The Amish Chef by Sandra Becker

Sarah Graber awoke to the crowing of the rooster, yawned, and then got on her knees to pray. She thanked God for the beautiful sunshine and for being able to see another day. Then she went to her closet and pulled out one of her dresses. They were so close to being the same, there was no confusion. She held it in front of her and twirled around, excited about the new day.
The Amish Chef
The Amish Chef by Sandra Becker
It was Sunday and therefore the day would be filled with many activities, including meeting with her friends at the after-hour singing. Sarah ran downstairs to start breakfast which was what she delighted herself in. First she went outside to the garden to pick fresh fruit and to gather the eggs. Then she came inside and imagined what she was going to cook. For her, each day in the kitchen was an adventure. She always enjoyed cooking, ever since her mother first showed her how. By the time Sarah was six years old and baked her very first cake, she was in love with cooking. She knew what she wanted to spend the rest of her life doing – cooking. The problem was that cooking didn’t seem like anything special in the Amish community. It was what every woman did, young or old, married or unmarried. And for the most part, everyone cooked the same things in the same ways, but Sarah liked to use new ideas for her cooking. There were so many innovative ways of doing things but she did realize that where she was from, innovation was not a good word. Sarah liked being alone in the kitchen because it gave her time to try out her new recipes, which her parents kept quiet about, for fear that they would get in trouble with the bishop. Sarah stirred fresh strawberries into the pancake batter and added a touch of honey. She smiled as this gave her great satisfaction. Then one by one, her parents and siblings joined her downstairs for breakfast. “Sarah, it smells like you’ve outdone yourself today,” her sister, Martha said as she sat down at the table. “Jah,” Sarah answered, smiling humbly. Martha was the oldest, looked like their mother and had a small house of her own, although she wasn’t married. But she came over to eat meals with her family on Sundays. She was a teacher at the local school. Her brother, John, sat next to Sarah and poked her playfully in the ribs when her parents weren’t looking. “Webishtew?” Sarah shrugged her shoulders and said, “Gut.” Martha made a face. “John, you never ask me how I am?” John chuckled. “Okay. Webishtew, Martha?” “Stop all of the murmuring at the table,” Mary scolded. “Yes, Mudder,” Martha and John said, simultaneously. But Sarah was too busy daydreaming. She still remembered the day she rode into town with her father. Although they’d travelled by buggy through Lancaster, Sarah was eager to fit in. She noticed all of the big, beautiful restaurants with all of the beautiful people going in and out. When they went into a store, she overheard a conversation between two strangers about how great the food was at a particular restaurant and that it only compared to food they had tasted in Paris. That was when Sarah decided that she would be a professional chef and own a world class restaurant one day. The problem was that when she opened her eyes and saw her parents looking down over her, frowning and shaking their heads, her future didn’t seem so clear. Chapter Two James was a simple young person who looked forward to being a man. Unlike some of his peers, he was ready to settle down, get baptized and take on a wife. The idea of having responsibility actually appealed to him because he had always been mature, even at a young age. Many believed that losing his mother to cancer at a fairly young age caused him to grow up fast. But James had not yet found anyone that he connected with. He took the idea of marriage very seriously and wanted very much to marry his soul mate. During rumspringa, he had talked to a few girls but none had really been able to keep his interest. It wasn’t that he was demanding or anything. In fact, he was only looking for what he thought were the usual things: someone who was kind and hard-working. He also wanted someone who was rooted in the Amish community and would love Gott with all her heart. But the most important thing James wanted was that the woman he married would have joie de vivre, a joy of living life to the fullest. And that turned out to be the tricky part. The girls that he talked to seemed to be more interested in having a beautiful wedding, or in having children alongside their friends and neighbors. But none of them expressed the kind of devotion to Gott or the spark that he was looking for. James lived alone with his father, Samuel, and as the baptismal and wedding season approached, it brought on unnecessary pressure. James’ father was a widower and James was his last unmarried child. His sole wish for his son was that he would find a