Thoughts On Gratitude

いただきます

One of my New Years resolutions this year is to have friends and family over for dinner; skip the restaurants, save the cash and just enjoy a good old-fashioned home cooked meal. Plus, I could use the practice in the kitchen. 

Last week, in my attempt to stick to my resolution, I invited my friend S over. S works as an Art Director for an international digital agency. She has an amazing creative mind and impeccable taste. 

That evening, while S was finishing up a few emails at the office, I made a run to the local food market and start collecting ingredients. On the menu tonight: Mushroom and Herb Polenta*, a recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook, Plenty. Like I do with many things in my life, I picked this recipe because the photograph just looked so darn good. Cheesy, smokey, earthy and comforting. Perfect for a cold winter night.

While in the store, I quickly realize that the mushrooms they had were not looking their best, plus they were expensive! Trying to drum up a plan B, I notice out of the corner of my eye some beautiful looking eggplants, I snagged them and placed them into my reusable mesh bag, visited checkout and headed home to begin my experiment. I would swap eggplant for mushrooms. I wound up roasting the eggplant whole, under the broiler at 550 degrees until it looked like a deflated and somewhat sad, charred and smokey balloon (but let me tell you, it smelled delish!) Then I peel off the skin, set it aside and continued on with the recipe - a glass of wine poured and the 'French Dinner Party' Spotify playlist warbling along in the background.

Soon S arrives, and we start to catch up while I put the finishing touches on dinner. She has been at home in Japan for the past few weeks, her family is doing well, she went on a yoga and surfing retreat, there's a new artist whom she recently discovered. I tell her about my holidays and new happenings in my life. I plate our food and carry it over to the folding table I set up in my small but cozy Brooklyn apartment.

We sit down to eat and before S picks up her fork she says "Itadakimasu!" Tilting my head to the side, I ask her what it means.

"ITADAKIMASU"

pronounced: /ee-ta-da-kee-mas/

"Its how we give thanks in Japan before a meal." she says

 It expresses gratitude for the plants and animals, the farmers, the house, the chef - everything that went into the creation of the meal. It's appreciation for the whole process, not just the end result. This word is said before every meal, tracing its roots back to Buddhist tradition. I immediately became enamored with how it so simply and elegantly it conveys gratitude and thanks.

My experience with saying "grace" before eating never really extended beyond the food that was right in front of me at the dinner table and always involved a few religious idols. Yet this one term contains so much positive energy. It extends thanks to everyone involved regardless of religious belief or cultural background. 

This idea of  'Everything is Connected' is one that we should all soak in a bit more. And for me, Itadakimasu is a way to keep this idea moving forward. I've started saying it in my head now before I eat. Our lives and our work don't exist in isolation, they have the potential to give goodness, connectedness, and wellbeing to many beyond our peripheral vision. Take a minute today to give thanks for all that supports you in life. 

Arigato, Friends

ありがとう

*If you are interested in the Ottolenghi recipe mentioned above, you can find it here: https://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/mushroom-and-herb-polenta-shop