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Minding Mealtime

Bring Mindfulness and Gratitude to Dinner

We all do it. We rush through our day and at dinnertime, we throw food in the oven and slap dinner on the table – only to hurry through the meal and get on with the next thing. 

Finding a few minutes to enjoy the process of cooking dinner and being grateful that we have an abundance of food options takes a little more care and practice. Here are a few ideas to enlighten your mealtimes.

First, spend a few minutes to get into the mood. Take a seat and review the recipe or jot down your plan. Perhaps you could turn on some soft music, sip on a favorite beverage, and take a few breaths to bring attention to the present moment. If the kids are around, let them know what you’re doing and invite them to help. 

Now, take a moment to be grateful you are capable of making a meal. Remember, this doesn’t have to be gourmet – just be thankful you are feeding your family. Consider the produce you’re using, where it came from, who grew it, and how it will nourish your crew. Thank your kitchen and your tools. Thank yourself.

Gather all the things you need to prepare your dinner. Make sure you are comfortable while you’re working, with feet grounded and shoulders relaxed. Notice any colors or sounds while cooking, and take in the little things. 

Remind your children to smell, see, and feel when they are helping. Let them stir the pot or peel the carrots. Keep your attention on cooking, and let other pressures from the day wait. If you get distracted, refocus and relax.

When your dinner is ready, consider serving it in a nice dish on the table. For a change, you might plate the food for your family when you serve your meal. 

Take a few moments before you eat to think of all the hands that it took to make this meal – including your own. Draw attention to flavors, aromas, textures, colors, and shapes. Be grateful to sit with your loved ones. Eat a bit slower with a little more focus on all that goes on.

Even on days when you may be rushed and you’re having takeout for dinner, you can practice being mindful of the surroundings and grateful that you’re able to provide.

These ideas may take practice, and they may not work every day, but putting them into place may help you slow down and enjoy the process. Mealtime may just become a favorite part of your day. 

Lemony Asparagus and Herb Pasta

1 pound dried pasta, your choice of shape
4 oz pancetta or smoky bacon, diced
2 shallots, minced
1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup sweet peas, frozen
¼ cup heavy cream
½ cup parmesan
1 lemon, zested and juiced

Fresh herbs: parsley, basil, mint, chives
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Bring 4 quarts of water to a rapid boil and add 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Add dried pasta and stir to avoid sticking. Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water to thin your sauce at the end. Set cooked pasta to the side while finishing the veggies.

Meanwhile, pre-heat a 10-inch heavy-bottomed skillet on medium low. When hot, add diced pancetta and cook until crispy and all the fat has rendered. Remove pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate, and leave the fat in the pan. Next add the minced shallots and allow to soften, about 3 minutes. Add asparagus and cook for about 4 minutes until softened, but still crisp. Season now with a hefty pinch of salt, then add garlic and cook one minute more. Stir in the peas and turn off the heat, add cream, parmesan, lemon zest and juice, then stir in the herbs. Add a small amount of pasta water to thin out the cream; this will add additional starch and salinity. Taste the veggies to see if you want to add more salt and pepper. Then add the pasta to the veggies and herbs and mix well. Serve on a platter with additional herbs, the crispy pancetta, and more parmesan. Serves 4 to 6.

Note: Make this pasta dish vegetarian by omitting the pancetta/bacon and replacing with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Use ½ teaspoon dried herbs to replace fresh herbs, but the taste will not be the same.

Chicken and Mozzarella Salad

2 chicken breasts (skin on and bone in)
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
¼ pound green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 red bell pepper, small dice (¼-inch cubes)
½ English cucumber, small dice

1 large tomato, seeds removed, small dice
3 celery stalks, finely diced
8 ounces fresh mozzarella
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
5 large basil leaves

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Under the skin of each chicken breast, insert a sprig of rosemary and a few slivers of garlic. Rub with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes or until chicken is 165 degrees. Let cool, then remove skin and bones and dice chicken into ½-inch cubes.

Meanwhile, have a pot of boiling water ready for the green beans. Salt the water and cook the green beans for about 4 to 5 minutes. Run under cold water and drain on paper towels. Cut the mozzarella into ¼-inch pieces and drain on paper towels. 

To make the dressing, combine Dijon mustard and vinegar, then whisk in the olive oil. Stir in the garlic. 

To assemble the salad, add the chicken, all the vegetables, and mozzarella in a shallow salad bowl. Add the dressing and salt and pepper to taste. Tear the basil into thin strips and sprinkle over the salad. Taste and correct the seasonings as desired. Serve immediately. Serves 6.

Photo: Jenny Tremblay West

Jenny Tremblay West began her career as a pastry chef and currently teaches cooking in Richmond. Jenny, her husband, and their two young boys live in Church Hill. She has worked in food for more than twenty years and is a kitchen coach and personal chef with Caper.
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