good Amish mate to live out his days with. Samuel patted his son on the back. “James, you must find yourself a wife; the days for searching are growing thin.” “Yes, Daed,” James said, pouring the coffee for his father. Samuel took a bite of his biscuit. “What about that nice girl you were last seeing?” James shook his head as he thought about her. “She wasn’t interested in me. “ Samuel raised his eyebrows. “She wasn’t?” “No; she was more interested in quilting with her friends.” “But women like to do those kinds of things.” “That’s very true but I wanted her to enjoy being with me just as much. I wanted to know that there was more in her heart than quilting but that didn’t happen.” James sounded frustrated. Samuel chuckled. “I’m sure there was more to her than that but you will keep looking then?” “Yes, I will keep looking,” James agreed. “So you will attend the singing this evening after church?” James sighed. He had been to the singings a couple of times. He didn’t think he had a good singing voice, and he felt conscious in the presence of the beautiful girls. His father insisted that he should attend the singings more often. And while he knew that his father wouldn’t force him to go, John knew that his father was keen on seeing him married soon. He couldn’t let his father down. “All right, I will go.” “One day soon, Gott will bless you to meet the right one. You will want to be baptized and married in the fall so you two can be settled by the winter.” James couldn’t believe his father was talking in terms of ‘we’ when he wasn’t even courting anyone yet. So far finding the right one hadn’t worked out, and even in light of today’s gathering, he was less than optimistic. Chapter Three During the church service, it was Sarah’s turn to help with serving lunch. She enjoyed this part of the day most of all because she got to interact with both the people and the food. She considered a good practice for when she’d own her restaurant. But when it was time to serve the men, she noticed an unfamiliar face. He looked rather rugged but there was something gentle-looking about him too. He also had dark, dreamy eyes. Sarah brought his food over to him and to the other young men sitting on his side of the bench. He said, “Danke.” Then he smiled and their eyes met for a moment. But Sarah shook it off and kept moving down the line, remembering her duties. Before long, it was time for church service to start again and all of the members assembled themselves together once more. Sarah found herself peeping over at the young man she’d set her eyes on earlier. He was talking to an older gentleman, who looked as if he could be his father; she wasn’t sure. She glanced over at him every now and then, careful not to attract his attention. She certainly didn’t want him to get the wrong idea by her staring at him. But he had an interesting face, one of character. Sarah looked at him sideways one last time, and then directed her mind back to the Bishop’s sermon. Once the church service was over, Sarah had to decide whether or not she would stay for the singing. She was tired and really would’ve preferred going home to cook for the family. But she knew her parents wouldn’t take that very well so she chose to stay, along with her brother. The young people all settled in at the tables, with boys and girls sitting opposite from one another. Sarah noticed that her mystery boy was seated in the middle of the table while she was seated at the far end. So she settled in by speaking to everyone, girls and boys alike. Most of them she had gone to school with anyway, except that she didn’t remember the mystery boy. “Sarah, you hardly come out to the singings,” one girl said. “Sometimes I’m just too busy at home,” Sarah said. She didn’t dare tell them that she’d rather be cooking than spend social time with them. But Sarah joined in the fun and sang the songs that they chose to sing and forgot about everything else. Before she knew it, the mystery boy had come, made the others scoot down, and sat right in front of her. Sarah’s cheeks turned bright red. “I hope you don’t mind if I sit here,” he said when they had taken a break. “No, why would I?” she said, matter-of-factly. “I’m James Stolzfus. And you are?” “I’m Sarah Graber. And why haven’t I seen you around here before?” she whispered. “Well, my father and I just moved here from the Midwest not that long ago,” James explained. “Oh, I see. So you have no family here, then?” “Only an aunt which is why we are here. My father wanted to leave our community because it reminded him too much of my mother who passed away. He kind of wanted a fresh start.” “I’m sorry to hear about that,” she said. “But now that I’ve met you, I’m glad that I’m here.” James grinned. Sarah couldn’t hold back the giggles and they found themselves talking and laughing in between the singing. As James escorted Sarah home in his buggy, Sarah realized that it had