Part One: Groundless…
I am experiencing some personal resistance back here at home, while helping with food shopping and cooking dinners for my family. Each one of us has a unique set of health related food requirements that restrict the ingredients I can use for each meal. Low carb, dairy free, wheat free, limited sugar, no vinegar are just some things I need to pay attention to as I plan daily and weekly menus. I notice a growing frustration and crankiness setting into my bones as I am forced to think hard about what I can make to feed everyone a full and balanced meal, without using every pot and pan in the kitchen.
Rather than fall prey to this feeling of being trapped by limited possibilities, I finally decided to be curious about what I have before me. What a great opportunity to practice, a Buddhist friend of mine used to say when others would grumble about a challenging situation.
A bigger box of crayons
When I applied to culinary school some 17 years ago I was required to submit a personal essay. The one thing that I remember articulating most clearly about why I wanted to take my love for food to the next level as my profession, was that I would have access to, ‘a bigger box of crayons’. It truly was a playground when I got there. As students we were encouraged to explore and work with as many different ingredients as possible to prepare us for the vast array of kitchens that lay ahead of us.
Our first year introduced us to the basics of how to handle knives and other tools and equipment, along with brief introductions to meats, herbs, grains, spices, cheeses, oils and whatever else it took to prepare meals for a college cafeteria and other venues. The second year exposed us to more expensive ingredients, with more attention to detail and the nuances required to prepare them in different ways. I particularly appreciated the increased freedom of the second year and beyond, that allowed me to begin to express my own creativity with an endless set of possibilities. It was great fun to work with so many textures, flavors, colors, and combinations as we made our way closer to understanding what it takes to become a chef.
I have been so fortunate to have many opportunities to work creatively in and out of kitchens. I finally found a way to see what my self expression looks, feels, smells, and tastes like – along with receiving feedback from other people who enjoy eating my creative attempts at cooking.
So here I am, now, feeling boxed in and corralled. I feel limited in my possibilities and tied to the restrictions of personal diets. As I look closer at the situation, maybe I am experiencing the frustrations of my family. Maybe this is a way for me to better understand how it feels to eat simply and more consciously. I don’t seem to like being subjected to any kind of rules that are not self-imposed.
I always thought I understood the frustration of a restricted diet, but this seems to be taking me to a new level.
Be curious. See the positive. Face the challenge. What is the teaching/lesson? What can I learn? How can I make it rewarding? How can I bring positive energy into the kitchen every day?
Making peace with now
I remember the kitchen at Karme Choling during Scorpion Seal Assembly. We were told that the program required a special cleansing diet that excluded onions, garlic, and some other foods. A mild level of panic set in, as onions are often the first ingredient chosen for a daily soup, lunch item, or dinner offering. It was a challenge to step out of auto-pilot and really think about making a tasty dish without the default onion family contributing a familiar and simple flavoring. But we succeeded, and it ended up giving us a refreshing new look at the components of each dish.
So here I am, charged with feeding the four of us regular healthy meals. My challenge now, rather than the level of difficulty of producing food for everyone, has shifted toward myself and how I approach the kitchen every day. I am tasked with remembering to bring a positive energy and attitude with me, always remembering that I am helping us all be healthy and well fed. I hope that shift will open my world to an even more gentle approach, always open to whatever guides me as I discover what I will make.
I am grateful for the Shambhala teachings and practice, and the way it always seems to tap me on the shoulder when I need to look at my attitude and shift the way I approach my life. There is so much wisdom to be found in choosing to look at what irks me, rather than shutting down and turning away, so I can experience life rather than fight it.
Lisa Harris is a free-range chef, freelance writer, and consultant. She is always on the lookout for seasonal, local foods, and the farmers who provide them in Northern Indiana, where she currently lives, and wherever she travels. You can find more of her experiences and stories in her blog, earthskybelly.wordpress.com and other food related publications. She can be reached at TheSavoryMuse@gmail.com.
To read other entries in this column, please see: Kitchen Wisdom.