This week I could have gone with a number of V foods (vanilla, vegetables, vegetable juice, vodka, veal, venison, etc.), but the word I kept coming back to is versatility: the state or quality of being versatile. The Merriam Webster online dictionary offers four definitions of versatile: [a] changing or fluctuating readily, [b] embracing a variety of subjects, fields, or skills, [c] capable of turning forward or backward or moving laterally and up and down and [d] having many uses or applications.
Versatility is such an important quality in life whether it is in working with ingredients or in one’s spiritual life. So often, we become familiar with one way of preparing something, like bacon, that we do not recognize the versatility of the ingredient and the numerous things, which can be done with it. When we begin to focus on the flavors of the ingredient, rather than the ingredient itself, we open our minds up to new possibilities. This is in part what chefs like Theresa Gilliam are getting at when they create cookbooks based on a single ingredient, such as her new cookbook Bacon 24/Seven. In an interview she did on her book, she said that one of the most unusual dishes she and her co-author created was Bacon Baklava. She said, “It's unusual enough that a lot of people might not have tried that flavor combination. It is actually a very traditional baklava recipe. You just add the bacon to the ground nuts mixture. The bacon balances to the honey syrup and the salty nuts which are the sweet and savory.”
Versatility is about giving ourselves permission to move beyond our traditional ways of thinking about cooking. For example, when most people think about maple syrup, the meal that comes to mind is pancakes or waffles, which we are probably eating with the bacon, which I just mentioned. When we embrace the versatility of maple syrup, we can begin to think about how it can be used as a marinade for meats, such as shrimp, fish, or chicken. Maple syrup can also be used as a liquid in which to dip one’s protein before crusting it and baking it.
Versatility is also important in our spiritual lives. It enables us to go with the flow through life, adapting to what life brings us. It enables us to take something, which is a part of many people’s spiritual lives, such as prayer, and make it more than we have heard offered in worship services. Prayer does not have to be confined to a specific place or time. Prayer can be planned or spontaneous, communal or solitary. Prayer can be lifted up in times of need, contemplation, wonder, witness, thanksgiving and a multitude of other reasons. Prayer is not only versatile within itself, but it allows us to become more versatile in our relationships with others. It can be offered up in a diversity of languages, melodies, or in utter silence. Like bacon and maple syrup, it can also be combined with other aspects of one’s spiritual journey to create an experience unlike what we are normally accustomed to in our lives. May we remember to be versatile in life and in the kitchen.