After five years of writing for Tricycle‘s Food page, this is my final column, which never had a proper name and which I described to people who asked as 1/3 recipe, 1/3 memoir, 1/3 dharma. I adjusted these proportions with every essay and am grateful to my editors for giving me that freedom. For every story there was always an under story that I was tempted to tell, a grain of truth or grit that didn’t make it onto the page. Maybe I could have been more brave and told you about the broken heart or the struggle or the juicy bit of gossip that would have spiced things up a bit. Out of timidity or propriety, I sifted those parts out. I do have more to say about food and life and dharma, and I will continue to write for Tricycle when stories arise. Until then I’m focusing on fiction and some other projects. Thank you for reading!
I am writing this in a quiet, beautifully restored barn in the middle of a 600-acre preserve overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I am here on retreat thanks to the generosity of patrons of the arts.
As Buddhists, we know the power and importance of spending time on retreat. But for many it is prohibitively expensive to take time off work, to travel, and to pay rent on a secluded place for a stretch of time. In Buddhist countries there was, and sometimes still is, a tradition of public patronage for dharma wanderers. If a Sri Lankan or Thai supplicant wishes to go on retreat, it will be arranged. But in the West, there is no robust system of patronage for sangha.
It’s more common to see support for artist retreats, like this one, Djerassi Resident Artist Program, which was founded by philanthropist Carl Djerassi, the inventor of the contraceptive pill. There are many such residencies around the world, places that offer refuge for artists, dancers, writers, and musicians to simply work. These residencies create what one retreatant here called a “sacred space” for their creativity. They can apply to artist communities like Yaddo or Millay or Ucross where they will be housed, fed, given space, and given the choice of good company or utter solitude. The only hard-and-fast rule here is written on a triangular yellow sign at the gate that says, “Yield to Whim.”
How fantastic if we, as a Buddhist community, had a tradition of supporting sangha to study and practice. Of course there are many Buddhist retreat centers in the West and many are as generous as they can be to those who cannot afford to pay full fare. But more ubiquitous and affordable retreats offered to more people would be a sign of good times. Getting to that point would require more people to cultivate a habit of giving joyfully and generously to sustain the practice of others.
Sustenance is a key issue. I have lived at several dharma centers over the years and one thing seems to be common: While the shrine room and stupa are of course the center points of these places, the kitchen remains the heart—also, sometimes, the battle ground. All of us with our varied habits and restrictions and hang ups about food present a huge challenge to the cooks.
Some retreat centers have a chef or a crew of chefs who rotate; some rely on retreatants to do the cooking for themselves. A few places, like Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, not far from here, have published cookbooks. Most centers have a library of well-thumbed books or binders of crowd-pleasing recipes.
I thought I might share a few recipes that work well for big groups, specifically recipes for condiments that can make a bland meal sing. Almost any of these can turn a bowl of rice and steamed vegetables into a delicious and satisfying dish. The goal for most cooks is to avoid leftovers because fitting countless containers of bits and pieces back into a single refrigerator—where they will likely be forgotten—is one of the great dilemmas of a communal kitchen.
1) Hollyhock Yeast Dressing
This is a favorite at Sea to Sky Retreat Center near Whistler, BC. It can be used on salads and vegetables, and will even make your tofu steaks appetizing.
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup soy sauce or tamari
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup nutritional flake yeast
2 T garlic
1 1/2 cup olive oil
Combine the first five ingredients in a blender until they are thoroughly mixed. While still mixing on high, pour the oil in a slow, steady stream. As always, you can play with the amounts. This recipe makes 2 1/2 cups. When refrigerated, it should keep for about two weeks.
2) Djerassi Dan’s Chermoula Recipe
Daniel Tosh is the cook at Djerassi and he has given the place a reputation for spoiling residents in the best possible way. This is his recipe for chermoula, a condiment commonly used in North Africa. It’ll spice up vegetarian as well as nonvegetarian savory dishes. “Feel free to substitute ingredients to suit your taste,” says Dan. “The addition of fresh dill makes a nice sauce for fish. Smoked paprika lends a nice earthy, smoky character well suited to meat and poultry dishes. For a lighter version, use sweet paprika.”
Cilantro and flat leaf parsley, one bunch each
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño chili, seeds removed and chopped
2 scallions, chopped
2-3 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp saffron, crushed (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
Rinse and dry the cilantro and parsley. Remove large stems and place in blender or food processor with remaining ingredients. Blend into a rough purée. To use it as a marinade, add a little more olive oil.
3) Sharon’s Spicy Soy-Sauced Tomatoes
“Condiments in Indonesian cooking are just as important as the savory dishes they are served with,” says Sharon Crayton in her book One Taste: Vegetarian Home Cooking From Around the World.
Mix 2 medium sliced tomatoes (about 1 cup), 2 small seeded and thinly sliced Thai or Serrano red or green chilies, 2 small thinly sliced shallots, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil or cilantro.
These are a few must-have cookbooks for any communal kitchen.
- Any or all books by Heidi Swanson—Supernatural Cooking is a good bet. Her website is also an amazing resource.
- Jerusalem and Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi—straightforward, healthy recipes that are easy to double or triple for a big crowd.
- Best Recipe or any of the other books from America’s Test Kitchen. They have recently released a gluten-free baking book. All of their recipes are rigorously tested.
- The Joy of Cooking—It’s always good to have a classic on hand.
- Sharon Crayton’s One Taste: Vegetarian Home Cooking From Around the World, which includes lovely meditations with each recipe.
- Ulpotha: A Kitchen in Paradise—For those of you living in paradise, you might need some recipes.
Start your day with a fresh perspective
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