This lovely conversation with Jane Hirshfield on the five essential ingredients for the home cook, as well as the poet, makes me wonder what I would choose. An especially poignant question during this era when I have no time to be a home cook or a poet (though I did, on Sunday, shop and cook for the whole week—making my favorite organic chicken with lemon and tiny Niçoise olives and the lavender-fraught fragrance of herbes de Provence; and then a mixture of black beans, cucumber, tomato, ground turkey, fresh oregano, and salsa, to eat on salad greens; and buying a delightful wedge of white cheddar with Hatch green chili married in).
Just off the cuff, I’d say
Many of the qualities I’ve learned to practice in the mindfulness-based stress reduction class, not unexpectedly. For cooking is one of the best activities to encourage or embody mindfulness.
Memory: bringing the flavors and textures of all the well-loved far-off places into what one cooks and eats. The pimientos de Padron of Mallorca, the little jar of spaghetta boscaiola with dried mushrooms brought back from a cobbled street in Verona, the apricot jam from my mother’s cupboard—apricots from the childhood tree.
Time: to chop with patience and a staccato or legato rhythm; to let the sauces simmer for hours while windows steam (in cooler weather) and flavors deepen; to let meats become braised and succulently tender; to let the memory in the ingredients of field and orchard, stream or salten sea, become part of the cook’s being as well.
Attention: so as not to endanger one’s fingers with sharp knives, or let the kettle of beans burn dry. So as to absorb fragrances and earthy essences—potato skin, fig purple, and cinnamon musk; pine nuts that hold in them the sticky pitch the pungent needles the red sand cliffs that were their origins. The awareness too of a little late sun coming obliquely through the kitchen window on those funny purple flowers (like chive only darker) brought home wrapped in paper to cheer you.
Loving kindness: to these things that sustain you, that give their lives for yours. Everything tastes better cooked with love. Nothing should be half-hearted—nothing that matters. (One of the many telling quotes I remember from Gaudy Night, that best-ever mystery by Dorothy Sayers, “I'm quite sure that one never makes fundamental mistakes about the thing one really wants to do. Fundamental mistakes arise out of lack of genuine interest. In my opinion, that is.”)
Openness: Let the possibilities arise. Let them surprise you, happily. Don’t resist change, or cardamom; don’t tell yourself a daring moment of Aleppo pepper doesn’t belong in a quiet risotto. Let come what comes. Embrace sherry vinegar.
Speisekarte des Hotel Marquardt, Art Deco, Chromolithographie, G. Sturm