So we pulled up and ordered a pound of steamed prawns. After standing in line to order, we were told it would be about a 20-minute wait by the friendly girl at the register. There sound system was on the blink, so I offered to back my car up and crank my IPod out of the car stereo, but she laughed and gracefully said, “No thank you!” I was so thinking DJ here, but my talents were denied.
So we went to the car and opened a bottle of Pinot Noir in preparation of our homegrown, freshly cooked prawns. When our name was finally called, we excitedly grabbed our glass of wine and took the container to one of the picnic tables that were lined up row after row next to the shack and opened it up. These prawns were enormous! I cracked the first one, squeezed some lemon on it and took my first bite. Amazing! (It reminded me of one of my favorite places that serves seasonally steamed Santa Barbara shrimp, with heads on of course! This great find is located at the end of the pier in Santa Barbara, but please keep it under wraps!)
This prawn experience was a great example of a Zen restaurant—great home cooking. The picture to the right shows the last two prawns remaining on our plate…it was that simple! Some brown rice, delicious fresh prawns, and a glass of wine…heaven.
It’s a shame how few small, family places are left—the kind where they actually grow the food they serve right on their own property—and serve it up fresh and delicious. By the way, I was in Napa about a month ago and found a place that does just that—another great Zen restaurant called Farmstead. A small, family owned restaurant off the side of the main highway with fruit trees and vegetable gardens on the property, complete with a rope swing for customers to enjoy in the middle of it all! And, they have a small cattle ranch up the hill where they grow organic beef, which they also serve in the restaurant. I have to tell you, this place is one of the best restaurants I have been to. The food was phenomenal! We ate there twice. You have to eat there if you are ever in Napa Valley.
There’s just nothing like food brought right in from where it is grown, harvested, or caught. I now know I have to start an organic garden in my yard, That’s it! No more procrastination.
Back to the North Shore. What occurred during our next stop—which I will describe in a minute—reminded me that the taste of Zen is really in that simplicity. Usually the more simple the food, the healthier and better tasting it is. And to be grown right near where you prepare it just enhances the experience altogether. It’s simple. It’s healthy. It’s Zen—because it requires the least amount of thought and has no EGO! And that is all Zen really is, a process of living outside the ego-self or at least understanding its limitations.
Being close to nature like that is enlightening. We’ve become so distanced from this kind of living in our big cities. Food is shipped half-way around the globe, processed, pasteurized, preserved with chemicals, hormones are added, as are antibiotics, herbicides, and pesticides. Do we even know what we are eating anymore? We need to start an organization to Save the Humans! I try hard to eat organically, and manage to about 60% to 70% of the time. But it IS hard, and even harder when travelling. So finding the Zen of food in a shrimp truck off the side of a road in Hawaii is really refreshing and a very welcome treat. The rainbow picture to the right was on beach where we meditated for 45 minutes, it was quite refreshing!
So on with the story. Our next stop was the popular Turtle Bay Resort We actually had plans to vacation here in the near future, and I am thankful we had the opportunity to check it out on this trip. Why? It was the antithesis of those wonderful Zen-like shrimp trucks we found on the way. First, the hotel didn’t look like the photos on the website. They were clever in their advertising to show only key, skillfully art directed photos. Being an architect, I noticed this right off and that it was much lower budget design then depicted on the website.
We stopped at the hotel’s beachfront restaurant and took a table with a nice view. The beach was man-made. I lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for awhile, (where my oldest daughter, Chelsea was born) so I am aware of how they dredge out the lava areas to form beaches. Again the photos were skillfully manipulated to look better than the scene really is. A great example of anti-Zen corporate behavior. It’s not that corporations cannot be more Zen. It’s just that most of them act to the contrary—which is one reason we’re so off-balance with our food supply for example.
So, here’s the kicker. We sat down and decided to have a drink and split a fresh fish sandwich. I always ask what kind of fish they’re serving. There are many kinds of toxic fish in the oceans I will not eat—many at a severe level of Mercury saturation—so I never order them.
Well, the waiter was friendly, seemed like a nice guy, and told us that the fish was Opah, a local line caught fish which we just happen to have had the last two days and really enjoyed. In fact, I looked it up and did a little research on it and it checks out. So I ordered the fish. As we were enjoying the drinks and the view and talking about a young couple in love sitting near us who looked like they were right out of an Abercrombie ad or the Blue Lagoon movie, the fish arrived.
At first glance, the color of the fish was not as I expected. Opah is generally white meat and flaky. This fish seemed a little darker grey and firmer. But I figured maybe it’s a different part of the fish. I split the fish sandwich and had a bite. Something wasn’t right! We agreed that something was a little fishy. Finally I got a hold of the waiter and asked him if this was Opah because it looked like Ahi. Well, I was shocked by his response:
“Oh, sorry sir. The cook actually ran out of Opah about five minutes ago and switched to Ahi.”
Then, I felt the Zen master come out in me and would have hit him with my Bamboo stick to wake him from his ignorance. I then firmly replied,
“Where’s your Zen? Son?” I continued, “I am completely offended by the fact that you would serve this without telling us of this change. I don’t eat Ahi. It’s one of the four most toxic fish in the world along with Swordfish, Ono or King Mackerel, and Shark. I want to talk to the manager.”
He looked shocked and a little shaken by my response, as he should be, and said, “I’m sorry. The manager is gone for the day, but I will take it off your check.”
I looked up at him, “That’s great, but did you think you can just pass it off and no one would notice. That’s like peeing on someone’s food and serving it to them. We are going to leave now and I’d really like for you to make the check disappear, including the drinks.” I was hoping to make him think twice about this in the future. We started to get up to leave.
He said, “Absolutely sir. I’m tearing it up right now!”
How many times does this happen and people don’t know? As I began comparing the small Zen-like shrimp trucks to this large corporately run hotel, the contrast was shocking and made me want to share it with you. This is a small example of what’s happening with our food supply today on a national level. We have lost our Zen with respect to food. Perhaps, in the future, I will address the food industry. But in the meantime, rent a copy of Food Inc.
It is in these simple experiences we’re reminded of the need for Zen in our lives. If our eyes and minds are open, we can recognize some of those enlightening moments. A Zen master once said a long time ago, “Living grand and living simple are the same. They are both good as long as you see without your ego, as long as you enjoy with pure self, not making one better than the other. In this way even the simplest thing is grand!”
Look for and enjoy these Zen moments in your life!
Paul Harrison AIA
aka Master Nomi
Architect, Author, Creator of the Zen Advantage Program™ (ZAP)