Enough Is (Better Than) a Feast

Dear Reader,

The title above, without the brackets, is what the U.S. Bureau of Home Economics used to tell Americans at the time of the Great Depression of the 1930, when frugal cooking with rationed ingredients was in order.

My mother’s Christmas lunch table. These are only the appetisers, so not all that frugal, but it was a holiday!

The slogan may sound like a version of Aesop’s sour grapes fable, but I find it is delightfully and inspiringly true, and is also the pithiest summary of a lifelong quest of mine – that of portioning pleasure and having an internal, instead of external, locus of control over circumstances, decisions and life in general.

An excellent opportunity to put my internal locus of control to the test was this soft and fragrant bread with a crispy crust, glossy with egg yolk and crunchy with seeds, hugging a chunk of pungent Camembert with blueberries. Oh…

Portioning pleasure if hard, as it requires honesty, mindfulness and a sense of dignity to help one avoid the pitfalls of excess. Honesty is about this – pleasure is a driving force for humans, and can be usually found in activities related to survival, such as eating and procreation, so as to make people engage in them often and willingly.

I engage in eating as regularly as clockwork, and very willingly…:)

So – no use denying eating is a pleasure. Honesty is also about admitting to occasionally using food as consolation or a coping mechanism. This basically amounts to facing uncomfortable truths about myself and deciding to do something about them. It is a glorious victory against resistance. Dignity is about realising I am in control over my life and pleasures, so I get to choose them, own them and manage them, and not just succumb to whatever comes my way. 

For example, if a tray of home-made chocolates comes my way, and I know there is a glorious cake, I choose to have a thin piece of the cake and save the candies for later, while trying to vividly imagine in my mind what they taste like.

Then comes mindfulness in planning, cooking and eating. Mindfulness is about being there and concentrating about what I do. When I have a conversation with someone, it is expected and polite that I listen and participate, right? The same applies to eating – it is a conversation with myself, a small holiday and a time of communion. When I don’t read or listen to something while I eat, I get to actually remember what my meal was, I remember tastes and textures, I experience the Proust epiphany with the madeleine. 

Epiphany with a cake – egg white and almond layers, egg yolk and walnut cream, apricot and lemon juice topping, a bit of melted chocolate and slivered almonds to garnish. My mother is a sorceress and her cooking is her way of controlling others.
Entrees up close. Greens with shaved parmesan and smoked salmon, marinated olives, pork jerkey and lukanka, a typical Bulgarian flat sausage, baked chushki with oil, garlic and parsley and turshiya – a pickeled vegetable mix.
A two-litre bottle of rose wine.
A bread basket not for the faint-hearted.
In all honesty, I could eat all of this, alone and at one sitting. But I chose to eat three pieces instead, over the course of the day, tearing the tiniest bits with a spoon and tasting them by themselves, without bread or a salad, so that to get the fullest taste possible.
Cake view from the top.
Lunch at the in-laws the next day. Another typical thing many Bulgarians do is to have their festive eating on the living room coffee table so as not to eat in the kitchen. Shown are the same marinaded chushki as my mother had, a potato salad with leeks, oil and dill, tarator, which is a cold cucumber and yogurt soup, and a braised hen stuffed with rice and onions, and baked with sauerkraut on the side.
I saved the meat piece with the skin for later, but I can assure you the hen was excellent. Many people don’t like the white meat as they think it is too dry, but white fowl meat is the only kind I like. 🙂
Half of my banitsa piece with a fortune paper attached to a cornel bush twig as the tradition is. My last year’s fortune paper was quite prophetic, let’s hope this one turns out true too!
That’s what I do with those chocolates – I use them as decoration while having an espresso with an ounce of milk for the last drops in the cup, and looking forward to my lunch!

For goodbye, I have a confession to make, dear Reader. I am much better at portioning the pleasure of eating, than I am at portioning that of working.

Be that as it may, though, see you at the office on Tuesday.