turned out to be a better day than she had imagined. Sarah brought him inside to meet her parents, who seemed excited that she had finally brought someone home. After staying to talk for a short while, James wished everyone well and started on his way home. Sarah waved to him from her front porch and wondered if he would really stay around once she told him about her dream. Chapter Four James seemed to be fascinated by Sarah. She was smarter than any girl he knew and she was funny also. She didn’t seem to be so serious that she couldn’t laugh at herself, which he found her doing quite frequently. In fact they’d spent a lot of time laughing about silly everyday occurrences on their farms and with their families. Sarah had an uncanny way of turning an ordinary day into something special. He really liked that about her. Above all, she talked about Gott and His calling on her life. Yes, she loved to cook and James figured that he could live with a wife whose cooking was better than everyone else’s. While he was no stranger to purpose, James had never heard it put quite that way before - “her calling.” Sarah was different and James began to think that maybe she might be the one. And one day, he decided to pop the question. “Have you thought of marriage yet?” Sarah blushed beetroot red and James wondered if his approach to a difficult question was appropriate. But after a pause, Sarah replied, “Yes, my parents are looking for a suitable person.” She avoided looking into his eyes. “Even my parents are also looking for a suitable girl.” James chimed in, not sure how to approach the topic directly. He saw Sarah smiling, as if she knew where the conversation was going. There was nothing but to ask her directly. “Sarah, would you be happy to become my wife?” Sarah’s smile widened, and she nodded in acquiescence. James not sure what to say next, made some small talk and then bid her adieu. Their next few meetings were more open, and they enjoyed each other’s company even more knowing that there was a mutual attraction between the two. James thought that all was going well. At least, until she leaned forward one day while they were sitting in her living room and said, “I’m going to own my own restaurant one day.” “A restaurant? Like those out in the world? Are you serious?” “Very much so,” Sarah said. “I can do it just as well as they can – maybe even better.” James threw his hands up in the air in mock surrender. “Where would you get a crazy idea like that from?” Sarah stood up and put her hands on her hips. “Who says it’s crazy?” Sarah could hardly believe what she was hearing. James snapped, “Everyone would.” “Everyone like who? Our people?” “For starters, yes. “ It was worse than she thought. He was backing her into a corner. So Sarah crossed both arms against her chest. “Well, maybe I won’t be Amish for long.” James shook his head in disbelief. “You can’t mean that.” “I do mean it. Why would you not want me to be happy?” James pleaded, “Can’t you be happy as a wife and mother?” “Of course I can,” Sarah said, softly, wanting to be agreeable. James continued, “Well then…” “As long as I can be a wife and a mother and a world-class chef. I’ve seen those beautiful restaurants and I know I can run one.” James asked, “But who says you can?” Sarah looked at him right in the eyes. “Who says I can’t?” “The ordnung,” James answered, sternly. “The ordnung? Well, maybe the ordnung is incorrect. Don’t get me wrong, I love Gott but I believe that there’s more to life than this.” Sarah spread out her arms to indicate her daily toil, as she tried to suppress her tears. “I believe my life means more than just getting married and having children, although I want to do those things too.” “But you can’t have everything. You can’t do everything. In life you must choose.” Sarah put her hand to her forehead in frustration. “You can’t be serious. I’ve been dreaming of this my whole life.” “What about a wedding and having kids? Are those just extras for you? I mean do those things matter to you at all?” Sarah paced around the room. “I want that too. Hopefully, the children will come – later than sooner.” “What do you mean by that? Children come when they come.” Sarah shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe.” “I don’t understand how you can claim to love Gott in one sentence, and then tell me you don’t want a family in the next.” “I never said I don’t want to have a family but even if I did, what does one have to do with the other? I know I’m different from the other girls around here who are happy with singings and quilting but I feel that Gott is calling me to do more. My older sister is not married, nor does she have any children but her life is full. She’s a teacher and she loves Gott as much as anyone. A family has not made her into the woman that she is. She just is.” James started to walk towards the front door. Sarah followed him. “Where are you going?” James