Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mindful Eating: Spanish Spinach

I've never really considered myself a food blogger.  Though I appreciate beautiful and tasty food (I think this is the definition of a foodie for me), and I like taking pictures of food to help people imagine that they are there to appreciate it too, for me, food is a metonym for other things: for comfort, for memory, for family, for community, for values (e.g. my CSA soapbox), even for identity.  Those are the things I write about.  I don't think I'm the only person who feels this way: my friend the lovely and talented JeCaThRe is writing a novel with characters who cook (I keep meaning to ask her for the password so I can catch up, and you should, too), and even publishes their recipes in her other blog; I feel like somehow, their food can stand in partially for who they are as characters.

Seeing food as something besides either fuel or art becomes problematic, though, when your eating becomes emotional.  Which, unfortunately, it is for me.  Though I cook healthy, beautiful meals for my family, I am a late night cabinet- and freezer-stalker.  Which, of course, feeds right into my overdeveloped sense of Catholic guilt, and makes me think I ought to be starving myself in compensation, which of course leaves me hungry at night all over again.  I am a yo-yo.

It's not even really an issue of having junk in the house: I do all of the shopping in the house and cook every meal during the week, so my cart contains mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, milk and cheese, cereal, and paper products.  Still, even when I've been particularly virtuous about the weeks' worth of groceries, I wind up eating a half a jar full of almonds, or peanut butter, or sheets of matzoh with butter.

Esperanza wrote a brave post recently about her relationship with food (and how it is complicated by her prescription medication, though, not emotion), and it resonated with me.  Why do so many of us, I wonder, have such difficult relationships with food?  What are the strategies you use to make sure that your relationship with food is a healthy one?

One of the things I need to do more consistently is bring my practice of mindfulness to eating.  Often I eat while I'm doing something else.  When I was pregnant, I was eating and drinking lots of water, but doing so with my full attention focused on the act of eating or drinking.  There have been times in my life when I've cut out sugar entirely, or gone completely vegetarian, or grain-free during certain parts of the day, so I know that mindfulness works.  Am I hungry?  And if not, why am I grazing?

Keiko had a great post a while back about mindful eating and the most delicious oatmeal raisin cookie. Thich Nhat Hanh has written extensively about the practice of mindfulness, and has some wonderful wisdom about mindful eating.  He writes:
"Each morsel of food is an ambassador from the cosmos. [...] Some of us, while looking at a piece of carrot, can see the whole cosmos in it, can see the sunshine in it, can see the earth in it. It has come from the whole cosmos for our nourishment.  [...] When you chew it, you are aware that you are chewing a piece of carrot. Don't put anything else into your mouth, like your projects, your worries, your fear, just put the carrot in.

And when you chew, chew only the carrot, not your projects or your ideas. You are capable of living in the present moment, in the here and the now. It is simple, but you need some training to just enjoy the piece of carrot. This is a miracle.

I often teach "orange meditation" to my students. We spend time sitting together, each enjoying an orange. Placing the orange on the palm of our hand, we look at it while breathing in and out, so that the orange becomes a reality. If we are not here, totally present, the orange isn't here either.

There are some people who eat an orange but don't really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past, and future. They are not really present, with body and mind united.

When you practice mindful breathing, you become truly present. If you are here, life is also here. The orange is the ambassador of life. When you look at the orange, you discover that it is nothing less than fruit growing, turning yellow, becoming orange, the acid becoming sugar. The orange tree took time to create this masterpiece.

When you are truly here, contemplating the orange, breathing and smiling, the orange becomes a miracle. It is enough to bring you a lot of happiness. You peel the orange, smell it, take a section, and put it in your mouth mindfully, fully aware of the juice on your tongue. This is eating an orange in mindfulness. It makes the miracle of life possible. It makes joy possible."

My father, who lived through the Depression and all sorts of other horrendous conditions, used to say "eat to live, don't live to eat."  I don't think that's the answer, at least not for me; simply eating to live means you may be missing the opportunity to appreciate what goes into your mouth before it reaches your bloodstream.  Instead, I'm proposing to eat more consciously, perhaps to "eat to live well."

This recipe is wonderful for mindful eating because of the complex flavors and textures, despite the simple ingredients.  The nutty crunch of the pine nuts balances the chewy sweet of the fruit (this version is a bit different because of the addition of apricots) and the potential bitterness of the greens.  Whoever said that Spanish people can't be vegetarians clearly never had Espinacas a la Catalana.

Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins

3 bunches of spinach
1/3 c. pine nuts
1/3 c. raisins
1/3 c. apricots, chopped into pine nut-sized pieces
1 1/2 T. butter (I used salted)

Thoroughly rinse spinach and place in a large pan. Cover and cook until just wilted, about 5 minutes. (You won't need to add any liquid if the spinach has just been washed.)

Drain the spinach. Cool and squeeze dry with your hands. Chop and set aside.

Heat butter in a skillet. Add pine nuts, raisins, and apricots, and cook over medium heat until the pine nuts and apricots are golden and the raisins plumpted. Stir in spinach and toss to combine. Cook until heated through, and serve immediately.
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4 comments:

Esperanza said...

I just wanted to say, for the record, that my eating issues have A LOT to do with emotions (most prominently boredom) and all sorts of other things that I don't really understand. My meds don't just make me less hungry, but when I'm sated, for some reason I don't think about more food, whereas when I'm not on my meds, and I finish a wonderful meal, I immediately think of what else I could eat, even when I'm uncomfortably full. So yeah, my meds "fix" my issues with food, and I LOVE THAT.

I am not a mindful eater at all. I'm trying to change that. I'm trying to only eat when I'm sitting and aware and focused on what is going into my mouth. I try to chew longer and really experience the food as I chew it. I try to do these things but generally I fail miserably.

I really don't know where we all get these messed up issues with food from. All I know is I don't want to pass them on to my daughter and yet it seems inevitable. Ugh. It's all so hard. I hope your relationship with food softens. Thank you for putting this out there. I would never have imagined that we had similar relationships with food; I've always assumed that people who enjoy making food and are good at cooking have healthier relationships with it but that obviously isn't always the case. It was very brave to put this out there and I thank you for that.

N said...

This was a really interesting post for me.you hit the nail on the head down to what your dad says eat to live not live to eat. now that i am where i want with my family i do better just eating when im hungry but still a night snacker cause im bored or tired.

Stephanie said...

Whenever I recommend your blog to someone, I always say "It's kind of a food blog, except that it's really smart and it makes me think. And it makes me hungry." Ha! I definitely have problematic relationships with food. I will eat - and enjoy - healthy, nutritionally dense food for weeks, and then all of a sudden I'll eat nothing but potato chips and chocolate for a week straight. I wish I could be a bit more balanced instead of having this not-so-smart all-or-nothing approach to food or eating.

Kate said...

Hello from ICLW. #99

Thanks for the "food for thought" and this incredible spinach recipe.

Looking forward to reading more.

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