Friday, August 17, 2012

Bee Stings and Summer Curry with Squash, Eggplant, and Tomatoes

Yesterday, for the second time in my life, I was stung by a bee.
I had just been in the garden harvesting tomatoes when, mid-sentence, I felt a sharp poke near my elbow. I looked down, thinking I'd run into something, searching for a visual confirmation of the needle I felt in my arm.  When I didn't see anything, I tried to focus on the sensation of the pain itself: "What am I feeling?  What is this pain like?"  I tried to relate it to any experience I already had.  Was it the invisible sting of nettles? Or was something poking out of my purse, still wrapped around my arm, that I'd failed to see?  Seconds passed and I still had no explanation for the feeling in my arm.  My mind started racing. I got distracted from the pain itself and panicked: "Why is this happening to me?!  Why don't I know what's going on? What if I'm having an allergic reaction to something and am going to die?  Why isn't the pain stopping?"
In fact, the pain was getting worse and worse. It went from a quick sting to a slow burn.  My heart rate and breathing started to pick up as I kept examining the invisible wound and getting frustrated at not knowing what was going on.  After a minute or two, the pain was completely gone.  A red welt rose in its place, marking the now-calm spot where I'd been searching in vain for some manifestation of my experience.
I never saw the bee, but I'm confident that's what happened. Those few moments in time encapsulated a lesson that I've been learning over and over in my life, but became especially clear during my unmedicated labor:  I am not in control.  I obviously cannot control what happens to me, and I can not exert full control over my thoughts.  But I can control my reactions to those thoughts, and to the things that happen to me.  If I can exert the mental discipline to focus on what's truly occurring in the moment, shifting my thoughts away from what should be or what could be into what is, I am calmer. And the more I practice this, the easier it gets.  (And life will never, ever stop offering me up chances to practice.)
I remember thinking that the pain itself was not that bad, obviously significantly less intense than giving birth, but the moment I allowed myself to panic at not understanding the pain its intensity increased and that fed onto itself, causing more pain and suffering.  I don't scold myself for failing to stay focused in the moment, but I do take it as a lesson to be more mindful.  (It reminded me of an interesting episode of Radiolab, in which they discuss visualization and its affect on pain perception. This episode is well worth your time.)
I've been trying to be more mindful in my daily life: keeping the computer closed when the baby is awake, turning off NPR while I'm cooking and cleaning and talking to her instead, spending our free time outside in the cool pre-fall that has arrived, trying to experience the world with beginner's eyes while introducing it to my daughter, and of course, soaking in all the bounty of this season.
I have been cooking a LOT.  Meal planning has been so much fun for me, and a boon for our family.  I am still working out a routine for getting more prep done during the weekend, but for now we're enjoying our time in the kitchen trying out new recipes and just being together.  I can't wait to get areas of the kitchen set up for E to participate. These links show a good idea of what we're hoping to get set up soon (as well as a similar treatment in her bedroom.)
Today I'd like to share a simple curry we made to use up some of the summer produce that is in such great quality at this time of year.  I know a spicy thick stew might not seem appropriate for August, but it's surprisingly satisfying.   It's an easy and fast meal that exemplifies the Thai style of cooking, combining sweet, salty, spicy, and savory flavors.  It requires only one pan on the stove-top, so you don't have to worry about heating up the house with the oven, and a little spicy food makes you sweat, which actually cools the body.  The addition of tomato at the last minute makes the curry taste fresh and balances the richness of the coconut milk.  To make the dish vegetarian, omit the fish sauce or replace it with soy sauce (tamari if you're wheat sensitive) and use vegetable stock. 

Summer Curry with Squash, Eggplant, and Tomatoes
1-2 fresh tomatoes
1 white onion
5-10 pattypan squash (zucchini or summer squash would be fine)
3 small or 1 large eggplant
2 tbsp. red curry paste (less if you like it milder. I used this brand.)
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 can coconut milk (use the full fat kind, ok?)
1/4-1/3 c. beer (optional)
1 tbsp. fish sauce
2-4 c. water or broth 
a handful of fresh basil
salt and pepper
quinoa or rice to serve
Chop the onion and fry in oil over medium heat. 
If you use patty pan, trim both the tops and the bloom end and slice into wedges.
Roughly chop all your vegetables to approximately the same size.
Once it's starting to soften and get translucent, add your chopped squash and eggplant. 
Once these get soft, add the curry paste and brown sugar.  Stir to coat all the vegetables in the paste and sugar.  Stir for a couple minutes until the paste starts to get fragrant but doesn't brown. 
Deglaze with the beer or stock, scraping the good brown stuff off the pan.  Add the fish sauce and coconut milk and enough stock to cover all the vegetables. 
Simmer till everything comes together and smells great.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Have your assistant rip up the basil leaves. 
Add the tomatoes, simmer for two more minutes, remove from heat, and stir in the basil.  Serve hot over quinoa or rice.  A little more fresh basil on top would be tasty.
The red curry is mild but flavorful.  A squeeze of fresh lime would be a delicious foil.
Speaking of that assistant, she uses a spoon like a champ.
And has enjoyed exploring all kinds of produce this summer. I do my best to give her freedom to soak it all in; smell, taste, and feel.  This involves a lot of picking apart, lifting, dropping, and moving from hand to hand.  In short, a ton of fun.
I hope you've managed to have a great few weeks. I'm planning a few posts with just pictures soon because there's so much I want to share with you but so little time for words.  Hope you're well out there!

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