Mindful cooking and eating

As you navigate the season of excess, learn how to embrace meditative moments in the kitchen and at meals. Enjoy chopping. Focus on fragrances. Savor small bites.
November 25th, 2019
mindful cooking and eating helps you enjoy moments in the kitchen
Savor fragrances in the kitchen. Enjoy small bites. Relax and breathe to boost your mindfulness during this busy season. Photo: Getty Images.

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 both keep weight off and your head on are to “not” do things. Well, that’s one way to ennoble negative space.

My feeling, however, is that what works best for healthy eating and drinking this time of year is just to slow everything down—while cooking in the kitchen, or dining at the table, or 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 to do stuff like this: to stand over a carrot and to stare at it, figuring out how to slice or dice this hard orange thing that is about to roll away from me; to stir a fluid in a figure 8, slowly and splashlessly, so that the eddies and waves take on their own shiny life; to just watch 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 turns, one sense, then another: color, sound, smell, taste, touch.

If I like, I am able to sense them altogether when I set to eat the food I’ve prepared, but I can’t even do that well if I don’t slow things down a bit and spend time on the forkful or linger on the bite, letting the flavors and textures come slowly both onto and into me.

A great mindful practice that any cook can learn to do is to make a simple French omelet, canary-yellow and creamy at the center. It is our featured recipe.

The several steps, and care with each of them, are their own reward. They slow the pace of the day, focus the mind, calm the soul.

Here are some more suggestions for cooking, eating, and drinking mindfully these year-end weeks:

  • A fine mindful practice for the kitchen 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. It is a fork. 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 hue, texture and touch, and all the perfumes and aromas that float there.
  • As for a taste of anything, let it stick around. Tastes tend to unfold in waves of flavor. Smoosh that tongue, smack those lips.

French-Style Omelet with Goat Cheese

mindful cooking and eating can help you relax. Try making this simple omelet with goat cheese.
Practice mindful cooking and eating by making this delicious French omelet. Photo by Bill St. John.

A good-looking, canary-yellow, creamy omelet tastes better than a browned-out and dry one. A little care in the kitchen does it, that’s all. Makes 1

Ingredients

3 large brown eggs

Pinch of fine-grained salt and cracked pepper (black or white), to taste

1 tablespoon minced parsley, tarragon, or chervil

2 tablespoons unsalted Butter

2-3 tablespoons goat cheese (any flavor or coating is fine), crumbled

Directions

Begin with a nonstick skillet, as pristine as possible. Use plastic, silicone, or wooden utensils to keep it that way. (Metal forks or whips to whip the eggs in a bowl are OK.) Crack the eggs in a bowl; add the herbs and salt and pepper to taste. (You may hear that adding salt early makes omelets runny; it does not. In fact, with these directions, it helps retain moisture.) Whip the eggs until the yolks and whites are incorporated, but you still see some clear white streaks. Set aside; it doesn’t matter whether the eggs are initially room- or refrigerator-temperature.

Use a 10- or 12-inch skillet; an 8-inch skillet—a standard suggestion—is a bit small for 3 eggs (however, you can make a good 2-egg omelet, with these same directions, in an 8-incher). Heat it over moderate heat and add the butter, swirling it around. You want the butter to foam a bit before introducing the whipped eggs, but neither to burn (not at all) nor to foam vigorously. Adjust the burner so that the butter foams gently; immediately at that point, add the eggs.

You also may read that high heat makes the best (certainly, the quickest) omelet. But high heat is risky, too; the chance to brown or burn the bottom is too high. A medium-high or just medium heat works well with these directions.

You’re now going to make a sort of egg “pancake,” with a slightly cooked bottom but that nonetheless has a creamy top. Vigorously shake the pan back and forth with one hand, while, with the other hand, smoosh the creamy top, gently evening it out and spreading it around, even letting any runny egg seep or leak over to and under an edge. You are gently scrambling the top, but your implement isn’t going down through the eggs all the way to the surface of the skillet. In truth, the shaking is doing most of the scrambling work.

When the top is just about done (still slightly creamy, but about 30 seconds away from drying out completely), tilt the skillet up on one edge (you may find it easy here to flip your palm on your handle-holding hand) and, with your fork or spatula, ease and roll the top of the omelet toward the center and down into the pan’s bottom curve, letting gravity do some work. Center the pan over the serving plate. Allow the omelet to gently flop over and onto the plate, trying to set it seam-side down and in the shape of an old-fashioned cigar, fat in the middle and tapered at each end.

Let the omelet rest for a few seconds, then, with the edge of a very sharp knife, slit it down the center for 4-5 inches and, into and along the slot made, add the crumbled goat cheese, and serve.

Reach Bill St John at billstjohn@gmail.com

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s sidewalk.com. In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.