food 4 focus

Sometimes images speak more clearly than words. Colors. Textures. These are the things that are real. Nature. The greens and pinks of the seaweed against the tan sand. The ripples of flowing stream, and the calm glassy surface of a puddle. The curved neck of a swan, a half heart, dipping down into the water and rising up again. The pink strip where the sky meats the land, and the rays of sunlight where the clouds part just before sunset. Images are clear. They don’t speak. They don’t need words. There is a limitless range of feeling in the lack of spoken word. What if we could be together, sit together, eat together in silence? What would we learn of ourselves, and of each other? Would we feel less connected just because we could not speak with words? Or would we actually feel, more? Imagine our heightened senses, our keen awareness of sight, taste, sound, smell, touch and emotion, without words. granola

salad greens

beets

soup

I admit to having a cluttered mind the past several days. A go-go mindset. These images help bring clarity and focus back, as did the scenes and sounds of nature on the beach.

Good food can be simple. But it is not mindless. Simplicity does not mean something is easy. Easy, to many, implies something that can be done mindlessly, say, while doing something else. No, food takes focus. Attention. There has got to be love in food. I know this because the food in the photos above, all that food had thought and love. Tonight, I prepared a meal under stress. The ingredients were good. They were the makings of a good, simple meal: rice, napa cabbage, pickled beet greens and carrots, eggs, shallot, coriander. But the meal did not come out well. It was the first time in a long time that I sat down to eat and I did not even want to continue eating what I had made because I didn’t like the taste. It was too sweet. (from the mirin, and the pickling liquid). It was the most unsatisfying meal I’ve had in a while, and I made it myself. I was cooking without pleasure. I was rushing.

So, food is simple and it is not. Just like you can say meditation is simple. All you do is sit and breathe and try not to think. The commonality is that both involve your full attention. Your presence.

The soup pictured above was inspired by a white bean soup served at Pi Pizza in Nantucket. I spent some time there last week and came home ready to be frugal and eat well. Beans, I thought. I have some at home. I have water. I can buy some cabbage and have myself a meal. You can do it too, it’s a cinch, and you can use what you have in your fridge. Just be present.

Soak beans overnight. Rinse, and put into a pot. Cover by several inches of water. Add some bacon. I used pork belly because I had some slow cooked belly on hand from cooking ramen. Put in some garlic cloves, diced half onion, diced carrot if you want. Bay leaves are good too. The aromatics and liquid will become the broth of your soup. Cook the beans in the water until tender, about an hour and a half. Add more water if necessary Strain the beans, save the liquid. Put liquid back into the pot, add rosemary, more bacon if you want it smokier, perhaps more onion. Cook broth until you achieve the taste you like for your soup, and season with salt. Add beans back in. You can, just before serving, throw some cabbage or escarole in the soup and let it just barely wilt, so it’s still a bit crunchy. It adds freshness and texture to this earthy, beany soup. I sautéed the cabbage in the rendered fat of the pork belly and pork the soup over it.

The point is, this soup is simple. It’s cheap. Its substance is beans. Its broth is the water the cooks the beans. The rest is aromatics, flavors, herbs, things you might have in your pantry, fridge, garden. It came out well because I paid attention to it, tasted it, smelled it, and encouraged it along in its simmering process.

Cooking and nature have a powerful ability to bring the mind’s lens into focus.

And now…sleep. 🙂

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3 thoughts on “food 4 focus

  1. Having had many meals on Nantucket and MV with friends, alone, dining in and out, I have to say that the atmosphere and company always adds a little something extra to the meal, but the idea of a silent meal has piqued my interest.

    • Yes I think a silent meal in the company of others would both lend a new depth to experiencing the food, but also a different kind of intimacy with the people you are eating with. Especially if it’s not silence out of anger! There was a funny scene in a recent Reese Witherspoon movie where she went on a date and asked if they could eat in silence. They seemed to have a great time! Ha! I’ll have to look up what it’s called but she was a softball player in it. Thanks for your comment!!

      • It was “How Do You Know” with Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd. I had seen it before, but had to look up the title so I guess it wasn’t that memorable. Silence on a date meal would be tough. It would have to be with good friends or a longtime partner.

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