I'm a cook and so therefore I like to mess with things. I've always been this way. When I was little, I would run to the bathroom as soon as I heard the phone ring because I knew my mother would be occupied for a while. I would climb up onto the counter, pull up the silver knob that closes the drain on the sink and start "cooking." In would go a little toothpaste, thinned with some mouthwash and followed by a glug of Bonnie Bell's 10-0-6 lotion or maybe a dollop of creamy eyeshadow to add some color. After mixing that up with a nail file, I would sift in some baby powder and a pinch of Epsom salts and fold. And there the fun would end because I didn't quite know what to do with my 'mixtures' once I was done mixing, lacking the convenience of an oven in the bathroom.
And so it continues today, albeit in a real kitchen and with more satisfying conclusions. I'm quite deeply into my adult years and yet I still love to concoct and mix, adding a pinch here and and a plop there, stirring and measuring and sifting away in a flow-state of pleasure and satisfaction. I love assembling ingredients and mixing them up, although I'm more apt to grab a wooden spoon over a nail file these days.
Sometimes in my zeal for concocting, I forget that I don't always have to do something to food to make it delicious. I forget that it's possible for something to come to me in its raw state, requiring nothing more than a quick rinse and a quiet moment to enjoy it in, as was the case with a handful of peas last week.
It was midmorning and I was hungry for a snack but nothing snackable was to be found. No cup of almonds, or sack of corn chips, or scoop of dried apricots. I was several days overdue for a trip to the grocery store and the cupboards were bare. I had stopped at the farmers' market the day before, so my refrigerator was full of cookable things like greens and beets, and combinable things like salad greens and jars of leftover vinaigrette, but I was looking for a quick handful of something snacky and chewy, the kind of thing that you eat with your hands and not a plate and fork.
I was just about to give up when I spotted a small, lumpy cloth bag whose contents were a mystery. I opened it, and there they were: a large handful of fresh snap peas, still in their pods, that I had bought the day before at the market. I vaguely remembered something about how peas are like corn and should be consumed and eaten as quickly as possible after picking, before all their sugars turn to starch. And so a perfect snack was found, one that combined flavor, healthiness and fresh produce best practices.
I rinsed them and rolled them in a towel to dry, wondering if I should blanch them briefly and eat them with salt sprinkled on top. Or maybe I should quickly blister them in a hot frying pan with a little oil and finish with some smoked sea salt and pepper, edamame style? How sweet are they? I carried one to the kitchen table, cranked open the window and, pinching it at one end, I zipped off the string and took a bite. What a sweet, grassy, crunchy, juicy thing! Full of pea flavor and bright crispness. I popped the remaining pod in my mouth and went to get the rest. They needed nothing. Not a moment in boiling water or the finest grain of salt.
So I sat for a bit and ate a handful of raw peas, watching out the window as the squirrels scampered about in the trees and the humming birds hummed. It's kind of astonishing to discover how little is needed to make a perfect moment, how often our embellishments get in the way and distract and confuse us even as we think we're adding something important.
Maybe it was the combination of the open window letting in the spring weather that made those peas taste so good (kind of like they were being seasoned by the season!) I'm sure my hunger added to it, and the fact that their availability is so fleeting. But mostly I think it was the simplicity, the way slowing down and attention can flood the moment, allowing it to brim up and overflow into the next and the only thing needed is what you already have, unadorned and perfect.
Try it now, before its too late!
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Note: A few words about peas. The kind of peas I had were snap peas, which have bumpy, edible pods. The flat snow pea is another kind of edible podded pea but the English shelling pea means exactly that, that you will have to shell the peas from the pod before eating. If all this is confusing and you don't think you will be able to tell which pea is what, then take an opportunity to strike up a conversation with your local farmer or produce worker and have them help you.
This time last year: Weekend Meditation: An Inconvenience of Fava Beans
(Image: Dana Velden)