Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Zen

So it is the week of Thanksgiving, and foodie fear is probably mounting.  Today, Food Network is hosting a live special to help deal with last minute panic.  Blog sites are filled to the brim with recipes and advice.  To help you with this Thanksgiving performance jitters, I’d like to offer a different perspective. 

That of a Zen priest and chef. 

I recently watched a documentary, How To Cook Your Life, by Doris Dörrie.  As a documentary, I have mixed feelings; but, in terms of great advice for chefs, it was well worth the watch.  The documentary is a series of interviews and documentary surrounding Zen priest and chef Edward Espe Brown who wrote, The Tassajara Bread Book, Tassajara Recipe Book, and a couple others.  Brown was the chief chef, or tenzo, at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in San Francisco.  Now he does cooking classes that offer one part cooking, two part Zen teachings.   

Given how much stress Thanksgiving places on all the poor foodies and cooks attempting to take on the food event of the season, here are some quotes and paraphrases to help give some perspective: 
  1.  When cooking, be in the moment: When you are washing vegetables, wash the vegetables.  When you stir, just stir.  When you chop, chop.  Instead of thinking of everything and dividing your mind, embrace the task at hand. 
  2. “When you’re cooking, you’re not just cooking food, you’re also working on yourself, you’re working on other people.”
  3. This one is an excerpt from the chant the tenzo recites in the morning to remind him/her of the tasks of the day: “treat the food as though it were your eyesight . . . treat food as if it was that precious, as if it was your eyes. . . handle it carefully and sincerely.  . . don’t waste even a single grain of rice.”  The documentary and Brown argue that because food is such a commodity, it is no longer like eyesight, it is no longer precious.  So, when enjoying the meal you spent so much time making, really think about how cherished it is.    
  4. In discussing the types of mind, Brown discusses the stages of mind in relationship to cooking:  “When the cook is joyful then you know everyone relaxes. . . when the cook is anxious then people will get anxious . . .and the food will taste better when the cook is joyful.”
Brown leading a cooking class. 
Lastly, and the one that just might take the stress out of your day, is the understanding that blemishes are a form of sincerety.  Brown tells the story of trying to make biscuits in Tassajara.  He was experimenting with proportions and the biscuits never came out just right.  He finally asked “right compared to what?”  Brown was trying to model the biscuits of his childhood, which were done by Pillsbury.  Instead, he decided to “taste the  biscuit of today” and discovered how wonderful each batch in each day was.  So, if you are fretting about the turkey coming out right, the stuffing being moist enough, remember “Right compared to what?”  Eat the Thanksgiving meal of the day and know that all blemishes and imperfections are just a form of sincerity. 

I hope this helps give a new perspective on Thanksgiving that will help you enjoy the day, enjoy the meal, and enjoy all the food you make. 
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