Some 10 miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona, where I now live, there’s a 200-year-old Franciscan mission called San Xavier del Bac. It rises like a shining moon above the surrounding land of the Tohono O’odam San Xavier Reservation, near the community of Wa:k.
The mission’s nickname is ‘the White Dove of the Desert.’ Its lime-stuccoed low-fire clay brick walls glow luminously against the muted colors of the surrounding landscape. San Xavier looks especially dramatic at dusk, and when the thunderheads of a summer storm loom behind it.
Father Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit, founded the mission in 1692. He died in Sonora, Mexico, in 1711, long before the Spanish crown expelled the Jesuits from Mexico in 1767. Franciscans arrived at the mission the following year and began construction of the original church in 1783. Building the church took nearly 15 years and construction was completed in 1797. Architect Ignacio Gaona’s largely native Tohono O’odham workers built the Baroque-style mission church; it’s a testament to their skilled workmanship that the mission church still stands.
San Xavier del Bac stood on Mexican soil until the Gadsden Purchase in 1854 brought those lands into the United States. Despite misfortunes – earthquake damage, lightning strikes, and leaking walls – it stands yet. Restoration efforts have continued on and off throughout the years. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1963, and more than two thousand people visit the mission every year, whether as curious tourists or spiritual pilgrims. The visitors are drawn both to the mission itself, and to its stunningly beautiful interior decorations.
The White Dove of the Desert represents so many things to me. Its centuries of cultural cooperation – among Spanish, Tohono O’odham, Mexican and, later, American people – proved that these very different populations were able to live in peace with one another and work productively together. Tucson is a tolerant city, and for most of its history, it has been. Tucsonans know that sharing food creates community. The city celebrates its diversity with an annual food, music and art festival called Tucson Meet Yourself — known locally as “Tucson Eat Yourself.” The 2018 festival featured foods from around the world, sold by more than 50 vendors.
“This is what I learned: that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion ~ that standing within this otherness, the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books ~ can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.”Mary oliver
The dove has been a symbol of peace and love for centuries, of course. I associate those qualities, too, with the White Dove of the Desert.
My previous book, ‘The Feast Nearby,’ spoke of a horrible year in my life, and how eating locally-sourced foods helped heal my spirit and my heart. It was a personal book, looking inward into myself, yet it included a lot of information for a reader who wanted to eat seasonally and locally, and who wanted to do so on a reasonable budget. This year, losing a job to a layoff yet again, I’ve been reminded to touch once more on those foundational ideas.
When I began to think of a book to follow ‘Feast,’ I knew immediately that I wanted a title that would metaphorically speak of the ability to feast in good times and hard ones, and that could empower its readers with a sense of confidence, peace and love. The title literally came to me in a dream: ‘The Feast of the Dove.’
Its subtitle, ‘How to eat well in good times and bad,’ conveys that abundance can be drawn forth whatever one’s circumstances. The book will provide a road map to do that, providing both recipes and practical advice gleaned from my 40-plus years as a food journalist.
Eating well gives us peace and equilibrium. In nourishing ourselves with good food, well prepared, we give ourselves and everyone we feed a sense of worth and dignity.
In hard times, when you feel your feet have been knocked from beneath you, eating well helps you regain your footing. It’s a little easier to face the most fearsome of life’s storms when your belly is full of something satisfying.
‘The Feast of the Dove’ will offer something for everyone — beginning cooks and experienced ones. Beginners will learn how to stock and maintain a pantry, and how to shop for top-quality foods and prepare them quickly and easily. The kitchen-adept will learn how to avoid food waste — a serious issue that should be top-of-mind for all of us — and gain valuable kitchen economy ideas.
Along the way, I’ll show you how to spend your precious grocery money wisely, whether you’re wandering the aisles of your favorite supermarket, shopping at a farmers market or using food assistance programs like SNAP or food pantries. You’ll see that cooking from scratch invariably tastes better and provides superior nutrition, which translates into better health. You’ll see that starting with real ingredients doesn’t translate to hours upon hours in the kitchen.
At its heart, however, ‘The Feast of the Dove’ is my effort to bolster your peace and confidence, and to remind you of your own courage and inspiration. I hope it will help reawaken your sense of your own dignity and humanity.
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