COOKING = SOLITUDE = ZEN
Cooking or preparing food for myself has been something I've done since I was a little guy. During the ages of 4 through 6 Mom was often ill and confined to bed. My favorite saying, Necessity is the mother of invention" was the difference between being fed and going hungry albeit even for a short period of time. It was not unusual for me to have to fend for myself in the kitchen when dad was at work.
What I prepared was nothing fancy. In those days money and food in our house was in short supply. There were the sandwiches that I made, mostly peanut butter and jelly. There were always potato chips in the house. I learned to like chips dipped in mustard, a treat, if you will, that I enjoy to this day. Potato chip sandwiches with pickles, mustard and lettuce were also on my after school menu of choice. During my pre-teens it was not uncommon to eat a potato raw amply annointed with salt.
In the military I roomed off the air base with friends. We all took turns cooking. I prepared stuffed peppers and found not a lot of guys like them. I learned to prepare fried cold cut sandwiches which seemed to be a preference if you're from Michigan.
You could say that I've always been in the kitchen, whether doing the dishes for mom (there were no machines to wash the dishes, only kids) or helping with Saturday night's pizza, or chopping vegetables for something mom or dad were fixing.
When I became older cooking became like a Zen thing. Cooking brought peace to a sometimes troubled mind. During the process to prepare a meal it felt like I was in harmony with the world. In the kitchen it was just me, my knife, the cutting board, the meat and the vegetables to be sliced or diced. Stresses or worries that I was carrying would soon disappear once I entered into the Zen, I'm cooking (and please stay out of the kitchen!), state of mind.
One Saturday Mom was at the house with my niece and nephew. Candace worked in real estate at the time. It was the weekend and she was off sitting on an open house. I was in the middle of preparing a new dish to share with everyone that evening. My Zen kitchen thing was going full steam, chopping, thinking, letting the knife go with the flow of slicing and dicing.
It was a neat knife that I used in those days, a Christmas gift from Candace, a Wilkinson Sword Blade kitchen knife that came with a sharpening sheath. Inserted into the sheath the knife would sharpen by moving it in and out of the sheath.
Halfway through the process of cutting the vegetables I noticed that the knife was not as sharp as it had been earlier. I slid the knife into the sheath and with very zealous moves, glided the knife in and out of the shealth. I was not watching what I was doing. In a blink of an eye and one fell swoop the knife slid out of the sheath and across my left index finger. "Ouch?" I said. For a moment I thought that what had just happened was no big deal. There was no blood. Yes, there was a slice across my finger. But it would be okay, wouldn't it. I was feeling very lucky. All assumptions made in less than 5 after the fact seconds.
After the sixth second, blood began gushing from my finger. There was pain. after wrapping my finger in kitchen towels most likely contaminated with who knows what, I calmly went into the living room to inform mother that we would have to leave all of the kids at home and that she would have to drive me to the emergency room.
Dad had taken their car on an errand which meant that mom had to drive my stick shift truck to the ER. After giving strick "You'd better not mess up while I'm gone instructions" to the kids I handed the keys to mom, walked out of the garage door and got into the passenger side of the truck.
Mom got in and said, "I forgot my purse." Mind you, I'm bleeding terribly.
"Okay mom, go get your purse if it's that important."
"It's that important and I'll be right back."
I'm still bleeding but it's okay. It's only blood and I never pass out when I hurt myself like that. I can wait for mom.
Mom comes back, gets into the driver's seat and then says, "I can't drive a stick shift. You'll have to drive."
It was a fun ride to the ER. Left hand wrapped in kitchen towels and steering with it while gears were shifted with the right hand. Steering was a problem. The truck was all over the road when I had to take my right hand off of the steering wheel to shift gears.
Three hours later mom and I arrived back home. I had partially severed a tendon and found that partially severed was the good news. I didn't like hearing how the physician would have had to fish for the rubber band like tendon inside my arm if it had been completely cut in two. And I didn't cut off my finger. That was even better news.
First thing when I walked in the door? That wonderful but heinous Wilkinson Sword Blade knife hit the garbage can never to be seen again.
Last night, Saturday, Zen was in the kitchen when I prepared pizza for myself. Zen cooking happened again in the kitchen this morning. Sunday morning was accented with the preparation of Christmas Pasta courtesy of a recipe from Rachael Ray. She appears on the Food TV network. I've prepared Christmas Pasta for at least four years or more. It's the only pasta sauce that we use at home.
As a kid I would eat so much pasta that I'd make myself sick. I could do that with Christmas Pasta. I'm wiser now and not as prone to over eat (well, most of the time).
Here's one of my favorite foods, Christmas Pasta.
Rachel Ray/Food Television Network
We eat fish on Christmas Eve, no meat allowed. After Midnight Mass, all bets are off! We make this sauce for Christmas Day: you can't fit another meat in the pot! As many times as you reheat it, it just gets that much better, so if people are coming and going throughout the day, cook off only as much pasta as you need at the time -- half a pound for every 3 people.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic
crushed 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
1/4 pound pancetta, thick cut, chopped into small bits (Italian cured pork, ask at deli counter) 1/2 pound bulk hot Italian sausage
1 pound combined ground beef, pork and veal
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup good quality dry red wine
1 cup prepared beef stock, paper container or canned
2 (32-ounce) cans chunky style crushed tomatoes
A handful chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
1/4 teaspoon (a couple of pinches) allspice or cinnamon
Coarse salt and black pepper
2 pounds penne rigate, cooked to al dente
Grated Pecorino Romano, as an accompaniment Fresh, crusty bread, for mopping
Heat a deep pot over medium high heat. Add oil, garlic, bay, and pancetta bits and brown for 1 minute. Add meats and brown and crumble them for 5 minutes.
Chop carrot, celery, and onions near the stove and add to the pot as you work. Cook vegetables with meat 5 minutes and add wine. Cook for 1 minute; add stock and tomatoes to the pot.
Stir in parsley, allspice, or cinnamon and season sauce with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring sauce to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, and cook 10 to 15 minutes minimum before serving.
Reheated sauce only improves.
Toss pasta (cook off only as much pasta as you need at the time: half a pound for every 3 people) with a couple of ladles of sauce to coat, then top bowl with extra sauce. Top pasta with lots of cheese and pass bread at the table.
The sauce will cover up to 2 pounds of pasta.
Bob says, At our home we freeze 4 or 5 containers of Christmas Pasta to use during the month. You'd be surprised as to how handy they are on a night when the question is, "What should we have for dinner?" Enjoy!