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The Cooking of Joy ♥ Savoring the Flavors of Life

January 1, 2010
by

Joy

Pronunciation:  joi
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French joie, from Latin gaudia, plural of gaudium, from gaudēre to rejoice; probably akin to Greek gēthein to rejoice
Date: 13th century

1 a : the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight b : the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety
2 : a state of happiness or felicity : bliss
3 : a source or cause of delight

Merriam-Webster.com

I have been pondering writing an article on “cooking with intention” for The Taste of Oregon for some time now. For those of us who enjoy cooking passionately, is it always entered into and experienced with a feeling of joy and excitement? Where is our mind? Nothing can spoil a pleasurable experience more than chatter between our ears, nagging us:  “You didn’t start early enough, you don’t have all the ingredients, you’re out of your league, no one will like this, pickled pork is so passé,” etc., etc., etc. Fortunately, I learned some methods for silencing that chatter. After a brief “negotiation” with my mind’s voice I hear it whimpering, “OK, you win, I’ll shut up.”

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed playing with food in the kitchen. Then in the late summer of 1985, a fire in me ignited that changed everything, including cooking.

A “mid-life crisis” led me to look deeper inside. With the encouragement of Barbara Grove, one of my longtime and dearest friends, I signed on for the More To Life weekend, or two weekends as it was then.

As best as I can remember, the room was filled with about 60-70 people of various ages looking for something else. It was an intense time filled with emotions ranging from gratitude and joy to sadness and despair and everything in between. I left there with an empowering feeling of well being and gratitude for life, for those close to me in it and especially for my uniqueness. What more could one ask for?

The tools I was given there have been my recipe for living ever since.

In early November, I received the following essay from Lily Parish along with a request for title suggestions (she ended up going with a teacher’s suggestion). The essay was to accompany her college application. Lily is the daughter of Sharon and Tom Parish whom I met through my ongoing relationship with the More To Life organization. The Parishes committed themselves to a life of spiritual mastery and Sharon eventually became a Senior Trainer for More To Life. Lily is on the cusp of womanhood and will soon begin her college education. As you can tell from her eloquent and mature writing, she has had a remarkable life to date and will undoubtedly impact many. Lucky is she to have been blessed with the intentional love of her parents. You will  soon read that her mother died unexpectedly in 2006 but not before helping thousands of others re-direct their own lives. Sharon left a lot of shoes to be filled and Lily is busy filling many of them.

With Whisk in Hand

My life is often devoid of stillness. Somewhere amongst the constant whir of school, the steady influx of extracurriculars, and the occasional teen-sized catastrophe, making the time to just “be” is a task frequently overlooked. Thus, creating moments for reflection and meditation has become an activity I integrate into another – cooking. Lost in recipes, grocery stores and the elusive art of chocolate-chip-cookie perfection, I find pure solace awaiting me. With every savory sauté or decadent dessert comes a feeling of restored peace and connection. Peace in knowing that I have created something that was a culmination of generations of trial and error, and connection with the community the dish derived from. In the most hectic moments life throws at me, I restore myself with whisk in hand and batter smeared on my cheek.

Over the past few years, cooking has grown from a dreary obligation to a compelling passion.  The summer before my freshman year, my family suffered the loss of my mother. As my father and I pieced our lives back together, providing meals that consisted of more than canned tomato soup and grilled cheese became my responsibility.  At first, I hesitantly tested my skills. I began with the simple things — baked chicken, mashed potatoes.  Foods that were comforting to me and reminded me of a happier time, simultaneously fueling my body to move forward. Eventually, after a slew of, at times, quite humorous errors, baked chicken evolved into pan-seared quail, and mashed potatoes were replaced by delicately braised greens. As I tried more complex recipes I experienced foreign cultures and exotic flavors.  When I prepared the traditional Afrikaans dish, Potjie, I recalled the adventures I shared with my mama in South Africa, and nostalgically connected to those fond memories with each bite.  When I made Wienerschnitzel for a friend last summer, we relived our Germany trip as the crisp saltiness tickled our tongues. Now cooking is a language I speak almost fluently, as I read through recipes and “taste” the symphony of spices or smell the rich aroma.  When I create dishes from distant countries I observe a sliver of that culture, and as I perfect an old favorite, I viscerally experience memories from the past.

