Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chopping and Chakras

When I moved into my condo two years ago, I often heard a man chanting somewhere outside my window while I was in my kitchen. I never knew where it came from, but it sounded like rapid-fire meditation with chakras in full gear. Gradually I stopped noticing, even when I started spending more time in the kitchen.

Yesterday I was in a very domestic state - cleaning, doing laundry, and other chores - when I decided to make sauteed summer squash with red pepper and onion for lunch. I had all of those vegetables from my last CSA delivery, along with garlic and parsley. It was one of those rare occasions where I had everything at my fingertips.

But the recipe required a lot of prep work. As I chopped vegetables, lost in my own thoughts, I suddenly heard the chanting outside my window. I peered out but only heard the familiar rhythmic mantras of someone seeking spiritual nirvana.

Wikipedia describes meditation as a mental discipline that is practiced for many possible reasons: to achieve "a higher state of consciousness, to greater focus, creativity or self-awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind."

I've never formally meditated in my life, except for belting out a couple of long "oms" during yoga class. But for me, cooking is a form of meditation. I find myself very focused as I manage the whole food preparation process into a meal to be eaten.

Cooking is a good activity for goal-oriented people who like to see tangible results after they put a lot of hard work into something. It reminds me of why I once trained for a marathon. After several months of hard work and motivation, I achieved a goal - an incredibly empowering and satisfying thing to do (although the pay off of cooking is eating, which is much more pleasurable than running 26.2 miles).

Maybe that has nothing to do with meditation. I don't know. But I find that activities that require me to work with my hands, like cooking or gardening, tap into that creative part of my brain. There is something so rewarding about completing these kinds of projects. I always feel better afterwards - kind of like getting that runner's high.

Sauteed Summer Squash with Red Pepper and Onion (from The New York Times)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup chopped) (I used a whole onion, medium sized)
2 plump garlic cloves, minced (I love garlic and used 5 medium-sized cloves)
1 1/2 pounds summer squash, cut in 1/2-inch dice (I used 2 squash)
1 small red pepper, cut in 1/4-inch dice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, and add the onion. Stir often and cook until tender, five to eight minutes, then add the garlic, summer squash, red pepper and about 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, until the squash is translucent and the red pepper tender, about 10 minutes. Add freshly ground pepper, taste and adjust salt. Stir in the parsley, and remove from the heat. Serve as a side dish, or use it as a filling for a vegetable tart, gratin or frittata. (I served over brown rice.)

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