Herbal Essence: No, not the shampoo!

A former professor once told that the way to entice people to read your blog or peak their interest in your sermon was to come up with a catchy title. So if you are reading this, then hopefully that means my title worked. I was playing with the tile “parsley, sage, rosemary, and time”, but decided I liked Herbal Essence better because it really got at the essence of what I have been thinking about this week: herbal essence. There was a time (not thyme), when I never used fresh herbs and spent my entire cooking life using dried herbs and spices. Then I expanded my repertoire and began using fresh herbs. However, as a scripture says, “for everything there is a purpose under heaven.” This is true of herbs as well. There is a time for dry and a time for fresh. There is a thyme for every seasoning under heaven. (Hope you do not mind my humor). However, the essence of my herbal humor is true.
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Seasonings in the Kitchen and for the Soul

I was starting to read the next chapter in Deborah Madison’s book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, when I found myself unable to move past the first page of her chapter The Foundations of Flavor. It was not that the rest of the chapter had nothing to offer, it did. However, it was a comment she made about herbs and spices that resonated with my spirit. She wrote “Even more then vegetables themselves, it’s these small intensely flavored ingredients and how they’re combined, that give a culture’s food it’s unique stamp” (p. 27). It is these small intensely flavored ingredients, these herbs and spices, which in combination with other ingredients can transport me to another place and time. I began to think about how lemon and oregano when used to marinate my tempeh, along with some garlic, olive oil, and soy sauce allow me to experience the flavors of Greek in my vegetarian Greek Tempeh Salad or in my Greek Tempeh Pita Wraps. I think about how it is the fresh dill when combined with some Greek yogurt and cucumbers creates an amazing Tzatiki. Or I can think about ancho chili powder, cumin, and coriander and how in combination with just about anything they enable you to experience the flavors of Mexico.
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Up!

I remember when I first started the Zenful Kitchen reading a piece by Warren Caterson aka Chef Warren who wrote about being criticized at times for not having pictures in his blogs. He had written one that had pictures which looked as if they were created on an etch a sketch. (Yes Warren, I did read that blog post.) It made me want to go out and buy an etch a sketch. I understand what he was saying though. I know we eat with our eyes, or so I have been told, although some of my friends don’t look long enough to take it in, they just eat. Not always having access to a camera (probably should put that on my wish list); sometimes I do not put pictures of my food with my blogs. One of these days, I will invest in one of my own or have a professional photographer in my life who is here taking photos as I am preparing something.
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God is in the details

Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, a German architect, once said, “God is in the details” and Maezumi Roshi, a Zen monk said “details are all there are.” so what does that have to do with cooking. Creating in the kitchen is a process; it is like the story in the Hebrew Bible of how God created the earth. God would create something, look at it, and think it was good, but then the next day, God would create something else to go into this creation and so forth and so on. The creation was not a one time instant creation, it was an ongoing process of paying attention to the details, and tweaking it until it had become what was sought after at that moment. Creating in the kitchen is also about the details.
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Unlearning can be empowering

Recently, I read a quote by Charles Bukowski who wrote, “Knowledge is knowing as little as possible.” When I read it, it resonated with my spirit. Perhaps in part, because I have come to this place in my spiritual journey where I realized that there was much that I believed, but did not know for myself. I had believed this is the way things were because of what others had told me all my life. One of the things I came to realize was that I had to unlearn all that I had been taught and then put myself in this place of rediscovery. What would I do, if I were in a place of creating new knowledge and new experiences in my life? What have I not yet created, accomplished, because of what I thought I knew.
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Freedom and discipline

Gary Snyder once wrote, “Zen aims at freedom, but it’s practice is discipline.” When I read that, it immediately reminded me of how my mother used to say, "Practice makes perfect." As I was thinking about this quote more it reminded me of the teachings of Don Miguel Ruiz in The Four Agreements. He writes about how we have spent so much time in our lives practicing certain emotions that we have them down to an art form. Most of us have no problems with emotions like anger, jealousy, resentment, fear, etc. yet the emotions that make us feel loved and are positive in nature like love, peace, calm, etc are the ones we have yet to master.
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It’s a macaroni and cheese kind of story

When I think back on my life, I cannot remember a time when I was not cooking something. I remember as a little girl my mother would sit me on the floor with a pot of water and a spoon and tell me to stir. It kept me busy, but instilled in me a comfort in the kitchen. As I grew older, she would let me experiment more and more. The funny thing is that while my mother could out bake me on any day, I by all family accounts am the much better cook. To this day, my brother and I still laugh about my mother’s dry turkey, meat that was either still mooing or shoe leather and spaghetti sauce made with ketchup, water, and cream cheese. So I think I began cooking for my family because I could not stand my mother’s cookingJ. When my mother cooked the old time Jewish foods like kasha, kugel, knishes, blintzes, and the list goes on, they were awesome and we fought for the last bite. But the rest of the time, well let’s say my brothers and I were glad we had a dog.
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Getting Back In the Zone

For the last few weeks, I have been going through this challenging time with my cooking. It is not that I have not been cooking, I have. However, since Zoë and I made the decision to eat healthier, focusing on whole foods and those lower in the glycemic index, I have found myself going through this time of doubt. Where I had once felt free to be inventive and creative in the kitchen, I all of a sudden found myself feeling pulled back into a world where I wanted to be assured by a recipe. So much of Western culture is about having a recipe in front of you that tells you how to do something. This how to approach to cooking takes all the creativity out of it. I have been so de-inspired that last week, I didn’t even feel as if I had anything to say. Had I been on one of the TV cooking competitions, it would have been one of those bad meal kind of days. My soul was just not in my cooking.
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