took a long look at her and said, “I’m going to leave now before my disappointment makes me say or do something that I will regret.” Chapter Five James and Sarah were eventually able to work out their problems in the short term. But Sarah wondered if she was just wasting her time with James, if he would ever really understand the matters of her heart. Still every time she was around him, his sense of steadiness and strength made him seem so attractive to her. He was easy to be around, hardly demanding and always held Gott in high regard. She really respected him. “I like the way you’re always steady, never wavering in the face of your plans. And sometimes I can be all over the place so I feel like you can help me to stay on track.” Sarah looked into James’s eyes. “I need structure.” “You don’t need me for that. The ordnung gives us that.” “Maybe but you help to make sense of it all,” Sarah said. “The Bishop does that for us.” James shrugged. “I don’t deserve any credit at all.” Sarah continued, “And that’s the other thing; you’re so humble.” James smiled. “And I love the way you challenge me with something every time I’m with you. Whether I like it or not, you force me to think. And no one else has ever done that before.” “Maybe we are good for each other, after all.” Sarah touched his hand. James squeezed her hand, careful that he didn’t get caught by her parents. “I really liked that blueberry pie you made for me.” “Shhhh,” she whispered. “My parents would be upset if they knew I’d made a pie just for you.” “But why?” James asked. “They think my love of cooking isn’t normal and they don’t mind telling me so,” Sarah said, solemnly. “I’m sorry,” James said. He put his forehead against hers and leaned in for a first kiss; it was fast and fiery. Unfortunately, it ended with Sarah pulling away quickly; for fear that her parents would come downstairs and catch them. “I don’t know but I always feel so special when I’m with you, James,” she said. “Me too,” James said, grinning. Sarah shrugged and smirked. “Maybe we can make this thing work.” “And then we can get married,” James answered. “I hope so,” Sarah continued, happily. She closed her eyes for a moment, then put her head against his hard chest, and dreamed of them being married. But underneath it all, reality kept slipping in. Would they really make it to the altar? The future remained to be seen. Chapter Six Once they announced their intentions to her parents, Abraham and Mary seemed to be happy at first. But after talking to Sarah for a while, they soon concluded that nothing had changed but had in fact, gotten worse. “I can’t believe that you would bring that boy into this mess of yours,” Mary said, shaking her head. Sarah raised her eyebrows. “Mess, Mudder?” “Yes, into this unholy life you’re planning to have. You’re not yet baptized and you have these crazy ideas of having a restaurant in your head. You’re tainting him with those crazy ideas,” Mary explained. “But, it is not my intention to taint anyone, Mudder,” Sarah said, humbly. Sarah sat with her head held down. She wanted her posture to reflect her feelings yet, she doubted that anyone even noticed. “But you are luring him into a trap,” Abraham interjected. Sarah sighed and answered her father quietly, trying her best not to offend him. “I am not trying to lure him. He just cares about me.” “I wish we could believe that but unfortunately, because of your actions, we don’t trust anyone,” Abraham said. “But Daed, I love him…” Mary continued, “You don’t yet know what love is if you’re still talking about a life as a restaurant owner, a life outside of our community. A true wife and mother would sacrifice for the good of the family.” Sarah felt defeated in the face of her parent’s admonishment. “But I am willing to sacrifice.” “You’re not ready,” Abraham spat out. Mary nodded in agreement. Sarah looked from one parent to the other. “I believe I am ready,” Sarah said to them. Mary frowned. “You will ruin that boy’s life and take his soul to hell with yours.” “Mudder, I can still love Gott and have a purpose too. He is the one who gave me this calling. I can live my life and still own a restaurant too,” Sarah said, believing with all her heart that it was true. Mary shook her head, “You cannot be Amish and have a restaurant out in the world. Not here, you can’t. The bishop won’t stand for it. You’ll have to give it up.” “Besides baptism time is coming up fast. We’ll need you focused on that and not the silly dreams of yours,” her father huffed, and then left the room without another word. When Sarah saw James later on that day, she explained her parent’s sentiments. “Don’t worry. They’ll come around in time. My father was a little wary too. He says that you’re too wild for me.” Sarah sulked. “Looks like I’ve just made a mess of everything, haven’t I?” James lifted her chin. “Nothing comes easy in this life. We will have to pray that