In my often overwhelmingly frenzied life, cooking has become my escort to a brief moment of paradise. Providing a lovingly prepared meal for someone dear to me brings me a dash of comfort and satisfaction. Reliving an exciting moment from the past with the help of a delicious dessert brings me a hint of excitement. And connecting with some far-off place leaves me with a pinch of something to anticipate.  All together, these aspects of cooking have created a recipe for stillness in the common chaos of my life.

Lily Parish – 2009

Reading Lily’s words of her transitional experience transports me to a place of oneness, wholeness and feeling connected with the world and life, just as it is. Thank you, Lily, your youthful wisdom compounds my own. I hope fate and fortune allow me to dine at your table someday.

The More To Life weekends are brilliantly structured around enveloping the participants in an atmosphere of love and care while providing them a secure place to look deep inside themselves. There’s almost a holiness about it, and after all, what could be more holy than one’s soul? Mind you, these weekends are not religious in context but are more about exploring and adjusting one’s chosen path of the spirit.

I played many roles as a team member during these weekends and one that I relished and became well known for was “Outside Logistics.” This meant preparing nutritious meals for the trainers and their support partner in a physical space suitable to relax and refuel. I remember well the menu for the first evening meal that I prepared in 1986 for Roy Whitten, co-founder with K. Bradford Brown in 1981 of the More To Life program and the Kairos Foundation.

Steamed Halibut in Lettuce Leaves with New Potatoes, Slow-Baked Tomato and Garnished with Sauteed Brussells Sprout Leaves

Left to right: Steamed Halibut in Lettuce Leaves, Slow-Baked Tomato and Steamed New Potato Garnished with Sautéed Brussells Sprout Leaves

Green Salad with Monticello Dressing
Steamed Fillet of Halibut in Lettuce Leaves with New Potatoes
Slow-Baked Tomatoes
Blueberry Couscous Cake

While the above may appear rather spartan, there is more than meets the eye. My intention: to create a simple, elegant and healthful repast to amuse and nourish. In planning this weekend, I looked beyond a menu and shopping lists to the intention of the trainers and the participants. I wanted it to be purposeful.

Roy is a gourmand in his own right and was a most appreciative diner. “What’s in the dressing?” he exclaimed as he took his first bite of salad. The “mystery” flavor that eluded him was a few drops of Chinese toasted sesame oil. Amazing how just a hint of an ingredient as bold as that can elevate the whole without taking center stage.

Recalling Roy’s gratitude for that meal continues to nourish me, and writing this transports me back to that event, allowing me to once again savor the moment.

Green Salad with Monticello Dressing
Adapted from The American Heritage Cookbook

Thomas Jefferson was so much more than a statesman and founder of our country. Not only did he design his home, Monticello, one of the greatest treasures of American architecture, he also designed the original buildings for the University of Virginia. He was a passionate farmer who kept impeccable records of plantings, harvests and quality. He was one of the greatest of renaissance men.

Thomas Jefferson took a great interest in developing benne (sesame) oil for salad dressings as a substitute for the olive oil imported from Europe. On January 6, 1808, he wrote from Monticello to John Taylor of South Carolina: ‘The African negroes brought over to Georgia a seed which they called Beni, & the botanists Sesamum. I lately received a bottle of the oil, which was eaten with sallad by various companies. All agree it is equal to the olive oil. A bushel of seed yields 3 gallons of oil. I propose to cultivate it for my own use at least.’

The American Heritage Cookbook

  1. 1 small clove of garlic, crushed
  2. 1 teaspoon (5 ml.) salt
  3. 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml.) freshly ground white pepper
  4. 1/3 cup (80 ml.) olive oil
  5. 1/3 cup (80 ml.) cold pressed sesame oil
  6. 1/3 cup (80 ml.) tarragon or white wine vinegar
  7. A dash of Chinese toasted sesame oil or to taste
  8. A scant teaspoon (<5 ml.) Dijon mustard
  9. Salad greens of your choice
  • Whisk all ingredients together and toss with salad greens.

Note: To make a terrific warm potato salad, add a little more mustard and some finely chopped tarragon to the dressing and gently fold into just-cooked new potatoes.

