Our consciousness is crafted by attentiveness. – Nan Shin
I’m making tuna fish salad for lunch today, on a damp, smokey-gray afternoon. I start by mixing low-fat mayonnaise with olive oil and honey in a large white bowl. Next comes a table spoon of French herbed mustard, for the fine-grained texture and color, but more so to add a tangy bite to the creamy sweetness of the mayonnaise and honey. Then comes a pinch of salt, and then another of equal or greater value of pepper. The salt leaves a round, satisfying finish on the tongue, while the pepper crashes over the taste buds before moving on, the same way an ocean wave curls and crashes into the sand before rolling on to shore. After that, I mix in some sliced green grapes and a handful of slivered almonds or walnuts if there’s still some left in the cupboard. Last comes wild dill, my favorite herb by far.
I like everything about dill – its spicy fragrance, feathery green texture, warm, grassy aroma. Most of all, I like how it complements every thing around it, makes every ingredient a little better than they are by themselves. It works well with butter and sauces and salad dressings and pastas and and soup and fish and anything else. Dill is the first person you would invite to your birthday party, the one everyone hopes sits next to them on the first day of school.
All this takes me an hour or so, much longer than such a basic, uncomplicated task should take. By the time I’m done, the counter is covered with open jars, scattered lids, and powdery trails of herbs and spices and ground pepper. The kitchen looks more like a post mortem Thanksgiving dinner then a simple lunch. Its just that preparing a meal in this way is so much better than my usual process – Miracle Whip mixed with Chicken of the Sea mixed with sweet relish straight from the jar plopped on a lettuce leaf. That way, the tuna tastes more like slightly sweetened anchovy paste, and the lettuce is pale green with blanched-white, brown-curled edges.
Preparing food slowly and attentively, nibbling samples along the way, monitoring the subtle change in character as each ingredient is added, enlarges the process. It transforms a routine task into a journey, the sum total becoming larger than its individual parts. If I do my job well, tonight, when I go to bed and my mind flits like a butterfly between wakefulness and sleep, it will be the satisfying taste of salt on the tongue and bright fragrance and earthy taste of dill that will sing me to sleep.
Before retiring, Scott Peterson was an educator in Mattawan, Michigan. He also taught writing classes at Western Michigan University. HIs essays and poetry have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals.