Mise en Place is French for everything in its proper place. It’s generally used in the cooking world, referring to having any pots, pans, ingredients measured and ready to rock and roll before a chef begins a dish that will grace your table.
Anyone who has had experience in the kitchen knows the disaster and chaos that can come about because of just one missed ingredient. Like life, you’ve got multiple eyes going and the oven blazing away. You must walk and chew gum at the same time. Now consider if you have some valuable ingredients like a filet or dry scallops and you just may shed some tears over its ruin.
I first heard this French term from my dearly departed mother-in-law. Rhue could have been a professional chef at a fancy-pants restaurant had she not been an English professor at Brevard College. Some of this column was written on what would have been her 85th. I feel her spirit, along with my Mama Suddeth’s, especially when I make a dish like chicken and dumplings. I didn’t truly mourn my grandmother until I taught myself how to make her chicken and dumplings and wrote a story about it. I was surprised at the tears flowing five years after her passing and how much I needed their salty cleansing.
As I blend ingredients together, I am reminded that, for better or worse, we are all a blend of our ancestors, whether we knew them or not. In and out of esoteric circles we talk about our ancestors. We talk about respecting our elders and honoring our ancestors, so I wanted to offer some food for thought for you to savor.
I also submit, we are still a blend whether we share blood or not. My cousin and I look related, as do our children, even though we share no blood. It matters not one bit to me that he’s adopted. Also, one of my closest friends has a step-daughter with the same kidney issues he has. I don’t find these examples to be coincidences, nor do I believe in the notion of coincidence. In quiet moments, you can hear your ancestors speaking with the wind, if you learn how to listen. “Framily” can be, and often is more important than birth rights. Home is where the kitchen whistles with love.
This blend often shows up with tones of voice, ticks, and gaits. My jaw locks open when I get asked a question that requires thought. I used to make fun of my uncle and cousins for this, until I noticed my jaw performing the same mannerism. Some things you just can’t get away from, even if it’s endearing. It just is.
A large part of this blend is latent or hidden in plain sight. It’s probably folded in more than we know, or need to know. It’s enough to realize it’s present. You don’t notice salt in a cake, but try leaving that little detail out. Don’t forget the secret sauce. Every family has these sauces whether we admit it or not.
I submit that we need to have faith that everything is exactly where we need it to be in the recipe we call life. All that said, some dishes are scorched before you even fire up the eye. DO NOT risk a single second trying to put abuse in anyplace but your rearview mirror. Philosophy and esoteric questions must be shoved to the backburner for your mental and physical safety. This is paramount. Her anger can be thought of as an Instapot with a faulty pressure valve and his charisma like unmeasured sugar. Remember a cook can add things like salt, pepper, and sugar, but we cannot take them out of a dish without tossing the whole freaking thing out the backdoor.
Trust yourself. Believe in yourself. Not necessarily the self that is reading this article, but your Higher Self–the Head Chef. Why would I intentionally put spoiled or subpar ingredients in the blend? Why wouldn’t you, is the larger question? Doesn’t this smack of predestination? Perhaps. Where is the vaunted free will we’re supposed to have if the dishes of life are predestined TV dinners? My answer is there is more than one way to cook the same dish, just as we know there is more than one way to react to and handle the same situations. Substitutions can be made and often turn out just fine. Some of the best food isn’t pretty at all. I recall a cake my grandmother made that fell because we were stomping around the house so much. It was the best cake ever because of those little burnt edges.
While we are talking about family, embrace the notion that there’s more than way to leave an enduring legacy. It doesn’t always have to be money and property; it could be NOT leaving a reason for your children to seek professional mental help as they age and come to certain realizations. It could be as simple as a recipe found at just the right moment, written in the old-world handwriting of a loved one. Treasures to be sure.
Further, this article isn’t directly meant to be about the holidays, but as we plow head-first into the holiday season, consider blowing tradition up like Nakatomi Plaza. Do it if it feels right. Do it if it’s past its shelf life. Do it if it feels like too much. Do it if stresses you out. Or, most importantly, do it if you want to forge a new tradition for a new family. Sometimes all that’s needed is a change in venue—a new stove, in its proper place, if you will.
I propose trusting in Mise en Place for a while. See what you feel. You don’t have to marry it or put it in your family tree right away, but it may release some pressure you never knew was there.