Friday, April 8, 2011


My wife's birthday occurred this week, and as is usually the case, I cooked dinner for her. She chose the menu (again, as usual), and I was surprised this year that she didn't choose something "off the barby". She chose, instead, a spring-oriented pasta dish from the Greens Cookbook: "Basil Fettucine with Green Beans, Crème Fraiche and Walnuts". It was a dish I hadn't prepared in many years, and I was looking forward to becoming re-acquainted with it.

Preparation includes a lot of chopping and shredding of basil and shallot, toasting the walnuts, making the pasta itself (thank goodness for food processors and pasta machines!), and then the assembling of the final dish. Very sensual process: sticky garlic juice, VERY fragrant basil, hot steamed green beans, the sound of shallots sauté-ing -- and then the taste! I was struck throughout, as I often am when I cook, how different it is eating something I have prepared from scratch from how it is eating something pre-prepared, or at a restaurant. I've got something invested in the final product, not the least of which is pleasing the other diner(s).

Satisfaction comes as much from the assembling as it does from the presentation and consumption. It's a meditative process, the chopping and slicing, the sauté-ing and stirring; focus has to be kept on what's happening NOW, not in the past. Not even the future, for if I miss something in the present, the future may not be pretty (or palatable)!

It is a process of making one thing out of many. The "one thing" may have many facets; flavors are melded, but separate, aromas hint at all sorts of things. But it is the one dish, "Basil Fettucine with Green Beans, Creme Fraiche and Walnuts". It occupies one bowl, and it is impossible to recreate the separate ingredients. It is, as I mused on it, a process of bricolage, a relatively recently-coined French word that means "construction or creation from a diverse range of available things". One who engages in bricolage is known as a bricoleur (and above, we have "Bob le Bricoleur" -- the French version of "Bob the Builder" -- who, in the kid-oriented television show, often has to improvise from materials at hand to finish his task).

I suppose it's an entirely natural process most of the time, for most of us. We read, we view, we listen, we think -- and we become different as a result. And we may forget that we're even doing it, or that it's a good thing: a plate with a bunch of pasta, a side of shredded basil, a little pile of walnuts, a cup of crème fraiche, etc., is NOT as satisfying as they are all cooked together. It is the melding of many different things, or to switch metaphors, it is putting them in conversation with one another, that creates the magic.

I have a tendency, I know, to read the same kind of literature, hang out with the same kinds of people--even eat the same kinds of food! But I learn so much -- I grow so much -- from differences. I'm struck, in this regard, by the verse in the Quran: " O humankind, We [God] have created you male and female, and made you into communities and tribes, so that you may know one another" (49.13). I read this to mean that differences are not meant to be frustrating (let alone means of defining a superior over an inferior), but enlightening.

So, cook up something new and different this week, with a variety of unusual ingredients, and see what you learn! (It doesn't have to be food!)

"Vive le différence!" as Bob le Bricoleur might say.



No comments:

Post a Comment