Richard pointed out this morning that once again, I was cooking amaranth for breakfast. If it weren’t for Richard I’m not sure I would believe that this particular grain has a higher probability of rotation through my Tuesday morning breakfast shift than for anyone else’s shift. Still, we’ve had this conversation before and there I was cooking amaranth again, so perhaps he has a point.
I am friendly toward amaranth, so whether it is by accident or by design, I don’t mind that it shows up on the menu with some regularity.
I love the textures of amaranth. (My friend Westina explains to me that this blog should not be “the texture of ordinary” because each post is “A texture,” not “THE texture.” Similarly – amaranth seems to have many textures.) Amaranth starts out as tiny spheres, spheres that resist surrendering their separateness to my quest to make them a continuum of nutty goodness. The spheres are dense, too, sinking to the bottom of the pot. As the water comes to a soft boil, air bubbles bring the spheres from the bottom to the surface creating vertical clouds, thunderheads of amaranthness. And then, subjected to simmering of moderate length, a gelatinous ooze appears that glues together the individual grains. Where does the ooze come from? Does it rub off the surface of the particles? Or do the particles become leaky from within? Either way, continuum is finally achieved.
Seeking to understand the mysterious properties of this grain, I come upon the following on a Google search:
Electrochemical Studies of Amaranth at Surfactant Modified Carbon Paste Electrode: A Cyclic Voltammetry
The paper is so dense with chemistry-speak that I can’t tell whether it answers my questions or not. I want to know about amaranth attachment style. I think the dispersive characteristics of the spheres may have something to do with hydrophilia, but it’s been a long time since I played with the electrochemisty of particles so my theories are not well-developed. The internet is not cooperative in explaining the textures of amaranth. Perhaps someday I’ll ask my father the chemist if he knows anything about this.
Whatever the grain, there is a point in making hot breakfast cereal when the grain decides to stick to the bottom of the pot. Some grains are stickier than others. Cracked wheat – big stickiness problem. Amaranth – not so much, clean up is usually just fine. But I’m fascinated by transitions. I can stir the grain in the water every couple of minutes for quite a long time, feeling its separateness, its heaviness, the spoon or whisk moving through it. And then one time I’ll return to the pot and the spoon or whisk will hit an obstruction on the bottom. How do I keep missing that moment when the grain decides to stick?
It reminds me of zazen, naturally. I’ve been sitting in that zendo for a couple of years now, watching my thoughts come and go. I’ve seen my tendencies toward distraction and daydream.
There are long moments when it’s just me paying attention to my breath, to the sounds in the zendo, to the cars rolling by, noticing how much the traffic sounds like waves crashing against the shore, noticing what it’s like to hear a horn or the startup of an engine and not label it with a meaning, or not link the sound in one second to any sounds that just preceded it.
And there are also familiar moments when I feel the urge to go away somewhere, to fantasize or make a list of plans for the day, and there’s that little bit of biochemical joy juice that floods my body when it starts orienting in that direction, and there’s the biochemistry of longing or lack that comes just before the joy juice that the distracted thoughts are an antidote to.
But never once in my hundreds or thousands of hours of sitting have I been able to observe the moment when I slip from being present with what’s happening to the state where my thoughts have carried me far away. It’s always moments or minutes later that I notice and go oh yeah, doing that thing again, am I?
I return to the pot, put the whisk in the water and bump against the grain sticking on the bottom of the pot. Yep, missed it again.