Zen Moments with Food
I wake up rather groggy, probably the result of hitting (excuse me, swiping since I haven’t used an actual alarm clock in years) snooze five times. I check the time, 10:16am, I didn’t even bother trying to turn off the next alarm. I sat up and yawned; I don’t have to go into work for another hour, might as well try and do a few things beforehand. Walking into the kitchen, I fill a kettle up and get it going before I check the fridge.
Eggs, mushrooms, green onion, shallots, pepperjack, Serrano ham, almond milk; the usual suspects.
Looks like an omelette to me. I toss the veggies in a pan with some olive oil over medium heat. “Shit, I forgot to grind the coffee.” Opening the cabinet, I grab my scale, grinder, and that sample of Guatemalan Peaberry. Forty grams in, ground course by hand for what feels like an hour. Reach back into the cabinet, I grab my chemex and a filter. I stop and realize I have no music playing, and that is just an atrocity I couldn’t stand for. “James Blake’s new album, perfect,” I say as I pull it up on my phone. Turning back to the stove, I toss the veggies, take the kettle off, wet the chemex filter with some water, top the kettle off and pop it back on the burner. Now I have sec to whisk the eggs. Do I wanna go mixing bowl, dining bowl, or ramekin? Well the second was easiest to grab, so that, eggs, and the fork I’ll probably eat with. As I beat them, I pour a little of the almond milk in to get some extra fluff in them. Tossing the veggies once more, I pour in my mixture of proteins and turn the heat to low.
Now my favorite part: blooming a fresh coffee. Blooming is a technique of releasing the initial gases of the coffee before beginning the brewing process. It opens up the coffee’s flavor a lot, kinda like letting certain wines breath before drinking them. As I heat the first few bubbles surface, I check and the omelette’s almost ready to fold. I lay the cheese over it, and then go back to the coffee. 600 grams finally and I turned back to take off the skillet. Sliding it onto a plate, the fold was near perfect. I cut up the scallions and sprinkled them over the eggs with some salt and pepper. I grabbed a glass of OJ from the fridge poured my first cup of coffee. Sslluurrppp Damn it tastes great. I sit down at the table and just stare at my food. It all took less than fifteen minutes and I’m just smiling because I didn’t think about student loans or the current election. I just got in the moment and felt at peace for all of it.
Sometimes I forget what sort of calm I find in cooking. The simplicity of preparing food, the attention in plating, the thoughts brought to mind with taste. Cooking is partly why I love my job and partly why I have the palate I’ve developed. Whether it’s something simple like avocado and toast or something complex like a ratatouille-esk soup, it’s the act of working with the food that I find true zen.
It’s a little before 7pm; the sun is gonna be set soon, and the air started dropping temp. Work was alright but I was in need of something to lift my spirits (I’ve been in off for some reason the past few weeks and it just plateaued today). I double-checked my watch before grabbing a jacket; the mercado near by has the best flank steak (and oddly the cheapest). I snag my keys on my way out the door and lock up. Taking a fresh breath, I could almost see my breath. “Finally,” I laugh as I got in my car. When I get to the mercado, I’m greeted by one of the women who runs it.
“Hi! How are you?” “Well thanks. How are things here?” “Very good, would you like a table?” “No no, no time. Just here for some steak.”
I walk towards the back where the butcher sat behind the counter. He only asked me how much I want, a sign that I probably come a little too often. As he prepares the meat, I think of how often I see this people, and how we all share this odd connection at the mercado. Oddly, much like myself, each of us also live a completely separate life, filled with aspirations and wonders all our own. John Koenig coined an obscure meaning from the French word “Sonder” which means to probe. John says in his book, Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, that sonder means to realize what I am now about these people at the mercado. The butcher hands me the meat, I thank him and return to the front to pay for the food.
As I get home, the sun has fully set and civil twilight is nearing a close. Stepping out back, I light the grill fire before going in to prepare the steak. Laying the flanks out, salt, pepper, and they’re ready to go. I grabbed an ear of corn and a sweet potato from the fridge. Rubbing both with some oil and salt, I go outside with my makeshift platter and begin.
Spreading the coals evenly, I lay the grate on top and close the lid briefly to heat up the inside of the grill. Once I got it up to temp, I laid the potato and corn inside before leaving them be for a minute. I stared up at the moon and thought about the last time we gazed at each other. Strangely, I remembered the exact moment, and wanted to forget it just as quickly.
I lifted the lid and turned everything before laying the steaks in the center. The cuts were so thin that I had to barely wait a minute before flipping them. I don’t know what it is, but cooking with fire always feels so stereotypically primal, and I loved it. That sizzle, the crackle of flames, the stillness from the heat grappling with the air for dominance. Fire eats oxygen to survive, to breath it consumes the same air we do, and ruins it.
I pull off the food and set it on the board to rest while I grab a fork and knife. Sitting down, I’m about to tear into my food with reckless abandon before I realize something is missing. “Shit, almost forgot the wine.” I open a bottle of table red, something smooth (I think a blend of merlot and pinot). Getting back to the food, I devour it all before resting back and enjoying the quiet of the evening surrounding the slight pop of flames. I take another sip of wine and realize how long I just went without a single thought beyond the cooking. Not about my love life, or how my latte art’s been looking lately, just the food. Laughing, I sip again and remind myself how good it is to cook, how good it feels to be at peace. Oh, and how great it feels to have a belly full of great food, better wine, and a hearty laugh here and there.