Tag Archives: food

breaking bread

“This is the traditional way of breaking the bread–in doing so, we remember our ancestors.” So explained our host, a pastor in the countryside outside of Danang, Vietnam, and the father of one of our new friends, Nha Ho.

I love many things about this shot, but especially the ritual for remembering those who have gone before, juxtaposed with the images in the background of the children–those who will come after.

Today, in the Catholic Church, is the feast day of Corpus Christi, the ‘body of Christ,’ also known as the eucharist. When Jesus practiced what we have now come to call in protestant circles, The Lord’s Supper, or Communion, it was literally a meal, a feast, enjoyed with his disciples, whom he called friends.

It was a feast. Literally. Not a wafer. Not a cube of pre-cut bread. Not even a big chunk of freshly baked bread. A feast.

As we left the pastor’s house that day, I was full. Of delicious home cooked food, of course–but also of the encounter with new friends around a common table, sharing a meal together.

countryside outside of Danang, Vietnam
© 2012 erin dunigan

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t.v. dinner (an addendum)

Recently I wrote a piece, called t.v. dinner, about the realization that, though I have no television, I actually, most nights, have dinner for t.v. Meaning, the amount of time I spend on deciding what to cook for dinner, prepping the ingredients, eating and then cleaning up—that actually amounts to my evening—a typical amount of tv viewing time for ‘normal’ people.

It was a news flash, of sorts, for me to realize why I never had ‘time’ for watching tv, or using my monthly netflix subscription. It also helped me to realize why many people don’t really have time for all that is involved in cooking (from ingredients, not from a container) in this way.

But the problem is, it’s hard not to sound self-righteous when claiming to not watch tv. Somehow it just sounds judgmental, even if you don’t mean or intend it to be. I hate sounding judgmental.

I realized, after that post, that the comments I received were from people who already agreed with me—others who have no tv, don’t watch tv, or believe in ‘slow food’ as opposed to fast. I appreciated the comments and was encouraged by them. It’s always nice to have affirmation.

Of course I’m happy to provide encouragement to other tv disavowers. But what I’d also like to do is to speak a word to the tv watchers. Shaming them for their tv watching is, then, not the best approach to that—I’m just guessing here.

Therefore, a confession, specifically for the tv watching crew: last night I happened to be in the US, staying at my mom’s house while she was out of town. (For the record, she has a tv.) It was approaching the evening hour, so I began to consider what to make for dinner. I looked in the pantry and in the fridge to see what ingredients might be available. I found some pasta, onions, pesto, and tomatoes, and decided that simple Italian would be the menu. It didn’t take much prep (other than putting out the fire in the toaster oven—it did not turn off automatically, and, also for the record, pine nuts burst into some really vibrant flames when left too long in the toaster) and so it was fairly early when, dinner in hand, I sat down to eat.

That is when it happened… I reached for the remote. As in, the tv remote.

It was not that there was anything on that I wanted to watch. I have no idea what might be on at 6:30 on a Sunday evening. (Though I do like 60 minutes.) No, I simply sat down, and reached for the remote, out of pure habit in that space.

And caught myself.

Which, of course, gave me time to ponder. (Pondering being one of my favorite spiritual disciplines. Some call it contemplation. I like to call it pondering. But that’s another story.) The thing is, my life here in the US is structured in a different way from my life in Baja. It was that structure, that pattern, that I reached for, in picking up the remote, more than any particular desire to watch tv. It was that pattern that meant I almost didn’t even realize what I was doing, except that I had just been talking about the tv dinner with a tv watching friend, so it was percolating in my mental space.

My ‘pattern’ in Baja doesn’t include tv because, for the most practical reason, I don’t have one. If I want to watch tv I have to go seek it out. I’m lazy enough that the extra step of that keeps me from actually partaking, unless it is something that I am really quite interested in.

