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.
As I have been working on revamping our eating habits here, I have come to realize that the same discipline I have had to embody in my life to master good, peace, calm, love, self confidence in my life are the same skills I was going to have to practice with my cooking and eating. Just like I mastered macaroni and cheese, as I wrote about last week, I will learn to master healthier dishes and learn to create other amazing dishes that will tantalize the taste buds of my friends and family.
There is always something new for us to master in the kitchen. I remember watching The Next Iron Chef competition and was amazed at how many of the Chefs had never used a pressure cooker. Or even on the recent episode of Chopped All Stars, most of the four professional chefs that were on this particular episode (Robert Irvine, Anne Burrell, Claire Robinon, and Duff Goldman) did not know what Dolce was. There are so many techniques and so many ingredients in the world that there is always something to master. Heck, how many of us have ever even heard of Haggis.
The important thing I have learned is to discipline myself to practice and keep broadening my experiences and techniques. My knife skills are one thing I have to practice. While I am good at chopping and dicing, things like batonnet, allumette, julienne, brunois, and fine brunois completely escape me. Until recently, I had no idea what any of these terms meant. But we all have to start somewhere.
My grandmother, Bubby in Yiddish, used to say to me “She who fails to fail, fails to succeed.” If I never practice, then I cannot achieve the freedom, which Zen aims for. If I just stay with the same old way of preparing X, let’s just say macaroni and cheese for example, then there is no room for growth and I will rapidly become bored cooking it the same way over and over again. Zen aims at the freedom to take anything and then have fun with it. For example, we eat a lot of salads in my home and for the most part, it has been the same lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onion salad. One day, I omitted all the traditional items and tossed the lettuce with beets and goat cheese and tossed it with vinaigrette. Another day, I tossed it with dried cranberries and goat cheese (everything is better with goat cheese.) Each time my wife eyed my salads suspiciously. However, after that initial I will give this a try bite, she became a fan of this new way of making salad. I have learned to have fun with my salad making and my wife has learned to practice eating and experiencing new flavors and textures together. In the process, we have all gained a new sense of freedom in our lives and expanded our pallettes.