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My path to enlightenment began in the vegetable aisle: Amid the fluorescent supermarket lights and zombied, after-work shoppers, I brought a bunch of wilted basil to my face and smelled it. It smelled mostly like basil, but also a little bit like plastic. But mostly basil. Mindfulness: achieved (so far).
After writing about our editor's tips for a calm cooking experience, I—arguably the least Zen editor—decided to put them to the test (which is how I found myself stopping to smell the flowers herbs in Aisle 2). Their tips ranged from "cook barefoot" to "drink wine," and sounded like a romantic divergence from my average Wednesday night. But I decided this time would be different: I sent my boyfriend a short email of warning ("FYI, I'm supposed to have a totally Zen, relaxing time cooking tonight. K bye.") and left work early to gather my ingredients.
My menu plan ressembled a bridal superstition: Because no one could agree on what I should cook, I had something old, something new, and some things borrowed from our C.S.A. At home I kicked off my shoes, poured myself a glass of Pinot Noir, and started with something I know by heart: My mom's baked tomatoes with basil and butter.
While our editor Lindsday-Jean recommended that I kick everyone out of the kitchen, I let my boyfriend stay—with the understanding that he sit on the opposite side of the counter and limit his kitchen help to refilling my glass. I set to work peeling and coring tomatoes to the tune of an acoustic playlist (that Spotify promised would "give way to lingering notes of rich earthy folk"). After sliding the tomatoes into the oven, I sacrificed a cup of wine to reduce in a pan with brown butter and shallots.
This is often the point in my stories where something goes horribly wrong—my beer can chicken goes for a swim, my ginger snap cookies melt into asphalt—but mercifully, nothing did. The tomatoes happily bubbled along, my sauce reduced then blended as planned, and I felt, oddly enough, at ease.
As my boyfriend set the table, I seared some tuna, then served it alongside their pinot noir sauce, an interpretive farro salad, and my tomatoes, and found that a relaxed time cooking flows naturally into a relaxed eating experience that lasted well past our bedtimes. It had me considering—if only for just a second—that maybe this whole slow down thing isn't so bad, after all.
Have you had a memorable cooking experience lately? Tell us in the comments below!
Top photo by James Ransom