Cooking, an expansive act of presence and mindfulness (recipe included)

Cooking, an expansive act of presence and mindfulness

Rabia of Basra wrote circa 717-801AD:

It helps,
putting my hands on a pot, on a broom,
in a wash pail.

I tried painting,
but it was easier to fly slicing potatoes.

Not uncommonly, we become frustrated that we don’t have the time for a pause, for a meditation practice. I often hear from people: I barely have time to breathe, life keeps coming, the challenges keep arising, there are always so many thing that need my attention. This is all true. Life is fluid, dynamic and always in motion. Life is arising and dissolving in every moment. And, how we engage with this life is the rich and fertile opportunity for exploration, play, insight and true peace. What is our goal with meditation, with mindfulness practice? Stress management, a bit more ease in our day, more skillful action and relationships, and perhaps fundamentally the experience of life moment by moment as Divinity within expressed uniquely in each of us, a full presence and oneness with all of life. But, does this have to be achieved through 20 minutes or an hour or a lifetime on a mountain top of sitting in silence? Taking time each day for silence, for exploration of how life shows up through us, for being with every part of ourselves in gentle curiosity is absolutely healing, nourishing and worth cultivating. And, we have the opportunity to practice this pause and to be mindful even in the myriad of movements throughout our day.

Brother Lawrence, a humble cook within a monastic community in the 1600’s expressed that experiencing the kingdom of God every day involved “practicing the presence of God in one single act that does not end.”

Cooking for me, as it appeared to have been for Brother Lawrence, is frequently an experience of presence and mindfulness. I love cooking for someone I care about. Knowing the flavors they appreciate, the ingredients that speak to their particular delights, and then preparing a meal that will delight their senses is a true joy. But, the process is a moment by moment dance and is an opportunity to drop in and allow for the pause, for life to move through me. It is a meditation, a place for mindfulness and for opening to Awareness to show up through me and in the meal that arises. I may be inspired by a recipe or simply by a walk through the market noting what is in season, what catches my eye, what tantalizes my senses. From there, I allow the food to speak to me. What flavors and seasonings seek a co-creative dance? What density and texture and color combination will be most appealing? There is some conscious thought to this process, but there is also a feeling into it. A presence and opening to the very center of my being, an invitation for life to move through me in this simple task of chopping, washing, stirring and observing the transformation of ingredients into a digestible, nutritive, beautiful meal. I do not taste food while I am cooking. I never have. I know, this is strange, but for me, there is simply a knowing as I pour in one spice and then another, as I chop onions or carrots, as I choose whether to roast or sauté, as I blend or stir; a knowing that this is a magical meal; a knowing of what the flavors will be, and yet also the knowing that I will be as delighted as the people I am cooking for when I place the plates or bowls on the table and take my first bite. In this process, I am also cooking for myself, for my own surprise, for my own pleasure.

Part of the reason cooking can be a mindful, sensually rich, immersive experience is because I have studied, cultivated skills, read, researched, explored the properties of various foods and paid attention along the way. I have made mistakes. I have made inedible meals. I have followed instructions of others and I have explored and played. Being fully mindful of our process and cultivating our skills go hand in hand.

Food is one of the most foundational ways we interact with our natural world. It is fundamental to our survival. It is tied to cultural practices, spiritual practices, stories, memories and ritual. For this and many other reasons, we can easily miss the invitation to allow our engagement with food to be a pure practice of the presence of God, in this one act, over and over again.

Whether it is cooking, or playing with your children, or cleaning, or surfing, or writing, or taking a walk, or sitting at your desk doing your work, or taking care of an ill or aging family member or friend, or the myriad of other things with which we engage each day, there is an invitation into this full presence. There is an opportunity to practice being in the moment, observing how life moves through us, open to pure delight in each minuscule movement along the way.

This Fall soup inspired the musings above and I share it with a hope that whether cooking allows for this dropping in to your essence nature, or whether it be any other activity of your day, that you may know the blessing of being alive, aware, present in each of the seemingly mundane and in each of the ecstatic moments that may arise.

Roasted Curried Butternut Squash/Green Apple Soup

~2 small or 1 large butternut squash – roasted (see instructions below)
~2 carrots – roasted (see instructions below)
~Olive oil
~1 yellow onion (chopped)
~4-6 cloves garlic (peeled and chopped)
~1” fresh ginger (peeled and chopped)
~2 stalks celery (chopped)
~1 tart green apple (cored and chopped)
~1Tbsp ground cumin
~2 tsp ground coriander
~2 tsp powdered turmeric (or if you prefer fresh, peel and chop turmeric root)
~4 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water
~Salt and pepper to taste

~Chives for garnish
~Paprika for garnish


Roasting the Squash and Carrots:
~Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees
~Slice the butternut squash in 1/2 and remove the seeds.
~Wash the carrots.
~Drizzle or brush olive oil on the inside of the squash and onto the carrots.
~Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper
~Place squash face down and lay carrots on parchment paper on a rimmed cookie sheet or baking dish.
~Roast for 30-40 minutes – until squash and carrots can be easily pierced with a fork.

~Pour 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large soup pot and place over medium heat.
~Add onion, garlic, ginger and celery and slowly heat. Allow to cook slowly, stirring occasionally. They will soften and sweat, but do not brown.
~Add apple, cumin, coriander, turmeric and stir to coat everything with the spices.
~Remove squash and carrots from the oven and carefully using a spoon, scrape out the squash meat from the skin and place in the soup pot. Cut the carrots into 1” pieces and place in the soup pot.
~Stir everything together.
~Add broth.
~Bring to a simmer.
~Add salt and pepper to taste.
~Allow the flavors to mix at a light simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

Blend the soup.
You can use an immersion blender, but this may not bring it to a completely creamy texture.
I use a Blendtech high powered blender. Be careful blending hot soup.
~Add 3-4 cups of the soup to the blender. Cover with the lid and blend until pureed.
~Continue until all the soup has been completely blended.

~Return to low heat to keep warm until served.

~Garnish with chopped chives and a sprinkle of paprika as desired.