I don’t recommend pneumonia, from which I have been recuperating since the beginning of the month. IMHO, the only upside to this nasty bug has been—once I was on the road to recovery—the incredible sensation of eating “regular” food again. For a small handful of days, I drank only water, and I ate only that quintessential Chinese comfort food: rice porridge (also known as jook or congee). Too tired to put any effort into savory stir-ins, I simply had my jook with some fried gluten (an admittedly unappetizing name, but neither is “vegetarian mock duck”) or 5-spice baked tofu and edamame, with some fruit on the side. That’s all that I wanted.
When I was ready to vary my diet again, I nibbled on a few tablespoons of plain grilled chicken, cut into small bite-sized pieces, and boiled, sliced carrots. I felt like a baby trying chicken and carrots for the first time: the flavor of each of these foods burst in my mouth like an intense and complex display of fireworks. The apparently tough texture of the chicken had me chewing like a cow on her cud, but the carrots were smooth and soothing. I wasn’t sure I liked chicken: it was overpowering and rubbery. But how do you explain the flavor of chicken? Carrots? Any food? It’s like trying to explain anything you feel with your senses: impossible. But the sensation recalled vividly my memory of the faces the DD and DS made when they tried foods for the first time: wondering, curious, grimacing, gumming, surprised, dubious, skeptical, and then, if they liked it, the bottomless open maw with a desperately groping hand as the spoon approached. If they didn’t like it, their mouths were shut tight like Fort Knox, and they did everything they could to swat the spoon away or move their heads in the opposite direction from the terrible idea of another mouthful of the awful stuff.
Over the next few days, I slowly rediscovered pork, broccoli, udon, Nappa cabbage, and so on. I was forced to eat slowly; if I ate too fast, I would feel out of breath and tired. I wanted only a little bit: chewing, again, was tiring, but the flavors were so intense that even a little bit was enough (not to mention the fact that I didn’t really need a whole lot of food, since I was essentially sleeping, napping, and resting all day). This process brought home the realization of the extent to which I usually take the look, flavors, and textures of food for granted. It reminded me of an article I read last year about mindful eating (“Mindful Eating as Food for Thought,” by Jeff Gordinier, in The New York Times, Feb.12, 2012). After reading it, I sometimes tried eating at least a few bites of a meal with this Buddhist concept in mind: doing nothing but chewing, tasting, and being in the moment of eating my meal. I didn’t stick with the program though. There are too many distractions: talking to the family, thinking about what happened with the day or what would be happening after the meal, snatching a few minutes to read the newspaper or a book while I eat. This experience of discovering food anew reawakens my appreciation and gratitude for food. I hope that I can maintain this awareness and slow down, at least for a few bites, when I eat my meals!
Photo by p.Gordon