The other morning my yoga teacher said the following, as she encouraged us to lie quietly in between postures and not fidget: “The past has already happened. What will come next hasn’t happened yet. The only thing we really have concretely to experience is what is happening right now.”
Before you start thinking “wow, this girl has her chakras lined up, all refreshed and on the ball with her life and mentally centered”, let me assure you that just like every other human, my days are not one smooth stretch of blissful yoga classes where I stretch and smile beatifically, then head home—rosy-cheeked and glowing—to an immaculate apartment where I whip up dinners for my husband (not splattering oil all over the stove or accidentally spilling the g-d turmeric over the counter, no no), and so on.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to swear that everything looks pretty online and in person it’s all the opposite. This is not to say I’m a mess. I think I am pretty great! Sometimes I am rosy-cheeked! Sometimes I feel pretty on the ball. If you’re reading this, we’d probably be friends! But everyone has their ups and downs, their challenges and their skills, their moments of burning the salmon for dinner and crying in the bodega when you can’t find proper change and being impatient with their spouses.
Which brings me back to the initial sentiment, articulated by my yoga teacher. I suppose lately I’ve been focusing less on the long-term idea of life being a journey, and more on remembering that in the short-term, everything changes. Your moods will come and go. Days end and you wake up to a new one. Elation fades to allow other happiness to seep in and take its place. It’s not good or bad—it just is. We need just to be here. To take what we can—and want—from it all.
Meditation is a nice example of—and place to practice—this. (OKAY I know, here I go again sounding really zen, but guys, anyone can meditate. You just sit down. No rules or requirements really beyond that, except try and close your eyes, and you know, don’t eat a grilled cheese during it or anything.)
Sometimes it comes so easily to me, like slipping into sleep when you’re very tired. Other times my mind refuses to quiet itself. Like the other day — try as I might, I couldn’t really think about anything except Goldfish. The crackers! I’m telling myself breathe in, breathe out and my mind is somewhere in the snack aisle marveling at all the options these days: Parmesan! Cheddar! Pizza! Pretzel!
Don’t be alarmed, I’m not weirdly cracker-obsessed (or am I?)—I’m fairly certain this was because it was one of my very best friends’ birthdays and her husband loves Goldfish. So, the mind works in non-mysterious ways.
Sometimes my thoughts drift further back. One evening as I sat, attempting to empty my thoughts, I kept coming back to South Carolina where we used to spend a week every spring as kids. I could almost see, behind my closed eyes, the gray drifts of Spanish moss hanging from the live oaks. The scent of the spice factory we’d drive by heavy in the warm air, sharp and fragrant and exotic. The big house on the river coming into view, the worn whitewashed brick looking almost pink. Roses climbing up the trellis on the side of the house. The jewel-like green expanse of lawn sloping down to the water.
I’m practicing every day sitting with whatever happens. If I think a lot, I think a lot. If my mind is clear, I let it be clear.
I won’t try to convince you to try it, but instead I’ll remind you of another very sacred form of meditation: baking. I’m guessing that if you’re here, reading this, you are of a like mind on this topic. Sometimes nothing steadies the emotions quite like the rituals of the kitchen. Paying attention to a recipe, measuring sugar, weighing flour. Baking pulls you into the present moment and before you know it, two hours have flown by and you’re slicing into a warm loaf of dense banana bread, rich with cocoa and gooey with bits of chocolate.
I really like to use a bit of rye flour in this recipe. It pairs so nicely with the flavor of chocolate—and if you don’t have, or can’t find, rye flour, try using some spelt flour for a similar effect. In a pinch, you can just use all-purpose flour for the entire recipe (1 1/4 cups in that case).
I like to use two kinds of chocolate: dark and semisweet. It’s nice to add it in two forms: here, I chop the dark chocolate into uneven shards and use semisweet chips. This means it all melts differently, leaving pockets of gooey chocolate and some chips intact, which gives the bread good texture in my humble opinion. Feel free to leave out the cacao nibs (except don’t! Because they are so good).
Triple Chocolate Rye Banana Bread
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rye flour (or spelt flour)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional but recommended)
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup creme fraiche or Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup cacao nibs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease (or line with parchment) a 9” x 5” loaf pan.
Whisk together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder (if using).
In a separate bowl, whisk together the banana, both sugars, butter, eggs, creme fraiche (or yogurt), and vanilla.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry and mix gently to combine.
Fold in the chocolate and cacao nibs. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and bake for 55 to 65 minutes.
**I realize this is a major range but it really depends on your oven! Start checking after 55 minutes and take it out when a tester inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs. Don’t overbake it! Sometimes mine takes a lot longer to bake, which I suspect has to do with the bananas? Who knows. Life, man.