Steamed Fillet of Halibut in Lettuce Leaves with New Potatoes

  1. 4 6-ounce (170 gr.) halibut fillets
  2. 8 large red lettuce leaves, whole (have more ready in case of tears)
  3. 4 teaspoons (20 ml.) minced shallot
  4. 4 small shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  5. Old Bay Seasoning to taste (Old Bay contains salt so be careful)
  6. Freshly ground white pepper to taste
  7. 4 new potatoes (unpeeled if organic – peeled if not)
  8. 3 cups  (720 ml.) fish stock or bottled clam juice
  9. 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) seafood bouquet garni*
  10. Tarragon or parsley, finely chopped for garnish on the potatoes

* When I made this in 1986, a product packaged by that name could be purchased at several stores. It came pre-measured in little bags. It seems to have sailed off the edge of the world as I have not found it in years. My current solution is a combination of a good shrimp and crab boil along with Trader Joe’s® 21 Seasoning Salute. I’m partial to Penzeys shrimp and crab boil but Zatarain’s may be easier to locate. Feel free to take off on your own here and season the stock with your own concoction of herbs and spices.

  • Bring 3 quarts (3 lt.) water to a boil.
  • Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
  • Lightly sauté the shallots until beginning to soften , add the sliced shiitake mushrooms and continue until they begin to brown slightly.
  • Blanch lettuce leaves (1 at a time) for 2 seconds and immediately scoop out with a wire strainer or slotted spoon and plunge into the ice bath.
  • Overlap two of the leaves and put one of the fillets in the center.
  • Sprinkle with 1/4 of the shallots and mushrooms.
  • Season with the Old Bay and fresh ground pepper.
  • Wrap up completely in the lettuce and place seam side down in an oiled steamer. (You can prepare the fish to this point several hours ahead of time. Cover bundles with plastic wrap until ready to steam. To continue, unwrap and place in steamer.)
  • Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a sauce pan, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cook for about 20-25 minutes until fork tender.
  • Set potatoes aside and keep warm.
  • Bring the stock or clam juice along with the bouquet garni of your choice to a boil, place the steamer with the lettuce-wrapped halibut over the boiling stock, cover and steam for about 6-8 minutes. If you like, you can check for doneness with a digital thermometer. I remove at about 120º F (50º C).
  • Slice the potatoes and fan out close to the halibut.
  • Place a tomato half on each plate and serve. (recipe follows)

Slow-Baked Tomatoes
Adapted from Supper Club Chez Martha Rose by Martha Rose Shulman

Slow-Baked Tomato with Grated Parmesan

Slow-Baked Tomato with Grated Parmesan

  1. 2 Tomatoes, halved
  2. Extra virgin olive oil
  3. Salt and freshly ground pepper
  4. Basil to taste
  5. Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese (optional)
  • Preheat the oven to 275º F (135º C).
  • Place the tomato halves on an oiled baking pan or dish.
  • Season to taste with the salt and pepper.
  • Drizzle with olive oil.
  • Bake in the slow oven for about 2 – 3 hours. The tomatoes will collapse and begin to caramelize.
  • During the last half hour, sprinkle with chopped basil and Parmesan (if using).

This method is a great way to coax out whatever flavor winter tomatoes have. Prepared with vine-ripened summer tomatoes, it will amaze you. Great potluck dish and easy too. Try it with grape tomatoes and even on-the-vine tomatoes just as they are. Have fun with this one.

Blueberry Couscous Cake

Blueberry Couscous Cake with Agave Blueberry Syrup

I don’t remember where I originally got this recipe but fortunately it lives in perpetuity on the Internet. I located a version on About.com.

  1. 6 cups (1.5 lt.) apple juice
  2. 1 tablespoon (15. ml.) vanilla
  3. 1/2 teaspoon  (2.5 ml. ground cinnamon (less if using Vietnamese cinnamon)
  4. 3 cups (720 ml.) couscous
  5. 1 pint (475 ml.) blueberries, fresh or frozen (thaw if frozen)
  • Bring first four ingredients to a boil, reduce heat slightly and cook, stirring until thick and almost all liquid has been absorbed.
  • Cool slightly and lightly stir in blueberries.
  • Rinse but don’t dry a 13×9 inch (33×23 cm.) glass baking dish.
  • Pour the mixture into the pan, smoothing the top.
  • Allow to cool then cut into serving squares.
  • Enjoy without guilt!

