Cooking as a Spiritual Experience

November 24, 2009

Back in April, my blog friends Kim and Jason at Escape Adulthood wrote a post called The Importance of Family Dinner. I first commented about my experience there and meant to write a post in greater detail. Here’s that post…

As a kid and young adult I really didn’t cook much…yeah I could make pancakes, tuna casserole, frozen chicken patties (my college specialty), sandwiches and burgers among other things.  Having been raised by a busy single mom, I grew up eating fast food and more Hamburger Helper than I care to remember (though I must admit she cooked some great stuff on weekends when she had more time).

For most of my life, I took eating and making meals for granted.  It was something that I needed to do because I was hungry and I didn’t think much of it.

But that changed five years ago when I was laid off for the first time.  Angry, sad, confused and filled with anxiety I needed some stability in my life.  I needed to get out of my head and create something with my hands.  I needed, not just to fill my stomach but also to fill my soul.

I decided I was going to cook good meals for myself as often as possible, even though it was a table for one on most days.


I approached each meal like an empty canvas.  Some days I had a meal planned in advance, but many days I went to a local fruit stand which had a great selection of meats and fresh fruits and vegetables.  The place had low prices, which allowed me to spend much less than I would eating out.  I often came up with meal ideas on the spot with a spirit of serendipity.

Meal preparation was approached with a spirit of mindfulness.  My knife skills were sub-par, but each cut was pure bliss.  I enjoyed every moment of preparing my meal, which helped me to forget about my “life” situation.  Adding to the experience, I enjoyed looking out my kitchen window which faced west and overlooked the back yard and alley.  I was energized by the bright sunlight and the summer breeze coming through the window as I cooked.

I prepared my food with a spirit of creativity.  If I was serving green beans with my main course, I would think of every possible way to make the green beans taste extraordinary.  My favorite: steam the green beans and sprinkle Parmesan cheese in addition to a little butter.

Some of my favorite meals included chicken fajitas, beef tacos, chicken Marsala, crepes, chicken tortilla soup, chicken gumbo soup, gourmet spaghetti and meatballs, and cashew chicken in a wok.  I usually had one beer with my meal and on special occasions, I made mojitos.

As I sat down to eat on my dining room table, I said a silent prayer with deep gratitude for the food in front of me and the joyful experience of making food.  I was thankful for everything and everybody in my life.  Every meal was a Thanksgiving meal, a celebration, a spiritual experience.

As we get ready to sit down with our family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday, I invite you to approach your everyday meals with that same spirit of gratitude.  I have discovered that cooking (and eating) can be an artistic and therapeutic experience.

How about you…have you had any fun or interesting experiences cooking a meal? What is your favorite dish to prepare (and eat)?

1 Lori November 24, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Wow, Tim, I savored your post like I would my favorite dish: a simple Roma tomato, olive oil, fresh basil, and garlic sauce over penne pasta with a Romaine, artichoke hearts, and carrot curl side salad.

I really loved this post – thanks for bring me along with you through your journey. I like that you added mojitos on special occasions, too. For some reason, mojitos always make me think of good things, bright things, and better days ahead. Maybe you were pouring your self happiness all along? 😉

Again, thanks for sharing this, Tim. I think this is one of my favorite posts thus far!

2 Tim November 24, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Hi Lori: Mmm…the dish you described sounds great! Nothing beats fresh basil, though cilantro is right up there, too. I’m very glad you enjoyed this post…it has been simmering (nice cooking analogy, huh?) in my brain ever since I commented on Kim and Jason’s post in April. It was also great to revisit these moments again as I wrote this post. You are right about the mojitos…they are such a fun drink. Have a great holiday weekend!

3 Marissa November 25, 2009 at 1:23 am

Great post, Tim!

I’ve tried on several occasions to find some joy in food preparation, but I’ve always struggled. Somehow the idea of preparing food just for me took the spirit out of it… though, really, there’s no inherent reason for that.

I love that you put so much joy into the preparation and so much gratitude into the meal. And mojitos! That could be some kind of food manifesto: Prepare with joy, eat with gratitude, and top off with a mojito.

I agree with Lori; this is one of my favorite posts.
.-= Marissa´s last post…Goodbye, Grandma =-.

