Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What Are You Eating?

I've enjoyed a long birthday weekend with My Wonderful Parents in town and with visits with other members of the family. But truth be told, though I love them dearly, I'm quite ready to get back to my usual routine, especially where meals are concerned.

It's not that I haven't eaten well this past weekend. Perhaps you could even say I've eaten too well, to a certain extent. For three days straight, all but one of my meals were eaten out at various restaurants around town, and that's way too much for me.

I've gotten so accustomed to cooking my own meals to my own tastes, and especially now with the fresh produce from the farmers' market. But I knew I couldn't cook for my family the entire time they were here, and I knew they had places they enjoyed for meals, and so I was willing to go with them (especially when Dear Papa opened his wallet).

Please don't think I'm complaining. It's not that I had bad meals, though I confess to eating more salad with iceberg lettuce than I would have liked. It's that on the one hand, I thought too much about the food, knowing that it wasn't locally grown... and on the other hand, I didn't think enough about what I was eating.

Have I confused you? I've spent so much time the past year or two learning about the importance of eating locally and enjoying the tastes of local foods that this round of dining out was something of a shock to my system. It's almost as though I had to block out what I was eating so that I didn't berate myself for not eating locally, and that in turn made me feel unsatisfied after the meal because I hadn't given it my full attention.

Maybe I wouldn't have thought about this all that much before my recent reading of Nourishing Wisdom: A New Understanding of Eating by Marc David. In looking at all the various philosophies of eating and nutrition, David pointed out that most diets and ways of eating are missing the spiritual element:

Food is not merely something we eat. It is a ceaseless reminder that we are mortal, earthbound, hungry, and in need. We are bound by a biological imperative that forever keeps us returning to the soil, plants, animals, and running waters for replenishment. Eating is life. Each time we eat, the soul continues its earthly journey (pp 2-3).

Am I taking my eating too seriously, making too much of a fuss about what's on my plate? I don't think so. I've noticed the difference before between how I feel when I shovel food into my mouth mindlessly and when I take the time to savor the meal, but the juxtaposition has never before been so clear to me before.

So in order to bring myself back to myself and back to my usual appreciation of food, once my family had headed off in various directions, I settled back into my usual routine and took the time to taste each morsel of a simple but fresh and satisfying dinner prepared by my temporary housemate, Ms. Potter (no relation to Harry, thanks): cheese tortellini tossed with fresh local tomatoes and my homemade pesto, a crisp salad with tender tiny carrots from the farmers' market and a light vinaigrette, and a locally baked Parmesan bread.

And tonight I enjoyed some lightly fried okra (probably among the last of the season) before whipping up a dish of muhammara, a tangy Middle Eastern puree made with roasted red peppers from the local deli, whole wheat pita crumbs and garlic and walnuts from the farmers' market, and a healthy drizzle of pomegranate molasses, among other things. Served with more whole wheat pita for dipping, it made a fine fresh addition to dinner, and I think it might even work well as a sandwich spread for lunch tomorrow.

I'm slowly working my way back to my usual way of eating, with lighter, fresher meals than I find in most restaurants and a greater measure of mindfulness than is possible when eating out. It makes me feel so much better to taste the fullness of the flavors instead of the fullness of my belly.

I like knowing what I'm eating, and it deserves my attention.


When the fair Titania sent me a bottle of pomegranate molasses, I searched Epicurious for a few recipes to inspire me. This Middle Eastern dip sounded like a great recipe to try, and though of course I have made little changes, my variation shouldn't be much different from the original. Serve with toasted pita wedges, crackers, fresh vegetables, or use it as a sandwich spread. You can't go wrong.

1 whole wheat pita, torn and ground into crumbs
2 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
1/4 c walnuts
Up to 1/2 lb roasted red peppers, including oil (about 2 whole large peppers)
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T pomegranate molasses
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

In a small food processor, grind the pita in small batches until small crumbs result. Add remaining ingredients (except olive oil) and puree until nearly smooth. (I like mine a little chunky.) Drizzle in olive oil a small amount at a time, pureeing until desired texture is achieved. (It doesn't take much.)

Scrape muhammara into a bowl and serve at room temperature.

Makes about 2 cups


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