Did you read the book All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr?
It taught me a new word. Sublimity.
“Sublimity,” Hauptmann says, panting, “you know what that is, Pfennig?” He is tipsy, animated, almost prattling. Never has Werner seen him like this. “It’s the instant when one thing is about to become something else. Day to night, caterpillar to butterfly. Fawn to Doe. Experiment to result. Boy to man.”
I wrote that quote down while reading the book. I loved that definition so much, I took it as law and I never looked sublimity up in the dictionary. (Apparently I was also forgetting my chemistry. Sublime: to cause to pass directly from the solid to the vapor state and condense back to solid form.)
Instead, I’ve become obsessed with my blooming Christmas Cactus.
It was a cutting from my friend Andy’s stunning plant collection that I brought back to New York from Los Angeles two summers ago. And this sweet little cactus was originally his Grandmother’s! A piece of growing history that traveled across the United States and is thriving... well that is sublime.
For being a self proclaimed smarty pants, I never connected sublime and sublimity until I sat down to write about my cactus. I’d been waiting for the moment of bud to become bloom. The becoming.
I documented this becoming, this crossing over, for the last month and it’s made me think about my own becoming, blooming, sublimity. So I FINALLY looked it up.
“Something that's very beautiful, noble, or excellent has the quality of sublimity.” Says Wikipedia.
“The noun sublimity describes a characteristic that's a little hard to pin down. When something is sublime, it transcends greatness or beauty for the observer — like a deeply moving film or a transcendent piece of music. So when something is truly wonderful, or someone acts in a truly noble way, it's an example of sublimity.”
It’s a great word, right? In my research there wasn’t anything about this becoming or transformation from the quote, but I see now my Christmas Cactus still holds all of those things. It gets better though.
Sublime comes from the Latin root, sublimis, meaning “uplifted, high, or exalted.
The sublime is the quality of greatness, whether physical, moral, intellectual, metaphysical, aesthetic, spiritual, or artistic. The term especially refers to a greatness beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement, or imitation.
So basically, every single thing in the universe is sublime. All mysterious. All miraculous. All incomparably beautiful. Tiny cells, pumping hearts, breathing lungs, rainbows, art, music, dance, food, sex, kittens and puppies, the moon, the ocean. And yes, blooming flowers. It’s all sublime.
If I had to choose, I think I like the “instant of becoming” definition of sublime from Anthony Doerr’s book best. It’s ripe with potential. The idea of transformation is so hopeful and so encouraging. It gives us something to anticipate and work for.
It’s funny, one of my least favorite phrases is “Let’s wait and see.” It drives me crazy. It’s so passive. A cop out. We’re throwing our hands up in the air and giving up all of our abilities to create change or even have an opinion about the outcome of things.
We may not have control over circumstances, like if our plant will bloom or not, if we’ll get that big job we’re up for, if our test results will come back with a clean bill of health... we don’t know and we do in fact have to wait and see. But there are ‘boots on the ground’ actions we can take to make sure those positive outcome transformations take place. It is the watering and weeding of our lives that we do have control of.
And truly, here is the thing: my sweet cactus blooms and buds, and their lessons in sublimity, have really shown me that I need to tend to my own watering and weeding to become something else. And so do you. We are all sublime.
I had a cooking encounter full of sublimity recently too. Yes, it involved tater tots. There’s an old Lutheran church cookbook recipe formula for something called HotDish. Wikipedia claims “A hotdish is a casserole which typically contains a starch, a meat, and a canned or frozen vegetable mixed with canned soup. The dish originates in the Upper Midwest region of the United States, where it remains popular, particularly in Minnesota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. Hotdish is cooked in a single baking dish, and served hot (per its name). It commonly appears at communal gatherings such as family reunions, potlucks, and church suppers.” No matter where we’re from, we’ve all had a version of Hot Dish. We know green bean casserole covered with French fried onions, tuna casserole with potato chips on top and now you know my version - Chicken Pot Pie with a Tater Tot Crust! The tater tots elevate this pot pie to sublimity!
Chicken “Tot” Pie Hot Dish
You can put in whatever veggies you want, these are my favorites for pot pie. And you don't have to use a rotisserie chicken, but it is a delicious short cut!
2 T olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 minced cloves of garlic
1 sweet potato, diced
1 russet potato, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
1 cup fresh green beans trimmed to 1” pieces
1 cups mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper
Meat from 1 rotisserie chicken, save the drippings from the container
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup frozen peas
2 T butter
2 T flour
2 T fresh thyme leaves
1 cup milk
1 bag frozen tater tots
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat oil in a large pan over medium-heat. Add vegetables and garlic, generously seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.
Add chicken pieces, chicken broth, and peas. Simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and set aside.
In another pan, melt butter and the chicken drippings, they may be gelatinous-that is FLAVOR! Stir in the flour to make a roux. Whisk in the milk, season with salt and pepper, and add the thyme leaves. Pour this gravy onto the chicken and vegetable mixture and stir until combined.
Pour everything into a greased or non-stick sprayed 9 x 13 baking dish or casserole.
Carefully arrange the tater tots in neat rows to cover the pot pie.
Beat egg with 1 T water and brush onto tater tots. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until golden.