My pattern in Baja does include a nightly ritual surrounding the celebration of food, the actual ingredients from the garden or the local market, and enjoying its beauty and its bounty. It is not a chore for me to perform this nightly ritual, because it is one I am, in a sense, programmed into in my life there. In fact, it is something I miss when I am away, and which I find myself looking forward to most days.

Of course I’m aware of the power of habit in performing any action, or in making any life shift—moving something from an intentional activity into a pattern is key to ‘succeeding’ in incorporating that activity into life—whether it be exercise, healthy eating, spending time with people, or taking on some new hobby or learning.

But what I hadn’t realized was how easily I could shift from one ‘pattern’ to another, simply based on the context, and what was ‘normal’ in that space. Which, of course, got me to pondering again, this time about how the external environment contributes or detracts from our internal desires and intentions. But that pondering will have to marinate a bit more.

What I came to realize is that it is not actually the tv watching itself that, in my previous post, I sought to understand or describe. (of course there is trash on tv and of course there is amazing and witty and informative tv, and everything in between and it all can be entertaining and wonderfully mind numbing in moderation.)

I think it is more the pattern, the habit of it, that when it is part of our routine, we don’t even question—the fact that it didn’t occur to me that I might ‘find time’ for tv, or the fact that it doesn’t occur to many that they might ‘find time’ for cooking healthy meals. It is the habit that fascinates me, and its power to make that pattern seem normal, self-evident, and unquestioned.

This not watching tv thing…it leaves a person with a lot of time for thinking. Maybe Desperate Housewives isn’t such a bad idea after all…

t.v. dinner

I don’t have a tv. Sometimes that comes as a shock to people, or at least a surprise.

I do have a computer, but since I live in Mexico, things like abc.com or hulu or even Netflix are either severely restricted or not available without technological work arounds (such as a proxy server, to prove to the geeky reader that I do know that is an option).

I didn’t throw out the tv in some fit of anti-consumerist righteousness—in my grandmother’s house, where I live, there never was a tv. Granted, there was never electricity, or a phone, or wifi, and I’ve managed to adjust to the addition of those things quite easily, thank you.

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy watching a tv show or two or four when visiting friends who do have one of those new fangled modern inventions. But what I realized, in a conversation not long ago, is that I don’t really miss it. In fact, the limited Netflix subscription that I am able to get here in Baja? I never use it. Never. I think I have watched one movie in the more than six months since I reactivated the subscription (one might ask why, then, do I keep the subscription and it would be an appropriate question, which, for now, I’m ignoring).

Not only do I not miss it, but I’m not sure how I would have time for it. Seriously.

Because what I also realized is that, when I post food photos of what I have made or am eating for dinner, I think that many people have the same reaction to that as I did to the tv—how in the world would I ever have time for that?

So, what I then realized, brilliant ponderer of life that I am, is that for me dinner is my tv. Like a tv dinner, but backwards.

Because, pretty much, from about 5 or 6 pm when I come inside from working out in the yard or doing whatever I have been doing for the afternoon, I begin the process of dinner that will basically take me the rest of the evening. This is most definitely not ‘fast food’ in any sense of the word, though it is not always complicated or even time consuming. Most often it is quite enjoyable.

By that point in the day I don’t feel like getting in the car (which I tend to only drive every few days in my Baja life) so I am left to figure out something for dinner with the ingredients that I happen to have on hand. When those ingredients do not immediately present themselves as a menu, I go searching in my many (hard copy) cookbooks based on a particular ingredient I might decide to use that night, such as a sweet potato, broccoli, swiss chard, lentils, etc. Sooner or later something presents itself, either from the cookbooks or from my good friend google, and I set about the dinner prep process.

Often, during this process, I listen to a podcast from On Being with Krista Tippett (amazing, and highly recommended) or an audio book by Richard Rohr, Rob Bell or some other current day theologian (I know, that is probably not going to compete head to head with Desperate Housewives) or I listen to the live stream of news from my Al Jazeera iPhone app—I especially love the weather report and the ‘sporting report’ which are more like lessons in geography and geopolitics than simply weather or sport. Occasionally I put on music. Sometimes, I go the entire evening, with no ‘sound’ at all, other than me talking to myself (should I admit that?) or the onions sizzling in the pan.  Some might consider that to be cavernously hollow. I find it peaceful.

