A disaster looms for the Good Ship Health.
On the map ahead, the shoals are marked Holiday Gathering, Christmas Dinner, Feast of the Seven Fishes, New Year’s Eve and the particularly insidious triplets Secret Santa, Sing-along and Just Another Small One.
Navigating the Thanksgiving dinner buffet was calm waters compared to what’s on the horizon.
You’ll hear that the best ways to keep weight off and your head on are to “not” do things. That’s one way to ennoble negative space.
But I say just slow everything down — in the kitchen at the table, with the belly up to the bar. If the pace gets glacial, that’s fine. When time isn’t moving, that’s a lot of not doing, too.
The present-day word for “slow” is “mindfulness.” When we attend to the moment, and lose thought of the past or future, we effect the pause. We savor one bite instead of shovel two; we sip instead of gulp.
My favorite time cooking is stuff like this: standing over a carrot and staring at it, figuring out how to slice or dice this hard orange thing that is about to roll away from me; stirring a fluid in a figure-eight slowly and splashlessly so that the eddies and waves take on their own shiny life; watching onions go from ghostly to golden to amber then auburn, losing their sulfuric sting, becoming honeyed.
All these things take time. Each moment enriches my senses, in turn, one sense, then another: color, sound, smell, taste, touch.
I can sense them altogether, if I like, at eating, but I can’t even do that well if I don’t spend time on the forkful or don’t linger on the bite, letting the flavors and textures come slowly to, onto, and into me.
I learned one of the great lessons of my life — not merely my cooking life, but my overall life — watching my maternal grandmother make mayonnaise. She made it every day.
Each morning, she placed a plate on her lap, smashed an egg yolk on it with the back of a fork, and swept it up into a cream. Oil went in drip by drip until the new mayonnaise could accept a wee stream of oil and then it was done. A few drops of lemon juice, salt, white pepper. Today’s mayonnaise.
Cooking, eating, and drinking mindfully the next few weeks:
- One of the great gifts to the kitchen from France is the concept of “mise en place.” The phrase pretty much means “everything put in its place” and stands for the preparing ahead and laying out of all the constituents that will go into a particular dish or recipe.
The idea is to chop, peel, dice, measure, squeeze, apportion and individualize the ingredients that make up a recipe, place them in small bowls, ramekins or cups, and have them ready and willing when it comes time to finally cook.
- Your fork is not a shovel. Like a Henry Moore sculpture, it allows you to see the world on the other side of it — if you take the time to look.
- Eating food and drinking good wine or beer are not merely about taste. Use all of your senses to savor color and shape, texture and touch, and all the perfumes and aromas that float there.
- As for taste, let it stick around. Tastes tend to unfold in waves of flavor. Smoosh that tongue, smack those lips.
My Grandmother’s Homemade Mayonnaise
Makes 1/2 to 3/4 cup
- 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 3/4 cup canola, safflower or pure olive oil (not extra virgin cold-pressed oil)
On a room temperature plate, smash and stir the egg with a fork until creamed. Add a tiny amount of oil at a time and blend. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Tuna or swordfish with onion confit
From Mark Bittman, The New York Times; serves 4
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large or 4-5 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 large thyme sprig or 1 bay leaf
- 2 medium tomatoes, cored
- 1 1/2 to 2 pounds tuna or swordfish, cut into steaks or left whole
- About 1/2 cup pitted and roughly chopped black olives
Put olive oil in a 10- or 12-inch skillet, and turn heat to medium. Add onions, a good pinch of salt, pepper and bay leaf or thyme. Cook, stirring, until mixture starts to sizzle, a minute or two. Adjust heat so you need to stir at most only every 5 minutes to keep onions from browning as they soften. Do not allow to brown. Cook at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut tomatoes in half and shake out seeds, then cut into 1/2-inch dice. Heat a grill until moderately hot. When onions are very soft, almost a shapeless mass, season fish and grill it, turning once, for a total of about 6 minutes for tuna, 8-10 minutes for swordfish. Check for doneness by making a small cut in center to peek inside.
While fish is grilling, stir olives and tomatoes into onions, and raise heat; cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes liquefy and mixture becomes juicy. Taste, and adjust seasoning. Serve fish on a bed of onion confit, whole fish cut into serving portions.
Reach Bill St John at email@example.com.