Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Polenta-crusted lamb chops... because cooking is good for the brain






I am a big fan of Dr Dan Siegel when it comes to child psychology. His book, Parenting from the Inside Out, was the first parenting book I read (before I got pregnant), and the foundation for everything else. He has a series of short videos online, and in one of them (you can watch it here), he describes the daily elements of a healthy mind for a child, which also apply to adults. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Sleep
  • Focus time
  • Play time, experience novelty and fun
  • Down time, calm/quiet, to recharge the mind
  • Connection time (with others and the earth, with generosity and gratitude)
  • Physical time, where we move our bodies
  • Time in, or reflection time, where we reflect on our whole emotional state, on how we feel inside ourselves.

It struck me as I jotted down this list, how a few of those get chucked out the window or neglected in our adult lives. I have often found myself with a few minutes of down time, feeling like I should be doing something, as if that time was wasted (and as a result of this antsiness, it is in fact wasted. Instead of letting my mind recharge, I burden it further with guilt and anxiety.)

This balance, which thankfully I am able to nurture fairly successfully in Pablo's life, has been harder to find for myself, but having this list written out in my office, and on the fridge, is a great reminder. I noticed some of these can happen simultaneously, such as connection time and down time, or play and physical time, or play and focus time.

Of course, being the food lover and blogger that I am, I couldn't help but think of the many many opportunities the kitchen and the table give us to practice these on a daily basis (sleep aside ;-)



Looking at a recipe, separating an egg yolk from the white, thickening a sauce, shelling peas... focus.

Kneading bread, making butter, planting and picking... physical.

Having a picnic, dipping a piece of bread in a soft boiled egg, making watermelon balls with a scooper, experimenting with new flavors... play.

Washing dishes, peeling carrots, chopping rosemary and garlic... brain recharge, and time in.

Sitting down for a meal with loved ones, eating outside with the smells and sounds of nature, cooking over a fire, talking about the food we eat, eat mindfully and slowly... connection, and time in.

I suppose you get my drift here: cook good food and have family meals. It's good for the body. And it's good for the brain too. :-)

So about this meal I'm sharing here...




... it starts with a morning of foraging (physical time, connection with nature) and learning to make wild mustard (more on that very soon!) and picking some sweet white clover (play time), which our foraging guide Pascal tells me will "rock my world" with sauteed potatoes. O how I love world-rocking food tips!

I stop at the store with Pablo and we bond with our favorite butcher Jamel who knows Pablo on a first name basis. Pablo chooses the orange cherry tomatoes he likes. We secretly taste an olive at the olive bar together. Love. Connection.




I get home and review my recipe. My mom starts the potatoes, I start the polenta. Connection, focus. Mix the flour, beat the egg. "This was a good day", I think to myself. "I feel grounded, in the moment." Quick time in. Dipping the chops, play; frying the chops, focus; photographing the chops, focus, play, physical given the odd contortions ;-) Pablo wants to take pictures too, and does a mini-puppet show while I take some shots, connection.

Sitting down in the backyard to eat a great meal together. Watching Pablo gnaw on the bone, freely dance around the backyard after the meal. Breathing. Connection. Down time. Recharge.

Writing this post at my laptop, thinking of how humanly rich,beautiful (and dare I say, cerebrally nutritious?) this day was, and how perfectly balanced, how I need more days like this, and less days of deadlines, exhaustion and stress. Time in. 

Even when I struggle to post to this blog as often as I plan (which may just have to happen this week again as we're going camping this weekend...), this space gives me this precious time which otherwise falls by the wayside in the face of busy life, time to reflect, to check in with myself. That those reflections should interest other souls such as yourselves, kind readers, is a gift I had never expected. Reading and perhaps at times, relating to my ramblings, hopefully gives you a little time in, too.

I always knew cooking, eating and food blogging were good for my body and soul. But if it's good for my brain too then... I shall keep coming back.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this very balanced meal, in more ways than one.



