One of my mentors in college was an English professor with an incredible life story, and an even more incredible twinkle in his eye. Taylor wasn’t a religious man but he studied and practiced mindfulness and compassion drawn from many traditions: Christianity, Buddhism, Sufism, etc. He was one of those people who possessed a quiet internal power, but unlike many with that gift, his magnetism had a kind-but-mischievous lightness—it winked at you. I went back to visit him the year after I graduated, knocking on his door on a gray late-autumn morning. “Scott-o!” he said, his face lighting up as he opened his arms, “Coffee?”
I took off my jacket and followed him into the kitchen, my eyes finding the bag of beans, grinder, and pour-over rig on the counter. “I think I’ll join you for a cup,” he said, grinning. Taylor dumped a mess of beans into a ceramic bowl and started plucking them into his palm as he counted; I can’t remember the exact number, but he had done the work to test exactly how many coffee beans to grind to make what was, for him, the perfect cup (this was in the early 1990s, before digital kitchen scales were around). Taylor noticed my tilted head and laughed. “Anything worth doing is worth doing right,” he said, “to the best of your ability.”
Was he trying to teach me something about making coffee? (Probably.) Was he jabbing at my half-baked senior writing project from the previous spring? (Definitely.) But mostly, he was practicing a simple mindfulness to maximize the joy of making and sharing and enjoying a cup of coffee. A great example of his beauty. (RIP, my friend.) And the coffee tasted better for it.
I find myself thinking about that day a lot in these upside-down times. My colleague Matthew Fairman recently penned a nice “Ask Matthew” piece that was ostensibly about using the liquid in canned beans, but towards the end he wrote about how minimizing food waste, especially now, can take on a larger meaning. It can become an expression of generosity and compassion. A small step of selflessness.
Like many of us, I’m sure, I find myself being more deliberate in the kitchen these days, and doing dozens of little things (including frequent hand-washing) with increased intention and mindfulness. Being more precise in trimming meat, having a gentle hand with the vegetable peeler, harvesting the zest from citrus, organizing the freezer, making good use of tiring produce, and yes, weighing coffee beans for my morning cup. Planning and cooking with increased awareness and thoughtful conservation has forced me to slow down, and that’s a good thing. If you’re like me, the kitchen is your happy place—and this is no time to be rushing happiness.