A Lentil Walks into a Bar…

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I am a terrible joke teller because I find jokes nearly impossible to remember. Even if I wanted to tell a joke –  I don’t think I could.  My tendency is to forget what makes the joke itself funny or worth telling; all those details and subtleties, trying not to give away the ending too soon, trying to keep your audiences’ attention….why is it so hard gosh darn it!  The thing is, I don’t need jokes.  I think that I’m really quite funny without them (nudge nudge).

That is why I leave the jokes to my Grandpa (who tells the longest golf course jokes you have ever heard, but can’t help smiling through) and Udi’s Dad, who likes to start nearly every conversation off with a quick joke.  These guys are the pros. They seem to go through each day hearing various jokes and then telling those same jokes to the next person they see. Like a form of ‘pass it on’.

But even without formal jokes humor is an important part of my life. I love to make those around me laugh until their bellies hurt and then I like to fill their bellies with dinner.  This is what I’m good at, it’s what I enjoy.  Cooking to entertain loved ones. Cooking to create a good reason for social interaction.  I love when I’ve spent time in the kitchen preparing a meal and then follow it up with a dinner full of laughter. It makes the food taste better.

Of course there are meals that I only cook for me.  That is when I get to use the kitchen as a place for mental meditation, to pause before my day has officially begun, for my only decision to be which way I will cut the vegetables.  These are the easiest kind of decisions in life because you can never really be wrong.  So when the house is quiet and empty and I have a few hours to kill before my shift at work, I cook for myself.

The fridge can be virtually empty, the cabinets almost bare – but in that particular moment I’m in the kitchen for the simple act of feeding myself.  I don’t need much.  So, I snoop around in my crisper drawers, pull out the one or two sad this or thats and plot my meal.  The drawer today was slim pickings, some rubbery carrots, an oldish cucumber, and few zucchini that were too big for their own good.  Ding!  zucchini are triumphant and I plop them down on my cutting board.  Now for the hardest part – what shape to cut them?  Half moons today.  Seeing as how we don’t have much else I start my rummaging in the spice drawer. Some garam masala mix, some cumin, coriander seed, mustard seed, cinnamon sticks – we are in business here people!

Knowing already that we had some lentils I felt empowered to start this sucker.  I move into a more meditative state; I get out a pot and start cooking the lentils, I lean down to light my burners, one and two — the pot on one, pan on two. I add my whole spices to the pan letting them toast just slightly, chop my onion fine, garlic even finer, grate my ginger, oil in the pan, wait for it to heat and move onto the zucchini.  It’s a dance of easy motions, a thoughtless process of putting and placing the things that I know I want here and there.  I zone out – or rather zone in to the food that is cooking and think of only what would make it better. I grab the salt, I grab some turmeric. I keep watching.   Before I have time to question anything the zucchini are fork tender and the lentils are soft enough to bite without being soggy.

I am almost done and yet I have exerted so little energy that I am aching for more to do.

Back into the fridge. I look for yoghurt….none, cottage cheese….nada.  I spot a small container of white cheese (in this country there are a million varieties of creamy white cheeses that vary in fat context and density and not much else.)  In a pinch this will do just fine. So I scrounge up the very last sprigs of this and that herb that have yet to brown up and add them to the cheese.  I look at it all laid out in front of me and feel satisfied.  Until, that is, I realize that it is still well before noon and I really had wanted an egg so many hours ago.  Pan back on the burner, lean down to light it, add the egg once the butter is no longer foaming and wait a minute for the whites to set.  Get out a bowl and plop the lentils, then the zucchini, next the herby sauce, finally the egg, one last touch of cilantro, okay a little more sauce, step back, and exhale.

The meditative moment has led me down a winding path and I have ended up with an indian spiced dish of lentils and zucchini doused in a soured cream with herbs and topped with a fried egg which has already popped and let the yellow goo runneth over.  Huzzah I say inside my head, huzzah!