Most Thursday evenings I go hang out with some guys at my friend Aaron’s house. We usually watch a movie or play a video game (no sports allowed). More importantly, one of us brings snacks, which can range from purchased fast food to gourmet homemade eats, depending on who happens to be cooking that night. It was my turn last night, and I realized that in all the years we’ve been doing this thing (something like five now), we’ve never had burgers. Not once. Ever. I decided to remedy that.

Now, here’s my position on burgers – they must be real. I don’t eat fast food burgers (if I’m eating guilty fast food it’s almost always fried chicken). I absolutely on principle never eat the frozen hockey pucks that come in packages of eight or twelve from your closest grocery store. No matter what they claim to make them from or stuff them with, frozen hockey pucks made of sirloin and stuffed with cheese and jalapenos are still, in the end, just frozen hockey pucks. I won’t even call them burgers.

The truth is, if all you did was go down to your local butcher and get a few pounds of high quality hamburger, formed them into patties (adding no seasoning of any kind), and grilled them, they’d be far better than any frozen meat product you could find in the store. And, after you factor in the time you’d spend peeling the pucks from their papers and cooking them from frozen, making them yourself wouldn’t even take that much more time or effort.

Of course, if you don’t mind some time and effort, here’s the recipe I made last night:

Mince a few cloves of garlic (more is always better), six or eight green onions, and a bunch of mushrooms. Any mushrooms will do, but the more flavourful the mushroom, the more flavourful the burger. If you use white button mushrooms, you’ll hardly notice them. If you use shitake mushrooms, you’ll notice. I prefer to use several different kinds in order to add some complexity to the flavour, but you do you.

Saute the garlic and onion in butter. When they’ve softened, add the mushrooms. Add salt and pepper. Saute until the mixture is quite dry. We don’t want to add too much moisture to the burgers. Dump the mixture into a bowl and let it cool, then add a little mustard powder, a healthy amount of grated parmesan cheese, and the beef. Mix well, then add an egg or three, until you get the consistency you want.  Form into patties (at least a full cup of mixture in each, preferably more, because nobody likes tiny, shrunken burgers).

In a new pan saute a bunch of sliced onion and garlic until softened. Add a little brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce. Cook until the onions are caramelized and make your house smell better than all the other houses on your street. Crumble in as much Stilton blue cheese as you think is wise, then double it. Stir until creamy and your house smells better than all the other houses in the known universe. The mixture will have a slightly grainy texture to it, which I like, but if that bothers you, you can always blend it in a food processor. Scoop it into a container and let it cool.

Cut nice sourdough buns in half and spread them with garlic butter. Pour a bag of deep-fried onions into a bowl. Lay out some prosciutto on a plate. Wash, thoroughly drain, and chop curly chicory endive. Put it in a bowl.

Now, get those burgers on the grill, but please – for the sake of all carnivores everywhere – do not overcook them. It gives me chest paints whenever I’m over at someone’s house, and the designated “grill master” just keeps cooking the burgers into desiccation. The guy opens the bbq (and yes, it’s invariably a guy doing the damage), pokes at meat already cooked far too long, asks those standing near whether the burgers “look safe” yet, tries to get a thermometer reading, then finally decides to leave them “a few more minutes, just to be sure”.

Do not be this person. If you have good quality meat from a good quality butcher, and if you have any clue whatsoever about kitchen hygiene, you should be able to eat those burgers raw. You won’t, of course, because they’ll taste so delicious grilled, but the point of grilling isn’t to make them safe. It’s to make them delicious. Frozen hockey pucks need to be made safe. Real burgers need to be made delicious. Never forget this.

Right, so as the burgers are grilling, also throw the buns face down on the grill and let those faces get a bit crunchy. Spread the bottom of the bun with caramelized onion and blue cheese mixture (don’t skimp). Add a handful of deep fried onion and a handful of endive. Add the burger, sizzling. Add two or three strips of prosciutto. Put the top on. Eat that bad boy.

If you can go back to eating hockey pucks after that, we need to talk.

Our culture has at least three very dissimilar ways of understanding the idea of hunger.

First, we think of hunger as a part of poverty or famine, usually in far off places like a foreign country or an inner city neighbourhood. In this sense, hunger is a social problem that needs to be eradicated, preferably without actually involving us very closely with the people who are hungry. We’d rather send some money or attend a rally or something and feel like we’ve done our part. Meeting any hungry people in person would just be uncomfortable.

Second, we think of hunger as our own physical need for food. Again, we want to be rid of hunger in this sense as quickly as possible. The moment we feel a hunger pang, we start rooting in the fridge for a snack, looking for a fast food joint along the edge of the highway, or heading for the vending machine in the staff lounge. We almost always look at this kind of hunger merely as a problem to be fixed, and expeditiously if possible.

Third, we think of hunger in a more metaphorical way, as a drive or a need for something that isn’t actually food. We talk about an athlete as being hungry for winning or about an executive as being hungry for success. In this sense, we use the term a little more positively, with the implication that it’s good to be hungry for these things. The idea is that staying hungry results in greater amounts of fulfillment. Even here, however, the assumption is that the ultimate goal is to satisfy the hunger. The hunger is only good to the degree that it results in greater satisfaction. It’s the food equivalent of not eating all day so that you can get your money’s worth at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Understanding hunger in these ways, our culture ends up having a strange relationship with the idea of fasting, something that my doctor is now having me do regularly as a way of regulating my blood sugars. Because we’ve trained ourselves to think of hunger as a sign of poverty and failure, or as problem to be swiftly eliminated, or as motivation used to achieve greater satisfaction, the idea of a hunger remaining deliberately unmet – not so that we can consume more later, but just to be endured – is difficult for us to understand.

