Mr. Church and Me

On our movie night last week, I was in the church kitchen, baking some lasagna, when the administrative assistant for REACH stopped by and got all thoughtful real fast.

“I forgot that you cook,” she said, although she really meant she forgot I baked. I was planning for a simple meal to offer people who came to see the film, just in case, and others were bringing other things. I made lasagna because it can serve a lot, and lasagna isn’t a complicated dish. I tend to use too much sauce, but that’s because I don’t really care for lasagna. Just not a huge pasta fan. Good lasagna is still good, and I still will eat it, but you know. Not if I had several options.

REACH is the homeless advocacy group I’ve worked with for a few years. On the weekends they usually cover the evening meals that are offered by the Renton Meal Coalition, and this weekend they needed a cook. Hence the thoughtful look. Hence my Saturday. Hence my today, that is.

I’ve read a few lists in my time, lists of necessary skills that any modern human should have in their repertoire. These lists are, by their nature, pretty obnoxious, considering the type of personality who has enough confidence in their own wisdom to write it down and tell other people to be that way.

There’s also a culture to deal with. I still think it’s a good idea to know how to change a tire, although in this ride-sharing world where young people often don’t own cars and maybe don’t even have a driver’s license, it probably moves down the list. It’s still useful, particularly because it’s the one car repair kind of skill that most people can do. I’ve tuned up a number of cars in my life, and I have no natural ability along that line, but I’d have no idea where to begin with a 21st-century car. Must work the same way. No idea.

So I can’t make a list, although knowing how to cook surely is still important, at least if you don’t have oodles of money and definitely if you have kids. My mom is a very good cook and I probably picked up a couple of things just from observation, and then of course the kids. I became adequate at certain things, and as time went on I got better.

I learned how to cut an onion, how to cook eggs in any number of ways, how to sauté vegetables and when to add the garlic. I can do your basic cooking. Baking is different. Baking is a hobby, mostly because it feels creative and thus fun. When you bake, what you stick in the oven usually looks a lot different than what comes out. It’s fun, as I say, and right in my wheelhouse for some reason.

But I have never cooked for 75 people before. Especially using only what ingredients are available, and what I’m willing to buy on my own. I’m not sure it’s a skill that everyone needs to have, but I might be persuaded. Ask me tomorrow.

***

Just an aside here. I enjoy movies that have cooking themes, or some movies anyway. Big Night is a favorite (Stanley Tucci; good grief), as is Chocolat and Babette’s Feast. Really good movies.

My mom suggested I check out Mr. Church, which she spotted on Amazon Prime (I think; could be Netflix). I’d never heard of it, and there’s a reason for that. It was pretty much panned when it was released last fall, and disappeared quickly.

And I guess that makes sense. It’s a soap opera disguised as Eddie Murphy Oscar bait, and even I, pretty notoriously sentimental, rolled my eyes a little. Murphy plays a cook who’s also something of a jazz musician, and he comes to cook and feed a tiny family in 1971. It’s a mother and daughter, and mom is dying. Murphy’s employer – or whatever, it’s never quite explained – had a romantic relationship with the mother until she discovered that he was married, and then he died anyway. Before going, he promises Murphy (whose name is Henry Church, only referred to as Mr. Church) a lifetime income if he will look after this poor woman for her final months. About six months, we learn, is all that’s expected.

The fact that this story covers 15 years tells you something. It might also tell you something that I could only watch 20 minutes at a time for a while. Notoriously sentimental.

But it might be worth your time; I don’t regret a second. Just watching Mr. Church prepare breakfast is worth the price of admission, so to speak. It’s not as good as the films I mentioned above, but then it really doesn’t pretend to be. It’s about feeding, not cooking. And that’s a skill worth learning, you betcha.

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