Zen and the Art of Food Preparation

My cat Grimus has no problem finding peace in the kitchen.

I was once reading The Complete Tassajara Cookbook by Edward Espe Brown, when I came across some advice that I often think of in the kitchen.  Brown, new to the position as head of the kitchen at Tassajara, asked a Zen master for advice.  He told him, “when you are washing the rice, wash the rice.”

I think of this advice for two reasons – one is that I don’t actually ever wash rice (am I alone in this?).  However, the primary reason I think of this is, of course, the sentiment of it.  Like most Zen sayings, this advice is much easier said than done.  From what I’ve gathered, it is a struggle for Brown to follow even while living in a monastery.

I struggle with this as well.  Sometimes, by the end of making a large meal, especially at the end of a long day, my back aches and I am just ready to be done.  Gradually though, I think of this saying more and more not because I am reminding myself to follow it, but because I am acknowledging that I am actually chopping the onion or peeling the ginger.  I can’t say exactly what’s brought on this change.  Like anything else, I suppose it’s time and work.

There are a few tricks I employ to help my kitchen Zen:

Spices wait their turn to be added.

– I read through the recipe (if I’m using one) multiple times before making it.  I visualize the order I’ll do everything, including any extras I’ve decided on.  For instance, if I’m going to add a side dish of rice, I think about when I will prepare this.  If I’m preparing something without a recipe, or using a recipe I know very well, I still run through the steps in my head, and plan out when I will do each one.

– I prep all food before turning on the stove’s heat.  The only time I do not do this, is when I’m making something that will simmer for quite some time and have ingredients added at the very end.  Child-sized bowls are a cheap way to keep your ingredients separate.  I have several from Ikea.

– I listen to good music.  I’ve stopped listening to the news while cooking.  Once in a while, I sing.

– I clean up as I go, or while food is cooking.  As much as possible, I try to keep the workspace clear.

– I stop and smell each ingredient, and notice the textures and colors.  I am grateful for my ingredients.   We live in a world that contains vanilla extract, cinnamon, lemons, garlic, and cumin seeds.  I don’t even have words for how amazing that is.

I realize that this all takes a little longer, but I think I save time in the end, because I’ve had so many less kitchen disasters since doing this.  This doesn’t mean of course, that you can’t chop quickly, or take a few short cuts, or even make a few mistakes.  All it means is to be aware of what you’re doing.

November is the month of gratitude, and sometimes I think that all gratitude really is, is noticing.

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One comment

  1. Cindy Anderson · · Reply

    Beautiful post, thank you.

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