I wanted to do something a little different this week. The theme for this month is Compassion and so I thought I would start by talking about how people have used food to express compassion. In the process of doing my research, I stumbled upon this story about one of my favorite chefs, Ming Tsai. May this story inspire each of us to share a meal with someone we know who is struggling.
In 2010, Shauna McLaughlin faced a mother's worst nightmare. Her then 19-month-old daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. As a single parent, Ms. McLaughlin was solely responsible for her daughter's medical, emotional, and financial care. Ms McLaughlin recalls, "I left my job to take care of her because she needed me around the clock. I couldn't leave her alone at the hospital. She was critically ill, and at times on life support." Read More
For the last few years I have been reflecting on the various things I have learned in and through the kitchen. With the health challenges I have been through in the last few months, I have made significant changes in how I think about food, plan menus, shop for ingredients, and cook. I also realized that I had some kitchen equipment, which needed to be replaced and that there were things I needed that we did not have. A series of events in my life and the lives of people I know led Zoe and I to buying a few new things for our kitchen from Pampered Chef. It is funny because Zoe, who never cooks, loves Pampered Chef products. I have always found it humorous that she who hates to cook, loves going to Pampered Chef parties. Read More
Every morning, as many of you, know I post my thought for the day. However, I also have a few places that send me inspirational messages as well. This morning, my message from God was “you are only as free as you imagine yourself to be. There is nothing "out there" that's holding you down, - you are limiting yourself only with your own imagination. And your greatest limits are not even the "cannot" and the "should not", but the places where your imagination hasn't yet gone at all. There has never been a better time for you to open your eyes, let the imagination soar and see what more is possible.” Read More
For those who were expecting me to say that this week’s blog was inspired by my addiction to Chopped, I have to partially disappoint you. It was not my original source of inspiration. It was actually inspired by the reflection and meditation I have been doing the last few weeks about being present. Last week, I talked about being present while cooking, not just being present with the process, but with the ingredients and taking the time to let them speak to me through all my senses.
Last night, as I was finishing my blog on The Gift of Presence for my Inspiritual Reflection I realized this was why gathering around the kitchen table to share a meal is so important. It is not just a time to eat together. It is a time to be present with each other Read More
I always love it when my friends call me and tell me they found someone who thinks the same way I do about food and cooking. Recently, this came about in a video someone shared with me about how to cut an onion. What Cynthia Lair, the speaker in this video, discussed was not so much about how to cut an onion, although she physically demonstrates that as well. What she talked about was the importance of being present when you are cooking. Given that this is our theme for this month, I knew I had to write about this. Read More
Over the last few months, I have had to make major changes in the way I eat and therefore the way I cook. Initially, I felt a little overwhelmed at the growing list of foods that I could no longer eat and for the first time in my life, cooking seemed stressful. It was then that I had to return to my basics and go back to some of the basic lessons that I had learned across my lifetime. One being that cooking is like meditation. When I stop, relax, and focus on being at one in the moment and with the ingredients, my creativity would kick in and the answers to what and how to prepare would flow like a river. Read More
It has been a while since I posted here, while I have been resting, healing, and preparing for the next round of surgery. However, I was reminded of something last night that resonated with my soul and that is in all things to do you. I was watching a special episode of Chopped (no surprise to those who read this blog often) and Katie Lee, one of the competitors, was surprised that she won. In reflecting on it, she talked about how she thought she had won because she had stayed true to who she was. Katie is best known for her comfort foods and that is what she cooked all three courses, foods filled with memories of growing up and cooking with her grandmother and mother. She gave the judges her on a plate. Read More
Sometimes it does not take much to make someone feel loved. However, in my mind everyone is worthy of experiencing the unconditional love of others. A friend of mine has avoided coming over for dinner several times. Her excuse has been that she is a picky eater. The truth is that she is on a restrictive diet to help her live without severe migraine headaches. The other day, I asked her to send me a list of all the things she cannot eat. I asked her if she would consider coming over for dinner if I made a meal that honored her dietary needs. Read More
