Since Monday – “talk-show day” -- is my day of adrenalin highs and the end-product of a week of creative activity, Tuesday is my day of quiet thoughtfulness; a time to fill its hours with contemplation and spiritual renewal. This Tuesday morning began with views of last night’s full moon setting beyond Wire Mesa just as the first hints of pink and blue outlined the peaks of Zion and Eagle Crags to the east. A cup of hot herbal tea sweetened with Acacia honey filled the living room with a perfume born in Africa’s Cape Province as I sat in my favorite easy chair watching a new day creep across West Temple’s high altars inch-by inch.
My chosen project of the day had begun the evening before as I set three cups of dry black beans to soak. Now drained and covered with just the right amount of fresh water, they went into my pressure cooker where 17 minutes of steaming time would produce soft – but not mushy – candidates for one of our favorite recipes.
Meanwhile I was assembling the ingredients for the mire proix which would bring several levels of high flavor to the end product. As I worked at my cutting board I took time to think about all the history, geography and plant genetics over centuries of human selection which delivered this three thousand-year-old legume to my supply room, to say nothing of the smoky fire-scored Poblano pepper still hot and blackened from my outdoor grill.
I pictured in my mind the colorful open-air markets in central Mexico where straw mats covered with dry beans of seemingly endless variety and a hundred different shapes and fire of chili peppers added a rainbow of colors to acres of canvas-covered landscape where I sampled ears of corn roasted over hot coals as I traveled the rows.
As I ran my three favorite kitchen knives through the sharpening wheels, I glanced out the window to enjoy the sight of Canada Geese wading through our lower fields, covered by irrigation water which offered a smorgasbord of gourmet munching to a gathering of 24. After a few minutes I was able to identify two different flights sharing the gluttony, one of 14 and the other of 10, each with its own leader and protocols; always a thrill to look in on the highly-developed dynamics of animal behavior.
Our home has the usual bevy of power kitchen accessories, including choppers and grinders, slicers and mixers, all of which get used. My own preference though is to have personal – hands-on contact with the ingredients I’m working with. There is something elemental, maybe even primal about preparing food as it has been done since the beginning of human life on earth. I like the satisfaction of seeing tiny pieces of minced onion without any need of further chopping fall from the final cut of my chef’s knife into the parent whole, or the half-moons of a frosty-fresh leek ready for the sauté pan with three cuts of a sharp blade. It is all part of feeling “at one” with the gifts of the earth that sustain us.
Now into the bottom of one of our three enameled cast-iron all-purpose kettles I drizzle several tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (could be Spanish, Italian or Californian, depending on my mood,) before scraping in the minced onion from the cutting board. Today I am using a freshly-harvested 2015 Bavarian garlic bulb delivered into my very hands by our friend Brooke Bottger of Baker City, Ore., proprietor of Oregon Trail Garlic Co. for the three fat cloves I need. It will join the onions only after they have been properly caramelized. Known to kitchen scientists as the Maillard reaction, the magic of caramelization takes place when enzymes react with the reducing sugars present in a particular food at temperatures at or above 285 ͦ. Producing hundreds of different flavor compounds, the art has been practiced for unknown centuries, long before Dr. Louis-Camille Maillard, a French chemist identified the process causing different foods to brown in different ways in 1912. Knowing this, I have a special appreciation for what is happening as I patiently stir and mix. A pint of diced Roma tomatoes will be added to the completed mirepoix before it joins the hot cooked beans. All that is left is for each guest to touch it up with a favorite hot sauce. (For me that will be Cholula from Mexico.) Most important though, today will go into my memory bank as one filled with moments rich with mindfulness.