Right now I am cooking coconut rice and I am so happy.
The smell of melting coconut oil mixed with cumin and fennel seeds, I am sorry, it’s just off the charts for me. My mouth is watering, my skin feels like it’s swelling and I sit deep in anticipation of one of the world’s simplest foods.
I am also drinking a glass of red wine. I believe this enhances the experience. For me making food is a total sensory event. I turn down the lights, light some candles, put on some great music, open a bottle of wine and get to it—the food that is.
I take out my ingredients, turn up the heat and get it going.
But it wasn’t always this way.
When my kids were little and I worked long days and evenings as a fashion editor in New York, I did not understand cooking. We had processed oatmeal for breakfast and premade everything. Cooking to me was a pot of pasta to which I’d add some packaged already-cooked chicken and a box of frozen broccoli.
I cannot believe that is how we ate. More often than not though, it was takeout: Chinese food, pizza, a local pub for burgers and fries—I guess that is why I was 15 pounds heavier.
Pints of Ben & Jerry’s for dessert didn’t help.
I had no time, no patience, no interest in cooking. Just getting any food on the table was enough.
It wasn’t until my family moved out to the suburbs and I wasn’t working full time anymore that I became slightly interested in food. I had the time to shop and prepare. I started with sandwiches for my kids lunches, and I realized I was pretty good at making them when my son would come home from school and say that all of his friends wanted his wraps.
They were simple: melted cheddar with Buffalo chicken breast, Russian dressing, Romaine lettuce, but they became quite popular. When his friends came over I would serve them healthy snacks—carrots and dip, cut up oranges and grapefruit, sliced jicama—and they’d come back again and again, sometimes shyly asking me to make them a wrap.
I loved it.
Food started to become a pleasure—I received so much love from making it for others (okay, kids) who loved what I made.
Dinnertime in those days was usually thin-sliced chicken with some kind of vegetable, and I slowly discovered that the process was more important than the food. I would prepare dinner at the same time my son was doing his homework and irritability for both of us would escalate as he became frustrated and whiny because he didn’t want to sit to do it. So I started inviting him to the counter; I’d fill some dishes in the sink with soapy water and let him wash.
He would happily splash around until his mood shifted and he could go back to his work—crisis averted!
One day I couldn’t find the thin-sliced chicken at the market and came home with whole chicken breasts instead. I took out the mallet and started pounding the chicken. My son, slumped over his homework with a bored look on his face suddenly perked up. “Do you want to do this?” I asked him, offering him the mallet.
He raced over, took the mallet, and started pounding away. “This tenderizes the meat and makes it cook faster,” I told him. He seemed to like that and happily went on tenderizing every piece in the package. This became a routine at homework time. Cranky boy improves mood by chopping vegetables, breaking spaghetti into a pot of boiling water, pounding chicken, seasoning food.
Homework became less of a chore after he got his ya-yas out prepping dinner.
We began experimenting with food, different combinations of herbs and spices, cooking times, new vegetables and fruits. I loved taking my kids to the supermarket and tell them they could pick any fruit or vegetable, something that they never heard of. We came home with cactus pears, rainbow chard and star fruit, to name a few.
If we didn’t like something we wouldn’t buy it again. But some things became new favorites. And food became, dare I say, fun.
We would make food in different ways: a favorite was lasagna reborn into finger food, as lasagna roll-ups. Sweet potatoes were cut up into chunks, roasted and then served with toothpicks to dip into maple syrup-infused yogurt. Even the simple sandwich was reinvented: I would use one slice of whole wheat and one slice of white as a way to wean my kids off of Wonderbread (ugh yes, I served that to my kids). I would cut the sandwich into quarters and then turn two of the quarters over for a checkerboard appeal—yes those became crowd-pleasers as well. And eventually my kids learned to love whole wheat bread on its own.
Now as a vegetarian I admit I am a one trick pony. Greens and grains, that is my default. I will eat any dark leafy green. Give me any kind of grain and I’ll doctor it up with different veggies and spices.
There is no other way I’d rather eat. I seriously love my food.
Love. My. Food.
These days when I come home from work, I look forward to making a meal, even if I am starving and cranky. I may not splash my hands in a sink of soapy dishes, but creating a good, simple meal is enough to shift my mood. Tonight, I spoon out some coconut rice into a ceramic dish shaped like a lotus and take a spoonful to my mouth, savoring the expanding joy in my body. Making a meal is a feast for the senses: unwrapping, tasting, touching, combining…it’s all a part of the process.
And eating it? Yeah well, let’s just say I enjoy it, like this:
”Tasty food is on the table, fragrances are in the air…You who long for union, attend this banquet with loving focus…Mount that elation, ascend with it, become identical with the ecstatic essence embracing [all] worlds.” ~ From Sutra 50 of The Radiance Sutras, by Lorin Roche.
Coconut Rice Recipe
- Melt 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a saucepan over high heat.
- Immediately add fennel seeds, cumin seeds and ground cumin and stir (eyeball amounts, you really can’t overdo here.)
- Pour in 1 cup of basmati rice.
- Stir and enjoy the fragrant aroma as your rice gets lubed.
- Pour in 1 can (or if you can find it, 1 box) of coconut milk (not the light kind, that is just the same thing but with water added, you can add your own water if you want to dilute, just get the real thing!)
Stir and enjoy the sight and smell of it.
- Cover and bring to a boil.
- Turn down heat to low and continue to cook, adding water, especially if it starts to get sticky or sticks to the pan, as necessary.
- Stir occasionally.
- If you have coconut butter, put a spoonful in.
- Ditto for coconut flakes.
Cook for 10 minutes. Then remove from heat and let sit for another 10 minutes ‘til rice is tender.
Now go put some in a small bowl, sit down with it and enjoy that creamy awesome goodness.
Author: Elyce Neuhauser
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: mali maeder at Pexels