I was reminded this evening as I was cooking about how the normal or everyday can suddenly enchant or delight when we see it with fresh eyes. It was Dom's turn to cook, but he had asked if I would trade with him (he has several huge papers due and exams next week and wanted a long uninterrupted work time at the library). So I made beef stew (starting by heating olive oil in the large Le Creuset, then tossing in mustard seeds to pop, and some nigella, before adding onion, and then the beef, cut fairly small). The meat comes from an organic farmer named Gerald, whose family farm, Twin Creeks, is near Owen Sound, about three hours north of here. He brings his meat down biweekly in winter, but weekly to the Trinity Bellwoods Market in summer (late May to late October), where he also sells vegetables and delivers CSA baskets to subscribers. The meat is wonderful; his vegetables too. Can't wait.
Anyway, not to go on and on about the meat (or local food issues!), once the stew had simmered itself into tender doneness (there were carrots and potatoes in there too, and some red wine, and a touch of soy sauce for extra depth), I put on the rice. (Yes, I know, with potatoes in the stew, why another starch? but rice is a wonderful absorber of flavour, and anyway, most of us in this household don't feel we've eaten unless there's rice.)
A few minutes later I went to check if it was at the boil, and got caught by the lovely quivering look of the surface. Some foam had collected there (I had rinsed the rice pretty thoroughly, but perhaps it could have done with more?) and at the edge in one or two places, the water was just beginning to bubble. The movement sent tremblings across the surface. It became tender and alive, a lovely hesitant being, in those moments.
I can't remember ever seeing just that effect before, though I have looked at rice coming to the boil almost daily. Perhaps this time I had an eye for detail rather than "fact". Usually the question in mind is "is it boiling so that I can cover it and lower the heat?" or "not yet?" This time, rather than answering that question, I luckily somehow just got caught up in looking.
This all leads me to wonder whether there are magical sightings, brief glimpses of loveliness, to be had all over. And I am sure the answer is yes. I can already name a few: There's the way an egg flows over a hot cast-iron pan as it's put on to fry... gorgeous, and not just because of the eventual deliciousness that the cook might be anticipating in his/her mind's eye (or palate). There's the instant that garlic turns tan in the hot oil in a hot wok, click!, with little bubbles of oil beside it, and a gleaming tightening of the surface as it shifts to beige. And, and...
But most often I don't notice any of these treasures, because I am intent on the next step, or thinking about the end result, rather than being in the moment. And also I am usually not looking at the details, but at the whole process, so I miss the small lovelinesses.
Have you had these glimpses?
And out in the world: It's Thai New Year (the festival is called song kran, April 14 and 15), and a terribly troubled time in Bangkok. At the moment ex-prime minister Thaksin is inciting instability from outside the country, using his tremendous wealth to buy trouble. Our fingers are crossed that the political situation stabilises without violence and that the country can move forward out of the Thaksin era...