Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mindful Consumption 2010

Ah, one of my favourite food events of the year. Mindful consumption, a tradition we started in 2002 and have kept up nearly annually since that time. It's kind of like a potluck, but we eat one thing at a time, with each person sharing why they brought that particular food or drink and what's important to them about it, and then we eat with the intention of truly TASTING. (see this post for details on how it all works, and another example). We started out with a reading from Thich Nhat Han on Mindful Eating, which I've included at the end of this post.

This year there was 8 adults and 3 children...we went in the order posted below (on its side, oopsie can't seem to fix that at the moment). Our menu was as follows and the remnants of this are featured in the photo above:
*Buttercup squash soup
*Unsalted pistachios (most of us realized we've never really TASTED a pistachio without salt!)
*Red lentil stew
*Brown Rice (with Anita sharing some history about the importance of rice in shaping society).
*Mount Begbie's "Nasty Habit" IPA
*Homemade pickled beans, mostly local ingredients
*"Cheesy pasta"--the favourite dish of our group's 3-year old
*Homemade coconut-milk dark chocolate pudding with raspberries
*Desert Lime Tea

As usual, it was the perfect menu without any advance planning.

And here's some of us in our post-mindful meal glow (missing: Jemma, Lyris, Callum):

These are just some of the people of the "miracle"community in my life, which Thich Nhat Han refers to below :) Until next year!

Pre-meal reading:


Mindful eating is very pleasant. We sit beautifully. We are aware of the people that are sitting around us. We are aware of the food on our plates. This is a deep practice. Each morsel of food is an ambassador from the cosmos. When we pick up a piece of a vegetable, we look at it for half a second. We look mindfully to really recognize the piece of food, the piece of carrot or string bean. We should know that this is a piece of carrot or a string bean. We identify it with our mindfulness: "I know this is a piece of carrot. This is a piece of string bean." It only takes a fraction of a second.

When we are mindful, we recognize what we are picking up. When we put it into our mouth, we know what we are putting into our mouth. When we chew it, we know what we are chewing. It's very simple.

Some of us, while looking at a piece of carrot, can see the whole cosmos in it, can see the sunshine in it, can see the earth in it. It has come from the whole cosmos for our nourishment.

You may like to smile to it before you put it in your mouth. When you chew it, you are aware that you are chewing a piece of carrot. Don't put anything else into your mouth, like your projects, your worries, your fear, just put the carrot in.

And when you chew, chew only the carrot, not your projects or your ideas. You are capable of living in the present moment, in the here and the now. It is simple, but you need some training to just enjoy the piece of carrot. This is a miracle.

I often teach "orange meditation" to my students. We spend time sitting together, each enjoying an orange. Placing the orange on the palm of our hand, we look at it while breathing in and out, so that the orange becomes a reality. If we are not here, totally present, the orange isn't here either.

There are some people who eat an orange but don't really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past, and future. They are not really present, with body and mind united.

When you practice mindful breathing, you become truly present. If you are here, life is also here. The orange is the ambassador of life. When you look at the orange, you discover that it is nothing less than fruit growing, turning yellow, becoming orange, the acid becoming sugar. The orange tree took time to create this masterpiece.

When you are truly here, contemplating the orange, breathing and smiling, the orange becomes a miracle. It is enough to bring you a lot of happiness. You peel the orange, smell it, take a section, and put it in your mouth mindfully, fully aware of the juice on your tongue. This is eating an orange in mindfulness. It makes the miracle of life possible. It makes joy possible.

The other miracle is the Sangha, the community in which everyone is practicing in the same way. The woman sitting next to me is also practicing mindfulness while eating her breakfast. How wonderful! She is touching the food with mindfulness. She is enjoying every morsel of her breakfast, like me. We are brother and sister on the path of practice. From time to time we look at each other and smile. It is the smile of awareness. It proves that we are happy, that we are alive. It is not a diplomatic smile. It is a smile born from the ground of enlightenment, of happiness.

That smile has the power to heal. It can heal you and your friend. When you smile like that, the woman next to you will smile back. Before that, maybe her smile was not completely ripe. It was ninety percent ripe. If you offer her your mindful smile, you will give her the energy to smile one hundred percent.

When she is smiling, healing begins to take place in her. You are very important for her transformation and healing. That is why the presence of brothers and sisters in the practice is so important. This is also why we don't talk during breakfast. If we talk about the weather or the political situation in the Middle East, we can never say enough.

We need the silence to enjoy our own presence and the presence of our Dharma brothers and sisters. This kind of silence is very alive, powerful, nourishing, and transforming. It is not oppressive or sad. Together we can create this kind of noble silence.

Sometimes it is described as "thundering silence" because it is so powerful.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Candied Christmas Walnuts

Today my good friend Karen and I spent a snowy afternoon making batches of candied walnuts! She invited me over as her "walnut elf" to help her with all the gifts she was making. Here's what we did...for you to learn from, and for us to remember the learnings for next year :)

*1 pound walnut halves
*1 cup white sugar
*2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
*1/4 teaspoon salt
* 6 tablespoons milk (which is 1/3 of a cup...we used Almond Milk for those with dairy issues).
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Notes: We did 10-1lb batches. Each batch filled TWO ziplock sandwich bags, so 10 lbs really gives you 20 "gift-size" portions. Do NOT double the recipe, it is finnicky enough as it is.

1. Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Spread nuts in a single layer over a baking sheet. Roast for approximately 8-10 minutes, or until the nuts start to turn brown and the smell of roasted nuts fills the kitchen.

Notes: With the worry of burning, we "underroasted", which meant great success of no ruined batches, but we probably don't have a full roasted flavour in the same way. I'm good with this as I am prone to burning, yo. Also, we took the pans out at the 4 minute mark, mixed them, and put them back in the oven to ensure evenness of roasting).

2. Stir together sugar, cinnamon, salt, and milk in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat for 8 minutes, or until the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage of 236F (113C). Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla immediately...

Notes: Forget that stir in vanilla immediately stuff! It lowered the temperature and damaged the texture (turned to powder before sticking to the walnuts). Add the vanilla along with the rest of the ingredients in the beginning.

We also noticed a larger saucepan was better so that we could work more quickly with getting the sugar mixture distributed onto the walnuts.
Oh yeah, and when the oven was on, the mixture reached softball temp quicker (more like 4 minutes!)

3. Add walnuts to sugar syrup, and stir to coat well. Spoon nuts onto waxed paper, and immediately separate nuts with a fork. Cool, and store in airtight containers.

5. Do all the dishes!! :)