American Zen Breakfast
by Dick Allen
When I prepared early morning bacon and eggs for Ye Feng, my former student from China who has munched on things all over the world, he exclaimed, “Dick, this is the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten!”
His was one of those unexpected compliments you remember forever. It was similar to the one from my wife’s sorority sister as we were driving from Syracuse to New York City in the days before cruise control: “You have the most steady foot on the gas petal I’ve ever experienced.”
How did I make his breakfast taste so good, Ye Feng asked.
I said, more than a little bit tongue-in-cheek, that it had everything to do with Zen Buddhist mindfulness. That is, simple food cooked simply can be as artful as flamboyant food cooked flamboyantly. And what could be as simple as a scrambled eggs and bacon breakfast? Yet although I’ve had such for breakfast in literally hundreds of restaurants throughout America, no one else’s bacon and eggs are as good as mine.
A Zen Buddhist might say, grinning ear to ear with a particularly zany Zen look, that with full attention to the thing at hand, with the mind completely focused, the cook becomes one with that being cooked. Be totally in the Present. Nothing else exists but the bacon and the eggs. Do not ask which came first, the bacon or the eggs.
I wrote about it in my poem “Zen Living” (The Day Before: New Poems, Sarabande Books):
If I had great patience,
I could try to count the poplar, birch, and oak
leaves in their shifting welter outside my bedroom window
or the almost infinitesimal trails of thought that flash and flash
everywhere, as if decaying particles inside a bubble chamber,
windshield wiper drops, lake ripples. However,
instead I go to fry some bacon, crack two eggs
into the cast-iron skillet that’s even older than this house. . . .
On my last visit to my father’s condo in Idaho, my father soon to enter the rest home where he would die, I asked him what he most wanted from me. “Just breakfast,” he said, “bacon and eggs the way you make them.”
American Zen Breakfast
Three or more strips of bacon (preferably non-sugar, 40% lower sodium)
two or more “high quality” eggs
optional: hand squeezed orange juice.
glass of whole white milk
In the best frying pan you can find (iron skillets are best) melt the butter and coat the bottom of the frying pan. Cook the bacon on Medium. Now, pay attention, a Zen Master would say. The bacon, after it starts to fry, must be continually watched and turned, so that each piece is done to crisp perfection—which is just in the very moment before it begins to burn. Remove the bacon too soon and you’ll get fatty, soggy bacon such as almost every restaurant in America unfortunately serves.
Place bacon on paper towel to let drain. Remember, each piece must be lifted from the pan at precisely the right moment.
Into a smaller pan, crack the eggs. Scramble them in the pan. Then as they start to cook on Medium the secret is applied: you must continue to scramble and whip the eggs, urging air into them to make them fluffy, until the precise moment when there is no slickness apparent, no runniness. To scramble the eggs outside the pan is to violate them. At the precise moment of their completed response, fork the scrambled eggs onto the plate.
Add the drained bacon.
If you want more, also add a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, a glass of whole white milk, and an English muffin precisely taken from the toaster just this side of crisp, so as to retain the “bread” or yeast taste. Slather said English muffin with fresh fruit jam (sugarless), preferably on top of butter to get a two-textured taste.
Arrange the plate (which should be from Mikasa) to please the eye. Place the glass of milk and the glass of orange juice to the top right or top left in asymmetrical balance (milk glass should be tall and cylindrical; juice glass should be the same shape, only smaller). Your coffee should be drunk from a heavy mug with a thick handle you can grip with ease.
You can quietly say “Om!” or “Mu” or something equally appropriate, like “manila folders” or “goats in the darkness.”
Your fork must be neither too light nor too heavy. You need a good fork to achieve Zen.
Then do nothing other than partake with utter attention, truly tasting each bite. As you drink, truly taste each sip. You should try to live your whole life in this manner.
|Photo by Lawrence Russ||Dick Allen won the thirteenth annual New Criterion Poetry Prize for his This Shadowy Place, which will be published by St. Augustine’s Press in early 2014. His previous seven books of poetry include Present Vanishing: Poems, winner of the 2009 Connecticut Book Award for Poetry. Allen succeeded John Hollander as Connecticut State Poet Laureate, a position he will hold until 2015. He is a Zen Buddhist who mindfully eats cashews while doing walking meditation beside a small lake.|