By Eve Heidtmann
“What’s for supper?”
It’s a question that comes up with a sense of hopeful anticipation just about every day. For some of us, answering that question became more complicated at the 2007 Deer Park retreat when Thay told us the Buddha’s parable of Eating the Son’s Flesh. He spoke of the connection between the livestock industry and global warming. It became clear that the food we put on our plates today has everything to do with the world our children will face in the future. Thay planned to adopt a plant-based (vegan) diet and was asking his monasteries and retreat centers to do the same. We were invited to help be the change.
Several friends from my Portland Sangha were with me when we heard Thay’s call. We were touched by his words and wondered what we could do. Changing one’s diet can seem daunting. Habit energies are strong, especially where food is concerned. Food is close to the heart, comforting, and closely connected with family memories. The idea of giving up our favorite foods was tinged with feelings of sadness and loss. Could we really do this and feel good about it?
Joy Was the Essential Ingredient
As I thought about all this, I began to see a practical solution. Maybe it wasn’t necessary to make a sweeping decision to turn away from what was familiar. Maybe instead we could simply explore plant-based cooking and see what satisfactions might be found there. I had a head start on this. My family had begun a vegan diet two years earlier for health reasons. I had started then with low expectations: how could a meal be satisfying when the basics were missing? But I had been delightfully surprised! Checking out vegan cookbooks and trying one recipe after another, I discovered many novel combinations and wonderful new flavors. In fact, I really preferred eating this way. Perhaps I could help others see the possibilities, one recipe at a time.
I suggested to my Sangha that we could share recipes, with the goal of helping each other cut down on animal products. My suggestion went out to our Engaged Buddhism group and soon there were a dozen of us in an email circle, some with recipes to offer and others looking for ideas. Before long we were meeting for potlucks, tasting each other’s culinary experiments, and telling our food stories. After many months, our ever-growing recipe collection became unwieldy. I asked my son Evan if there was a way to store it online. Voila! He created a homemade website for us. Because we had discovered that joy was the essential ingredient of our project, the name of our website became “The Joy of Mindful Cooking.”
Healthy Recipes, Healthy Earth
Having a website has been both a learning experience and a lot of fun! The site has allowed us to organize our recipes in different ways. When you visit our website, you can click Browse Recipes to find a list of main dishes, salads, desserts, and so on. If you click on a category heading—for example, Main Dish—you will see brief descriptions of all the recipes in that category. Another approach, if you have something on hand you want to use up, is to click Find a Recipe, then enter your ingredient and call up all the recipes that include it. You can also search for recipes best suited to a particular season. If you are wondering about reducing the animal products in an old favorite recipe, just click on Common Substitutions to find suggestions for plant-based substitutes for meat, dairy, and eggs.
The website also gives us a place to recommend books and films, talk about food issues, and help answer kitchen questions. The Five Contemplations appear on the Home page, reminding us of our purpose every time we look there. The About Us page explains the origin of our project. Thanks to our website, our original Portland email circle has grown to include thirty-five cooks in six states who are interested in knowing about recipes and hearing news of our project. Anyone who would like to join our email list is welcome. Just click on Join the Mailing List and fill in the spaces to start a user account. Please don’t be dismayed that it won’t register you instantly: our project is still homey and needs a real person (me) to push buttons to get you in. Of course, you don’t need to register to use the recipes or explore the site.
Our Portland group is still gathering around the table every few months. We talk about whatever is on our minds about food, which means everything from how to use an immersion blender to the obesity epidemic to the problems caused by giant food corporations. We pass around cookbooks and talk about local volunteer projects to feed those in need. Most of all, we swap recipes and encourage each other in our efforts to live in closer harmony with the earth.
Next time you wonder what’s for supper, come visit our website and have what we’re having. With gratitude to Thay for getting us started, we offer our recipe collection to everyone along with our hopes for a joyful cooking experience and a sustainable future for all the world’s children.
Eve Heidtmann, Natural Outreach of the Heart, is a member of the Thursday Night Sangha in Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her husband and son. She works as a private tutor for children. The Joy of Mindful Cooking can be explored at www.mindfulcooking.org.
Curried Red Lentils with Barley or Rice
A quick, easy, and satisfying soup.
1 cup red lentils
1/2 cup barley or rice 6 cups water
1/2 c. chopped onion
1-2 cloves minced garlic
One potato, skin on or off, cubed (optional)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. minced fresh ginger root (or powdered ginger)
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1 & 1/2 tsp. curry powder (Madras suggested)
1 tsp. cumin
Simmer the lentils, barley or rice, onion, garlic, salt and spices in the water about 20 minutes. Add the potato cubes and cook 15 or 20 more minutes. Just before serving, add a little chopped tomato and/or cilantro.
An original recipe contributed to www.mindfulcooking.org by Faith Arsanis.