Those who know me will understand that perhaps my least favorite show on the Food Network is Cutthroat Kitchen. That said, the fifth agreement in Toltec wisdom reminds me that lessons can be hidden in places that we might overlook if we did not listen with a maybe. So, I decided to watch the show last week because it was the first of a five-week series with “superstar” chefs competing for charity. The last two chefs standing were Michael Psilakis and Aartie Sequiera. The dish they were required to make was French toast. French toast is one of those iconic breakfast dishes. While there are a few variations in terms of bread used and whether they are stuffed or not, there are some things you expect to experience and taste when you eat this, regardless of the day or time. Read More
As many of you know, the show Chopped on the Food Network never ceases to be a source of inspiration for this blog. Last night was no different, albeit for different reasons. The cheftestants were not those who work as restaurant chefs, private chefs, or even culinary instructors. They were those who worked in non-profit organizations preparing food for those we so often call “the least of thee.” One cooked for the Fresh Air Fund and others cooked for various homeless shelters. It was the story of one of the cheftestants who talked about going from being homeless to being able to cook at the shelter that moved me. It reminded me of a time in my own life when I had almost become homeless. His story also moved me because of how they served their clients in the homeless shelter. Their dining facility did not have line that people went through, but was set up like a restaurant with menus and a volunteer staff that served as wait staff. Read More
Somebody recently asked me why I continue to write in this blog? How many different connections can one possibly make between food and spirituality? I just smiled and said the connections are endless. They challenged me to make a connection between food addictions and spirituality. As I have a few (olives, pot stickers, sashimi, anything spicy, and seafood), I found this interesting. Just about everyone I know has a food they crave. Recently I saw an article that talked about how fast foods activate similar parts of the brain as drugs. I can say, at least for me, that my addiction to my foods of choice is not about the food. It is about me. There are things about those foods in which I find comfort and a kind of satisfaction that I do not get from other foods, especially at certain times in the semester (grading frenzy), or around the holidays. When somebody offers me the opportunity to eat any one of the three things listed above, my mouth begins to salivate. Even writing about them, I find myself thinking about Guy Fieri when he talks about how the jets in his mouth are turning on while he watches one of the guests on his show cook one of their signature dishes. Read More
Several months ago, I wrote about the basic black dress in cooking. The notion came from a makeover show, which Tim Gunn was co-hosting at the time. He would often say every woman should have a basic black dress in her wardrobe. He talked about how you start with the basic black dress and then accessorize it to make it personal. Thus far, I have applied this to vegetable stock, grilled cheese sandwiches, and cheeseburgers. Last night, I was craving some comfort food and for me that was egg rolls.
I love egg rolls and have eaten them most of my life. In fact, while I was writing my doctoral comprehensive exams, I think we bought the local restaurant out of egg rolls I ate so many. Egg rolls are one of the few foods that taste good to me when I am going through a stressful time. So egg rolls are what I requested when our housemate was elected to go to Wegman’s and get each of us something “deserty” or “comforting.” What he brought me were egg rolls, but nothing like what I have ever had before. Read More
As many of you know, I am a Food Network junkie and have no plans to join a 12 step group to kick my addiction. A friend of mine and I were discussing some of our favorite and least favorite shows, especially the competition ones. What we realized is that there is one ingredient, which we have seen several cheftestants use, which regardless of the show seems to get them eliminated and losing. This ingredient is the opposite of an ingredient I discussed a few weeks ago in my blog on humility.
This ingredient is cockiness. Ironically, it is those who you hear complain about the quality of the ingredients and how they are beneath them or who, like on Beat Bobby Flay, are overly cocky about their ability to beat him that they are not able to execute properly the very dish they have spent years perfecting. This tendency to focus on the prize and not the process is one that has been discussed for years. It applies to everything from cooking to learning to competitive sports. It is a lesson that I always associate with a poem called The Archer by Lao Tsu. Read More
Recently, I re-watched a film (Gods of our Fathers) with my students, which made me think about how the way we, as human beings, have voted with our food has changed over time. During the time of hunter-gatherers, they never took for granted where their next meal might be coming from or what it might be. My sense is that they found food along the way to nurture their bodies. I have a hard time envisioning them stopping at regularly scheduled times to eat. My sense is that not knowing where their next meal was coming from or when; they did not take any morsel for granted. Read More
I have often talked about the importance of cooking with love. It is that secret ingredient which people seem to be able to taste in your cooking. However, I have found that love without humility seems to affect the outcome of the dish. One of my favorite stories about this is told by Mary Beth Crain. She tells the story of making a dish for her mother which she should not have been eating as it was not a diabetic friendly dish.
