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Teeth Grinding

July 3, 2013

This year I’m not going to weigh in on your Independence Day festivities. Maybe you are going to have a cookout. Likely you’ll call it a barbecue. I’m going to try and let it all go.

There are plenty of classic American drinks to enjoy on the holiday. I’d probably suggest getting a bottle of Cornelius Applejack for cocktails. But there are countless great American beers and wines to choose from. Some are even still owned by American companies.

Seriously, if I see one more tip on how to dress up a burger I think I’ll scream. The subtext is either that we as Americans are only satisfied when we guild the lily, or perhaps that our commercially produced meat is so flavorless it can only be enjoyed when overwhelmed by condiments. Either way, it’s insulting.

Whatever it is you’ll be eating tomorrow, you’ll most likely be eating it with your teeth. And these are remarkable tools that most cooks overlook when considering their dishes. Perhaps because far too many people simply shove food down their gullets and fail to chew. Or maybe I’m just crazy.

This idea first hit me back in California when Raf and I made a phenomenal discovery. If you put cocoa nibs on top of vanilla ice cream, when you eat them together, they become chocolate in your mouth.

Chocolate is nothing more than fermented roasted cocoa beans ground together with fat, sugar and a bit of vanilla. But in this case, instead of being ground on machines (and substituting butter fat for cocoa butter) it was our teeth doing all of the hard work. Granted, it wasn’t as refined as the real deal, but it was an eye opening experience.

Recently I’ve been recalling this lesson as I shun the advice of the ShopRite dieticians. They say that all the cardiac health benefits from flax seeds come from their ground form. And that may be true. But I have concerns that like coffee, the intensity of the oils fade once ground. Whether or not that has any impact on the cholesterol lowering abilities is anyone’s guess.

What we can all agree on is that grinding flax seeds as needed is an added hardship. That’s probably too precious for just about everyone.

So I let my teeth do the grinding. I put a tablespoon of flax seeds into my granola most mornings. Then I just make sure to chew each bite thoroughly and completely so that almost every seed passes through my chompers, grinding it up along the way.

But using your teeth to combine flavors is still my favorite game.

While I’m watching what I eat again, and avoiding ice cream or other very sugary snacks, I’ll still indulge in a few squares of very dark chocolate. To both make it go further and up its nutritional content, I eat the chocolate with walnuts. But I eat them together, grinding them with my teeth into a kind of chocolate walnut paste. Getting the right balance of nuts to chocolate is a bit tricky, but it’s easy to adjust on the fly. And it’s a delicious and healthful dessert after a sensible dinner.

Yes, this is a post on the pleasures of chewing your food. And yes, it needed to be written. Eating isn’t nearly as mindful an act as it should be. Thinking about how foods combine in your mouth and chewing them well only leads to better outcomes.

Take a look around you tomorrow and you’ll see just how little people pay attention to what they eat. It’s really tragic. So let’s start eating slower and enjoying it more.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 3, 2013 9:09 am

    Interesting …. I think I can add some additional perspective on chewing . Some years ago I broke my jaw and had to have it wired shut. Needless to say, I was literally starving for 2 months. Surviving on a liquid diet is not as much fun as it sounds. At one point I became so desperate that I put some Prime rib, mashed potatoes and gravy in the blender and made a ‘meat-shake’. It smelled like the most delicious dinner! It tasted like chalk! Really really bad chalk at that!
    Many of us take so much for granted we fail to see the forest for the trees. Thus only truly appreciating the givens once they are gone. So I agree wholeheartedly with you on this. Chew slowly, savor and enjoy! I am enjoying some fresh smoked bacon and burgers from Oscars smokehouse without lots of bells and whistles… Just salt and pepper and a little ketchup … WOW! Best burgers I’ve had in a long time! Happy Independence Day !!

  2. Jamie permalink
    July 3, 2013 11:06 am

    This entry reminded me of Thich Nhat Hanh on the pleasures of mindfully eating an apple…

    Let’s have a taste of mindfulness. Take an apple out of your refrigerator. Any apple will do.

    Wash it. Dry it. Before taking a bite, pause for a moment. Look at the apple in your palm and ask yourself: When I eat an apple, am I really enjoying eating it? Or am I so preoccupied with other thoughts that I miss the delights that the apple offers me?

    If you are like most of us, you answer yes to the second question much more often than the first. For most of our lives, we have eaten apple after apple without giving it a second thought. Yet in this mindless way of eating, we have denied ourselves the many delights present in the simple act of eating an apple. Why do that, especially when it is so easy to truly enjoy the apple?

    The first thing is to give your undivided attention to eating the apple.

    When you eat the apple, just concentrate on eating the apple. Don’t think of anything else. And most important, be still. Don’t eat the apple while you are driving. Don’t eat it while you are walking. Don’t eat it while you are reading. Just be still. Being focused and slowing down will allow you to truly savor all the qualities the apple offers: its sweetness, aroma, freshness, juiciness, and crispness.

    Next, pick up the apple from the palm of your hand and take a moment to look at it again. Breathe in and out a few times consciously to help yourself focus and become more in touch with how you feel about the apple. Most of the time, we barely look at the apple we are eating. We grab it, take a bite, chew it quickly, and then swallow. This time, take note: What kind of apple is it? What color is it? How does it feel in your hand? What does it smell like? Going through these thoughts, you will begin to realize that the apple is not simply a quick snack to quiet a grumbling stomach. It is something more complex, something part of a greater whole.

    Then, give the apple a smile and, slowly, take a bite, and chew it. Be aware of your in-breath and out-breath a few times to help yourself concentrate solely on eating the apple: what it feels like in your mouth; what it tastes like; what it’s like to chew and swallow it. There is nothing else filling your mind as you chew—no projects, no deadlines, no worries, no “to do” list, no fears, no sorrow, no anger, no past, and no future. There is just the apple.

    When you chew, know what you are chewing. Chew slowly and completely, twenty to thirty times for each bite. Chew consciously, savoring the taste of the apple and its nourishment, immersing yourself in the experience 100 percent. This way, you really appreciate the apple as it is. And as you become fully aware of eating the apple, you also become fully aware of the present moment. You become fully engaged in the here and now. Living in the moment, you can really receive what the apple offers you, and you become more alive.

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