Osmosis. The process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas or knowledge
It is a warm summer night. It’s 7pm and it’s still 85° out. We set the table outside. Eating outdoors, one of the great delights of summer. Our friends arrive, they are back to visit after moving overseas last year. A summer meal to celebrate our reunion. Grilled artichokes with shallot vinaigrette, baked tomatoes and zucchini flowers stuffed with parsley & anchovies, olives marinated in coriander seeds… I watch Pablo play and smile. He follows me from the backyard to the kitchen and back, while I carry the food out. He gets excited when he spots the artichokes. The boy loves artichokes. Everyone marvels at his mastery when scraping the meat off the leaves with his four front teeth. We all feel warm inside and out. It’s good to be together.
What we learn in life by osmosis seems to be much deeper and more meaningful than what we learn in an explicit or deliberate way. When we learn osmotically (first time I use that word!), we learn organically. Maybe because it’s a process. Or because it’s gradual. Or because it’s unconscious. And all things related to human connections and relationships, all things complex and subtle, can only be properly learned by osmosis. You don’t learn how to nurture friendships by reading a book (those who try come through as “trying too hard”). You don’t learn empathy or mindfulness in a classroom. And I guess you don’t learn cooking in a cookbook either. You learn it in the kitchen, practising, failing, tasting. It’s barely noticeable that you’re learning. But you are.
When we can find osmosis with something, that’s when we “got it”. That’s when we can get it right. That’s when things feel right. This goes for writing, for cooking, for love and friendship.
This is another area where children set the example for us baggage-ridden adults. Young children are automatically in osmosis. Their whole life is about the process of gradual, unconscious assimilation. With all five senses, exploring their world and learning, synapses going all directions. On that warm summer night, I become aware Pablo is learning so much by osmosis: the meal, what went into it. The friends. The warmth. The flavors. Artichoke. Tomatoes. And mint.
When it comes to teaching children to enjoy good food, it isn’t so much by telling them that “broccoli is good for you” or to read the labels on food packages that they will truly learn the value of good healthy eating. And all the richness of values around food in our life (the human connection, the pleasure of the senses, the enjoyment of the present moment, of nature’s bounty, etc) can only be taught… by osmosis. Kids have to “bathe” in it. So we go pick the thyme and mint and sorrel in the backyard. We smell it. We sit down together for a meal, we savor each moment. We get excited about a new recipe. About an ingredient. We share a meal with friends to bond.
I myself have recently felt very much in osmosis in the kitchen. I have been cooking since I was a child, but only now, through this blog, a medium that is very much process-centric, do I feel like I’m truly learning. About cooking, writing, photographing, parenting, living. (I can see it now, the title of my future book, “Cooking or the meaning of life” ;-))
Back to summer night osmosis. I bring out the zucchini mint terrine I found in an old French recipe book recently. I had lot of mint, it’s zucchini season, why not? We all take a bite, and the mint just breathes some fresh air into our bones. We sit back and enjoy, with a sigh and a smile.
Admittedly, this isn’t one of those quick “whip up at the last minute” dishes (in fact, you must prepare and cook it at least a day before you serve it), but it is so delicious and refreshing that it is worth the effort.
Zucchini & mint terrine
Adapted from Recevoir paresseusement
Serves 12 people easily, can keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Age for babies/toddlers: 10 to 12 months because of the whole eggs. This has a lot of healthy veggies and herbs, it’s a great, balanced dish easily eaten with fingers.
Note: This is called a “terrine” (term usually used for pâtés cooked in earthenware, which are typically quite firm), but this is softer in texture, almost quiche-y.
4 pounds of zucchini
3/4 cup milk
3/4 lb sorrel (or as much as you can find)
1.5 oz of tarragon
1.5 oz of mint
3 tbsp olive oil
7 oz bread, crust removed
A pinch of nutmeg
Preheat the oven at 250°F.
Peel and slice the zucchini and onions. In a large covered pan, melt (without browning) with olive oil on low heat until very soft, about 20-25 Min.
Meanwhile, wet the bread in milk and squeeze the milk out by hand, to obtain a semi-dry mixture. Set aside.
Wash and separate the leaves of the mint and tarragon, and chop finely by hand or in a small food processor.
Beat the eggs with a fork, add salt, pepper and nutmeg.
When the zucchini & onions are cooked, drain and chop grossly (not into a fine puree) by pulsing in a food processor. Add the bread, the eggs and the herbs and mix.
Wash and drain the sorrel. Cook the sorrel in butter over low heat until barely melted, 2 or 3 minutes.
Butter generously a baking dish (earthenware preferably). Pour half the zucchini mixture in it. Spread a layer of sorrel. Pour the rest of the zucchini mixture over it.
Place the baking dish inside another larger deep dish. Cook in a water bath: pour boiling water in the deep dish, being cautious not to pour any water in the terrine, about half way up.
Bake in the oven for about 90 minutes. Turn off the oven but leave the terrine inside the oven, for as long as possible (a few hours at least), so it dries a bit and comes out more firm.
Then take out of the baking dish, place on a serving platter, and refrigerate overnight (it tastes really better chilled).
It can be served with some bread and herbed cream cheese or Boursin as hors-d’œuvre. We also served it with a mâche & endive salad with walnut vinaigrette (2 tbsp of red wine vinegar, 5 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp walnut oil, 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard, salt & pepper) as an appetizer. That would also do nicely for a light lunch.
Entering the August Herbs on Saturday contest from Lavender & Lovage