More often than not,  I wind up actually sitting down to eat dinner somewhere around 7pm. I do, of course, have to photograph my food—sometimes I actually let it get cold while I am getting just the right shot of it. And yes, even if I don’t photograph it, I still need to ‘plate’ it in an aesthetically pleasing way—why not make it look beautiful, even if it is just for me?

What is perhaps ironic is that the actual process of eating, since I am a rather fast eater, takes only moments, after sometimes an hour of prep, and then, when the plate is empty, after dinner clean-up.

When I was a little girl and my grandmother was still alive, living in the house, I made the mistake of asking her, “Mama (pronounced Maam-ma, not momma), you don’t have a dishwasher—how do you do the dishes?” Let’s just say I found out. And I’m sure she continues to chuckle as, each night after dinner, I find out yet again, with  no machine to wash the dishes for me.  (The good news is that the water from the sink drains out into the yard, and is what keeps the bougainvillea and the volunteer cherry tomato climbing up it both in fairly vibrant bloom.)

By the time the dishes are done, and usually left out to dry—drying dishes seems like such a ‘make work’ task when they can dry perfectly fine on their own—it is somewhere around 8pm. Now, I realize, that for many people that might be ideal time to sit down and begin watching tv, especially since shows (that are not recorded on the dvr) are often starting then. However, by the time I am done with a day working on the computer, then working in the yard, then making dinner, by about 8pm, if I am honest, it is pretty much transition toward going to bed time. Granted, I don’t actually go to bed at 8—but there is absolutely no shame in 9.

What I am realizing is that for me, the process of selecting ingredients, cooking, eating, and cleaning is a form of ‘entertainment’ if you will. I love to consider what I might make with the ingredients I have available to me, fresh from the garden or from the monday market. It does not seem like an annoyance—it is more of an adventure. I love to think up ways to use everything, so that (ideally) nothing goes to waste. It is a challenge, not a chore. And it matters to me to display that meal in a beautiful way, that celebrates the food—it is not simply fuel to keep my body going, but, I hope, a delight to the senses—or at least good.

Okay, here’s the part where I’m going to get a bit self-righteous…be warned. I’m sorry. I don’t really like being self-righteous. Even though I am an ordained evangelist. Next thing you know I will be on the corner with a megaphone and a sign saying “cook dinner or burn forever!” Anyway, I digress….back to the self-righteous point…

My question is this….does it strike anyone else as interesting, odd or a bit of an issue that we, in our culture today, so often do not have the ‘time’ for eating real food? Food that’s actually made at home, not food that we have to buy as fast food or pre-made  ‘food’?

It seems that we make time for what we value, don’t we? It also seems to me that food is something to value, beyond simply filling ourselves up.

What if we were to see ‘food’ and its enjoyment as entertainment, or even as a way to relax and unwind from a busy day? What if cooking together or washing dishes together became a family activity (as my good friend Jen recently wrote about) instead of or at least alongside watching tv together?

I wonder, instead of having tv for dinner, what about having dinner for tv?

it is finished (the 3 week cleanse, that is)

part of my new morning practice--a glass of green juice

So often, it seems, life is a lot like a mosaic. I was going to say ‘more like a mosaic than ____’ but I couldn’t figure out what to put in the blank.

