Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's Tuesday and I have been in Asheville NC for a few days.  North Carolina is beautiful, lush, and Asheville is relatively progressive.  There are so many natural food stores here with an abundance of organic foods.  It is heartening as a cook to be able to purchase wholesome foods with such little effort!

As it is July, hot and sticky, I have found that making and eating wraps is the perfect alternative to using the oven or stovetop. Any number of things can be added.  For myself, I stuff it with salad greens (and I mean stuff it!) a little Veganaise, and whatever protein one wishes.  Recently I chose the canned organic Adzuke beans (a couple of tablespoons full) and adding broccoli sprouts to make a fine wrap.  I have also used various hummus products that are tasty too.  I use the larger spinache wraps so the sides can be tucked in.  Salad dressings could be used instead of the Veganaise, and tomatoes, cucumbers are a nice touch too, adding enough moisture to keep the experience moist and refreshing.

When I learn how to size photos, I promise to begin adding them!  Meanwhile, eat well and keep in good health.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Home Again

It is Sunday and the most recent retreat ended on Thursday last.  It takes me a few days to rest from cooking which set me thinking....

During retreat energy builds and I for one find the need to sleep diminish.  In all fairness I must admit I am not a long sleeper.  6 hours is usually the limit.  I have always been like this.  But after retreats I do find myself sleeping more, napping more, and wondering why this is?

The obvious reason is the lack of sleep during retreat, but the subtler question is why the energy of retreat can seem to so quickly dwindle upon the return to our 'ordinary lives?' 

For my part, I believe now that the weight of 'things' and the responsibility of family and environment (our houses or apartments) can drain us in ways we may not be aware of on a daily basis but become more apparent when returning to them after a retreat.  This thinking gives rise to the notion of "enlightenment" and enlightened living.  My teacher once said to me: "Enlightenment, Gretchen.  Get it?  Lighten up!"  And so it is as always, our perspective and our willingness to embrace form being emptiness.

As many know, I will soon be relinquishing my home and most of my worldly goods.  I intend, therefore, to test this theory of weight and things and lightening up!

But as this blog is fundamentally a cooking blog and regarding lightening up and retreat cooking, I would like to say that moderate eating during retreat can be profoundly influential in deepening one's meditations.  More on this later though.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Excerpts from “Cooking Dharma”

I spend a great deal of time in the kitchen when cooking for retreat.  The kitchen becomes my cushion and it's function my meditation. 

At home I spend most days in silence.  So the silence of retreat is easy.  I don't actually cook much at home.   My children are all grown and I am no longer married so my eating habits are modest.  

Once I arrive at the retreat center though, all my ordinary life, concerns, and obligations disappear.  There is nothing else but this.  

The retreat center where I cook has a large walk in cooler and there is ample room for storing food.  In the walk in I designate areas for dairy products, produce, fruit, and separate shelves each for salad, brunch, and supper fixings.  In this way when food is prepped during the work periods before each meal it can be put on the appropriate shelf and accessed easily when the time comes to cook and lay out the meal.  There is also a designated place in the walk in and on the counter for snack food so that the person responsible for putting it out in the morning can find it easily.

This organizational skill has been grounded by Zen practice.  My Mom was an organized person as was my paternal Grandfather (husband to my beloved Grandma Ann).  And although being organized did not manifest in my life until I was older, the seed was planted in my youth.  The beauty of order is that in being so, especially in the setting of a kitchen used by many but of course anywhere, one can become utterly selfless if one does not become emotionally attached to their individual organizational decisions.  By this and in the circumstance of the kitchen shared by many, I mean that if for example I choose to put all the whisks in a drawer in a particular place and come to find they have all been put in another drawer elsewhere, it doesn’t matter.  Just so they are in one drawer that is consistent.

Anyway, the multi faceted beauty of kitchen organization is that any cook at any time can use the kitchen and know where to find the tools needed to produce a meal.  So the set up is not about one person’s idea, it’s about the use and functioning of all.  Also, this organization of many manifests from the actual day to day cooking of cooks who have found through cooking, the most logical, practical location of all things used in a kitchen. 

Having order also allows us to be of service to others in maintaining this order.  For example, the retreat participants who are assigned to the kitchen for prep, or doing dishes, can be directed to the various locations of kitchen items and in this small way we are able to contribute to their sense of confidence both in themselves and the kitchen’s function.  So over the course of retreat they become proficient in their part of the overall running of the kitchen.  

Retreat offers us a condensed version of the benevolent, practical, and extraordinarily mundane possibilities in our ‘ordinary lives.’  Confidence in whatever part we play in retreat is therefore a seed for our potential contribution to the lives all beings.  


Like the sand mandala, the kitchen itself and the meals prepared in the kitchen of any dharma center, or home, each have a basic geometric plan.  The physical kitchen is more obvious than the meal but both share this graph or design. In the case of each meal the graph is time, available supplies/tools, and the food. Within these parameters a meal is prepared, offered, and eaten.  In the case of the kitchen itself those of us who worked in restaurants and/or dharma centers have found a basic geographic order, much like the geometric graph laid down for the creating of the sand mandala, is tremendously helpful.  This order is created with both present and future cooks in mind and maintained by all who use the kitchen. In this way daily creation of meals can be done with joy and efficiency.