Gott’s will be done.” Sarah nodded but wondered if this was really a matter of Gott’s will or her own. Chapter Seven James watched Sarah as she went back to her house. He felt a mixture of emotions. On one hand, he admired her independent streak. But at the same time, he wondered if his father was right about Sarah being too wild for him. James loved Sarah but he wanted her to be tamed, at least enough to remain Amish and to have his children. But every time they discussed it, she refused to promise that she would do either. She folded her arms and looked up to the sky, as if she knew Gott was on her side. He didn’t know why he even continued to deal with it but he did. So James decided to talk to Sarah’s brother, John, about it. “What do you think I should do about your sister?” “I know you care about her but she’s always been like this. She’s always gone her own way, despite what our parents and others thought. And who knows, maybe she’s right about some things. Maybe you shouldn’t be trying to change her mind.” “But if I don’t, I’ll lose her. And we’ll all lose her because she’ll leave the Amish community and go out into the world. I have no doubt that she’ll find a way to have her own restaurant someday but we’ll probably never see her again,” James said. “Or at least, she’ll be lost to us forever.” John chuckled. “Aren’t you being a little extreme?” “Not at all. Your sister is very determined that nothing will stop her,” James said. “I guess you’re right.” James sighed. “I just don’t know how to convince her to stay and be happy with what she has.” “Well, she’s seen all of the good things about owning a restaurant and she already loves to cook, but maybe if you show her the other side.” “What do you mean?” “There are always two sides to every story. Find out about the bad side of business and show her that. Maybe that will help to slow her down. Maybe if she sees the ugly side, she’ll reconsider and that’s exactly what you need.” James snapped his fingers. “You’re right. That’s exactly what I’ll do. I’ll go to the schoolhouse library and –” “There won’t be enough information there or any at all about business. You’ll have to go into town to the big library,” John said. James took the buggy and went to the library to do research. He gathered information on the difficulties and dangers of being a business woman. He specifically took notes on the problems of restaurant owners, feeling that this would sway Sarah’s opinions. With pressure mounting on every side, including from his father who said, “You can’t marry a woman like that. You’ll never be happy,” James didn’t know where to turn. So he returned with all of his knowledge and tried it out on Sarah, line after line every time she brought up the subject of owning a restaurant. “It is a very risky businesses,” he said. Sarah just stared at him. “And it’s very expensive investment too, which banks are very skeptical about lending money for startup,” he continued. Eventually, Sarah realized what he was trying to do and responded by asking him to leave. “You may come back when you are not trying to discourage or trick me. I thought you understood my calling.” James left quietly, feeling defeated and praying, “Lord, what shall I do now?” Chapter Eight Once Sarah saw what James was attempting to do, and had calmed down, she felt compelled to change his mind about everything. Either he’d realize that she was right or she would not be able to stay and marry him. She wanted things to change, but truthfully she wasn’t sure how or if they would. She also wasn’t sure if she would have to give up her love, James for her love of cooking. In any case, with both sets of parents against their impending marriage, she decided to convince them all, that she was actually ready for that kind of commitment. She didn’t take the conversation she had with them lightly, but she did promise them that she would do better. So she started her baptism classes along with James and the rest of the young people and tried to stay focused. One day while James was visiting Sarah and her parents, he said, “I believe that you love cooking more than me.” “I’ll prove to you that it is not true.” Sarah looked back and forth at her parents and at James. “I’m sure that you can’t even survive without cooking for a whole week,” Abraham said, gruffly. “I’ll prove it to you and I’ll prove it to everyone, that I am seriously committed and ready for marriage,” Sarah insisted. The first day, she avoided the kitchen altogether. The next day proved to be harder than the first but she survived. On the third day, she began to feel shaky. Although she was able to spend time with James, she still longed to express herself in the kitchen. By the fourth day, she thought she would go out of her mind if she didn’t cook something soon. On the fifth day she snuck downstairs to the kitchen while everyone was asleep. She took out a pot and a handful of