An experiment in simplifying my life turned into a contemplative practice of the holy ordinary this weekend as I entered a new rule of being fully present in all things. The book: Once-A-Month Cooking by Mimi Wilson and Mary Beth Lagerborg, was the inspiration for the idea of doing all my cooking in one weekend so that my time could be put to use in the studio instead. The book recommended purchasing everything you need the night before and pulling together all the ingredients, packaging and containers to speed the process up the next day
With the ingredients assembled and packaging marked, I went to bed for the “good night’s rest” advocated by the authors before the big day. Saturday I awoke to a glorious day, a rare thing in the Pacific Northwest this time of year, but despite the urge to “go out and play”, I stayed the course and began the preparation work.
A moment or two spent at the kitchen sink in prayer, some quieting deep breaths and centering, I began to chop, peel, dice and slice each vegetable while thinking about the bounteous harvest of fresh fruits and vegetables we are so blessed to receive weekly from local farmers. Holding the knife in my hand, I vowed to really know what a red bell pepper smelled like and how the knife felt slicing through it. As I completed each task, I took time to really look at what I had done, the way the colors worked together, the shapes of the different elements. In between tasks, a breathed in the fresh breezes from my open window and watched the way the sun lay shadows across the lawn.
If I found myself peering ahead at the author’s well-organized list of to-do’s, I knew I needed to stop and check in with myself to see why I was rushing. Pulling myself back to the center and breathing deeply, I would listen to the sound of a carrot’s skin sliding off. Or inhale the scent of green bell peppers.
Even though I had always been told not to play with my food, when the kitchen queen wasn’t looking I did.
And the net result was a beautiful mandala of chopped red bell peppers
Even the often tearful task of chopping onions became an ascetic experience. 12 cups of the aromatic necessity was enough to make even the toughest of monks wish for another job, but I hard to no problem staying in that moment.
They say that the hardest part of cooking for a month is the prep work, and it did take an enormous amount of time, but the satisfaction of being well prepared was well worth the effort. With each component ready, I was eager to start cooking.
With the recipes for a month pre-planned, I didn’t have to do much mental work to keep on track, just follow the prescribed plan leaving plenty of time for prayer and praise throughout the process for all that God has gifted us so richly with. In the middle of cooking in this new, slower, almost meditative way, I took the time to notice things my kitchen had to offer that had slipped my short attention span in the past. Had I ever seen the way the light shines on the pots and pans creating interesting shadows an patterns before? And how could I have missed the fact that if you walk around to different spots, the light comes through the holes in the colander forming designs and even aligned to make a cross.
Even the steam rising from the kettle invoked thoughts of prayers rising up like incense.
While the whole experience went long into the night, the wear and tear on my body seemed far less than the normal cooking spree would have brought about. My past attempts at major cooking extravaganzas have proven to be exercises in stoicism, pushing past pain to achieve a goal. How could one walk away before the task was complete. As it became obvious that the authors were superhuman and 8 hours was simply not a realistic amount of time to get all 30 meals made, I felt myself slip towards that crazy-making mode that I can so easily attain where I cannot stop what I am doing no matter how late, how tired or how inefficient I have become. But this time, I recognized that space, took a deep breath, and walked away to finish in the morning. A wise but foreign decision.
In the morning with only a few meals left to complete, the whole prospect did not seem as daunting, and in fact, it was quite a pleasure to see how easily the rest of the recipes fell together. As part of the contemplative nature of my journey towards a month of meals I made a point to stop and really absorb the magnitude of what I had accomplished. Both freezers are completely full, I have only to add a side dish and salad each evening beyond warming the entrees. I should be able to pare down the normal 1 – 2 hour stint in the kitchen each evening to 15 minutes or so, leaving me an extra hour or more of creative time to myself.
As a reward for work well done, I made a plate of cookies to enjoy with my new-found freedom.
Stay tuned to see if I really make it into the studio or if my inner monk and artist loose yet another battle to my inner taskmaster.