Monday, November 7, 2011

Weekend in Portland, Palak Paneer, a feast for the senses

This past weekend, I was in Portland, Oregon. It was a most stimulating and refreshing time. I was officially there to present my paper on procrastination at Lewis and Clark College. That presentation was well-received.

But unofficially, this weekend also gave me an opportunity to explore a city that I have long heard good things about, but had never had a chance to visit (until now). I also had the chance to meet Tom, a fellow blogger who reads and comments on this blog. Check out his new blog.

I met Tom and his four-year-old son Orion for breakfast on Friday morning. Over breakfast, in between Orion's displays of his toy T-rex's amazing flexibility (that has got to be the most flexible T-rex I've ever seen :-)), we chatted about many things relating to life and spiritual practice. One theme that came up a lot in our conversation is the difficulty of striking a balance between disciplined commitment and knowing when to let go. If one is always grasping and striving in whatever one does ("when will I touch my heels in Kapotasana?", "when will I get to third series?", "when will I get x, y, or z to happen in my life?"), one can easily become rigid and dogmatic; practice and life then becomes this big, joyless, painful austerity. But if one lacks any kind of discipline, and just "goes with the flow" all the time, one cannot create anything of lasting value either; one just has a little bit of this and that, with nothing much to show for anything.


It's definitely not easy to find this balance between disciplined commitment and letting go. And I don't have the answer to this dilemma. But I certainly did a bit of letting go this weekend. I had one really wonderful culinary experience. On Saturday evening, I went to Plainfields restaurant. It is an Indian restaurant located a few blocks south of Burnside and SW 21st Ave in Portland.

It has a very unusual appearance for an Indian restaurant. It doesn't look ethnic or anything like that. The restaurant is housed in a  nineteenth-century Victorian house; from the outside, it looks more like a residence than a restaurant. The interior of the restaurant is decorated in the colonial style. As I sat down at my table, it felt more like I was sitting in somebody's dining room than in a restaurant. The server (who, it turned out, was also the owner of the restaurant) handed me the wine list, which lists an astonishing array of wines of various vintages. Being a person who knows very little about wine, I simply picked a glass of Merlot, and sipped it slowly while waiting for the entree to arrive and listening to Beethoven's sonatas (I can't remember the last time I went to a restaurant that played non-easy-listening classical music).

For the main dish, I had Palak Paneer (spinach with Indian farmer's cheese). I really like their way of preparing Palak Paneer. If you are familiar with Palak Paneer, you will know that it typically consists of cubes of paneer immersed in a thick creamy spinach puree.

Well, the Palak Paneer at Plainsfield is nothing like this. In place of the pureed spinach, you get a whole bunch of lightly-cooked locally-grown greens (spinach, kale, and chard), mixed with paneer and topped with a generous helping of fresh mushrooms. As I was eating, I could feel the food reinvigorating my senses as well as nourishing my body. I don't usually make big judgments like this when it comes to food, but I will say without hesitation that this freshly-made, locally-grown palak paneer totally kicks the ass out of your typical neighborhood-Indian-restaurant palak paneer, with its spinach puree made from spinach that has probably been frozen for God-knows-how-long.

After the entree, I was so impressed with the food and the ambience of the restaurant that I ordered a small glass of port to finish off the dinner (I almost never have after-dinner drinks). My dining experience at Plainsfield reminds me of a truth about great dining that I had long forgotten: A great dining experience is a therapeutic feast for the senses. It is certainly not the mechanically shoving-food-into-your-mouth-as-quickly-as-you-can-and-then-leave kind of experience that characterizes so much of what passes for eating in so much of my life. Unfortunately, in my rather fast-paced daily life, I seem to have forgotten this.

I can't help thinking that, seen from this perspective, my recent injury may actually be a boon: It forces me to scale back and slow down my practice (and maybe, by extension, my life in general), giving me more time to "taste" the varied flavors hidden in life's small moments.  


  1. If your blog had a LIKE button I would be clicking it.

  2. Ooh that sounds like good food. Funny that place is only about two or three miles from where I live, yet I've not been there or even heard of it until now.

    Thanks for the tip and Great to meet you Nobel!

  3. Great to meet you too, Tom. I hope you get to go to Plainfields soon :-)