A couple of nights ago, I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations where he visits Provence. I had been looking forward to this episode all week. This is odd because I have never been to Provence, have no plans to go to Provence, and have had no particular interest in the cooking of Provence. Rather, I think it is the idea of Provence that I found so alluring. Mr. Bourdain, in fact, does address the reason why many people find the notion of living in Provence appealing. In the episode, he has a conversation with his hosts where he says:
Everyone in some child-like way craves a life of simplicity where they have a garden, beautiful sun, where they can walk into a small town and everyone will know them and wave…
That’s it. He nailed it. There is something appealing about the simple life, something that many of us find so desirous as we struggle with the break-neck speed of daily urban life. What some of us desire, even if we don’t realize it, is to live more mindfully. That is, we actually want to walk through life more slowly, gently, with great focus and attention.
This concept is explored in a segment of the episode where an elderly woman demonstrated the art of making aioli, an emulsified garlic sauce traditionally made with stone mortar and pestle. Mr. Bourdain made this comment about aioli-making:
It’s very gentle, the process…You gotta be careful. You have to keep your voice down. Show a little respect for the process…
After watching this episode, I began thinking about making some aioli myself — for no other reason except that spreading fresh aioli all over some fish, bread and vegetables sounded delicious. I did a mental inventory of my pantry: I have fresh garlic, olive oil, a lemon, and a mortar and pestle. I could do this. Then I began trolling the internet for recipes and found everything from the highly convoluted (chipotle aioli made with mayonaise… eeewwww) to the plain and easy. Finally, I found a video on YouTube demonstrating the simple traditional method, and I committed the process to memory.
When I got home from work, I found my mortar and pestle, got out my best extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, peeled three large garlic cloves, and sliced an oh-so-tiny sliver of lemon.
Then I began to grind the garlic with a scant pinch of salt, softly and gently, just like the elderly woman. I worked with focus and commitment. I shut out the sound of cars passing by my front door and imagined myself in a country kitchen. I imagined using my own home-grown garlic, which I recently planted in a relative’s garden. With great deliberation I added drops of lemon juice and olive oil and continued grinding. I fell into a rhythmic motion: grind, grind, drops of oil, grind, grind, drops of juice. About 10 minutes later I had a couple of tablespoons of thick, silky smooth, sunny yellow paste.
I sliced and toasted some fresh bread, still in a mindful state and fully relaxed after a long day at the office. I took a spoonful of the aioli, slathered it on a hot piece of toast and took a nibble. Suddenly, I was snapped back to reality. Fresh aioli, created with so much quiet attention and mindfulness, has a unexpected bite and kick. It flung me out of my semi-zen state and back to normal time and space.
Garlic has a way of keeping things real.
So, my point is telling you this is to encourage you to find a routine task, anything, even vacuuming or washing your car, and do it slowly and attentively, with the goal of attaining a simpler, less stressful life, at least for a few minutes.
I know, it’s not Provence, but maybe its a road in the right direction.
L. Gloyd (c) 2010
PS: Here is the video I found on YouTube showing a traditional method of making aioli:
Photograph from Morguefile.com