What I mean is this. A few weeks back, while at the Monday market (in town, a cross between a farmers market and a flea market) I bought a Juiceman Jr juicer. Did I go searching for a Juiceman Jr? Did I need a Juiceman Jr? No. It was a Monday market impulse buy. (I’ve also got a great pair of converse shoes for $8, and the entire Chronicles of Naria for $2–other Monday market impulse buys–sort of like Cosco without the same quantity or price tag attached).  My friend Dave Kamena (who happens to own a great sportswear company called Plastic if you want to check them out) pointed out the Juiceman Jr to me. “Hey, do you need a juicer?” I went and asked how much. $8. “It’s $8,” I said to Dave. “Is that a good deal?” “Yeah, those things are $100 in the States,” was his response. So I got it. What a deal. A juicer for $8 instead of $100. I got it home and wondered what I would do with a juicer.

Around the same time another friend had told me about a book she was reading, and how she was changing her diet and her lifestyle around some of what she was learning in this book. The book was called Crazy Sexy Diet, by Kris Carr, a cancer survivor who attributes her health to this change in diet and lifestyle.  I decided to get the book.

Somewhere in this same timeframe I gave a friend a ride to the airport. During our drive up to San Diego from Baja he told me about ‘juice fasting,’ a practice of cleansing one’s system of toxins accumulated in our systems from the food that we eat– over dependence on animal products (many of which are raised with hormones, anti-biotics and other harmful, unnatural byproducts), processed foods, sugar, etc. “Hmm…” I pondered. Perhaps I could do some sort of fast during Lent, which at that time was still a few weeks away.

Cut to today. Day 21 of a 21 day ‘adventure cleanse‘ (I think that is supposed to make it sound more exciting) as described by Kris Carr in Crazy Sexy Diet.  Though I didn’t do the ‘juice fast,’ for the past 21 days I have consumed no sugar, no gluten (no bread, pasta, flour tortillas), no alcohol,  no ‘animal’ (no meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, yogurt, milk, ice cream, etc.) and basically no processed foods. I’ve added ‘green juice’* to my morning ritual, thanks to my $8 Juiceman Jr from the Monday Market.

Being one with a tendency to ponder (for which I both thank and blame my dad, who was wont to answer when asked what are you doing “Oh, just pondering”) I’ve been doing my share of pondering over these three weeks.

Ponder #1: I feel great. I don’t think that’s just because I have to convince myself that giving up so many yummy food items was worth it. I really do feel healthy, awake, aware, present.

Ponder #2: My cravings have been a bit on the crazy side. It’s only 3 weeks. It’s not forever. What’s the big deal, right? I found that some days all I wanted was a shrimp burrito (a la plancha) and a Negro Modelo from Splash. Their willingness to accommodate my rather un-Mexican vegan diet by providing me with rice and steamed veggies was nice, but nothing comparable to the deliciousness of the shrimp burrito. I miss the shrimp burrito.

Ponder #3: It was a bit awkward socially. “Do you want to come over for Spaghetti and meatballs?” one friend asked, only to quickly follow it up with “Oh wait, you can’t eat any of that, can you?”

Ponder #4: Now that I can see the finish line, the cravings have pretty much subsided. I actually feel like I could do another 3 weeks (which would be the duration of Lent, for those who keep track of such things) and it would be no problem. Which leads me to…

Ponder #5: Are the cravings really cravings, or something more than just food? Augustine (as in St. Augustine) says, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God” (okay, that might be a bit of a stretch of an association, but go with me here). Lent, the 40 day season preceding Easter, is traditionally celebrated as a time of penitence, or of self-emptying, of making space and of learning to dwell in the present moment, to be open to God. Often fasting can be a part of Lent, from which has come the tendency to ‘give up chocolate’ or sugar or some other item.

Ponder #5: Is there something in the idea of persevering through our cravings that actually allows us to be more present, to ourselves and to the divine? I didn’t really intend that my 3 week cleanse was for Lent, though I did start it at the same time. And I wasn’t really planning on it being a ‘spiritual practice’ as much as a ‘healthy eating’ practice. But of course, the two are not always so easily separated from one another. Most of the time I stayed in my cravings “I really want ______” was what I thought, and didn’t go much further. Often I tried to fill the craving with something else. “I can’t have chocolate chip cookies, but I can have a spoonful of peanut butter with a bit of agave nectar.” But I kind of think that misses the point. What about the practice of not having exactly what you want, when you want it, and the precise moment that you want it? (I know, heresy in much of our American culture.)  What about allowing some emptiness, that we don’t immediately try to fill?

