Not even a soufflé could save me this week. I couldn’t cook. No reason, except the Black Dog was lurking, and while I love dogs (golden retrievers, in particular), this dog is not one I plan to adopt. Better to meditate, then. A meditation teacher once told me that if everyone meditated just 10 minutes a day, it would eradicate most crime. It’s hard to be bitter, aggressive, and prone to fits of road rage if you’ve given yourself the space to remember you are in control of your time and your destiny, by taking a moment to exercise your heart muscle to flex naturally to openness and generosity.
So I took it as a sign, that the most recent of the Meditation Oasis podcasts was a session around patience, since so much of the annoyance of urban life is in the lack of civility. They’re worth checking out if you’ve ever wanted to get a handle on meditation without having to join a group, but don’t want to fly solo. It’s a lot easier than focusing on your nostrils, or chanting Om. Actually, Meditation Oasis’ podcasts are so good I wagged the meditation session at the ashram I was at in Rishikesh, India, last year (the chanting was really getting old). I did this meditation in my room instead, and when I walked out onto the balcony overlooking the Ganges after, I saw this. He stood there for over an hour. Now, that’s chilled. I doubt I’ll ever quite get there.
Bear with me here, there is a segue, albeit a messy one. After 2008, a bad year of bruising disappointments and heartbreak, I started the new year with one touchstone, one mantra, that had to pull me through, or else. When in doubt, cook. I knew I had to do this, because in times when the ground has given way, I’ve almost stopped eating all together. That place where you’re barely breathing for all the shrapnel in your heart. You remember? I felt cooking had to be the way to put one foot in front of the other, one recipe step at a time. That was all that was required, when my mind was too scrambled to calm down enough to meditate or even trust in life, to remember this too shall pass.
I remember dragging myself into the kitchen every night. The scent of crushed thyme on my fingers, the hiss of onions in the pan, the sight of mushrooms that had doggedly, gloriously come into their own ugly beautiful perfection,
and the simple act of using my hands to create something, anything, after all the words that had come to nothing.
All this required attention, and it’s difficult to catastrophise when you’re in the moment. And then of course the outcome of every step that’s come before: the taste. You need food to live, but it is plunging into the senses that cooking a meal requires that can deliver you back to life. For that reason, cooking is as much a spiritual practice as any other chosen path, at least for me.
So this last weekend, after a week of indifference, I got back into the kitchen, and I made risotto, simply because you have to find the patience to make it, and patience with life, with timing, with the occasional crap, is a spiritual practice I know I have to undertake (being one of those people who was not genetically blessed with this virtue). And making risotto is the most pleasurable way to do so. The process of adding stock to the rice, watching, stirring, watching, then stirring some more, is a meditation in and of itself.
Oh, and did I say it tastes great?
Risotto with Wild Mushrooms
8g dried porcini mushrooms
300g assorted fresh mushrooms, as shown above
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 tsp of thyme leaves
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
300g arborio rice, unwashed
150ml dry white wine
750ml vegetable or chicken stock, heated
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp grated parmesan
Cover the porcini mushrooms in boiling water and set aside.
Clean the fresh mushrooms by wiping them with a damp cloth and slice. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and tbsp of the butter in a frying pan, add the garlic, the thyme, and the sliced mushrooms, and toss well until softened. Add the porcini mushrooms and its water, salt and pepper, and toss until tender. Set aside.
In a heavy bottomed large saucepan, on medium heat, melt 1 tbsp butter with the remaining olive oil and add the onion and cook for 10 minutes, until softened. Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes, ensuring it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Add the wine, and let it bubble away until it is absorbed by the rice. Turn heat to low, and add a half cup of stock, stirring gently until the stock is absorbed. Repeat the process until all the stock is used and the rice is creamy (it should be neither gluggy nor dry, but should flow gently when tipped).
Add the mushroom mix and the parsley, stirring well and heat through. Serve and scatter with shaved parmesan.
I’ve thought a lot about wonder this week. Choosing to remain open to experience is the antidote to indifference, but it requires a risk not easily taken. But it is the only path. In the words of The Verve, the drugs don’t work, nor does hoping someone else will save you. If you want to see someone talk about this more eloquently than I could ever manage, then take a look at Brene Brown’s talk on Whole Heartedness here.
It’s a choice, and sometimes a battle. But from someone who knows the trenches well now, it’s the only war worth fighting, and it’s the one you have to win. Next time you’re there yourself, please stop by.