Appreciating the simple things
The dinner I cooked for Marilyn last Thursday was so good, it made me realize, once again, how wonderful are the simple things of life.
Too often I forget how to just stop and smell the roses. I rush around, doing this and that, thinking about the past or anticipating the future, hardly pausing to notice the “Now” that is actually all that exists. The restless mind, what Buddhists call “the monkey mind,” churns on and on, never stopping, heaving up thoughts and memories and desires and fears, leaving us cut off from the real source of what succors and sustains us.
Like many people I have been financially hurt by this Recession. This past winter and spring, when I would worry about stuff, I developed the habit of taking long walks after work in the park down the hill from my house, Oakland’s Lakeside Park, which contains Lake Merritt, a rest stop on the Pacific migratory bird flyway, where herons, egrets, gulls, ducks, cormorants, pelicans, gadwalls, loons, even, on occasion, swans live, breed and forage, in addition to our usual city birds, the starlings, pigeons and sparrows. I’d sit on a park bench, clearing my mind and feeling the sun’s heat on my shoulders and thighs, and watch the birds. They would distract me. Birds are so funny. The crows are very smart and canny. The pigeons seem very stupid and dull-witted. Geese have an amazing perception and an enormous shit-making capacity. Herons seem to realize they are royalty. I wondered, why do small birds, like sparrows, hop, while larger ones, like geese, walk (or waddle)? I would watch a sparrow peck around in the grass for a bug, and then realize that for 5 or 10 minutes my monkey mind had been stilled. I had found a simple pleasure, bird-watching, that brought me peace, and still does.
Cooking gives me the same pleasure. For the dinner with Marilyn there was prep: shopping, selecting the perfect veggies, making the salad dressing. A little more EVOO to offset the balsamic. Another pinch of thyme. Chopping and slicing. Roasting the corn and slicing off the kernals for the salad. Preparing the seasoning for the chops. Setting up the pots and pans in the order I’d use them. Preparing the table, lighting the candles, making sure the wine glasses were sparkling clean. It was all mindless, Zen sort of work that steadied and quieted my monkey mind. And then the best part of all: eating and drinking! We drank too much, no doubt, but everything was so good, so wonderful. I served an older Robert Young Chardonnay with the salad of greens, prosciutto and artichoke hearts. Perfect. For the pan-fried scallops on a basil pesto aioli I had the rest of a bottle of Mumm Napa 2001 DVX they’d sent me for review. A friend had given me a bottle of Viader 2001 “V,” a Cabernet-Syrah blend that was spectacular with the lamb chops on buttery polenta (the real slow-cooked Italian kind, not instant). For dessert, Osborne PX Sherry, with chocolate brownies from Bakesale Betty, an Oakland hole-in-the-wall joint famous for chicken cutlet sandwiches and pastries. The combination of the chocolatey, Kahlua-like PX and Betty’s handmade brownies almost made me cry.
The simple things in life. Taking pleasure from what’s around us. Indulging the senses without causing harm to others. Living in the moment. Being with friends. Forgetting our woes and cares for a little while. And eating and drinking great wine (and beer and spirits)! As long as we’re alive, we can do those things, and revel in them.