Ponder #6: Will I keep it up, or will I revert back to my pre-cleanse ways? Part of me says “You feel great, why in the world would you change that?” (Part of my asks why I’m talking to myself as well…) But I also enjoy and appreciate food, and sharing a meal with others. Living in Mexico the no-gluten (have you ever had freshly made, by hand, flour tortillas?!) and vegan (birria, carne asada, huevos Mexicanos, in addition to my favorite shrimp burrito) aspects are on the tricky side, socially. Sure, if I decided I wanted to stick to them, I could navigate it and it wouldn’t be the end of the world. And yes, I will probably stay fairly vegan, fairly no-sugar, and fairly no-gluten, with a responsible amount of alcohol in the mix. But I like food, and I like sharing meals together with friends. I’ve managed to come up with some pretty delicious and creative vegan concoctions (if I do say so myself) like veggie stacks and vegan chile rellenos so I may also try to ‘evangelize’ others into some of my new habits.

Ponder #7: The final ponder, as 7 is the number of completeness. Ponder #7? It remains to be written, or, more exactly, to be lived.

*Recipe for Green Juice

Using a juicer, juice:
-One broccoli stem
-A bunch of romaine, arugula, wild greens or whatever other ‘lettuce’ you’ve got
-One pear (entire)
-two small (or one large) cucumber (entire)
-two celery stalks
-one small piece of fresh ginger
-half a paddle of ‘nopal’ (Mexican cactus)–I added this one, based on local availability. The nopal (uncooked) gives a great consistency to the green juice)

Jesus and cheeses

a plate of juevos mexicanos (and bacon) at Paola's

I’m not sure how it happened, but, through a series of events which I can actually trace backward a few steps, I’m 1 week into a 3week ‘cleanse’ that is most easily characterized by: no sugar, no alcohol, no gluten (bread, pasta, etc), no processed foods (my one exception is the BEST corn tortilla chips ever, found at our local tienda), and no animal products. At all. So, no birria tacos at the Monday Market. No shrimp burrito ‘a la plancha’ (grilled) at Splash.  No juevos Mexicanos with bacon at Paola’s… But also, no cheese. No ice cream. No yogurt. No butter. Zip.

At this point I realize you may be thinking, um, what can you eat? Believe it or not, there are actually still many foods to choose from, even with the above removed from the list….(do I sound convincing?)

Not that long ago I was talking with a friend about a book she was reading, Crazy Sexy Diet. As she talked about alkaline vs. acid in foods and in our systems, green smoothies, and how the author, who had been diagnosed with a rare, untreatable cancer, had beaten it through a change in diet and lifestyle, I was hooked.

I’ve got to admit, I’m an easy sell for ‘transformation.’ Tell me a story of how you, or how someone you know, or how a book you are reading has made some sort of tangible impact on you that has changed your life for the better, and I’m there. I love stories of transformation. Come to think of it, that may be part of why I’m ordained as an ‘evangelist’ but that’s a story for another time…

So, I ordered Crazy Sexy Diet.  I happened to read it right before Lent began, so I decided, “Why not begin Lent with this 21 day cleanse?”

So, here I am, a third of the way through. I’m actually cheating in one aspect–I have not given up my morning cup of coffee. I mean, c’mon, you want me to give up coffee too? Now that’s just crazy talking.

But the thing is, though it is awkward to go out to eat (last week at Splash I got rice and steamed vegetables, which were actually good, but not nearly as good as my favorite shrimp burrito, or when a friend invited me over for ‘spaghetti and meatballs’ and then said, “Wait, you can’t eat any of that, can you?”)

