Hunger is the worst of diseases ~ the Buddha

Monday, June 16, 2014

Strawberry-Rhubarb Being, From Scratch-That

I have started to see that all cooking resources actually lie within...and you can’t source from a mind pantry that’s depleted. Language feeds and depletes me, by turns of the mixer blade, I've learned. 

There are technical differences between buckles, bettys, crisps, cobblers, and slumps—but the truth is, they’re all made of the same core star stuff, as are we. Carl Sagan said, "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” 
But that’s just a technicality. 
Of course he was never talking about something as simple as pi, and I'm sure he meant to include all of the above. But being a wise and kind teacher, he didn’t want to scare us--and in the Western world, appealing to a mom and apple pie sensibility increases the likelihood that your message might be widely received, if not swallowed.

Look, I can’t even figure high-altitude cooking temps, so I am not even going to attempt outer space conversions. You already know, if you've spent as much time cut off from yourself in the vacuum of alienation, that if you want to get free and become a more dimensional being, inner space is the only place to do your cooking. 

I have labored under a belief for a very long time that I have to make everything from scratch. My Depression Era ethic: "make it cheap, make it all by yourself, and do everything from what you already have; buy nothing new—and something horrible will happen if it’s not perfect, if it’s not dazzling” rears its head when I am most stressed and most egoic—usually, these coincide in singular situations of simple striving, a flavor of craving.
Mostly, it’s striving to make demons of unworthiness go away. 
The problem is that if you feed them, say, a phenomenal strawberry-rhubarb buckles/betty/crisp/cobbler/slumps--they always want more. 
Unless you grow all of your own food, sew the cloth napkins, and smelt every napkin ring, you are hemstitching yourself not only into a corner, but into time. 

And you can starve in your own kitchen that way. It seems impossible that anybody could starve on my watch, especially on things made of brown sugar and butter star stuff, but it’s true.
I love the page in Ram Dass’s Be Here Now that says, “You and I can always starve together if we’re backstage in the Here & Now. No matter how much food we put in our bellies, it’s never going to be enough,” though it’s hard to swallow that the starving person is…me.

Because when you are worriedly stirring up the future, or sifting all your presence into your past, you can never just be. 

One thing I have learned about this method, contemplative cooking, is that if you want to make anything from scratch, including your own peace of mind, you must, as Sagan advised, first invent a universe where that is possible for yourself. Where there is enough room to breathe into a more peaceful, easy, loving, and potentially wise version of yourself. 

Learning to just be—in one moment, one breath, or one bite--is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Because, unlike other learned things my sort of academic, thinky personality is wired for, you don’t do just being (actually, you have to undo a lot), and, surprise, surprise, in a realization like a perpetual streusel burn on the roof of your mouth, “it" never does get done. 

For me to really learn to cook with what I have in my heart, I have got to get out of my head. And that means tweaking the language, so it is one that I can really digest (this is the perk of my wordsmithy mind). 

So, when I say scratch, I am starting to reframe it as “scratch-that” in my head. As in, scratch those old story lines. Scratch a past that tells you you have to do everything yourself, the one where something terrible will happen if it’s not absolutely perfect. 

Scratch whatever it is that no longer serves you. Be willing to step outside the grains of sugar, salt, and time.

I am scratch that is. Try that on for a mantra, if you’re feeling rhubarb-pert and plucky. If you’re feeling brave.
If you’re here, you must be because well-being is a warrior’s path, of which this method of contemplative cooking is a flavor, but whatever yours happens to be is perfect.
And maybe it changes, because everything does. Depending on what kind of recipe trip I’m on right then, I could need to see where I am and what I’m making of it as a buckle, a slump, a cobbler, or a betty of a crisp trip.

When I realize this, that it’s all okay, wherever I am, I’m a buckle—but not one cinching together a false understanding of anything, one that is loosening it. 

Of course, you can just skip the whole problem of what to call it and experience it. 
As Grandpa Fred famously remarked of Long Duck Dong’s perplexity, marveling over his first quiche in Sixteen Candles: “You don’t spell it son, you eat it.” 

And maybe that's how you get out of the spell of unworthiness, too. 
Just call it a be-ing. A being with whatever ingredients arise out of your own kitchen-mind.

This weekend was Father’s Day, and I had to loosen my expectations, as those holidays often go. You can’t be in all places at once, especially you’re still working on being Here for one breath. My still newish father-in-law runs 100-mile races and taught me about chia seeds before they were cool. He’s sequoia quiet (as is the darling, be-ing husband)—but I know that my cooking speaks to him and that he is hugely grateful. 

This was a good, stellar-but-not-showy recipe on a quiet day, just the three of us eating up being.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Be-ing (adapted from Ina Garten)

4 cups fresh rhubarb, 1-inch diced (4-5 stalks)
4 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
1 1/4 cups turbinado sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest (I used more)
1/2 tablespoon xanthan gum (because you are out of cornstarch and madly Googling a replacement)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (which you squeeze with your bare blistered hands, realizing you need to just buy a juicer)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 teaspoon pink himalayan salt
1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) steel cut oats (I used Bob's)
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold butter, diced
1 T ground vanilla bean (or use extract)
Vanilla ice cream and fresh whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, 340, if using a dark pan.

Fruit part: In a big bowl, t.oss the rhubarb, strawberries, 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar & the orange zest together. Dissolve the xanthan gum in the orange juice; fold into the fruit. Pour the mixture into an 9x9-inch baking dish (or use 8x11) and place it on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Topping: in the bowl of a stand mixer (use paddle attachment, combine the flour, the remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, salt and oatmeal. Add the ground vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the butter and mix until the dry ingredients are moist and the mixture is in crumbles. Sprinkle the topping over the fruit, covering it completely, and bake for 1 hour, until the fruit is bubbling and the topping is golden brown. 

Eat--and Be a good digester. 


  1. "Mostly, it’s striving to make demons of unworthiness go away."-- isn't it always. Thank you for this.

    1. It helps me to remember that hungry ghosts are just hungry--that's what they do, but it's not who we are. You are deeply welcome.

  2. I grow my own rhubarb and strawberries and needed to use them. Found this recipe and what a winner! The tart and sweet of the two fresh grown ingredients were fabulous together. Thanks!

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