Zen & The Joy of Cooking: Zen Moments #5
“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”~Alan W. Watts
Today a news item caught my eyes ‘Community kitchen’ gives Bohra women freedom from cooking’:
‘Hundreds of women from the Dawoodi Bohra community have been unshackled from the hearth thanks to the ‘community kitchen’
“Women spent most of their time cooking. Our religious head wanted to free them from the kitchens so that they could focus on more constructive work” ‘
Many people I know have same feelings as above towards cooking. They resent the time they have to spend in kitchen to cook. Maids are engaged to take this drudgery off their backs. I don’t associate words like drudgery, shackle, chore with my cooking…it is one of the core things I do for myself n my hubby very lovingly. I guess food cooked with love & care nurtures the bonds of affection. As my hubby always tells me that the reason he always finds food cooked by me delicious is because the main ingredient that I put in all my dishes is love. Likewise he also enjoys making tea for me & cooking for me on weekends. Also, Cooking, if done with the right frame of mind can be a very meditative, a very Zen like experience.
This article from New York Times brings out the various facets associated with the fine Art of Cooking
(The Zen of Cooking, Or Joy When Time Allows)
‘Cooking enhances a basic human need, he said, and therefore offers inherent pleasure.
“Cooking covers tremendous levels of complexity, varying from simple rote activity to artistry, thereby challenging people to do better and better,” says Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and author of “Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience” .
“I’m not surprised that cooking won’t go away,” he said. “I can lose myself making a Bolognese sauce, finely chopping the onions, the carrots, three kinds of meat, and the slow, slow simmering. There is a sense of order and control and something so wholesome and tactile about cooking. Besides, how many times does modern life offer the opportunity to create something with one’s hands?”
For home cooks like Ken Henke, a trial lawyer in Lafayette, La., the drudge aspects of preparing a meal are magic. “Cooking’s my therapy,” he said. “You have to concentrate on an onion when you’re mincing an onion. You can’t think about your high-stress job. A minced finger is not a pleasant addition to a gumbo.”
“Cooking a dish has a beginning, a middle and an end,” he said. “To me, that order can be as soothing and challenging as composing. In years of cooking, I’ve certainly gotten to know my limitations technically. But I’ve also come to see the kind of courage and tenacity that I have.”
Microwavable meals and cans that require only an opener can be a boon to harried life, but they don’t offer enough challenge to deliver such insight.
“If human beings only cared about satisfying a basic instinctual need, we’d grab food off a rack,” Dr. Csik szentmihalyi said. “But we don’t. To do that would be robbing ourselves of the possibility of an optimal experience.”
Saving time in the kitchen, in other words, doesn’t necessarily guarantee large deposits in the pleasure bank. Just as cooking transforms food, it can transform individuals. And this phenomenon isn’t limited to culinary professionals or hobbyists.
Cooking seems to be supplanting the proverbial basket-weaving in psychiatric and social rehabilitation efforts. Barbara Hughes, a social worker who runs a cooking program for homeless women in the Gramercy Park area of Manhattan, has found that, for her clients, “the act of reading a recipe, organizing ingredients and assembling a finished dish can become a model for responding to other life challenges.”
John Floyd, 28, had a similar experience. While serving eight months in Rikers Island on a weapons charge, he learned to cook in the prison’s Fresh Start program, and now he works in a restaurant as well as for a catering company, Catering With Conviction, that is operated by Fresh Start graduates. He says that learning to cook taught him basic organization skills, which helped give him self-esteem.
“I’d look at a dish, say a souffle, and know that’s rough to make,” he said. “I work at it and it’s a drag for a while. Then I make it, it comes out good and I’m sitting there knowing that that souffle is part of me. You can’t fake it in a kitchen. You do it right or you don’t. When you mess up, it’s not that big a deal. When you do it right, it gives you a good feeling and you start to think maybe you can do other things right, too.”
Like most other cooks interviewed, Mr. Floyd said that after submitting to the tedium that cooking requires, one becomes aware of the activity’s sensory pleasures. “I’m cooking fettuccine Alfredo for my sister last night and I take a whiff and, you know, the world seems O.K.,” he said.
Dr. Thomas Moore, a psychotherapist in western Massachusetts and author of “Care of the Soul: a Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Daily Life” (HarperCollins, 1992), said that the sensual aspect of cooking — the aroma, feel and taste of ingredients — allows people a connection to the natural world that is “invigorating, enlivening and ultimately quite healing.”
Marianne Mosely, 53, a computer programmer in Worthington, Ohio, said that after 23 years of making dinner for her family of six, she became “obsessed with putting the ‘nurture’ back into nutrition.”
“One evening between opening cans and wrapping things in plastic for the microwave, I realized that time-saving activities are more tedious than cooking,” she said.
But experimenting with new dishes for several hours on the weekend and several evenings at home, she said, “takes time, but it’s relaxing time, not drudge time.”
Bill Meisle, an actor and home-cooking enthusiast who lives in Camden, Me., said that shaping ingredients into a meal for his wife and four children “satisfies the alchemist in me.” And rising to the technical challenge of cooking, he added, “is profoundly gratifying to the provider in me.” Mr. Meisle called cooking “a curative process,” and said that eating his creations was gratifying, too.
Although eating ranks higher than cooking on Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s pleasure scale, devoted home-cooks seem more interested in baking their cake than in eating it. “Taste is almost an afterthought,” said Mr. Waxman of Kitchen Arts and Letters. “It is the process of making something with their hands that stimulates and excites people.”
Performers like Mr. Adams, the musician, and Mr. Meisle, the actor, admit to relishing the “voila!” in unveiling their dishes. “It’s a great joy to give sensual pleasure to a group of attractive men and women at my table,” Mr. Meisle said. “There’s also a certain sublimation of desire. I can please them without getting involved.”
Even so, like dozens of other cooks interviewed, Mr. Meisle said that it was the quiet hours of chopping and simmering, kneading and mixing that pulled him to the kitchen three or four nights a week. Like most cooks, he finds the technical challenge and sensory balm of cooking a rare solitary pleasure.
Dr. Csikszentmihalyi said, “Cooking is one of few activities that people feel better doing alone.”
Like the hands-on challenge and tactile balm of cooking, the solitude of it is an antidote to the nanosecond pace of today’s world and probably a key reason that cooking won’t go away.
“There is a nascent wish for time and privacy that we used to try to address by making food products seem simple, fast and not too messy,” said Primo Angeli, the San Francisco designer, who creates food packaging for large food processors like Quaker Oats. “But people didn’t want to be totally free of the kitchen; they wanted to be free and creative and unto themselves in the kitchen.”
To Mr. Angeli and other food marketers, an oft-quoted remark by Julia Child is still the best evocation of the hunger for purposeful solitude.’
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- Meet an Unlikely Zen Master: Zen Moments #4 (ritusthoughtcatcher.wordpress.com)