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But First… Radishes.

Yesterday I felt I pretty numb. The murder of the priest in Normandy, the inconceivable violence in Germany, it all just broke my heart. So much hatred and confusion in the world right now. Classic “comfort food” can sometimes ease the heart-ache, but yesterday anything ‘man-made’ felt inappropriate in light of the man-made mess the world is in.

For lunch, in silence (aside from the crunching) I simply ate my way through a bowl of exceedingly fresh radishes. Yes, radishes. Expressing nowt but their untainted, uncomplicated, unashamed radishness. I am 100% certain that this is the first time I’d eaten solely radishes. I’d never appreciated their lipstick-pink, perfect, firm, roundness before, let alone their crunchy juiciness. Why are radishes often sliced paper thin and hidden in a salad, when devouring them whole is the only way to fully know them?

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I remember the Zen teacher Edward Brown once saying something like when radishes aren’t good enough, pretty soon nothing is good enough. Everything falls short. Nothing measures up. Yet when someone can pick up a radish and be delighted… all beings benefit.

Why has life got so complicated? Continue reading “But First… Radishes.”

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Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better

I don’t like making mistakes. I learnt when I was very young that the way to get approval from my parents was to do well in school exams. So I studied hard, and regurgitated the info that the teachers gave me… and got lots of A+’s. I wasn’t really learning anything fundamentally useful, but that didn’t seem to bother me or my parents. I wasn’t making mistakes, and that seemed to be important.

But this strategy isn’t working for me anymore. I can devise a menu plan and work on my recipes, but with so many variables (mainly of the human-kind) there is always a dish waiting to be ruined. The belief that I’ve failed feels kind of raw. It’s very unpleasant. My first reaction, the reaction to the feeling of raw vulnerable-ness in my heart, is obviously (!) to blame someone else – the kitchen assistant, the person who distracted me at a critical moment – or even something else – the oven, the blunt knives, the humidity (yes really!!).

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And of course there is no one actually to blame but myself, but that’s even more painful. Who wants to feel that incapable? Maybe I should never have been hired as a Chef, I am definitely, totally incompetent.

Pema Chodron chose the topic of failure for her commencement speech at Naropa University in 2014.  Her speech was entitled Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better. I thought it was interesting that she wanted to prepare these young adults for the failures they would experience, and not take the more usual approach of emphasising the desirability of success. Classic buddhist! Continue reading “Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better”

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Life Affirming Actions part 1: Put The Kettle On

This morning I am thinking about something that Suzuki Roshi once told a group of students  – life is impossible. A student asked; then how do we do it?  You do it every day, Suzuki Roshi replied.

On these cold mornings I like to open the bedroom curtains a little then hurry back into bed and feel (imagine) the warmth of the early morning sun-rays whilst appreciating the cold beauty of the thick frosts. It’s a peaceful yet vivifying wake-up. After some time I’m ready to get out of bed, hopefully resist the lure of the internet (and all the tragic news in my inbox), and perform that supremely life-affirming action: I put the kettle on. The day may be full of emotional challenges, but it can still start gently… and with tea. HH Dalai Lama is often quoted as saying, changing the world for the better begins with individuals creating inner peace within themselves, which requires warm heartedness. Start the day as you mean to go on, I say.

Guy, who was the Land-Caretaker at Wangapeka for several years, has just published a fantastic book of humorous, engaging and heart-warming short essays about his experience, which speak to this. Here’s one of my favourites:

Continue reading “Life Affirming Actions part 1: Put The Kettle On”

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How To Cook In The Dark

Suzuki Roshi said that Zen is like feeling your way along in the dark. I think this means – go slowly, go carefully. Keep all your senses open, feel your way with tenderness. Pay more attention to where you are now rather than focusing on the destination.

I’ve been hibernating of sorts lately and not doing much, or so it would appear. This is not that typical of me really, I am often more of a “get out of my way I have somewhere I need to be!” type of person, and how different it feels to take tiny steps (or no steps) instead of rushing forward. I can’t really say I am able to see any progress at all.

There is an expression in Zen – take off the blinkers and take off the saddle bags; i.e.  you’ve arrived. Unpack. There is no further destination to focus on, your belongings can spill out of the saddle bags. Sit still. Take a look at what you’ve got. What serves you? What might actually be unnecessary baggage?

Cooking wise, I’ve been loving Emma Galloway’s latest book A Year In My Real Food Kitchen and have made many successful meals, led by her hand. It can sometimes feel too much of a stretch to try out brand new recipes when we’re low on energy, doubtful, but I also find that following the guidance of someone you trust feels very supportive, a way of being kind to yourself.

Continue reading “How To Cook In The Dark”

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Beauty is life unveiled

In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran wrote “beauty is life when life unveils her holy face. But you are life and you are the veil”

Winter in NZ is just as beautiful as any other season, and with some time off work I find myself nourished by beauty, along with a feeling that I have been in a beauty-drought for some time (although actually I have just been too distracted, too veiled, to notice it.)

When I pause to appreciate and even celebrate beauty – in nature, in art, in music, in people, then I relax a little more, feel more connected, feel more joyful. So how to connect with the beauty of this life without getting all graspy?

Continue reading “Beauty is life unveiled”

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Matariki – happy new year!

In the Māori language, Matariki is the name of the Pleiades Star Cluster, and, the season of it’s rising which happens in NZ’s mid-winter. For many Māori, it heralds the beginning of a new year. Traditionally, Matariki is the time to ‘prepare the ground’ for the coming season, but the emphasis actually is on our inner ground – it’s a time to seed our own intentions, re-connect with old skills, and set new goals.