I actually do feel healthier. Perhaps it is a placebo, who knows. I’m just beginning to not crave dessert all the time–somehow a banana is not nearly as exciting as a plethora of other dessert options I can think of.

Though the 21 day cleanse (she calls it an ‘adventure cleanse’–is that supposed to make it sound more inviting?) is not technically ‘fasting’ (it does call for one day of fasting every seventh day) some of the elements of fasting seem to be rearing their ugly heads.

Fasting, as a spiritual discipline, is often done to allow us to feel our hunger and to connect the physical hunger to the spiritual. Is it actually a brownie that I am hungry for, or is the brownie just what is convenient and in reach?

I’ve realized how accustomed I am to ‘consuming’ pretty much whatever I want, whenever I want it. Having to limit that ‘consumption’ is an exercise, again, in allowing an emptying or a paying attention, so that we might make room or make space, and in the case of a spiritual discipline, space for God. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

For now it’s just Jesus, not cheeses…

*I have to give credit where credit is due–I did not come up with the phrase, but got it from Chad Fransen and thought it was too funny not to use…

photo: omelette?

taste your food

'tomato' by erin dunigan

The first time I noticed it, it happened to be in the form of a tomato. It was fresh from the garden, homegrown, just off the vine and I was slicing it up to eat for dinner.

“This is so good!” I couldn’t help exclaiming as I took my first bite. It was, in no uncertain terms, delicious.

“Wow, what a difference it makes to eat your tomato fresh from the vine, vs. fresh from the produce aisle at the supermarket,” I thought to myself. Even the ‘vine ripened’ tomatoes in the market didn’t even come close to the flavor of the home grown version. So, for the past five years since, I’ve made sure each spring to plant tomatoes. “They should have a different name for the ones that they sell in the supermarket,” I remember thinking. Because the tasteless bland bit of mush is really nothing like the real thing. I seemed to be turning into something of a tomato snob. Not just a snob, but a real tomato evangelist as well. “Here, try one of these, you’ll love it,” I offered to friends and neighbors, when the plants’ yields were more than I could keep up with. “It is so much better than the store bought variety–try it!” I’d push. Not quite a megaphone and placards preaching impending doom on the street corner, but close.

This behavior continued over the past five years, fairly consistent. In the intervening time I read books such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy and  Michael Polan’s In Defense of Food. I started paying attention to where my food came from–meaning, how far away (do I really need out of season berries from Argentina?) as well as how it was grown (do I really want to eat beef from a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) with all of the potential for disease, not to mention the ecological ramifications such mass produced farming efforts leave in their wake.

But then one day a few weeks ago something else happened.

Spending more of my time in Baja California, I’ve been trying to get as much of what I need locally, rather than picking it up when I happen to be in the US. Amazingly, even though it is a small town, a new ‘produce market’ opened up locally, with all kinds of fruits and vegetables, most of them locally grown. On this particular day, along with my other items, I picked up a cucumber and a few carrots. That night as I was peeling the cucumber and slicing it to put in a salad, I sampled a bit.

“This has so much flavor!” I couldn’t help but exclaim. I was amazed. I didn’t realize that cucumbers could be so flavorful–so much that I could even smell the cucumber as I was slicing it.

That was when I realized–maybe the same thing that is true for the tomato, is true for the cucumber as well?! Is it possible that cucumbers, real ones, grown locally and picked when they are actually ripe and ready to be eaten, is it possible that they are actually much more flavorful than their store bought counterparts, just like tomatoes? It seemed so obvious, now that I saw it, but still somehow I was stunned.

The next day it happened again. I was hungry and wanted a snack. I spotted the carrot and decided I’d peel it and have a healthier snack than the chips and salsa I was eying. So, you guessed it. I peeled and sliced the carrot and as I bit into it, again was taken aback. “You mean carrots are flavorful too?!”

So, it made me wonder. How much else of what we have been accustomed to eating and drinking is actually a shadow of the real thing? And perhaps more importantly, why in the world have we allowed this to be so?