Do a google search with the terms ‘mindfulness’ and ‘cooking’ and chances are you will find a picture of some toothy woman looking glamorous and a site full of recipes that are supposedly going to improve your chi through zen… or something.
Mindful cooking means paying attention to what you are doing; being in the moment of preparing food. By definition, anything quick and easy that requires no thought, regardless of its nutritional value, is not being mindful.
My weekends are the time I get to practice my mindfulness. The house is quiet. There are jobs that need to be done like cooking and cleaning, sweeping, dusting. Each job gives me comfort.
On the weekends I like to make chilli beans. Using whatever left-over meat is in the fridge, dried black beans, big onions & garlic, and a lot of spice. No one else in the household really cares for the simultaneously big and simple flavours. It’s just for me.
To make chilli beans for lunch I need to start first thing in the morning. The beans need to be put in hot water to soak. They’re like pebbles at first. Little ebony gems. Then the water goes an astonishing inky purpley midnight shade. I like to swish my hand through it to feel the now concealed black nuggets. I move my hand through the water to see where it becomes lost to sight.
I chop a big brown or red onion, or two small ones. First I rotate the knife through the base to take out the woody stem, then put a shallow slice from top to bottom. Then I peel off the dry outer membrane. By now the smell is strong and I relish its aroma. If tears come to my eyes I smile because that means the taste will be even better. The onion gets chopped in half, then each half into threes, then diced. Garlic: two or three or even more bulbs. I twist them so the skin is loosened, then peel them. With the flat of a carving knife and the heel of my palm I flatten them.
A heavy bottomed pot on the back element so that the temperature can be low, but now it is hot. Olive oil, not measured: glugged in there, swirled around like a barista putting a signature on top of a cafe latte. Butter. I like to watch the butter melt into the oil. I pick up the pot and roll it around to mix, watching the bubbling patterns. In goes the onion and garlic and a big wooden spoon makes sure they get coated. Then on with the lid.
Now is the time for spice. When I bother to measure, I measure in tablespoons. I get a small bowl, one with a bright inner glaze and a simple outside, and into this I dole out my spices in order. Each one I smell as it goes in, remembering them, greeting them like the old friends that they are. Dried coriander, cumin, cayenne, chilli, onion & garlic powders, pepper and salt. Always pepper before salt. Why? I don’t know.
Somewhere in the fridge is the left over meat. It could be from a roast, or steak, or a bolognese, or any of a dozen other things. Whatever it is, I dump it on the chopping board and reduce it to chucks if that’s what it needs.
By now the onion and garlic are soft and glassy. In go the spices and they hit my nose. So powerful and overwhelming. They smell of being alive. In goes the meat. I stir it till the meat is coated with flavour, and add tomatoes, either canned for fresh – whatever I can find in the pantry. And finally I add some stock, usually chicken stock that I made myself from a 6 hour simmer. Temperature goes to low, and the lid goes back on.
The kitchen smells like it is lived in now. The time is nine o’clock. In a couple of hours I’ll drain the beans and add them, stirring them through, watching them change the texture and the colour.
I have observed many things; smelt many things; touched many things. I have been engaged in a mindful ‘tea-ceremony’. My ceremony. The ceremony of Saturday lunch slow cooked chilli-beans.