I feel, however, that I must issue a warning: cooking with love doesn’t always bring great results. Over the holidays I got an old American Home Magazine from 1937, in which I found, of all things, an ad for Royal Baking Powder featuring a recipe from none other than the mother of famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart. For some odd reason I was entranced by the tinted color photo of white-haired old Mother Earhart, looking maternal and saintly, presenting her beautiful platter of fried chicken, gravy and biscuits made with foolproof Royal Baking Powder. The promo read, “’Amelia’s Favorite Dish is My Fried Chicken and Biscuits!’ Says the Mother of the World’s Most Famous Woman Flyer.” Read More
A few months ago, we became aware of a new restaurant in our area that delivers. We became excited when we saw they had fried chicken. We decided to try it. I ordered the fried chicken dinner, which came with salad and French fries. After having waited patiently for over an hour for the food to arrive, I learned an important lesson. If it does not taste good, do not eat it. Those who know me understand I am one to look for something positive in every situation. In particular case it was a challenge to do; the delivery was amazingly slow, the soda we ordered for Zoe came with a puncture hole in the bottle and was spraying soda at us. They made no effort to even go back around the corner (1/4 of a mile away) to bring us a new one. Then we opened the food. What can I say, the salad was made with lettuce that was limp and brown, the tomatoes smelled bad, and the onions still had peel on them. It neither looked nor smelled good enough to want to eat it, so it went in the trash. The fries were still partially frozen and unseasoned. The chicken, well, the first bite told me that I did not even need to swallow it. Not only was it overcooked and under seasoned, but also it tasted as if the chicken might not have even been healthy to eat, it tasted that bad. It did not taste good, so I did not eat it. Read More
Growing up, I can still hear my mother tell me, “Try it, you might like it.” It is one of those lessons I strive to remember even today. I may not have liked something when I was a child, but that does not mean I will not like it now or even 10 years from now. My wife, for example, has not liked zucchini since I met her, for no explainable reason, but that she did not like it. However, a few months ago I made a zucchini and pasta dish that she loved. In fact, she seemed to enjoy it more than anyone else in our household did and has grown to enjoy zucchini since then.
The same is true of restaurants. Read More
Last week, I wrote about consistency and one of my readers commented back to me on LinkedIn that it was also about constancy. This week, I thought I would spend some time thinking about constancy, as it is important both in and out of the kitchen. Constancy has been defined by Merriam Webster as the “state of being constant or unchanging” and as the capacity to demonstrate “steadfastness of mind under duress.” Cooking requires one to constant and at the same not be constant. There are those moments when preparing the meal, especially during the holiday season or other major event, can seem stressful. However, in those times, one stays centered, focused, and remembers that one will make it through one more time. Watching chefs at work, you can see their constancy. Regardless of how hectic things get and how much duress they are under, that ability to stay constant is important in ensuring the quality of food, but also the ability to be present for the kitchen staff. In cooking competitions, one sees the cheftestants ability to stay constant during competition. At the same time, it is important to be open to constantly growing and evolving in one’s knowledge and understanding of foods, ingredients, preparation methods, etc. chefs can spend years perfecting a single dish. Read More
For those who have been following this blog for a while, you know that one of my favorite sources of inspiration is the Food Network show Chopped. This week was no exception. One of the spiritual messages that I have been receiving lately is about consistency. One of the primary reasons contestants are “chopped” is because there is inconsistency in plating and in preparation of the food. The inconsistency can be that the meats were cooked to differing degrees of doneness. Other times, the same amount of ingredients was not placed in the same way or in the same amount on the plates. Consistency is important. If you are going out to eat at a restaurant, it is important that all who order a dish, regardless of when they order it get the same dish. One of the things I have found personally challenging is when I order something and love it and then order it again a few weeks later and it is not the same dish. Inconsistency challenges one’s ability to trust they are going to have the same experience or that all who order it will experience the same dish. Read More