Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Meditation at the Edge of the Knife

The holidays finally feel like they're winding down. They are not totally over at our house because the tree is still up and our fridge is still packed to the gills with food and booze; and before you know it, it's Wednesday night and we're drinking Champagne. But mostly they're winding down. Talk has turned to the Super Bowl party and applying for rafting permits and spring graduations. This week we'll haul the tree off to be mulched and pack away the ornaments, and the holidays will officially be over.

Despite a low key holiday season that involved minimal travel (which we could do in a car!) and lots of relaxing, hiking, skiing and eating, I found the holidays, like always, to be a little stressful. There are so many expectations built up around holidays, and one of the hardest parts of being a married adult has been learning how to maneuver our holidays. I think we did pretty well this year, but it wasn't without some heartache and missing my family and friends dearly.

So, to ward off the holiday blues and homesickness, I took to the kitchen. I find so much comfort in planning menus, researching new recipes and even grocery shopping to find just what I need. There was a time when I ruled out recipes that included ingredients that seemed hard to find. Now I say bring it on because I love getting it just right. So, this year, instead of dwelling on how much I missed my family in Minnesota or worrying too much about meeting family expectations, I spent my season in the kitchen. I cooked French feasts, Japanese feasts, tapas feasts, Italian feasts... (As you can see, I love themed dinners.) I planned and executed an elaborate homemade Thanksgiving dinner. I cooked and baked and candied all of the Christmas presents we sent our families. I cooked cocktail snacks and desserts and dips and all of the holiday treats. We hosted cocktail parties and get togethers and dinners with friends. No one who came to our house during the past six weeks ever went hungry, that's for sure.

I found myself pretty wiped out last weekend, but instead of lying around reading in front of the fire, which is what Andrew lobbied hard for, I spent my free hour in between helping a friend move and having friends over for dinner making a chocolate tart. And that made me so happy. A focused, calm mind melting chocolate and pressing out crust. Small pleasures. I think Ruth Reichl describes it pretty perfectly. Meditation at the edge of the knife. The best kind.

“Every kitchen is filled with flames and shards, fire and glass, boiling liquids and sharp objects eager to attack you. Cooking is too dangerous to permit distraction. If you step into that arena without the proper respect, you will certainly get hurt. 

'Blood!' screamed a sign over the stove in my first professional kitchen. Beneath, spelled out in large letters, were the appropriate steps to be taken in case of severed appendages, injured limbs, or major burns. Peril pounces on the careless cook, and for me this lurking menace is part of the attraction. I have found that meditation at the edge of the knife makes everything seem better. 

But while cooking demands your entire attention, it also rewards you with endlessly sensual pleasures. The sound of water skittering across leaves of lettuce. The thump of a knife against watermelon, and the cool summer scent the fruit releases as it falls open to reveal its deep red heart. The seductive softness of chocolate beginning to melt from solid to liquid. The tug of sauce against the spoon when it thickens in the pan, and the lovely lightness of Parmesan drifting from the grater in gossamer flakes. Time slows down in the kitchen, offering up an entire universe of small satisfactions.” 

- Ruth Reichl, from Garlic and Sapphires


  1. I really enjoy cooking too but I still shy away from the more complicated ingredients/recipes. I really liked your post on choosing grateful for 2014 - appreciating what we have really is the key to happiness :)

    1. Thanks. I'm trying to remember it daily.

      i think cooking is like any other skill - you learn slowly and build confidence over time and eventually you feel comfortable taking on more complicated recipes.

  2. Love this and totally agree. Cooking is my meditation, my therapy - and I actually prefer doing it alone. That tart was amazing and beyond my skill level! Baking success most often eludes me...

    1. the tart is definitely within your skill level!
      i find baking to be more hit and miss because i generally don't like measuring out ingredients, and I kind of hate weighing ingredients. I prefer the winging it aspect of cooking.

  3. well i wish i was part of your family so that i could partake in all of these glorious sounding meals!!!!! NOM NOM!!!!!

    i like cooking and baking when i have time. i hate being rushed in life. i like being able to take my time and do things right. and hoping things turn out well. there are always surprises in the kitchen, THAT IS FOR SURE. lately i have been trying to be a bit more creative with recipes -- modifying, changing, altering as i see fit. sometimes it works; sometimes not so much. lol. but experimenting is fun.

    i think i have over 200 new recipes to try. it would be wise for me to try one new recipe a week. i need to!

    and this is a bit late, but hAPPY NEW YEAR, and i hope 2014 is a great one for ya!

    1. Happy new year to you too!
      I have so many new recipes to try as well. I love cooking new things so I always have something in the queue. I would be thrilled if I had the time to cook something new everyday.


Hey, thank you!

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