carrots, tomatoes, and onions and was just about to make some soup when she looked up and was caught red-handed. “Sarah, I knew you couldn’t do it. Don’t ruin that boy’s life. You are not ready,” Mary said, looking at her husband. Sarah sat with her head in her hands. Sadly, she had failed. Chapter Nine Sarah and James stood outside on the porch, with the midday sun shining on them. “I guess we are just not meant to be. Maybe my parents are right. Maybe I’m not ready,” Sarah said. When Sarah told James what had happened the night before, he held her in his arms and said, “No, Sarah it’s me who hasn’t been ready for you.” “What do you mean?” “You’ve been trying to communicate with me the entire time, trying to share your total self with me. But I’ve been so selfish I haven’t listened. I mean really listened.” James shook his head. “I’ve had to have things my way even though it was killing you but no more.” “But what can we do?” James began to pace back and forth, and then stopped. “We can try things another way. What if we do have a restaurant and catering business but we run it together? What if it’s a family business and we have it right here in our community, on our land?” Sarah looked into James’ eyes. “But how would we do that?” “I’m not sure about all of the details but maybe we can build one right beside our house. That way you can serve all of our friends and neighbors, family and maybe just maybe we can even do tours for the Englischers.” Sarah made a sad face. “But it would have to be small then?” “I’m afraid so. I don’t think that it’s possible for us to have a world-class restaurant and still be Amish.” “You’re right but at least we will have each other and we will make it the best in our community.” Sarah began to feel better about the idea. James said, “Yes this sounds like a plan.” “James, I love you so much,” Sarah said. James pushed a single strand of hair from her face. “Not more than I love you.” “What about the children?” “Maybe you can work until the children come or in between.” James grinned. “Either way, I’m sure we’ll work it out.” Sarah threw her arms around him, without fear of being seen, and for the very first time, Sarah was hopeful. Chapter Ten James and Sarah were both baptized when the time came. It was a beautiful experience for both of them. Sarah never regretted her decision to commit herself to Gott. And the baptism was followed by a beautiful fall wedding with all of their family, friends and neighbors in attendance. James looked at his beautiful wife and touched her soft face. “I love you so much, Sarah.” “I love you more, James,” Sarah said, smiling up at him. They were finally starting their life together, for better or worse. Sarah’s parents and James’ father were relieved that their children had found someone to share their lives with. It had been a long, shaky journey but thankfully, a successful one. The community wished them well and after hearing about Sarah’s desire to feed her community, they gathered together to do a house raising and a barn raising, although the barn like building would not house animals. In fact, it was more like a cottage than a barn and it was built right on the side of their house. It had a small cooking area for Sarah, including a gas stove. James installed windows and bought ten small wooden tables and matching chairs. Sarah made standard curtains for the windows. Finally, they were ready to have their grand opening and all were invited. In typical non-opulent Amish style, they called the restaurant James and Sarah’s Restaurant. It was simple and understated just as was expected. Although there was barely standing room on that particular day as the people crowded in to see what they had done, Sarah and James were very happy. Even the bishop came to bestow his blessing on the new business. And Sarah served as many people as she could on that day. She cooked and she baked and she served while James helped her with everything. They laughed and talked as they prepared the food, talked to whatever guests came by and they truly enjoyed their work. Although they didn’t necessarily expect to be that busy every day, they were grateful for the support of the community, especially after all they’d been through. At the end of the day, as James turned off the kerosene lamps and they closed the doors, they were tired but satisfied. “I was so worried that I would lose you or lose myself,” Sarah said. “Now your dream has become mine because we are one and you’ll never have to worry about us being apart again,” James assured her. “It is my dream come true,” Sarah twirled around under the stars. “And you are my dream come true,” James said, lifting her up to spin her around in his arms. And once her feet hit the ground, Sarah and James walked arm in arm back to their house, filled with love and laughter and hope for their bright future.


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