2 weeks, 2 months & 2 hours just to make a green curry. Does that sound like a terribly inefficient way to make a meal and a most unproductive use of time? No doubt.
I inwardly grumbled at this terrible inefficiency as I stood for 2 hours with a backache in the kitchen yesterday, cutting and peeling the many herbs and vegetables that make up this dish according to my recipe. (Peeling dozens of shallots took the most time – anyone knows a hack for this??). These discontents rattled through my head: here I am wasting my time and my life making green curry from scratch just because I happen to have a big harvest of coriander that I don’t know what else to do with. It is much easier and probably yummier to eat green curry at an authentic Thai restaurant, or buy ready-made paste from shops. Why am I doing this??! I have many other more important things to do.
This “time-wasting” process actually began way back in early August when I had spent 2 weeks to mix and prepare a soil for planting by workshop participants. After planting, I had devoted 2 months to caring for the coriander before the final harvest (a picture of the bed is at the top of this page). And finally, I had taken 2 hours to combine and transform coriander, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallots, garlic, green chillies, peppercorn, cumin, coriander seeds, shrimp paste and salt into curry.
What a long, arduous process just for a meal!
But then my mind shifted as I sniffed the different stimulating scents of freshly cut herbs and vegetables; as I inhaled the appetising fragrance of freshly-made curry paste cooking in coconut milk; as I taste-tested the first spoonfuls of curry broth. I stopped frowning at my inefficiencies and remembered the goodness in this kind of slowness. I reminded myself that I am trying to heal from a stress- and hurry-induced bad habit and sickness.
For the last few years, I have suffered from severe gastrointestinal reflux that could get unbearably painful whenever I felt stressed or hurried. This year, I started to feel much better after making deliberate choices to slow down. I used to gobble down my food although I might have nowhere or nothing to rush to after a meal. It was an old and bad habit. Now, I can be the slowest to finish at the dining table. I used to cram my days and even holidays with checklists of productive things to accomplish. Now, I take 2 weeks, 2 months and 2 hours just to make a green curry.
I still get harried and hurried of course, in fact quite often, as old habits die hard, and I have to persistently fight against that tiny but powerful accusing voice in my head telling me that I ought to be more productive with my time and my life by doing more, by keeping busy, by showing results. When I rush my husband to help me accomplish a task, he often asks: is it THAT urgent? must it be done RIGHT NOW? I usually get annoyed with this reply, but it also forces me to reconsider the meaning and motivation for my hurry. Is it to prove or show something to myself or other people? Is it pride? Is it restlessness? Is it an attempt to cover an emptiness with busyness?
During one bout of pain last year, I read these healing words by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk:
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence..activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence…It kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
Sometimes, I even carry this kind of violence into my garden, working myself or my garden too hard without giving my body and my soil enough rest. Whenever I rush to produce more out of my garden without proper rest for body and soil, I see violence manifest in the form of body sickness and plant sickness. In my next blog post, I will begin a series on how I prepare my soil before and in between plantings with rest being a key process that heals and rejuvenates the soil.
There is goodness in slowness. The global Slow Food Movement started as “a way of saying no to the rise of fast food and fast life. Slow Food means living an unhurried life, taking time to enjoy simple pleasures, starting at the table.”. Growing and making some of my own food is certainly the longest way to eat a meal. It’s totally not an efficient use of my time. Wasting time like this, I may not be able to check off many productive to-dos in my day.
But…I get to experience the small joys of savouring the intoxicating smells of freshly cut and cooked herbs and vegetables, and serving my family and myself wholesome, home-grown, home-cooked slow food on most nights of the week. I get to slow down and smell the roses, or coriander, in this case.