And yet, there’s all sorts of evidence that our culture not only eats too much but also too often to be healthy, that it’s not good for our bodies never to be hungry. Quite apart from the emotional, psychological, and spiritual benefits that people have touted for fasting over the centuries, there are real physical benefits to allowing our bodies to be hungry on a regular basis. Among other things, it helps improve insulin sensitivity (which is why I’m required to do it), metabolism, brain function, and immune system.

I’ve only been eating in an eight hour window each day now for almost a year, fasting for the other sixteen. For the first three months (now only maybe once a month), I was also fasting one entire day a week. I’ve also cut out added sugars and big chunks of easy carbs. In just three months my bloodwork had improved dramatically. I also lost almost thirty pounds, stopped getting acid reflux at night, and am noticeably less tired and sluggish.

My point isn’t that you should take up this diet yourself. In fact, on principle I wouldn’t recommend that you take up any diet you found on some non-nutritionist’s blog, not without first chatting with your doctor about it.

My point is that in order to change the way I was eating, I first had to change my relationship to the idea of hunger. I had to stop looking at hunger solely as a problem to be eliminated. I had to begin welcoming it (in defined circumstances) as a sign of my body’s healthy functioning. Rather than looking always to fix my hunger, I had to begin embracing it. I had to start saying to myself, “This hunger is good.”

Just to be clear, not all hunger is good. Some hunger is starvation. Some hunger is lust for ever greater consumption. But neither is all hunger bad, and we need to be better at allowing ourselves to be hungry, not as punishment, not as incentive, but just because sometimes it’s good for us to be hungry.

My wife and I laid in bed late this morning, made love while the kids binged on Saturday morning television, had a lazy shower.

Then she baked bread with browned butter for the party at our friend’s place this evening, and my eldest son made chocolate chip cookie’s for his friend’s birthday party this afternoon, and I sauteed batches of mushrooms and sweet onions for another friend’s fiftieth birthday tomorrow.

I’m reducing the extra onions into soup as I write this. The house is full of astringent sweetness, and of C.D. Wright’s reflections on the nature of poetry, and of “Paloma” by MESTIS.

I made this soup for a church function the other day, and people have been pestering me for the recipe, so here it is. As usual, I didn’t actually measure the ingredients, and I am giving much reduced proportions here, but I know that many of the people who asked for the recipe would prefer me to be as precise as possible, so I did my best.

First saute in butter a large chopped onion, two-inches of grated fresh ginger, two tablespoons of grated orange peel, a teaspoon or so of ground nutmeg, and some salt. When this is all very soft and browned, add about four cups of chopped carrots and continue to cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until the carrots begin to soften. Then add four cups of chicken stock (or just enough to cover the carrots) and cook until everything is very tender. Then blend everything and add enough heavy cream to make the mixture the thickness you want.

I think coriander and cinnamon would go very well in this also, though I haven’t tried. It tastes very good cold as well. I made some for my vegan (sort of) wife that substituted more chicken stock for the cream (we didn’t talk about the butter), and it was good but not great, because cream is, well, cream.

We picked our first real crop of cherries this year, probably a quarter of a bushel, so we have been eating cherries at every opportunity, putting them in cereal and on icecream, and I used the ones with bird bites in them to make a cherry pie.

Yesterday we also picked our chokecherries, the second year now that we have had enough to make them worth picking.  Their sour taste keeps them from being edible fresh (though my youngest son was not at all deterred), but they make great jelly.  I prefer no-pectin recipes, and they are not always easy to find, so I thought that I should post mine:

Just cover the chokecherries with water in a pot, including some unripe ones for flavour and added pectin.  Boil them until they are very soft, then mash them lightly.  If you want your jelly to be clear, strain the pulp through cheesecloth, but do not squeeze or press it.  If you want a more jam-like jelly, press the pulp through a sieve.  Either way, combine the juice with equal amounts of sugar and about a tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of chokecherry juice.  Small batches tend to jell better, so work with amounts of  three to five cups of chokecherry juice at a time.  Bring the batch to a boil, stirring often, until it reaches jell stage.  Pour into canning jars.  Water bath for five to ten minutes.  Let cool.  Check that the jars have sealed.  Store the jars in a cool and dark place.  Eat the jelly often, especially on icecream.

My boys and I have come up with a variation on the traditional cucumber sandwich.

First, cut a fresh bun in half and smear both sides thickly with garlic butter.  Cover both with cheese, as much as you can fit, and then bake until everything is melted and beautiful.  Lay cucumber slices into the cheese on both sides.  Salt and pepper the cucumbers liberally.  Spread a creamy sauce over the cucumbers (ranch or Caesar dressing will both do, but we generally use a three cheese dressing that we buy at our local grocer).  Lay a thick piece of chicken schnitzel on one side of the bun, and put the other side of the bun on top.

Enjoy the garlicy, cheesy, creamy, schnitzely, cucumbery goodness.