Excerpted and adapted from Lavinia Plonka’s book: Playing in the Kitchen
It’s 3:57AM. I shuffle toward the bathroom in the dark trying to stay half asleep so that my return to the covers will immediately return me to dreamland. I know I have to go to the bathroom when I start dreaming about toilets in the middle of people’s kitchens. They say that dreams are messages from home. Usually my dreams are messages from my bladder.
As I stumble back to bed, I realize with horror that my mind is planning dinner for Friday night. We are not having guests. It is not a special occasion. I don’t need to plan dinner three days in advance. But here I am, in the middle of the night, mentally pulling beans out of the freezer, thinking about whether I want to use coconut milk or go for Mexican.
I have a deep wish for spiritual enlightenment, and have studied many techniques for stilling the mind. For the last thirty five years, I’ve sat each morning on my cushion, trying to be present to what is. And then suddenly, my mind is busily chopping red peppers and mushrooms for an omelet, or trying to figure out if yogurt would be a good substitute for buttermilk in the pancakes. I return to my breath, in, out, I am here, I am here, and then… I’m frying bacon.
I have friends who forget to eat. Imagine. Others think that cooking is a waste of time – why go through all that trouble when you can pick up something perfectly good at the health food store? I’ve tried it. I stand in front of the deli counter – kale with tamari dressing, hijiki salad, pasta salad, curried chicken salad. And instead of buying, I find myself thinking, “I have lemon and tamari at home. A little fresh garlic and I could have a gourmet wilted kale dish in minutes. And why should I pay $3.00 for a hijiki salad that’s been sitting there all afternoon, and would only cost me 50 cents to make fresh?” etc, etc till I walk away empty handed to go home and cook dinner.
When we were growing up, we’d long for the foods we saw on TV, Chef Boyardee, Wonder Bread, Wish Bone Salad Dressing. My parents insisted that this was “junk food.” So far ahead of their time, they seemed crazy, my Mom insisted on baking the bread and my Dad taught me to make salad dressing. “You see, it would cost $1.50 for this dressing at the store. And look, a few cents worth of vinegar, some oil, some spices and you have it fresh!” To this day, I make my own salad dressing.
Can I blame this on my Dad? After all, one of our favorite pastimes is to blame our parents. Why not obsessive cooking? One of his favorite expressions was, “Some people eat to live. I live to eat!” I have even inherited his gift for food stains. Whether I’m cooking, or eating, I can always be sure that if I am wearing good clothes, and especially white, that it will attach itself to my garment. Same with Dad. Not a meal goes by where he doesn’t drop some gravy, a piece of chicken or sauce on his shirt.
For a short time after the War, my Dad had fast talked his way into a job as head pastry chef at a hotel in London, even though he’d never baked a cake in his life. He used to speak about the terror he felt as he walked around, approving and disapproving various cakes, dividing his free time between trying to think up inventive pastries and trying to seduce the female staff. Scientists have been saying that our DNA doesn’t just carry our hair and skin color and height information. They tell us that our responses to events are also carried in our DNA. Perhaps my parents’ experiences during the war and my father’s chef adventure got imprinted into me so that I was born thinking about food..
I am not alone. I was once having dinner with another friend who is a compulsive chef. He sighed. “I wake up in the morning thinking about a particularly satisfying stock reduction I made 3 years ago, or try to figure out whether it’s worth driving 30 miles to the seafood market because I’m thinking scallops are just what’s needed for tonight. Even as I’m eating a meal, my mind is thinking about things I can do with the leftovers.”
Does imagination have calories? Is it possible that my thoughts can put on weight? Oh no! Could these very imaginings be my obstacle to enlightenment and sleekness? I think of the Spartan meals I’ve seen in monasteries, the streamlined menus at Zen retreats. You don’t see chocolate pecan pie there, no chicken with mole sauce, no black bean cakes with mango salsa. Creative frenzy is contained, a serene garden, a lovely chapel, perhaps some secret journaling. But wait! Could there be another way? Another path to inner transformation and a slender shape? The way of the chef?
That’s it! Instead of fighting it, food could become my mantra! My inner chatter could become my inner chant – I just need to make it intentional. After all, it’s not about the thought, it’s about the thinker. I could even turn it into an inner Gregorian Chant (join me now in singing):
How about a smoothie?
I think there are still straw…..berries
Is the yogurt still good
Pineapple is going……bad
By intentionally thinking about food, perhaps I’ll think a little slower, chew my mental meals more carefully, digest it better. I’ll be thinner and more present. I will be like my Dad – I will live to eat, even my thoughts.
Speaking of Kale:
Kale with Tamari Dressing
Serves 2 – 4
Sometimes you can sauté kale and it tastes delicious, sometimes, (I’m sure a food scientist could tell me the reason), it comes out tough. A foolproof method is to steam the kale and then add the dressing.
One bunch Kale (about 8 large leaves), coarsely chopped
4 Tbsp. Olive oil
2 -3 cloves garlic, minced
juice of 1/2 lemon (@ 1/4 cup)
2 Tbs. Tamari
2 Tbs. Toasted Sesame Oil
Steam the kale till it is wilted. Put into bowl. Sauté the garlic in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix together lemon, tamari. Keep whisking as you add the oils and garlic (with its oil). Pour over the warm kale, toss well.
And the kitchen is a wonderful place to try a little Awareness Through Movement lesson. Enjoy!
Body language expert Lavinia Plonka has helped people improve their movement, behavior, relationships and careers for over 35 years. Her unique expertise connects the dots among posture/movement, emotions and the mind. Lavinia’s training and professional career have included theater, dance, yoga and the martial arts. She has taught The Feldenkrais Method® for over 25 years and is also an Assistant Trainer. Lavinia is a level CL4 teacher of the Alba Method and an Emotional Body Instructor. She was an artist in residence for the Guggenheim Museum and movement consultant for theater and television companies around the world, from the Irish National Folk Theater to Nickelodeon. From Esalen to the Council on Aging, from Beijing to Mexico, Lavinia’s popular workshops explore the intersection between movement, emotions and the mind. She is currently the director of Asheville Movement Center in Asheville, NC, offering a complete movement curriculum including workshops and private lessons. Lavinia’s writing includes several books and audio programs as well as her popular column CosmiComedy.
Find out more at laviniaplonka.com