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Tuesday, March 16, 2010: The Spiritual Discipline of Cooking


        My first husband (an American yogi) was a vegetarian, back in the days when you had to make everything from scratch and the dinner meal took one to two hours from prep to table. I was never keen on cooking, especially when I came home tired from work and was expected to turn out some incredible meal on the spot (ummm...make that after an hour in the kitchen). 

        Plus, since I was eating fish and chicken to stabilize my blood sugars, I really had two meals to prepare. I won’t even get into Friday vegetarian fasts that allowed only potatoes and dairy: no grain (meaning no wheat or rice flour for sauces), no vegetables (such as onions or green peppers) for flavoring, no nuts or beans or other protein sources. Try making up gourmet variations on that combination.

        Hubby #1 had been reared by a mother who always served him dinner and said, “See how much I love you. I’ve cooked all my love into this meal.” This ‘proof of love’ I supposed made up for the time she didn’t spend with him or the support she did not provide as he struggling with new step-father issues. She was well-meaning but caught up in her own career, her own problems.

        The adult I married was still a little boy, who felt every meal should be freshly prepared and served by the woman of the house to the man of the house. I know---give me a break. But he was serious. Leftovers were tainted and undesirable (a sign I had not extended myself and must not be feeling very ‘loving’ toward him).  

        All the recipes out of my vegetarian cookbooks made enough for eight to ten people. Are you going to spend two hours every night cooking for just that evening’s meal…and throw out the leftovers? We were too broke to waste food; I had too many other obligations to spend every evening cooking.  I froze food and tried to alternate for variety. My husband ate his leftovers and grumbled. I ate my non-vegetarian leftovers and resented the entire necessity of cooking.

        Many of the other yogi wives loved cooking. Not me, though I admit I was not big on cooking even before this marriage.  The demand for variety and new culinary treats each day (in a food-choice I never ate myself) became a serious pain in the you-know-what, especially after I had kids. If you haven’t experienced it yourself…being a stay-at-home mom with young kids actually gives you less free time during the day than working a full-time job.  

           Infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers have a witching hour at about 4 p.m., which meant leaving to spend an hour on food preparation was often impossible. I tried preparing and cooking the dinner meal at 2 or 3 o’clock, when the kids were napping or playing quietly. Of course, that meant reheating the food for dinner, something instantly classified by my husband as leftovers, despite the food making its first appearance on the table. (Looking back, this might have been reason enough to divorce the man, but it wasn’t even on the top ten of the list.)

         It should come as no surprise that after the divorce I did not cook vegetarian for twenty years. As a single parent with three boys, a full-time job and a two-hour daily commute, not to mention after-school meetings, sports or homework projects, meals became pared-down simplicity. I shudder to think of nights when I walked in the door, threw a tray of frozen French fries and fish sticks in the oven and raced about until the timer went off twenty minutes later---busy getting us ready for the next priority of the evening. Well, that sort of thing didn’t happen often and we all survived.

        The thing is that the second time around I married a man who really appreciates good food. The joy is that it doesn’t have to be ‘my’ food.  If I say I haven’t the time to make dinner, or I’m not in the mood to cook, he’s more than willing to pick something up on the way home, take charge of grilling, or drive me to a restaurant. When I do cook, he is so appreciative and enjoys my cooking so much that I find myself cooking more and more meals. We both like the idea of knowing what’s in our food, of keeping a high quality meal simple.

        Knowing R. loves desserts (but can’t handle chocolate), I search out recipes I never would have tried before, replacing applesauce for some of the butter and reducing sugar by up to half, to make a dessert more like he would have eaten in his childhood or like he should be eating in his senior years. He is now spoiled, detesting restaurant desserts as being overly sweet and fattening.  I’m embarrassed at the thrill I get when he says he prefers my desserts. (God help me, but it seems such an unspiritual emotion.)

        I try to understand the change in me, as I upgrade an old favorite for tonight’s main course, as I take a moment to admire swirls in the creamed base of tonight’s dessert. The new feeling may arise from cooking in quiet moments at my own convenience rather than dashing something together between moments of higher priorities (yes, it’s wonderful being retired).  The feeling may come from knowing that my new husband is appreciate and tolerant of my experiments with new recipes: if it works, he expresses his delight in the flavor experience; if it turns out not-so-good, he remains good-natured and supportive, usually giving the new dish several more stars than I would. The feeling may come from having enough financial security to buy what sounds heavenly, rather than struggling to combine what is left in the pantry. But I suspect the feeling comes mostly from giving back to a partner who looks for his own ways to give toward my well-being and happiness.

        The love flows into me as I work around the kitchen, anticipating his delight later tonight. I can feel my love pouring outward into the food. Like my ex-mother-in-law, I think. Was it like this for her? Am I just now discovering some spiritual discipline she created in her own yoga practices?  I cannot be sure if she was driven by guilt or what I am feeling now, but I find myself smiling.

        Creamed butter and sugar form patterns like angel wings as I look down at the bowl. I will not present this dessert tonight as a demonstration of my love; the preparation has simply drawn attention to my own heart, to the love and appreciation I am feeling right now, the joy at having such an incredible man in my life. What a difference.

Posted on Tuesday, March 16, 2010 at 09:16AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

I love the title of this post. It has given me much thought. I too had a first husband that expected much of me in the kitchen (and other places). I had 3 boys and one girl and while he wasn't a yogi, he had pretty definite ideas about what his meal should be. I am thrilled for you that you have this man in your life now!
March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKass

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