I took down my copy of Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef from the shelf this evening. When it was printed back in 1999, Jamie was a fresh-faced TV chef fond of sliding down the banisters of his trendy London flat and zooming around on his moped. I was a newlywed girl with a kitchen full of beautiful new stainless steel cooking equipment and Denby crockery carefully unpacked from our wedding gift boxes. Nothing gave me greater pleasure in those days (and still does) than leafing through my recipe books and planning something delicious to cook for my husband.
I wanted to make risotto today. The cold air has returned and a bowl of something rich, warming and simple seemed fitting. I chose mushrooms, thyme, parsley and garlic to flavour the creamy arborio rice.
The real secret of a good risotto, I’m afraid, is that you have to stand over it and give it your loving and undivided attention for about 17 minutes, but it’s worth it. (The Naked Chef p.170)
Undivided attention. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit recently as I read about mindfulness practice and mindful parenting. I’m part way through Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn’s Everyday Blessings and am finding myself really challenged to give my full attention to my daughters in our everyday moments together.
Back to the risotto – how did I get on with the ‘loving and undivided attention’ it needed? The recipe calls on the cook to add the stock ladle by ladle over 17-20 minutes. Each time a ladleful is added, you stir smoothly and continuously until the stock is absorbed. Over time this gently and slowly swells the rice giving the risotto its creamy texture. Here is what actually happened after each addition of stock… I clearly still have some way to go in practising everyday mindfulness!
Ladle 1 – stir, clear up the vegetable peelings, realise the food waste bin has a gross blob of Weetabix inside the lid, take off the lid and wash it, tie up the food bin bag (in between nipping to and from the hob to stir)
Ladle 2 – stir, turn the heat down, kiss husband hello, look at Little One’s picture, ask Eldest to put some TV on for Little One and please set the table
Ladle 3 – stir, shove cardboard for recycling into the cupboard, stir for a little while and enjoy the waft of white wine and celery rising from the pan, congratulate myself on a moment of mindful attention (!)
Ladle 4 – stir, think about this blog (!) and make a mental list for the grocery shop tomorrow
Ladle 5 – stir, wipe the table and kitchen surfaces, look at Little One’s house-point certificate from school
Ladle 6 – stir, chop parsley in a cup with scissors, taste the rice to see if it’s cooked, wish that I was better at just staying still and paying attention to the risotto
Ladle 7 – stir, think about what I’m going to cook for the rest of the week, grate cheese and put it on the table, shout the family to tell them dinner’s ready
Although in many ways this is a funny example, it really got me thinking about how my modus operandi is multitasking. I have this idea brewing… What about using a 17-minute ‘risotto space’ to practise just stopping for a while to give what I’m doing my full and undivided attention? Little One loves to play ‘babies’ – but we often need to set a timer to help her understand when the game has finished and mummy needs to do the next thing. Why not set a timer for 17 minutes and be fully present, holding a baby doll and changing its clothes, watching my Little One smile up at me, listening to her little names for the dolls, being grateful that she loves to nurture? Could I manage a 17-minute cup of peppermint tea with no smartphone, no agenda? How about 17 minutes to sit down with Eldest and hear about her day, or look through our baking recipes together?
I do want to make a risotto without multitasking. I want to create and enjoy moments where I am fully present with my girls and my husband. Life means that there won’t always be 17 minutes of uninterrupted bliss, but maybe there will be 17 minutes to live just that bit slower and more purposefully.