Limitless Emotion, Not One Word

I haven’t posted for a while, but my heart and mind (and the minutes of the day) have been full.

Jeremy Logan has been leading the Heart Of Understanding Insight Meditation retreat here at Wangapeka. It’s one of my highlights of the year, and I think the secret is out as this year people travelled from as far away as Auckland and Wanaka to attend. We’ve been connecting with the simplicity of present moment awareness. Last night he shared the ‘Bāhiya Sutta’, which includes the well-known pithy teaching of the Buddha: ‘In the seen is only the seen. In the heard, only the heard. In the sensed, only the sensed. In the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself…. This, just this, is the end of suffering‘.

Feeling everything, but not making a story about every experience, brings a sense of grounded-ness in the present. This is when I realise that there is a LOT going on…

The retreat ended today, and the deep silence was replaced by joyful chatter… and singing!

Here are two exquisite poems by the Japanese poet/monk Ryōkan, expressing the richness of experience that goes beyond words. And a montage of photos and links to recipes from the last couple of weeks (scroll down!) There is still snow on the mountains, but also, spring is in the air.

Continue reading “Limitless Emotion, Not One Word”

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The Recipe I Least Expected

Browsing online, I saw the most luscious looking vegan ‘Chocolate Mousse Cake with a Hazelnut Crust’, and kindly asked the chef for the recipe, which she supplied… in French.

But this is such a small hurdle, especially with the click of the google translate button!

This is the recipe that Google offered – an unexpected joy:

Continue reading “The Recipe I Least Expected”

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.”

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”

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”

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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Just Cut The Carrots!

An old Zen story: One day, Wuzhaon was working as the cook at a monastery in the Wutai Mountains. Whilst cooking rice, the Bodhisattva Mañjuśri, (the Deity representing Wisdom, pictured above) appeared above the cooking pot… and Wuzhaon beat him! Later Wuzhaon said ‘Even if Shakyamuni [Buddha] were to appear above the pot, I would beat him too!’

This seems such a crazy story, but I’ve come to take it as a teaching that reminds us to pay attention to just what we are doing. If I am in the kitchen and my job is to prepare lunch, then nothing should distract me – not even the appearance of the Buddha himself! This story came to mind today, as I was reflecting about a conversation I had yesterday evening with one of the managers at the retreat centre where I’m soon to be working as Cook – the Wangapeka. It seems (again!) that unofficially, cooking isn’t the only task, even for the cook; it’s dealing with the personalities, attachments and desires of the people at the centre.

I wonder how well I will be able to stay focused on cooking, and not be pulled into the worlds and dramas of all the wonderful people who are booked on to this forthcoming retreat?

I very much like another, modern, Zen story which is from the 1960’s and the early days of Tassajara Centre, in California – Edward Espe Brown was appointed as Cook. The Zen Master of course was Suzuki Roshi.

Continue reading “Just Cut The Carrots!”