4 Jason of Kim & Jason November 25, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Nice post, Tim. Ever since Lucy was born, I have taken on the grocery shopping and meal prep duties. I enjoy cooking but didn’t realize just how much I’d appreciate the preparation. The chopping and mixing takes on kind of a zen quality for me and I try to just be in the moment. It has become a great stress-reducer for me.

One that Kim doesn’t seem to mind at all :)
.-= Jason of Kim & Jason´s last post…A First-Year Father’s 13 Things to Be Thankful For =-.

5 Eric | Eden Journal November 25, 2009 at 3:06 pm

This is a great reminder for me. I often get so tied up in the chore of cooking that I don’t take the time to enjoy it and be thankful for it (even on Thanksgiving.)

Since my wife became a stay at home mom, she has been doing most of the cooking, which has been fantastic. She tries new recipes all the time. Some are duds, but we accept those as part of the process. Without this experimentation, we wouldn’t hit on so many winners that become our new favorites.

My current favorite is Hoppin’ John which is a black eyed peas, rice, and sausage or ham. Delicious.
.-= Eric | Eden Journal´s last post…Park Closes at Sunset =-.

6 Tim November 25, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Hi Marissa: I’m very glad you enjoyed the post…I can understand how you feel because cooking and food prep is not always something I enjoy. I do enjoy it most of the time, but there are times that it can feel like a chore. That time in my life was a time I really needed something to ground me…and it did. The experience of cooking has helped me realize that I can cook meals that, oftentimes, is better than I can get at restaurants. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Hi Jason: I am glad to read that you appreciate meal preparation and agree with you about the zen quality that cooking has. I enjoy having at least three burners going on the stove and really losing myself by focusing on what’s in front of me. Thank you for originally inspiring this post back in April when you wrote about family dinner. Have a great Turkey day!

Eric: You mentioned something that resonates with me when it comes to cooking – experimentation. I think the kitchen makes a great laboratory and some of the best dishes are the ones we don’t plan. I know what you mean about duds…I’ve had plenty and still cannot figure out how to make fried rice. Hoppin’ John sounds good, I’ll have to look that up. Thanks for sharing your story here and have a great holiday!

7 Nadia - Happy Lotus November 26, 2009 at 11:04 am

Hi Tim,

Talk about timing. Yesterday, I was telling my husband about how lunches in Paris take about two hours and how in Europe, you request for the waiter to bring you the bill. Eating there is something to be enjoyed. Unlike here where we eat so fast, we do not take our time to really savor the food. I know when I was working, I would have to rush to eat my lunch because I had to be sure to get back to my desk in time. It was kind of insane.

Whenever I do have the time, I love to cook and bake. My masterpiece is chocolate peanut butter cups. They totally rock!

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

8 Tim November 26, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Hi Nadia: Thanks for the Thanksgiving wishes. I bet it was great to slow down and savor the food in Paris. As someone who is often (but not always) a slow eater, I wish we’d take a little more time to enjoy things here, also. Wow, chocolate peanut butter cups sound delicious! Have a great Thanksgiving, too!

9 Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord November 27, 2009 at 9:09 am

What a beautiful story; thank you for sharing it. I am so grateful for the good food I’m able to eat most days, and I try to remember to give audible thanks. In the morning, I’ll often sort of bow over my chai latte — I’m very blessed to live the way that I do.
That being said, I don’t cook a whole lot. I eat in shifts, starting with organic graham crackers and frozen yogurt (dessert first, don’t you know!), and then topping it off with a salad and some grapes.
But I do love the act (and art?) of eating.
And by the way, cashew chicken in a wok sounds good!

10 Tim November 27, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Hi Megan: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comment…I know a little gratitude really goes a long way. Your recent post about food really got me to thinking about all the preparation and work that it takes to get it into our homes, which is all the more reason to be grateful. And I agree with you about eating…yeah its something pretty basic, but in many ways the simple act of eating is a sacred experience. As far as the wok goes, I would highly recommend it because I have never had a bad results cooking chicken…fried rice is another story. If you (or anyone else reading this) are interested in the recipe shoot me an email at: tim at 360degreeself DOT Com Have a great weekend!

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