Note: At the last minute I made a simple blueberry and agave syrup. I gently heated about 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) of agave syrup and 3 tablespoons (45 ml.) of fresh blueberries. The blueberries were crushed in the agave syrup to color it. I then removed the blueberries and pressed them through a fine sieve with the back of a large spoon and then added a small squeeze of lemon juice before pouring over the cake.

I can’t put this post to bed without mentioning some other individuals that I’m fortunate to have in my life because of More To Life — ordinary people who do extraordinary things.

I mentioned Brad Brown when I introduced Roy Whitten earlier. Brad’s vision was large to say the least and he lovingly shared himself with the world. When he was working with you one on one he could guide you so far into your self and back out again you would be left breathless and amazed at where you were. He was an artist and his palate was the human spirit and he created in the realm of Mozart, Beethoven, Michelangelo, Einstein and Gandhi. I cooked for Brad several times and am blessed for it. Brad left this world in 2007 but his spirit lives on in a big way. I urge you to take a moment or two and read the  eloquent words Roy penned for Brad’s memorial.

John Coats was the trainer when I took my original weekend training and I am deeply grateful for his expert and capable guidance. John is no longer a Senior Trainer with More To Life but he remains close. His latest book, Original Sinners – A New Interpretation of Genesis, was just published in November. John is a great storyteller. Don’t expect this book to be a stiff philosophical or religious dissertation. Expect an enjoyable read full of real human experience revealing the characters in the book of Genesis and how we’re no different.

Ann McMaster remains close to my heart. I have been fortunate to participate in her trainings, partner with her in support, partner with her as a peer in Behold The Spirit, a More To Life focus course, and to cook for her on several occasions. I regularly read her blog, Life As It Is where she opens her head and her heart for all to see how a spiritual warrior confronts “life as it is.”

Peggy Jarrett was a peer of mine at the beginning of my own journey. She quickly started down the trainer path and has been a Senior Trainer for about 20 years now and has played major roles in the Kairos Foundation.

Sr. Trainer Sue Oldham hails back to the beginning days of More To Life. My memories of working with Sue come from the summer of 1988 at a week-long intensive training called “Way of a Warrior.” During a one-on-one session called “hot potato,” Sue looked at me and said, “You have questions, questions, questions. All the answers you’ll ever need are right here.” Then she reached over and touched my heart. Thank you, Sue.

Richard Perry is just one of a whole family that participated in More To Life. His sisters Peggy and Lynn were peers of mine in Texas in the late 1980s. Richard is a gifted psychologist who was just named More To Life’s Director of Training.

More To Life has more than 20 trainers at locations around the US, England, Scotland, Germany, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. I wish I could know them all and be enriched by their individual gifts.

Though not a More To Life trainer in the sense of the former, Jenny Meadows has taken all the courses More To Life has to offer (and that’s beyond the scope of Eagle Scout.) In addition, she often travels to be a team member on several continents including the U.S., England, South Africa and New Zealand. Jenny graces this blog in the background as our more than capable copy editor. You can find her at www.mycopyeditor.com

My partner in life, Victor Panichkul, who also partners with me in the production of this blog, took the More To Life weekend in the mid-1990s with Richard Perry. Thank you, Vic, for the best 20 years of my life.

If you know me as family or friend, there is no less of you here than all whom I mentioned by name. There is an essence of you in all that I do and it can’t be any other way. Thank you for being important ingredients in my life.

Bon appétit and Happy New Year!

— Charles

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather permalink
    January 1, 2010 9:26 am

    Beautiful and straight from the heart. Your passion is cooking, but your heart is with people. You are an amazing man, and I know that you have made an incredible impact on the lives of all of these you have mentioned and many, many others too. Your blog is one of my favorite and I love to share it with family and friends. What a great way to start 2010 !

    • Charles permalink*
      January 1, 2010 9:30 am

      Thank you so much Heather, consider all the comments coming to you regarding your impact on them and others. Your heart is very big dear friend.

  2. Rosi Green permalink
    January 1, 2010 9:40 am

    Beautiful post Charles. Food is about so much more than food. :o)

    • Charles permalink*
      January 1, 2010 10:36 am

      I agree. Thank you so much Rosi.

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