Last week I wrote about being mindful in our relationship with food. I mentioned that there’s no one recipe for drawing out the magic - and that’s true - but capturing the minute details that make our food special is something that can be learned by anyone who is willing to take the time to observe. A key foundation to this process is understanding that our food carries its stories, its humanity, its energetic fabric within - these quietly enchanted qualities are not something we have to create, rather, they are hidden in plain sight, awaiting our careful discovery. It is when we take care to notice and honor our food’s ability to awaken all five senses that we are able to unearth what’s been hidden in plain sight. A few ideas for getting started...
Sight - As you prepare your food, take time to notice its shape, its color, texture, size, contrasts of light and dark. As you chop, be mindful of the shape and size of the pieces. Notice the details contained within fruits and vegetables, and how they differ from the exterior. Watch the transformation of eggs as they are beaten or fried. Notice how ingredients swirl together as they are stirred, mixed, and folded. Be mindful of finishing touches; the way that freshly cracked pepper, a sprinkling of coarse salt, a glug of olive oil, a whirl of sour cream, or a small handful of chopped herbs can transform the visual appeal of a dish.
Smell - Allow smell to guide your cooking and eating as much as any other sense. Smell a fresh tomato, a ball of dough, the blossom end of a cantaloupe, and let what wafts up be your guide. Notice the smells that seep into the air as food is sliced open; the fresh clean scent of cucumber, the crisp biting zing of a pepper, the soft pungency of a turnip. Follow the transition of smell as food is heated on the stove; the intoxicating allure of garlic, sweetly beckoning onions, soul soothing cinnamon. Drink these smells hungrily and without rush, with eyes closed and heart open.
Hearing - The sounds of a kitchen seem to often be neglected by our attention. The sizzle of hot fat, the satisfactory slice of a sharp knife, the bubbling of soup, the scraping of spoon against bowl. Kitchens elicit a gentle buzz of life and energy, auditory reminders of food’s greater purpose. Equally important kitchen sounds are the intimate chatter of family and the actual music you cook, eat, and live to. Take the time to hear the harmonious cacophony of these many layered songs.
Taste - As the most obvious sense awakened by our food, it’s easy to assume that we fully experience taste. Closer inspection of this sense, however, might prove otherwise. A fun exercise is to eat a meal with intentional slowness, chewing each bite twice as long as you typically might, paying careful attention to the transformation of flavor as it develops in your mouth. Notice the contrast of flavors in a dish, a practice nicely assisted by the use of the right garnishes. Challenge yourself to experience flavor more fully than you thought possible.
Touch - Another sense that doesn’t always receive its fair acclaim in the kitchen. Mouth feel is perhaps the easiest place to start, but is certainly no end point. Being mindful of a tender bite of steak, the silky velvet of cheesecake, or the tender crispness of a fresh carrot is an important place to start, and offers exquisite joy. But equally important is noticing the weight of a tomato, the contrast of a smooth spoon and the textures it carries, the delight of encountering a lactose crystal in a bite of aged cheese, or the softly worn patina of a well loved wooden spoon.
Paying more attention to even one of these senses can elevate a meal into the realm of spiritual. Learning to mind all five of these senses while cooking and eating has the power to entirely transform our relationship with food. Meals become slower, softer, more satisfying. Preparing food becomes a centering escape and a massage for the soul, rather than a mundane and critical task for completion. Suddenly, we are able to experience the aspects of our food that have patiently awaited our discovery for years. We can see the farmer, carefully selecting vegetable varieties. We can touch the seeds, so tiny, offering astounding abundance and the delicate balance of genetic material. We can feel the weather that nurtured the season, raindrops and wind gusts and saturating sunshine. We can hear the hushed music of nightfall over the fields and feel the glow of the moon over crops. We can smell all of this life intermingled, sweat and soil and thick August air. This is food. This is life. This is the magic.