Thursday, August 21, 2014

In defence of short-term obsessions

Have you ever read about the Buddhist practice of creating mandalas out of sand?

A mandala is a spiritual ritual symbol representing the microcosm of the universe — basically a stupendously complicated circular pattern. ‘In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention, as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.’ (So says Wikipedia.)

Now sand mandalas... Well, that's a whole new level. This is a traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice where monks spend up to several weeks creating an enormous, elaborate mandala using coloured sand. And get this — once it's done, once they've created this magnificent, exquisitely detailed artwork that represents all life and meaning…

… they destroy it.

Ever since I first read about it, I found this practice baffling. I mean, to spend weeks or months of your life painstakingly creating something of extraordinary beauty, only to eradicate it, as if it never existed… It just didn’t compute.

Then I had my existential crisis, started having Deep Thoughts, and began to see this odd practice through new eyes.

I broached the subject with the Guinea Pig one Sunday as we ambled through Newlands Forest.

Me: '...'
GP: 'Yes?'
Me: 'Nothing.'
GP: 'No, say it.'
Me: 'No.'
GP: 'Come on, what were you going to say?'
Me: 'It's silly.'
GP: *whinyvoice* 'Say iiiiiit.'
Me: 'Okay, well, I was just thinking I finally understand why Buddhist monks create those sand mandalas, and then destroy them afterwards. It's about trying to understand the transience of life. Of trying to accept that all things are ultimately destroyed, sooner or later. Struggle is pointless. It all ends.'
GP: ‘…’
Me: ‘…’
GP: 'Golly.'
Me: 'Yeah.'
GP: 'Maybe it's because they don't have DSTV?'

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present my husband: The Philosopher.

He is, in fact, very wise though. He has weathered many of what he calls my STO's — short-term obsessions — with the patience of, well, a wise Buddhist monk.

There was the time I became a bit of an environmental extremist, putting up posters on my car windows urging people to use more electricity-efficient light bulbs, and getting very annoyed that the Guinea Pig wasn't taking these Extremely Important Issues as seriously as I was.

Then there was the time I became a viciously judgemental vegan for two months. (The poor Guinea Pig, not terribly partial to vegan fare, would buy Woolworths meatballs and add them to whatever I made.)

More recently I became a bit LCHF mad, after interviewing Tim Noakes for an article, and the Guinea Pig patiently listened while I haughtily explained why animal fat is good and carbs are evil. (Thankfully I've recovered, and the GP graciously refrained from saying 'I told you so'.)

Whenever I get that familiar tingle that tells me 'I Have Found The Answer to EVERYTHING’, I try to take a step back and think: 'Okay, let's see where this goes, but you'll probably be over it in a month. Don't make any sudden movements, and above all don't start preaching to anyone who'll listen about your Amazing Discovery.' I try not to get too attached — which I think is very Buddhist of me.

So it is with my recent personal mission statement to Eat Less Bread (it's got all the hallmarks of a classic STO). Not because I believe gluten is evil (I don't actually know what gluten is), but because bread is so delicious and so goddam convenient that I can easily have it three meals a day, which leaves me feeling crap. (Sensitive readers, skip to the next paragraph.) We're talking bloating, cramps, indigestion, etc.

So this bread, the one you see in the picture, really is an Amazing Discovery if you're trying to eat less of the flour-based stuff, because it is so fucking delicious, and at the same time isn't really bread at all. It's mostly just seeds, oats, and those psyllium husks Banters are so fond of. Mainly though, it tastes incredible: rich, roasted, creamy, satisfying. I make a loaf each week, slice it and freeze it. A decent sourdough is never going to be off the menu for me, but this convenient substitute prevents me from ODing.

(It's not my recipe, though. It belongs to Sarah Britton of My New Roots. She dubs it ‘The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread’, which is a bit melodramatic. Life-enhancing, maybe. But she’s a hippy Earth Mother, and I love her for it. Plus her pictures are pretty.)

Sarah Britton's flourless seed bread
Makes 1 loaf

You can use any combination of nuts and seeds you like, but I think the chia seeds are pretty NB. Anyway, if you want more detail, check out Sarah's extended post.

1 cup / 135g sunflower seeds
½ cup / 90g flax seeds
½ cup / 65g hazelnuts or almonds
1 ½ cups / 145g rolled oats
2 Tbsp. chia seeds
4 Tbsp. psyllium seed husks
1 tsp. fine grain sea salt
1 Tbsp. maple syrup [I just used a Tbsp. sugar]
3 Tbsp. melted coconut oil or ghee [I used olive oil]
1 ½ cups / 350ml water

1. In a loaf pan (preferably silicon, but if using a metal one my tip would be to line it with baking paper) combine all dry ingredients, stirring well. Whisk maple syrup (or sugar), oil and water together in a measuring cup. Add this to the dry ingredients and mix very well until everything is completely soaked and dough becomes very thick (if the dough is too thick to stir, add one or two teaspoons of water until the dough is manageable). Smooth out the top with the back of a spoon. Let sit out on the counter for at least 2 hours, or all day or overnight. To ensure the dough is ready, it should retain its shape even when you pull the sides of the loaf pan away from it.
2. Preheat oven to 175°C.
3. Place loaf pan in the oven on the middle rack, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove bread from loaf pan, place it upside down directly on the rack and bake for another 30-40 minutes. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool completely before slicing (difficult, but important).
4. Store bread in a tightly sealed container for up to five days. Freezes well too — slice before freezing for quick and easy toast!