The ordinary arts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.
For hundreds of years, we as women, have learned the simple art of homemaking . . . cleaning, cooking, raising a family . . . the gentle arts . . . by watching our mothers and grandmothers do the same. My family had it's own peculiar way of doing things, just as your family probably had . . . in my mother's home, you would never dare to wear your shoes beyond the front door, and it remains the same today. Hoovering was always done on a Thursday, still is. Kitchen floor swept religiously twice a day, and so on . . .
My mother has relaxed things somewhat now in her later years . . . she cannot get about as well as she used to, because of a failing heart and advancing age. The cat pretty much has the run of the house now, and in fact, has his own table in the kitchen, where he is often found to be laying . . . right on top of the table, just waiting for a handful of treats. That would never have happened when I was a girl and my mother a much younger woman!
I have such fond memories of watching my mother putter and work along at her daily chores, likewise my grandmothers. I was fortunate enough to have been old enough to really remember my maternal grandmother before she passed away. My siblings were too young at the time. I remember she always wore a cotton print dress with buttons down the front, and a bib style apron. She had curly dark hair, which had a mind of it's own, and an ample figure and bosom. I remember helping her to peel potatoes and sitting on her lap as she sang "You are my sunshine" to me and rocked. Beautiful memories . . . My other grandmother had a house as neat as a pin and a dainty floral decoration on her coffee table composed of long plastic coloured spoons, woven together with dried flowers. I thought it quite lovely. She made crepes instead of pancakes and liked to drink beer. She also laughed a lot.
I always loved home economics in school. Oh how I loved the cooking part, but it soon became boring . . . because I had loftier aspirations. I loved sewing too, but again . . . I wanted to run, not walk. What I truly adored though . . . was the homemaking term where we learned the gentle arts of taking care of a home! Here is where I learned how to smock a pillow, and shine a pair of shoes. How to dust properly and wax a floor. How to make a bed properly and sort laundry . . . how to organize a closet. At a time when feminism was beginning to find it's wings and take flight, I was revelling in learning how to be an Aunt Bea . . .
Forty years later women run companies and even banks. They are able to do and welcome to do almost everything a man can do. They go off to fight wars and politics. They anchor the nightly news and sit on Judge's benches. In short there are no doors closed to them. They are as likely to be the Doctor as they are the nurse . . .
The sad part is that they are also having to take care of their homes and children, and in a lot of cases, single handed as divorce and single parent families have become the norm rather than the exception. A whole generation of women is tired . . . from having to burn the candle at both ends . . . run ragged from having bought into the myth that you can have it all.
Some of us are lucky in that we have had husbands that are very handy around the home. When I was working full time, my Todd always kept the house running smoothly, and even if it wasn't always the way I would have done things, I was most grateful for his help. Now we are both retired we work together in an amiable collaboration. I still turn a blind eye to his shortcomings in the art of housewifery, and am still grateful for his help.
Taking care of a home and family are a holy thing, or at least they are to me. These simple acts feed my spirit in a beautiful way that nothing else ever has. There may not be a lot of time if you are woman who must work and care for a family together but I do think a woman's life would be greatly enhanced by rediscovering the sacred art of homemaking, and passing it on down to their daughter . . . it need not be work, if we see it as an expression of our inner spirituality. We can make our homes like a Temple, and people can find (including ourselves) peace and harmony there . . . and joy. Creating a comfortable, beautiful, well run and cosy home can be amongst the greatest joys in our lives if we allow it . . . and break free from the myth.
There were particular ways of doing things in the Dodson family . . . particular ways of bleaching the linen, of making cowslip wine, curing the hams and keeping bottled gooseberries, so that no daughter of that house could be indifferent to the privilege of having been born a Dodson, rather than a Gibson or a Watson.
~George Elliot, The Mill on the Floss
These days we may not aspire to making cowslip wine or bottled gooseberries, but there is a gentle art I am sure we could aspire to . . . we only have to search out that sacred homemaker that lives in each of us, and she will tell us what it is that will help to bring us back to the altar of happy homemaking. It does not have to be a grand gesture. It can be something as simple as just making sure our family gets a hot meal at the table at the end of the day . . . It will do our hearts good.
I'm all for quick and easy cooking. It doesn't have to be tasteless to be quick and easy either, and it surely doesn't have to come from a box or a takeaway. This recipe shows you that you can have a delicious complete meal on the table in less than 45 minutes, with very little effort.
If you're not all that keen on blue cheese, you can use a boursin cheese or herb creamed cheese instead. A cranberry or apricot stilton would also work fabulously.
4 boneless chicken breasts, with the skin ON
3 1/2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large potatoes, cut into chunks (I like to leave the peel on)
2 TBS olive oil
4 large tomatoes, thickly sliced
4 large handfuls of fresh spinach leaves, washed and dried
a bit of butter and a small clove of garlic, peeled and squashed
Preheat the oven to 200*C/400*F/ gas mark6. Butter a baking tray and set aside.
Loosen the skin on the chicken breasts, carefully and without removing it, to make a pocket. Divide the cheese equally amongst them and fill, replacing the skin over top when done. Season lightly with some salt and pepper and place onto the baking tray. Toss the cubed potatoes with half of the oil, and place on the baking tray with the chicken. Cook in the heated oven for 15 minutes.
At the end of that time, add the tomato slices to the baking tray Season and drizzle with the remaining oil. Return the tray to the oven, and bake for a further 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are tender and golden brown.
While you are cooking the tomatoes, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add a bit of butter to the pan along with the garlic. Heat until the butter foams and you can smell the garlic. Add the spinach to the heated pan one handful at a time, using tongs to flip and stir it, until all the spinach has been added and it is all nicely wilted. This should only take about a minute. Discard the garlic clove and season.
Slice each chicken breast into thick slices on the diagonal and place on heated plates along with some of the potatoes, tomatoes and sauteed spinach. Dinner is served!
There's another quickie over in The English Kitchen today. A delicious Bread and Cheese Omelet!