Cinnamon, cumin, and honey coat spring lettuce with a taste of India. After salad, the waitress brings thimble sized bowls of sherbet to cleanse the palette before the entrees of pork and quail in orange and lemon sauces and sweetened emerald broccoli served next to warm bread and tiny tins of lavender butter.
Though this may sound like an exotic French restaurant in an urban center, friends treated me to this meal at The Old Hotel Restaurant in Twin Bridges, Montana, population: 375. The waitress told us that her employers are a couple who met in chef school in Hawaii and continue to work side by side in the historic hotel they now own. She said they have fun in the kitchen creating together. I believe the food that night was delicious because it was flavored with their enjoyment in preparing it.
I am reminded of the scene in the novel and movie, Like Water for Chocolate where the opposite occurs. A grieving young woman cries tears into the wedding cake batter she must make for her sister marrying the man she herself loves. The guests become sick from eating the grief in the cake. This scene reveals the truth that the condition of our heart while cooking flavors our cuisine.
The fun we have from cooking can come from experiencing beauty, surprise, friendship, service, or a sense of accomplishment to name a few possibilities. I have this kind of fun making a Moroccan stew with ingredients that never fail to delight me. I pour into the broth a saucer with white salt, yellow turmeric, brown cumin, and red cayenne all looking like artists' paint powders. The purple, red, orange, and greens of the eggplant, tomato, carrots, zucchini, and cabbage cover the counters with such beauty, I often stop and grab the camera. This fail-proof dish pleases my family and guests in part because of my joy in the process of preparing it.
I once read survey results that more people rank cooking as their favorite household chore for it allows them a chance to be creative. Taking time to notice the colors, smells, textures, and the changes of the food as the process unfolds cultivates our pleasure and adds a nuance of fun to the taste.
Likewise we can cultivate our joy of eating by intentionally noticing the details of the cuisine, the company, and the setting be it summer-quiet or picnic-lively, simple or elegant. Being mindful can slow down our eating so that we consume less and savor more. One practice that adds gratitude and import to the meal is naming aloud the people who help bring the food to the table like the cook, the grocer, the drivers, and farmers not to mention the mysterious abundance of the good earth.
Mother always said hunger was the best sauce, but I think fun is a close runner-up. Spirited women, may you enjoy creativity in the kitchen and food flavored with fun.
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