Polenta-crusted lamb chops with herbed potatoes

(Inspired by Idées futées pour inviter by Larousse Cuisine & Cie)

4 servings

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

Age for babies: You could crust ground lamb patty with polenta for a 8-10 months old, potatoes and polenta are also great for 8-10 months old. A great way to introduce the flavor of rosemary, as it gets nicely absorbed by the polenta.


8 small double lamb chops (2 chops together, especially if you like them rare or pink, take individual chops if you like more well done)
4 tbsp spelt flour
salt & pepper
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 cup of polenta (I used this one which cooks very quickly)
4 cups of vegetable broth
1 cu p light coconut milk (You could just use 5 cups of broth, or mix broth and water, or regular milk. The coconut milk adds a nice subtle flavor though)
1 egg
3-4 tbsp olive oil

6-7 medium pink potatoes
3 tbsp duck fat (coconut oil and butter would do great too here)
Fresh rosemary, parsley or other fresh herb of choice (we used some wild sweet white clover I foraged that day, delicious!)

Start with the potatoes:

Wash and slice the potatoes (being organic, we left the skin on). Dry them well to avoid splattering.

Heat the duck fat over medium high, and add the potatoes. Cook, stirring often, until they turn golden. When they do, add salt, pepper, and the chopped herbs, and stir.

Lower heat to medium and cover. Cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes, shaking the pan or stirring once in a while. When done, keep covered and warm until ready to serve.

Then the polenta: 

(Check cook times depending on the kind you get).
In a medium pot, heat the broth and coconut milk over medium heat.

Meanwhile, remove the stems from the rosemary leaves and chop them finely.

When it barely simmers, add the polenta gradually while stirring until it thickens a bit. With the polenta I used, it was about 1-2 minutes.

Remove from heat, and stir in the rosemary. Taste the polenta and add salt so it tastes just right to your tastebuds. Cover and set aside.

(*Note that I've also obtained good results just adding the polenta and cold liquids to the pan at the same time, and heating on medium, stirring often. Also, for the crusting of the lamb chops, you will need fairly thin polenta, so this is double the amount of liquid recommended for "regular" polenta as indicated on the package. It should be the consistency of a cream of mushroom type soup, or slightly thicker. You could also use the prepackaged organic polenta - in the shape of a fat sausage - that I've seen available at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. Then heat over medium with enough liquid to obtain desired consistency.)

Now the chops:

In a shallow plate, combine the flour with a pinch of salt and pepper.

In another, pour about half the polenta (reserve the rest to serve as a side, use more if needed). In another, lightly beat the egg.

Take each lamb chop, dip them first in the flour on all sides, then in the egg, then in the polenta.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, and pan-fry the lamb chops on medium high, until crust is crispy golden on all sides. You may want to use a splatter screen, as the wet polenta will make the oil splatter quite a bit. We like them on the rare side, so it only took about 5-7 minutes for us. (Lower to medium-low once the crust is golden and continue cooking if you like it more done.)

Serve on a plate with some potatoes, a side of polenta, and romaine or butter lettuce in vinaigrette for some greens.

I love to wrap a bite of potato inside a lettuce leaf! The perfect bite :-) Pablo agrees.



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6 comments:

  1. Thank you for this. Your post reminds me of Edward Espe Brown relaying advice from his teacher, Suzuki Roshi: "When you wash the rice, wash the rice. When you cut the carrots, cut the carrots." I try to apply this when cooking and in all sorts of small matters and chores, and I find it has a wonderfully calming effect, much as your comments suggest.

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    1. Hi Lisa! Absolutely, I have really come to realize the value of mindful living, as in doing every task for its own sake, so counter to our result-oriented society. In a way, it's another way of saying the journey matters more than the destination. I'm not familiar with Brown's books and work, it looks really interesting, I will have to look into them. Thanks for your kind support as always :-)

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  2. I love this. Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful, thoughtful post.

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    1. Thank you so much for saying that, Melanie :-) It means a lot to me.

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  3. Oooh that looks amazing - love rosemary!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, hope you enjoy the recipe if you make it :-)

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