If you ask my mother, my interest in cooking was not apparent early in life. In fact, she would tell you that it probably seemed likely that I would sustain existence with ramen noodles and frozen dinners throughout my adulthood. While it didn’t seem like I was paying attention, I think I must have been. I remember standing on a chair in the kitchen with my grandmother as she baked (I usually had more flour on me than was in the cake). I was an active part of my family garden and recognized the fruit of my father’s hunting skills and my mother’s passion for canning. In my dining past I have transitioned from the woman who ate nearly anything, to someone who was slowly removing meat from her diet, to someone who didn’t eat meat, to someone who sometimes ate fish to whatever I am claiming today. Suddenly I realized that when I was stressed out, I went to the kitchen. I don’t exactly remember when I started worrying less about recipes and more about flavor, but it was all about the process. For me cooking has been a winding road that has been filled with multiple influences and opportunities to grow and develop. Without realizing it, all those small influences on my culinary life helped shape and develop the way I view cooking and eating today. Thankfully, the road keeps winding and new influences and flavors keep challenging me.
Now, my kitchen offers a peaceful place where I get to joyfully play with new ingredients I have never heard of, feel at ease preparing food with items that have become foundations for my cooking, can consider the impact my choices have on the environment and larger societal concerns, and can share in my love of food and eating with my family and friends. I think this begins to suggest how I see karma acting in my kitchen.
Rachel and I became friends a few years ago and this opened a new path for my journey into cooking. We would often call each other and I would say, “Rachel, I got some awesome eggplant today.” She would reply, “Tracy, I have some leftover butternut squash that should be used soon.” Before you knew it, we had created a basic outline of a meal verbally that would come together in our kitchens. Rachel and I always seemed to be able to marry our styles of cooking to work together to make something lovely. This process began my kitchen creativity path.
This past year, my spouse and I (“The Philosopher”) purchased a share of a CSA for the first time. A CSA refers to Community Supported Agriculture and is a system where one supports a local farmer by investing in a share of the farm’s bounty at the beginning of planting time. A CSA helps local farmers share some of the risk of their trade and I have the opportunity to support a fellow member of my community. Further, my CSA has offered me a breadth of produce that I have never seen in my grocery store or would not have considered purchasing and cooking before. Who knew patty pan squash were so delicious?
I truly feel that cooking is a means of bringing people together. The idea of breaking bread with loved ones; sharing in a time of feeding your physical body while talking, looking into one another’s eyes instead of a computer screen, and reconnecting and communicating with one another can be so fulfilling. Many of the best conversations I have ever had were over a meal. The Philosopher and I often find ourselves bringing together a crew of coworkers, neighbors, classmates, and others who have often never met one another together for a meal. Soon the common thread of a food breaks away tensions and meaningful conversation begins to flow.
Finally, cooking is means of relaxing for me. There is something therapeutic about measuring, chopping, tasting, mixing. I have found that most kitchen disasters really aren’t that bad. Outside of burning or spilling, I have rarely met a kitchen error that I didn’t eat anyway. I think that the final realization that I couldn’t mess up too badly was the release I needed to really let go and cook.
How do you find karma in your kitchen? I am not going to pretend to have all the answers. I will suggest that for me, when cooking no longer felt like a chore and instead began to feel more like this opportunity to act positively; to engage with my community and the environment, to bring wellness to my family, to offer a gift of kindness to a neighbor, to speak in a language that transcends differences, to use my time and energy for the sake of my loved ones-this is when it began to feel more like karma. When my kitchen began to be a place for positive energy, the opportunity to create change, and impact health-that’s when I began to find karma in my kitchen.