Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Contemplation of First Forays and Mindfulness

esterday's Summer Solstice marked the first day of our 100 mile challenge, and we celebrated it with a meal that our ancestors would have both approved of, and been delighted with.

Nathaniel prepared one of his toe-curlingly-amazing sauces to go with the fresh local pasta we bought
(I'll leave the description and recipe for him to describe), and we served that alongside sugar peas and a salad of mixed lettuces, celery, apples and dried blueberries, dressed with a drizzle of canola oil and apple cider vinegar.

My approach to this meal was one that I don't think I've ever taken before in the 25 years that I've been cooking: Complete presence and focus on every aspect of the culinary experience.
I'm trying to be significantly more mindful and aware of where the food I eat comes from, and as such, I am making a concerted effort to be very grounded and -pres
ent- as I prepare ingredients for meals, rather than allowing my mind to wander into a million directions at once, as it is wont to do.

Shelling the peas became a meditative task, with the rhythmic repetition of popping the pods open, running my thumb down the inner vein to loosen the globes within, spilling them into the bowl held on my lap, and setting the pods aside. Slicing into the tomatoes was another fascinating experience: over and over again, the knife "shushed" cleanly through the fruit's skin, then moved through the mealy flesh, releasing the scent of both the tomato itself and its seeds
(the latter being more tangy/acidic).

This awareness followed through with the rest of the meal preparation, and really made me contemplate how little attention I've paid to not only the sources and creation of my food, but also how easily distracted I've been while eating it. When I come home from work, I usually just throw together something simple like a salad or soup, and when I sit down to eat it my attention will be far more fixed on the book I'm currently immersed in than what I'm shoveling into my face. So long as the hunger pangs are quelled and the taste is half decent, my primary interest seems to flow elsewhere... bringing myself back to the present with this challenge is making me realise how much I've been missing out on.

I made a point of this kind of mindfulness with dinner last night, and the experience was downright epiphanic.
Have you ever really focused your attention entirely on what it is you're eating? It's a really fascinating exercise to tune all of your awareness into the nuances of texture and flavour that each dish contains. Additionally, in not overwhelming food with condiments and seasonings, one seems to gain an incredibly heightened awareness of the subtle flavours in every dish.

Each sweet pea was a little perfect burst of joy: I honestly can't think of any other food that tastes quite so
GREEN. They were lightly boiled and tossed with a scant spoonful of organic butter, and the taste of them was beyond gorgeous. I was raised eating mostly canned vegetables, and it's almost inconceivable to think that these tiny gems of summer sweetness are in any way related to the anaemic, mushy, canned morsels of travesty that were served to me throughout my childhood.

We paired the meal with an Inniskillin Dry Riesling from the LCBO:


I'm not sure whether it was just that my palate was a bit more sensitive last night, but it seemed as though every note in the wine was brighter, more tangible, with hints of peach and apple and a wonderful dry citrus finish.

When I've mentioned the challenge we're on to other people, many have balked at the idea because they've assumed that locavore food is somehow lacking in variety, flavour, or even edibility! One acquaintance asked if I'd be spending the next few months gnawing on tree bark and foraged weeds, not realising what a treasure trove of fresh ingredients and locally-sourced artisanal products can be found nearby.

This first 100 mile dinner goes to prove that meals sourced within this radius are neither bland, nor inelegant. As we move forward along this path, I'm hoping that we can take our own Toronto locavore cuisine to unexpected heights of beauty and creativity.