Sunday, January 4, 2009

Making Our Daily Bread

"If you treat food with care and appreciation it shows the heart of a person who handled it."--Edward Espe Brown

"If people were to do more simple, down-to-earth activities like gardening, sewing, or cooking they would feel more satisfied and fulfilled, more connected. You won't get this from watching television."--Edward Espe Brown

"Select the rice and prepare the vegetables by yourself with your own hands, watching closely with sincere diligence. Carefully protect these ingredients as if taking care of your own eyes."--Master Dogen

M. and I watched "How to Cook Your Life" yesterday. It's a documentary that follows cooking Zen priest Edward Brown as he teaches cooking classes at a buddhist center in Austria and at two California Buddhist centers. Brown is the author of The Tassajara Bread Book, the "bible" of breadmaking in the 1970's.

We were both moved by the film and by the underlying message. You can show your love for yourself and others (and your respect for the food you eat) by taking the time to make your own bread, rice with vegetables, fruit tarts, etc., and noticing the ingredients that go into your dishes. It's important to be respectful of the food you cook with, and thinking about where it came from, who cultivated it for your cooking pleasure. Slowing down and noticing the process of cooking and the sight, smell, taste, and texture of the food is a practice we all should try next time we're contemplating take-out.

I have always liked cooking, starting when I was a child and I'd watch my mother cooking soup, chopping carrots, celery, onions and scraping them off the cutting board and into the pot. I liked how you could make something tasty like minestrone or lentil soup from just a pile of uncooked vegetables, dried spices, and a bag of beans. I'd take my mother's vegetable scraps, add water and a dash of just about every spice from the rack, and declare my "soup" the finest cuisine for dolls. I'd pretend to feed my favorite doll Emily and then cover the rest of the soup with tinfoil and put it in the fridge for later.

In college, I didn't bring ramen noodles and pop tarts to my dorm like everybody else--I brought a marble cutting board, ceramic bowls, dried pasta, and spices. I made spaghetti and handed it out to neighbors as a way to break the ice. When I was home at my parents' house I hosted dinner parties for friends, trying out new recipes and then marking comments in the margins of my cookbook just as I'd seen my mother do. I served potato and almond croquettes (good, filling), swiss cheese fondue (tangy, pungent dip; nice for sharing with friends), and vegetable kebabs with rosemary (Delicious! Leave on grill until almost blackened.)

Living on my own, I fed my roommate my lentil stew and vegetable paella, or I'd eat dishes alone that were meant for four. I longed for a boyfriend for whom I could cook and share meals with. Coming from a Sicilian background on my father's side, I loved to show my fondness for people through food. Unfortunately, what I didn't realize at the time was that guys in their twenties equated me cooking them chicken cacciatore to me auditioning for a ring. They wanted me to be the fun party girl, not a pseudo-wife. I just wanted to show my affection with food.

Luckily my husband loves when I cook for him, and in addition to liking most foods in general (with the exception of brussel sprouts and turnip), he always remembers to compliment the chef.

Which brings me to the point of this entry--cooking does a person good. It may seem like a lot of work at the outset, but like going to the gym, once you start you don't want to stop. I like knowing that I chose the ingredients, I cut and breaded and sauteed the meal, and that I didn't just pop open a can of Progresso, dump it into a pot, and call it dinner. There's pleasure in getting your hands in the food, just like there's joy in working the soil of a garden or touching the seaweed in the ocean. And the feeling of offering meals to people who enjoy your cooking--that's just pure satisfaction.

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