The great Buddhist pilgrimage sites of Asia like Bodhgaya, Kapilavastu, Deer Park, Vulture Peak, and Tso Pema became sacred sites many centuries ago, but there are places on this planet right this minute whose sacredness is coming to fruition before our eyes and in our own backyards: Trungpa Rinpoche’s Great Stupa of Dharmakaya in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado, for example, or Khadro Ling in Brazil, or a small hilltop in southwest France where H. H. Dudjom Rinpoche and Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche established homes.
I try to make pilgrimage to the latter for a few weeks every other year or so. During the summer months, a tent is erected in a field and lamas from all sects of Tibetan Buddhism come to teach, in the Tibetan tradition of gars, or temporary camps. It’s glorious in that tent. Hundreds of Buddhist practitioners come from all over the world and the dharma rains down. Sometimes we get caught in actual rain too, but mostly we enjoy sunshine and balmy breezes. Parents with small children set up on picnic blankets under trees nearby and wear wireless headphones to follow the talks.
But every time I go, I end up hungry. It’s not easy being a vegetarian in the south of France, epicenter of the horror that is foie gras. The only meat-free thing on the menu of the local restaurants is a slightly undercooked mushroom omelet. The retreat is quite rigorous and there is rarely a chance to go to the Biocoop, the local organic shop in Le Moustier. Retreatants dole out spare nuts and parts of energy bars to friends like treasures imported from Tushita heaven.
Yet there is one place one can be fed, if one is lucky enough to be invited, a place where you will eat not only vegetarian food but also some of the most vibrant, organic, beautifully homegrown morsels—prepared with such love and meticulous adherence to all rules of progressive food production—that I have ever experienced: Kali’s garden.
Kali Martin moved from Canada, via California, to be closer to the teachers who reside in the Dordogne ten years ago, intending to do retreats. She did retreats, but she also fell in love with John Canti, a highly respected translator of Tibetan and cofounder of the Padmakara Translation Group, and began a five-year project of turning his crumbling rural farmhouse on a steep slope of inhospitable soil into a lush model of permaculture gardening. What Kali has created is the dream of every apocalypse prepper and organic foodie. She uses no pesticides or fertilizers; she grows everything from shiitake mushrooms to medicinal herbs to copious amounts of vegetables. And then there are the hens, which I’ll get to.
She is currently expanding her garden in order to be able to provide vegetables to CASA, the food bank founded by Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, who lives nearby. “People who are living on the edge need nutrient-rich food just as much as anyone else, if not more so because of all the stressors in their lives,” Kali says, “and yet most only have access to the cheapest, most highly processed and devitalized food. So I’m hoping that Living Forest Farm can help contribute to this community.” It’s initially a lot of work to establish a new permaculture food system, so Kali has begun welcoming volunteers from WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) so she can spend more time coordinating and leading workshops on her land, when she’s not busy giving consultations as a natural health practitioner.
So you go there, you have a meal, and you feel like your cells are dancing. This is my idea of a feast. The lengths to which Kali goes to make sure everything on the plate is healthy and cruelty-free are beyond imagination. She even has a special water filter that swirls the water to mimic river water, which sounds a bit outlandish, but there is no water that tastes as good as hers.
We were in the midst of the teachings and things were chaotic, but I managed to get a quick tour of her garden and a recipe for her amazing frittata. The eggs she uses are not fertilized. Her hens are hand-fed better than someone with an employee discount at Whole Foods. They get boosts of homegrown comfrey crushed with brewer’s yeast and wheat germ to promote egg laying. As her houseguest Louise remarked, “These eggs are lush.”
Her frittata is gluten-free, cruelty-free, dairy-free, and pretty much impossible to replicate unless you have five years and a bit of land. You can use supermarket eggs; we can’t all be saints in the kitchen (although we can aspire!). What we can do, though, is avoid factory farm eggs and choose local organic, free-range eggs.
Recipe for Potato & Kale Frittata with Herbes de Provence
3 tablespoons organic ghee or extra virgin olive oil
1 peeled and chopped organic onion (Kali’s favorite variety for easy growing: Sturon onions)
2 1/2 cups loosely packed, very thinly sliced small organic potatoes (Kali grows Nicola potatoes, the only variety that does not spike blood sugar levels)
1 cup finely shredded organic kale, stems removed (Kali recommends red Russian kale)
1 1/2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
10 organic free-range eggs, lightly beaten
Unrefined sea salt and pepper to season (optional)
Preheat the broiler to medium or set the oven to 350 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee or oil in a cast-iron skillet on low heat. Add the chopped onion and sauté until the onion is tender and fragrant but not brown, about 6 minutes. Add the thin potato slices and sauté over low to medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring the potatoes with a wooden spoon now and again to ensure that they all cook evenly. As the potatoes soak up the oil and the pan becomes a little dry, add a few tablespoons of water every 2 or 3 minutes. Another option is to first boil the potatoes until tender. When the potatoes are tender, add the kale and stir around for a couple of minutes until wilted. Add 1 teaspoon of herbes de Provence and cook for another minute. Distribute evenly across the pan. Beat the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Add the remaining tablespoon of ghee or oil. Pour in the eggs and swirl the pan around so that the eggs cover the potatoes and kale. Keep the heat as low as possible and cook, covered, until the edge of the frittata appears to be firming up, about 5 minutes. Then place in the oven under a medium hot broiler, until it is cooked through, another 5–10 minutes. When it has finished cooking, allow the frittata to cool briefly before cutting it into slices. Serve warm.
Replace the kale with rainbow chard or other leafy greens. Replace or combine the potatoes with carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes, or other root vegetables from your garden or local farmer’s market. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper or serve with organic chili sauce for those who need to rekindle their fire. Use fresh rosemary, oregano, hyssop, savory, marjoram, and/or thyme in place of herbes de Provence.
Take a video tour of Kali’s garden.
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