One of the most valuable lessons I've learned from my own yoga practice is that sometimes you have to say no in order to say yes to something more affirming. Setting boundaries has never been my strong suit, and this year my willingness to say yes to, well, everything, has caught up with me in many forms: exhaustion; injury; a waning bank account balance; and most profoundly, an ever-so-subtle loss of joy in many of my favorite activities, including yoga.
I've finally recognized my insanity, and commit to changing these ultimately unhealthy patterns. As my good friend said the other day, my task now is to become skillful at discernment, knowing when to say yes and when to say no. It no longer makes sense to agree to help with ever fundraiser, take every freelance gig, or go to every single yoga workshop that looks good. It's just too much.
The funny thing is, in the kitchen, I've always believed that less is more; I just haven't been able to apply that same philosophy elsewhere very well. An experience I had this week exemplifies how saying no can actually lead to a more affirming, bigger YES.
Once a month, I cook a special dinner at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. I cook whatever strikes my fancy, and folks fill the space to share a simple meal, made with love. This month, I decided to make a Moroccan chicken tagine with all sorts of salads and condiments, including harissa and charmoula, two of my favorite sauces.
The thing is, spring has sprung here in the Bay Area, and when I went to the farmer's market, I was assaulted by the beautiful bounty of produce available. I considered throwing the chicken tagine idea out the window so that I could really take advantage of all of that produce. For a minute, I worried that my guests wouldn't appreciate a vegetable dinner, unable to get past the fact that there was no meat in their meal. But I love cooking vegetables so much that I decided to give it a try. I bought everything that looked good--from artichokes, turnips, squash and strawberries to carrots, green garlic, spring onions, rapini, cauliflower, beets and chard.
And the dinner was lovely. The best part was when a carnivorous friend came up to me afterward to say that it was so delicious that he didn't even notice there wasn't any meat. I'd made space for all of those vegetables by saying no to meat, and in the process, I'd done one of my favorite things, which is to show a roomful of people that you don't need meat to call a meal complete.
Charmoula is the perfect condiment: refreshing and spicy, it's great with fish, vegetables, meat, and bread. Marinate fillets of fish in it before grilling, or serve drizzled over a bowl of chickpeas or lentils. It's also great on lamb kebabs and grilled meats.
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 garlic clove, minced
1 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 1/4 cups finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Stir cumin in small skillet over medium heat until lightly toasted, about 2 minutes. Transfer to mortar. Add garlic, ginger, and a pinch of salt; pound with pestle until paste forms. Transfer to bowl. Mix in cilantro and next 4 ingredients. Stir in olive oil. Season with salt.