The three lovely parts of this can be to; first practise being present. Secondly, reflect on your purpose, what’s important to your being, and re-orient yourself as necessary. And lastly, give thanks and feel gratitude for the privileges and blessings in our lives.

When times are tough it doesn’t come easily to have these kind of positive reflections, but today I just did a simple mindfulness of breathing practise, and ended with some gratitude, and it really re-charged me. The line from the William Stafford poem ‘Cutting Loose’ came to me – “Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason, you sing”.

I have spent the last 2 weeks cooking for back to back retreats at Wangapeka. It’s a beautiful place any time of year but MY GOD it was cold at night! When I look back now at the quickly snapped photos I took of some of the meals, I’m kind of stunned how colourful everything was. Even in the ‘bleak mid-winter’, there were bursts of rainbow colours in every meal, and heaps of gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. Always something to smile about seems to be the message.

I didn’t get a picture of our Ginger-Roasted-Pumpkin à la Emma Galloway, but here is the link to her site with the recipe and some gorgeous pictures. She serves it muddled with quinoa and herbs, but on this retreat I served it with couscous and all the beautiful rainbow chard shown above. Perfect winter lunch.

I sign off with William Stafford’s poem, and all my best wishes for the new year. May all beings be happy.

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose
from all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell where it is, and you
can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path—but that’s when
you get going best, glad to be lost,
learning how real it is
here on the earth, again and again.

 

 

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Earthquake! Tornado! Armaggedon! 

It could happen any time.

Earthquake, tornado, Armageddon.

It could you know.

Or: sunshine, love, salvation.

It could happen.

That’s why we get up in the morning and look out.

There are no guarantees in this life.

But there are some bonuses.

Like morning, like noon. Like right now.

Two days before my partner and I were about to head off for a month-long holiday in Indonesia, we both had the same question arise in our minds – why? Continue reading “Earthquake! Tornado! Armaggedon! “

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Pure & Perfect Soup, The Great Teacher

I’m going to share with you an old Italian soup recipe. It has only 5 simple ingredients and simmers for just 10 minutes. It costs less than a dollar per serving, yet is a life-changer! What are your expectations? I came across it on Food52 who labelled it ‘genius’ – opinions are divided.

The recipe is credited to the father of the legendary, Italian-American cookery writer Marcella Hazan. Marcella was born in 1924 in northern Italy, so we can confidently say that this recipe belongs to a certain era and tradition. It’s said, that from necessity as well as inclination, Marcella’s father, Giuseppe, was an extremely frugal cook. At the time, apparently the most expensive ingredient in this soup was the salt. The context is important and should be taken into consideration before we judge it.

Or on the other hand, we could decide to not judge it. We could just cook it and offer it with love and sincerity. Receive it with love and sincerity. Maybe it’s a bit bland, or maybe it’s heavenly, but we are a step closer to magnanimous mind. But it’s soooo hard not to judge, isn’t it?

In the Tenzo Kyōkun, Zen Master Dōgen taught that we should handle all food with respect, as if it were to be used in a meal for the emperor. ‘A dish is not superior because you have made it with choice ingredients, nor is a soup inferior because you have made it with ordinary greens,’ Dōgen teaches. Why is this attitude so important?

Continue reading “Pure & Perfect Soup, The Great Teacher”

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The Story of a Cake

Here’s my gluten free coffee and walnut cake. It’s more than just a cake; it’s a trip down memory lane. It starts at a  cafe called UMU that I used to go to weekly up in Coromandel Town when it was my day off from cooking at the beautifully remote Mahamudra Retreat Centre… and takes in Milwaukie and NYC. Here’s the story;

A week ago, On Food52, I came across this recipe for a gluten free cake based on coconut flour and ground almonds. I’m always on the look out for GF cakes as I often cook for groups which inevitably these days include one or more people who say they are GF. The Food52 author, posting from New York, quite generously admitted that she took it from the back of a packet of Bob’s Red Mill Almond Flour (based and milled in Milwaukie)! I baked it a few days ago and thought the texture was brilliant, but it lacked oomph. (On the other hand, if you’re after a GF cake that tastes like cake – butter, sugar, eggs and hint of vanilla – here it is!!)

Then today, the memory of UMU’s cake that I used to adore, surfaced. It was a coffee syrup cake, loaded with chopped walnuts, amazingly moist and more-ish. I’d tried before to replicate it, but never with success. Until today!

The Bob’s Red Mill recipe calls for butter, but here I swapped that for coconut oil, and added the coffee and walnut elements, plus a wisp of cardamom. And Bob’s your uncle!

So… whose cake is it?!

Gluten Free Coffee & Walnut Cake

Ingredients

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3/4 cup castor sugar, divided

3/4 cup of coconut oil

3 eggs

1/4 cup yoghurt (or milk, or dairy free milk)

1.5 cups ground almonds

1/2 cup coconut flour

2 tsp ground cardamom

2 tsp baking powder

large handful chopped walnuts

Method

Heat the oven to 160c, and line a 22cm cake tin.

Make the coffee syrup by heating the espresso in a small pan on the stove with 1/4 cup sugar. Simmer until sugar has dissolved. Let cool.

Melt the coconut oil, then in a food processor blend with 1/2 cup castor sugar until well combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, then 1/4 cup of the cooled coffee syrup and the yoghurt. Mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix the almond flour, coconut flour, baking powder and ground cardamom. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and stir in.

Scrape into your lined tin, and sprinkle over the chopped walnuts. Bake in a pre-heated oven (160c) for around 50 mins until a skewer comes out clean. Pour the remaining coffee syrup over the hot cake, and let it cool in the tin – this cake is deliciously moist! Store in refrigerator – it gets even better the second day. I liked it with a dollop of yoghurt on the side.

Thank you UMU – where it all started?

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