How to Eat Your Way to Happiness

Weekend Meditation

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Modern thinking says we're not supposed to eat to appease emotions (anger, sadness, boredom, anxiety) and I suppose there's some wisdom there. Difficult emotions need to be dealt with, aired out and examined, given a twirl and a whirl, not stuffed beneath a bellyful of ice cream. But today I went ahead and did it anyway. I took my anxious, melancholy self out of the house and set out to a favorite place, a little cafe on Grand Avenue in Oakland, CA where they serve a handful of delicious things cooked in the wood-fired oven from the pizza place next door. I went out and got myself some lunch not so much because I was hungry (I was) but because I wanted to feel better.

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The light in the cafe was perfect and the music, some upbeat old-school R&B, was perfect. I had a stew of chickpeas and greens, with plenty of salt and spice and it was perfect. The cook had cracked an egg on top and put it in the wood oven until the whites were set but the yolk was still runny and then served it up in its classic white gratin dish with a pretty blue Heath plate underneath. A few pieces of good, hearty crusty bread were tucked along the rim, already starting to soften from the steam and juices.

Lordy but it was good. Hot, salty, honest food. Food for a moody morning. Food for someone trying to figure a few things out. Food for the joy and effort it takes to live a human life with your eyes and heart reasonably open. (Most of the time.) I drew an ensō circle in the dish with a piece of bread as I scooped up the last of the egg yolk. A simple, singular gesture of appreciation and plenty.

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When I was done, and because I sometimes can push things little, I had a piece of almond cake and a cup of coffee. People came and went, the sunbeams, caught in the windows and skylight, shifted and glowed, the music changed into something quieter. I could feel the contentment resting on my shoulders like it was a warm wooly sweater on a chilly day.

When it was time to go, I sat there for a minute and quietly said thank you. Thank you for the fact that I had the mobility, the means, even the state of mind while in the middle of my muddle, to seek something that brings comfort and joy. Thank you that I had a little jingle in my pocket to purchase this bit of pleasure and the time to enjoy it. Thank you to the cooks and the pot washers and the really friendly woman at the counter who took my order. It's a small thing to have a lunch and it's an enormous thing, too.

Then I got up and left the cafe and walked out into the wild, blue-skied world a little heartier and happier, fortified by truth and beauty and a really good lunch. I was a changed woman.

PS: It's been almost three years since I first wrote this and I still find myself going to Boot and Shoe Cafe when I'm in the need of restoration and renewal, as well as in times of celebration or whenever I need something delicious, really.

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I hope you enjoyed this encore Weekend Meditation, originally posted in November, 2011. I will be posting these vintage posts every Sunday (with the occasional new post, if I can manage!) for the next several months while I focus on writing my first book.

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Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.