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Flash in the Pan

Minding your mindfulness


There is a cast iron pan on the table. In the pan: a big greasy breakfast du jour of parsley, scrambled eggs, fried elk with shallot and garlic, and a warm corn tortilla.

Also on the table, within reach, are the standard breakfast condiments: a cup of hot coffee, jars of homemade salsa and pickled peppers, a jar of fake mayonnaise, reading material.

The danger here is overloading the tortilla to the point where it becomes unmanageable.

After a small preliminary sip of coffee, a layer of mayonnaise is applied to la tortilla raza. Into this layer of special crème, pieces of meat, garlic and shallot are placed, like bricks in mortar. Then, a layer of glowing eggs, yellow with white swirls and parsley speckles, is added, and salsa is spooned on top.

One hand holds the breakfast taco. The other hand, holding coffee, delivers another small preliminary sip, and then, I bite.

The buoyant eggs, lusty flesh, savory garlic bits, and creamy mayo hit my tongue first, quickly joined by the salsa, acidic and fragrant, mixing with the savory grease.

At this point I begin sipping coffee, much faster than before.

I’m able to sip faster because the hot coffee is cooled by what’s in my mouth. And I want to sip faster because the coffee washing over my breakfast follows the salsa in providing acidic counterbalance to the big greasy breakfast. That’s the equation.

The dance of acid and fat manifests everywhere—an oil and vinegar-clad salad, fries and ketchup, wine and cheese.

At this point I’m leaning forward, so the juices dripping from my half-eaten taco land in the pan.

Please don’t talk to me when I’m doing this. I’m concentrating, and I don’t want to rush-chew and prematurely swallow in order to respond.

I’m usually a social eater, a fan of table talk and the ritual of breaking bread in good company. It takes a village to feed a village, and the roots of eating together run deep. But sometimes I just want to fly solo with my big greasy breakfast.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam, has made a case for using everyday moments and chores, like washing dishes or waiting for a red light to change, as opportunities to focus your consciousness on the present moment. He calls this “mindfulness.”  

Eating, he explains, is also an opportunity for mindfulness.

“The food we eat comes to us from nature, from living beings, and from the cosmos,” he says. “To touch it with our mindfulness is to show our gratitude. Eating in mindfulness can be a great joy. We pick up our food with our fork, look at it for a second before putting it into our mouth, and then chew it carefully and mindfully, at least 50 times. If we practice this, we will be in touch with the entire cosmos.”

I have a friend who claims to have never farted, and one of the things to which she credits this feat is mindful chewing. Beyond its alleged flatulence-reducing properties, mindful chewing is also widely touted as a dieting technique. Supposedly, chewing slowly makes you more aware of being full, and prevents overeating. It can be a way to extract as much pleasure as you can from your meager, diet-sized portion.

I’m searching for information when I chew, like a dog with its nose up another dog’s ass. But unlike most dogs, who would happily gulp down the most subtle and nuanced of morsels in a single numb gulp, I masticate with passion and soul.

Food embodies the energy of the sun, land, air, rain and the people who grew and processed that food. With so much going on in any given meal, each bite demands full attention.

Sexperts like to point out that the body’s biggest sex organ is the brain. In other words, our perception of what’s going on—the story of the moment—can induce more satisfaction than physical stimulation alone. In exactly this way, the brain is also the body’s biggest taste bud. 

If I bring home some tomatoes, peppers and onions from the farmers’ market, I have shopped locally. Maybe I know the farmers, or the field or valley where they farm.

If I process this produce into salsa, store it in jars and apply it to a year’s worth of big greasy breakfast, it becomes more personal. If those jars contain roasted green chiles I brought home on dry ice from Hatch, N.M. during chile harvest last year, and thawed, chopped and added to my salsa, that’s getting intimate. The stories behind personal food give you real images to meditate on when you chew mindfully.

Eggs from the chickens, elk from the woods, garlic and shallots from the garden, salsa from the pantry—a big reason why big greasy breakfast tastes so good is it’s so personal. More than just a meal, big greasy breakfast is a way of life. It took me two years to make breakfast. Damn right I like it.

Ask Ari: Wine vs. grape juice

Q: Dear artist formerly known as Chef Boy Ari,

In a recent column you mentioned the beneficial qualities that antioxidants in wine can have to your health. Well, I don’t like wine but I like grape juice. What’s the difference between wine and grape juice in terms of antioxidant power? Does the fermentation process add properties to the wine that are absent in grape juice?

—Grape Expectations

A: It appears that you’re in luck, GE. Some recent studies suggest that Concord grape juice has higher levels of many antioxidants than any other beverage studied, including wine and other juices. Of particular interest are a class of flavanoid compounds called proanthocyanidins, which are thought to improve your odds against heart disease and cancer.

And there seems to be unusually high cardiovascular benefits to Concord grape juice, as well, including reducing the tendency of blood platelets to clot, slowing the oxidation of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, enhancing the flexibility of arteries and lowering blood pressure.

In general, research seems to be showing that the health benefits of wine exist in spite of the alcoholic fermentation, and not because of it.

I suppose this is good news for me, because I have two productive Concord grape vines in my garden, which yielded over 100 pounds of grapes last year. Since it’s really easy to make awesome grape juice—and really hard and time-consuming to make even terrible wine—my decision to make 10 gallons of juice was a no-brainer.

But when I have a nice dinner on my plate and there is wine available, I won’t be reaching for the grape juice. I will, however, be glad the wine making process left many of the grape juice’s health benefits intact.

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