Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Tao of Cooking & Silly Old Bears

To think, I had almost forgotten. I had almost forgotten how effortless life could be, how stress could be easily averted. There was a time that I would go out with friends and still have time for school, for work, for self reflection, and for family. These days it seemed like it took a lot of work to simply exist, to be with people and be alone.

The Vinegar Tasters (source)

This is my week of R & R, the week I slowly and surely move back into the groove of being back home with the folks. My grades were better than I expected, and ended up with a 3.23 GPA for the semester, with A’s for classes I thought I wouldn’t get A’s in and passed the classes I thought I was failing with fairly good marks. My summer internship with the Benjamin Franklin Summer Institute for South and Central Asia is underway, and Andy Shallal from Busboys and Poets got in contact with me to discuss working with him in the future (I was so honored that he remembered me). Overall, my health is improving, and with my body temperature finally at 98.6°F, I can happily say I’m no longer one of the Lizard People.

So, with all these wonderful things going on, why was I not at peace? Why was I not happy being still? Why was I not content with myself, overly self-critical and focusing on things I was not and things I couldn’t control?

This is where a certain Silly Old Bear comes in… and Benjamin Hoff’s book The Tao of Pooh.


It occurred to me that there might be a reason to my frustrations of feeling I wasn’t doing enough. I felt dreadful that I hadn’t gone to the gym in almost two weeks, not counting the physical labor I had done with moving out of campus housing and back home last Wednesday. I felt useless and lazy by wanting to sleep and relax while there was clearly still work to be had. I looked in the mirror and saw what my “lack” of working out was doing to my body, becoming “soft” and “getting bigger” as I stared at my reflection.

This is what I had forgotten: as long as I had preconceived notions and expectations of what my life should be like, I would never be happy. I would never have time to enjoy the present while worrying about what I did or didn’t do, what I am and am not doing, and what I will and will not do. For the past year, maybe more, I was the “Bisy Backson” in which Benjamin Hoff dedicated an entire chapter in his book. I was desperately active, the Athletic sort of Backson, working when I worked, working when I exercised, and working when I played. No wonder this year left me a charred empty shell of what I used to be. No wonder life kept trying to subtly tell me to slow down time and time again, keeping me from doing things I planned with people. I didn’t have time for life, for the people and things that mattered most to me, simply because I was spending all my time and energy worrying about it. To quote this marvelous book, “Enjoyment of the process is the secret that erases the Great Reward and Saving Time.” I forgot the beauty of the journey and the process by hungrily focusing on the destination and the outcome.

Recently I’ve unknowingly incorporated the Taoist philosophy into cooking. I learned to let foods sit and be at rest, making batters in advance and leaving it overnight in order to mimic their gluteny cousins for the best effects. The same goes for other dishes (some naturally gluten free anyway), but it is more about flavor than it is about texture.

The magnificence of the process of cookery is how the outcome is considerably different than it is when you first combine the ingredients. Last night I was frustrated with the broth I made for a coconut curry vegetable soup to side with my oven-baked curry chicken. The green curry paste overpowered the other ingredients, and it was saltier than I wanted, so I added a little of this and a pinch of that, thinking I’d have to dump the whole thing when it still tasted off (I didn’t want to serve my parental units a less than delicious recipe). In my pessimistic state, I turned off the heat and left it on the stove. When Mama Dazz came home from work, the broth took on a new persona. It no longer tasted like bitter seawater with a kaffir lime leaf, coconut, and curry aftertaste. In fact, it had a balanced flavor of all the broth ingredients, including the vegetables I had put into it.

The Tao of cooking is pretty straightforward, once you understand it. There is a time when it is appropriate to fiddle with a recipe (i.e., the process), and there is a time when it is appropriate to leave it alone (i.e., letting it be on its own accord). Gluten free cooking, especially when baking, typically deals with the latter.

Benjamin Hoff with Pooh and Piglet (source)

As a recovering and sometimes relapsing Bisy Backson, I end this post with a thought-provoking excerpt:
“It’s not surprising, therefore, that the Backson thinks of progress in terms of fighting and overcoming… Of course, real progress involves growing and developing, which involves changing inside.” (B. Hoff)
This is what I’d forgotten. This is what I remembered. This is what I learned.

No comments:

Post a Comment