Pay Attention!: Slice of Life 14/31 #sol200

Every six weeks, my mother brings fresh injera home from Denver and I cook an Ethiopian feast. I specialize in the ease of one-pot cooking, and every time I cook Ethiopian, I remember why. Each dish is simple to prepare, but when you’re making five or six different ones, it equals a lot of time spent chopping, stirring, adjusting, seasoning, and tending. And crying. Because chopping onions makes me cry, and there are a lot of onions in Ethiopian food.

But time isn’t the only reason I prefer one-pot cooking. I don’t get distracted and lose track of what I’m doing when I’ve got one pot to worry about. When I’m worrying about five pots, I struggle.

The last three times I’ve made Ethiopian, I’ve burned a dish. A different one each time. Once, I caught it quickly enough that I could move the top layer of the food to a different pot with no harm really done (except to my poor husband who spent about thirty minutes trying to clean the scorched pan). The second time, I had to start one dish all over again. (More onions just as my eyes had finally stopped watering!) The third time, the dish burned was my son’s least favorite so I just loaded him up on everything else. My saintly husband ate the smoky kik alecha without complaint.

Pay attention, I admonish myself. Pay attention!

More often than not, that’s my inner narrative as I move throughout my day. Pay attention!

Because attention is hard for me. I get distracted easily. I don’t multi-task well. I misplace my materials. I have trouble prioritizing. I accidentally skip steps in the directions.

Pay attention! as I catch myself off track yet again.

Yesterday, I decided to try something different.

Slow down.

Instead of dashing back and forth to the pantry as I remembered what I needed, I collected all of the ingredients and spices I would use before I even started heating up the pans. Instead of trying to prepare four dishes at the same time, I prepped one at a time. I cleaned as I cooked. As one dish was completed and began its long simmer, I started the next.

A couple of times I looked at the hour ticking by and felt myself pick up the pace. Slow down, I reminded myself. Just slow down.

To be fair, I was in the kitchen forever. And I still forgot the tomato paste in the misir wat and had to swirl some in several steps too late (the finished dish tasted fine, though a bit sweet). But I didn’t burn anything. The kitchen wasn’t a disaster of spilled shiro powder, carrot tops rolled under the refrigerator, and berbere splashed all over the stovetop.

And when all of the pots were on the stove bubbling gently, I didn’t feel frazzled or cranky or mentally drained as I usually do. Instead, I felt like I’d just meditated or done some gentle yoga or kneaded bread. Calm. Present. Focused.

Slow down.

18 thoughts on “Pay Attention!: Slice of Life 14/31 #sol200

  1. Ooh, I really like this and can relate as one who needs to slow down often. Instead of saying to kids “pay attention”, maybe we encourage them instead to just slow down. And props to you for taking on an ambitious cooking routine, sorry it makes you cry. 😉

  2. There’s such a strong message here that is so important for everyone during the modern era. Love your use of repetition: “Pay attention!” Yes. And I can identify so much with this line: “Because attention is hard for me. I get distracted easily. I don’t multi-task well. I misplace my materials. I have trouble prioritizing. I accidentally skip steps in the directions.” Yep, I get it. Thanks for this “big idea”- let’s pay attention.

  3. It sounds really delicious and I’m sure it was. It is good to remind oneself to slow down, although it can be hard. I never try to cook complex stuff as cooking isn’t really my thing, but I do wish it was sometimes!

  4. Wow – an interesting culinary journey. Like on any journey, slowing down helps to stay present and enjoy what is going around. Your journey had a delicious result.

  5. I thing so many of us are programmed for fast forward that we find it difficult to slow down. I am a fan of one pot or casserole meals because once they are prepared and cooking I can just let them do their thing.

  6. I totally identify with this line: “I misplace my materials.” And I miss my classroom where there was always at least one student willing to help me find the latest lost item. My colleagues were always bringing me things saying that I left a trail wherever I went. Maybe I should adopt your mantra – “Pay attention. Slow down.”

  7. I love this reframing – and not only for me but also for my students. I am forever telling myself to pay attention, but I suspect you’ve hit the nail on the head: it’s not that I need to pay more attention but that I need to stop spreading my attention so thin. I wonder if this is often true for my students as well? And I’m glad to hear that the food turned out well.

  8. What a perfect post. Pay attention. This could easily be my mantra.

    I’m intrigued that you make Ethiopian food. I don’t think that I have even tasted Ethiopian food…

  9. I have a terrible time with cooking focus. And I always thought it had to do with my lack of interest. But your post makes me wonder if it has to do with expectations. I expect to do it all. Perhaps if I did it all the time. would be better at it.
    Kudos to you for your successful meal!

  10. What is injera? I have never had Ethiopian food, and that is an ingredient I do not know. It sounds like slowing down was the best way to go. Your advice is good, but also funny, because my son’s doctor just steered us to a book called Slow Down to Pay Attention, since we are trying to get a handle on his newly diagnosed ADHD. The coincidence made me laugh.

  11. That’s beautifully written and a message I need to read. Indian cooking is elaborate and though I don’t cook the entire spread too often I do have a history of burning food. Multitasking isn’t my forte either. I love the idea of slowing down, of doing one thing at a time, of cooking with patience and love.

  12. Oh what a great reminder! I always find that when I slow down in the kitchen, which is not often, I always make less of a mess! Sometimes there just isn’t time to slow down though!

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