smiling Babette.

The performance was for the guests as well as for herself, she adds, remembering what Achille Pappin often said, “Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me the chance to do my very best.” Filippa, a singer Pappin wanted to rule the French Operas, gives Babette a warm hug, saying it is not the end, that in heaven her art will delight the angels.

Overwhelmed, the sisters speak the language of the book and Babette of her art, that is all they know, but they speak with love. Love!


The Film

Gaberial Axel’s Babette’s Feast has given wings to this lovely short story by Karan Blixen aka Isak Dinesen, feather light, the 102 minutes long film never feels long. It begins like a folklore that gently plays with time – now talking about the father pastor, now the suitors proposing the young sisters and now the sisters, old, running the sect, then introducing a stranger, a troubled lady, on a rainy night… and now we want to know who she is.

Even though a religious sect paints this village in its colours, the story never preaches nor gets dull and overburdened with saddened affairs of the sad souls. Good food keeps them in good mood after Babette’s arrival, earlier they didn’t know the difference, and when they find out, and have to eat what the sisters cook in Babette’s short absence, they protest silently – grimace on face, one old fellow drops the mushy porridge back in the bowl, mumbling.

Until the feast is served, the community second guesses Babette’s every move – after all there’s an alive turtle in the kitchen – which even haunts Martine in her dreams. When the celebrations begin, we the audience also participate actively in it, watching what Babette serves and how the worried old folks react to it, we watch though not expecting much… for such is the art of cooking and shhhhh… Babette’s at work.

The candle dies out in the end… the feast is over, it fed and restored many, words were spoken, words were heard and understood, now there is nothing more to say, the day’s over and the night sky shines with stars for some, with messages for others… and a shooting star striking through again for the one who looks.


A truly lovely tale of everyday passion, magic and miracles.” – Geoff Andrew

A glimpse –

Read more about Babette’s Feast –

Babette’s Feast: A Fable for Culinary France by Priscilla Parkhurst Ferguson.

On wine and food and a seat at ‘Babette’s Feast’ by Patricia Rogers.


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Temple Food

Short Coverage
From the temple, with love.
[Source – Pixabay]

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The monastery hidden up in the mountains, the waltzing foggy air, breathes and greets in delight, offering love and care and sometimes offering it through food, what people happily call the temple food. And the one who excels in doing so is a Buddhist nun, Jeong Kwan.

Her simple, soupy, soulful dishes – vegetarian and vegan – lightens and calms both the body and mind. Grown in the monastery’s garden, the vegetables live boisterously.

*

After planting the seeds, I just watch them grow. They grow in snow, rain, wind and sunlight. When it’s hot they grow in heat. When it’s cold they grow in cold. I make food with these vegetables with a blissful mind. And I eat the vegetables with joy.

– Jeong Kwan

Ascetic yet communicating with everyone, delightfully going with the flow and living, simply, Jeong Kwan remembers her mother.

*

When I felt the love of my mother, I wanted to become like her. I learned the mother’s way from my mother. Preparing a lot of food to share. As a monk, I try to practice such a mind, a mother’s mind. A monk is everyone’s mother, not just to a family, but to the whole community…

My mother granted me the opportunity to enter this temple. Even today, I thank her for her mercifulness and compassion for allowing my pursuit of the freedom.

– Jeong Kwan

*

Her late parents, their memories don’t cripple or sadden her, it’s the endless pond of oneness through which she touches upon these few old glimpses. For she is one with all, one with her actions, her surroundings.

Walking, choosing the Buddha’s way, far away from the rush, close to nature, one feels transported. Jeong Kwan transports at will and doesn’t mind the bustling busy crowd at all.

I want to communicate with everyone through food, so I lecture at the Department of Culinary Arts at Jeonju University … I don’t consider my activities to be teaching. It’s communication.

– Jeong Kwan

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Soy sauce fermentation.
[Source – Pixabay]

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Here is what she has to say about soy sauce, excitedly she shares –

Every food is recreated by soy sauce. Soy beans, salt and water, in harmony, through time. It is the basis of seasonings, the foundation. There are sauces aged five years, ten years, aged for 100 years. These kind of soy sauces are passed down for generations, they are heirlooms. If you look into yourself, you see past, present and future. You see that time revolves endlessly….

By looking into myself I see my grandmother, my mother, the elders in the temple and me. As a result, by making soy sauce, I am reliving the wisdom of my ancestors, I am reliving them. It’s not important who or when. What is important is that I am doing it in the present.

– Jeong Kwan

*

The Buddha’s way, the temple food, all mixed with a little bit of soy sauce, whether in throbbing loud city or a challenging quiet corner in the forest, is the recipe to make a humble, fulfilling meal that lets the vital life force within and without work peacefully.

*

With food we can share and communicate our emotions. It’s the mindset of sharing that is really what you’re eating. There is no difference between cooking and pursuing Buddha’s way. It’s been almost half a century since I entered this way. I did it in pursuit of enlightenment. I am not a chef, I am a monk.

– Jeong Kwan

The blogger was inspired by the documentary series ‘Chef’s Table’ that is available on Netflix.

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Here’s the trailer –

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Meet Jeong Kwan –

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Eric Ripert, a renowned chef, visits the temple –

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Interviewing A Busy Ant

Poem
To the right, a bit left, eh, is it fine now, here, I will pose, click now.
[Source – Pixabay]

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Death, destruction, war and earthquake,

Out of these

The path to earthquake site we take.

We are on the move, us ants,

Closer to the ground, we can,

And we will sense tremors and flee,

For it is natural, O giant ban,

“You mean man”, oh, yes, sorry;

We will help the broken, the crushed,

We will liberate the dead.

*

Look that’s my uncle, aunty and foster paa-paa

Walking in a line, and my sister is at the top-aa (of)

The horizontal pyramid,

Our grit strategy, forward march, pebbles, and pray,

March, pebbles, pray, for all who died.

*

Ants’ reverence pheromone, invisible, strong

Makes a trail that we then track, and tread along

It, until we reach our… “food?”,

No, you want to be on that trail mat?

“Man”, eh, if yes, silly fool,

You must change the track, straighten your hat,

Tap your shoes, turn, leave, then take a right.

Us ants are on the path to the earthquake site,

“But why – last question!”

For it is natural – earthquakes come and go,

Wars don’t, it’s a destination

For some; unfair bullets hide and kill and lo,

No cliques ever enter the battlefield,

Or maybe they do;

A handshake to shield

And seal, a business deal.

*

Look, us ants are moving in speed,

The earth is muddy there, but we’ll lead,

“You’re doing a good deed.”

Good? It is only natural.

*

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