My initial answer to her was that I would miss my friends, that I would miss the small town-ness of where we live. I went on to say that I would really, really miss the cooking I had been doing at La Cusinga and had been, in fact, missing cooking quite a bit over this last four weeks of idleness. But while I was answering her, I wasn't really sure if I was being all that sincere about my answer and that I knew deep in my heart of hearts that there was another answer; the real answer.
What I will really miss, what I will miss deeply, mournfully and significantly is my morning smoothie. I have become a virtual prisoner to the mix of tropical fruits and yogurt that I place reverently into my blender each and every morning. My whole morning used to revolve around the tea ritual. The steeping of the strong black tea and intensely flavored local honey was a huge focal point of my early day but something happened, something changed.
And what happened was that I was becoming much more greatly attuned to the transcendent quality of the fruits I was peeling each day. I was paying more attention to the subtle bite of the goat's milk yogurt I got from the Mennonites. I was turning my morning ritual toward the cutting of the fruit and the layering of the yogurt. Putting tea bags and honey into a tea pot was child's play compared to this, this construction of something so much greater than the sum of its parts.
Did it happen when the passion fruit came into season and I could pull them off the vines in the back yard? Was it when I discovered Irwins, the world's sexiest and most glorious mango, oozing honey from every drop? Or was it perhaps when I started buying a "hand" of sweet bananas at the busy Feria each week from the lovely Tica girl who smiled shyly at me when her father was looking away?
I don't know, I can't say when it turned; that moment when the making of the smoothie became the apex of my morning ritual. Those who know me, my lovely fiancee, Kathy, particularly, will tell you that I am a creature who adores, no, that's inaccurate, demands a morning ritual. The rising, the opening of the doors and windows, flipping on the computer, the first glass of cold mint/green tea to ease down the ibuprofin and fish oil, those are mechanical, yet ritualistic. The tea kettle is filled with water and the flame is lit, the tea bags and honey go into the teapot; ritual.
Everything that follows is ritual as well. I get on the floor to stretch and meditate, I pour the first cup of tea, I read emails, Facebook, SF Gate and the NY Times. I begin the crossword puzzle but I don't finish it; yes, ritual. But I now realize, that all these are just small steps on the path to the true ritual. I know they are because now I am starting to delay the rising from the chair, to savor the moments, the building up to that series of steps that makes, yes makes, the morning.
On the counter are the bananas, the sweet ripe bananas. They are the foundation, the staple and the body of the smoothie. If everyday were a perfect day, next to them would be four or five gold and red oblong Irwin mangos. The Irwin is majestic, soulful, succulent and downright sexual. To me, it is the mango of my dreams, culinary, erotic and otherwise. I worked for a fine, fine produce company my last two years in San Francisco and never once did I taste either bananas or (particularly) mangos that came remotely close to this amazing fruit.
I choose the two ripest bananas and after squeezing the mangos and then passing each of them in front of my twitching nose, I choose today's participant. I lay these on the cutting board and saunter out the back door toward the maracuya bush; home of passion fruit. If I am lucky, there will be a perfect speciman, gold not green, and with that perfect amount of "give". And yes, there is.
The bananas are peeled, broken into chunks and fed into the blender bottom. The mango ritual is next and I love the way the little Wusthof paring knife slides the skins off the tender fruit. I work my way around the seed, cutting off moist sticky slabs of the golden fruit. The mango joins the banana and greedily I suck the mango peels like artichoke leaves so that none of that heavenly flesh goes to waste. I cut the maracuya in half and admire its perfectly formed seed sac and the tiny seeds inside. It is quite a sensual sight. I don't want the passionfruit's acid to spoil the sweetness so only the seedsac from one side of the fruit goes in. There will be more for tomorrow.
I have pulled the yogurt container from the refrigerator along with a bowl of tiny ice cubes (because that's the kind of ice cube trays I have). The container is shaken and the thick white goat's milk yogurt joins the fruits. The flavor of this yogurt is so goaty and distinct, almost a bit much by itself, but oh, the harmony it creates. A handful of ice cubes go in, both for chill and to cut the richness just a bit. I sigh and turn the blender on to 7. Always to 7 and only to 7.
This is a ritual.
I am beginning to salivate and I rock the whirring blender to make sure all the yogurt slides down into the golden mix. When I can no longer hear the ice cubes I know. I know the moment that this has all been building to is approaching. And better yet, I know that this mix will make exactly two, not one, but two glasses of that which makes it possible for me to leave the house, to go forward with my day, to achieve greatness, to deal with challenge, to be the man I know I can be.
The glass is brought forth and the glass mixer is leaned forward for the pour. The smoothie nearly walks out of the mixer, thick, viscous and oh, so golden. It layers itself into the glass as if it knows that this is its sole purpose in life. I sigh with contentment, cover the mixer and hastily put it in the refrigerator. I take my glass to the counter and standing behind it I take that first gulp. And yes, it is the perfect smoothie. It is rich, it is fruity and it is the stuff of dreams. There is a sense and a purpose in going on. This is what ritual is all about, and yes, this is definitely what I will miss the most.