Weekend Meditation: Finding Beauty

For a happy life it's important to be able to find beauty in everyday things. This teaches us to appreciate what we already have and to not look outside of ourselves for definition and satisfaction. This in turn dials down that gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction and lack. Which in turn allows more space and opportunity for happiness and satisfaction and the beautiful things to register. A simple formula, but often difficult to manifest.

In my experience, the best place to practice this in in the kitchen. Why? Well, for one you're likely to find yourself there at least two or three times a day so it's a very practical place to start. And a very ordinary, everyday place, too. But the same time, the kitchen is filled with the most extraordinary things. Example? Consider the cardamom pod...

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In all the sensual ways--touch, taste, sound, smell and appearance--the cardamom pod is exquisite. If you have some in your kitchen, go there now and take one out! Roll it between your fingers and inhale it's deep spicy scent, a bit like cinnamon, a bit like ginger. It's a warm, perfuming spice that adds depth and nuance to everything you use it in.

After rolling it, crack it open with your thumbnail or slice it carefully with a knife on a board. The crinkled outside layer peels away to reveal rows of tiny brown seeds, hard and rough and bursting with flavor. Take the back of a spoon and crush them to release an intoxicating scent. I especially like the critching-crushing sound of the little seeds in the mortar and pestle.

If you don't have cardamom pods in your kitchen, powdered cardamom will do. And if you don't have either, remember to pick some up the next time your at the grocers.

There's so much this wonderful spice can add to your cooking, both sweet and savory. Add it whole to chutneys, jams (think pear cardamon jam), plain white rice. Usually it's best to fish it out before serving, or advise your guests to be careful because biting into the whole pods can be a little over the top for some. Combine it with black tea and cinnamon and pepper for chai tea.

We know powdered cardamom from many coffee cakes and sweets from Finland and other European countries. It's often used in curry and masala mixtures. One way to experience it is to simply add a quarter or half teaspoon to your favorite butter cookie recipe where it will melt with the butter and sugar and somehow become an even greater expression of itself.

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So what sparkles and calls to you in your kitchen today? If it's not cardamom, then maybe it's a banana or the first peas of spring. Surely it's strawberries or the pattern of sun on the countertop or the worn, smooth handle of your grandmother's wooden spoon. Surely it's the smell of a pie in the oven or the sexy clamor and tang of red hot chili pepper. Whatever it is, the kitchen wakes us up and invites us all the way in to experience the deep, everyday pleasure of being alive.

From The Kitchn Archives:

A Cardamom Video

Chai Recipe

Garam Masala Recipe

Mexican Spiced Wedding Cookies

Try substituting 1 teaspoon of cardamom for the Earl Grey tea in this recipe

(Image: Dana Velden)

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Weekend Meditation

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.