Choco-Crusted Lemon Tart And Peace In The Kitchen

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I’m sitting here by the old closed-up pool at a picnic table listening to the wind stir the oak leaves and breathing in the perfume of onions drifting over from the dining hall. Each time I take a deep inhale of the sour spiciness, there’s something inside me that says, yeeees, gooood, and thinks both that for a split second, everything is perfect, and also that if only I could possess that smell or immerse myself in that smell, if I could just exist within that smell, then everything could always be perfect. I’m like that with all food, all the time. The hours passed poring over food blogs, daydreaming, planning step-by-step in repetition the recipes I’m going to make, imagining the taste and texture of this, that, or the other thing I envision eating—it’s a deep need to believe that happiness exists within these objects and experiences.

But what is the nature of this imagined happiness?

I want to bask in the glory of sifting and mixing and pouring and measuring, what I want, how I want, with no interruptions, light pouring through the windows and antique every-kitchen-tool-ever to complete my quaint existence. I want to pull perfect tarts from the oven and slide them onto trivets in front of smiling faces and give all of my love without error or hesitation and have it received without doubt or miscommunication. I want to turn all of my anguish into something beautiful to be shared without ever having to meet the world between the experience of pain and the act of creation. I want a life where it doesn’t hurt to hurt and where all of my joy is heralded by a joyful reception from others.

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But since I can’t have this, what do I make of the wishes I can’t help making?

Peace. I am wishing for peace. Peace in the kitchen, at least. Someday, I would like a kitchen that is mine. From which I can share, and with the intention to share, but one which itself facilitates that sharing.

Should I be wishing for the patience and vastness of mind to manifest sharing, or benefit, or whatever vague feel-good altruistic term avoids talking about self and volition? Patience and vastness of mind, yes, definitely, maybe. But also, I am wishing for good conditions. I am wishing to grow and do the hard work such that someday I no longer need to be roughed up by the universe in order to develop peace in the kitchen. I am wishing to develop such a deep inner peace that my life manifests the outer conditions for peace because when you no longer need to be bothered to learn how to deal with being bothered it becomes more efficient to just do the work. When I am ready for peace in the kitchen and the life in the world that goes with it, it will come.

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Underneath everything else, I just want my motivation to be good. Sometimes I feel completely nonsensical, talking from one side of my mouth about enlightenment and then, on the everyday level, being so, so invested in um…cake, and nostalgia-inducing photos with vintage linens and weathered wooden cutting boards. It’s hard to know what I should want, or maybe just what it’s okay to want. I want whatever’s right, you know?

But then, inside of that, there are all of these very specific, personal wantings that feel right to me, but also they’re just there, and it’s hard to know if they’re for the good or not. They feel absurd in their specificity. I stumble, wondering what due I have to want such and such a thing, because if my goal is truly to benefit all beings, shouldn’t I not want anything specific and just let it all come to me?

But what is “it all,” and how will it come? We must act, after all. Perhaps it’s not better to make specific wishes or open ones, so long as you’re clear about the purpose of your wishes. Specific wishes come naturally to me; I better just make worthwhile ones.

I want a peaceful kitchen, Universe, with a big south facing window, a sturdy oven, and a lot of cast iron pans and wooden bowls and cake stands. But I want a peaceful kitchen if and only if it will let me help more, only if I can be the best me in a peaceful kitchen. If I only want a peaceful kitchen to be unbothered, and to never have to face others and myself, please Universe, never let me have it.

About the tart. It’s basically the best lemon bar filling on top of chocolate shortbread. Because even though lemon and chocolate come together less often than chocolate and orange, they really are a good pair. And lemon bars are great, and shortbread is great, so what could be wrong with this? Nothing, unless the slices are too slight and the crowd too numerous. There are worse ills to be faced in the world, fortunately, and more tarts to be made. Happy baking, whether yours is a peaceful kitchen or a rather more chaotic one.

Recipe…

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Super Fluffy Sugar Cookies And How To Give Love

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The French don’t really do Valentine’s Day. For them it’s half “Feast of Saint Valentine,” some mostly-forgotten Christian tradition and half some imported, commercial American thing. Personally, I’ve had my share of lamentable coupledom V-days that don’t bear revisiting. Despite this, the kitsch and sweetness of the idea of Valentine’s Day never gets old. Every year when February rolls around, I have a deep urge to make all things pink and heart-shaped and tell everyone I know just how much I love them. The French, in my experience, are also not huge on open displays of affection, but a Californian’s gotta do what she can in terms of cultural exchange.

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Lately, I’ve been noticing a thing, about culture and personality. I grew up in a culture that I will massively generalize as open and bright–effusive, if you will. It’s flip-flop culture, invite-you-for-a-beer-and-barbecue culture, bear hugs and back slaps and complicated high five culture. It’s open collar, short shorts, Technicolor t-shirt or just no shirt culture. Bikinis, bicycles, sun tans, and long tangled hair. It’s all those simple stereotypes you see in movies, plus all the layers of nuance that reality and one person’s individual experience of the world add.

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It’s a culture I was never comfortable in growing up. I was quiet and dark, physically self-conscious, naturally introverted and preoccupied with being deeply intellectual, imperatively creative, and also just a nerd. Over the course of my teenage years and early adulthood, I learned my own culture. I practiced having a sense of humor and starting friendly conversations with strangers. I trained in the art of high-fives, fist bumps, and bracing hugs. I developed a style of dress that lets me feel expressed and that connects to the society that I come from.

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But I’m not in that society any more. All of the modes of communication and habits and needs that I developed to live and love in a certain kind of American culture suddenly don’t apply. Here, my colorful clothes say extrovert instead of artist. A certain kind of friendliness can be misinterpreted for allure, and all of the tricks and tools I learned to get over my shyness no longer work because, um, they’re in English, and my life is now in French.

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I want to connect with the people around me, but I don’t always know how. I bake a lot of cake, and that’s not a joke. It’s a way to offer a part of myself to show that I care. Fortunately, food love transcends culture, even if the French aren’t as fond of peanut butter in their baked goods as we are in the States. At the same time, it’s just one way. It’s a way that connects and a way that comes naturally to me. But I admit, I feel a little stuck.

I feel like I’m back to being fifteen years old, finally lifting my head from the pages of my book and realizing that there’s a whole world around me, a whole universe of brilliant, genuine, tender human beings to share with and love if I can just learn to speak their language and understand their ways. I asked a friend yesterday if it shows that I feel a bit out of sorts. He laughed and said, “We can tell that when you say something, you’ve been thinking about it for three hours…or three days.”

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It’s funny to be seen. For so many years, I deliberately hid in the pages of my books and colors of my paints, and when I finally chose to be brave and go into the wide world and share and trust and be a person with other people, I tried to learn fast and not mess up too obviously. I’ve always been afraid I’d get kicked out. From where, to where, by whom…it’s not so clear, but the fear is present all the same. On my own, I’ve always felt like an alien, a small woodland creature, or a wildling spirit mistakenly left in the world of humans. I think we are many to feel this way. We try to keep our strangeness inside, and we think of others as being united and not strange.

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The gift of Dhagpo, of community in general, and this one in specific, is both the inevitability and the ability to be seen. We are all together all the time. We work and eat and live and study and love and suffer and grow together. It’s impossible to be here without eventually both discovering and revealing all the bizarreness we generally do our best to hide.  And I’m beginning to see, it’s not so bizarre as that. It’s just the way we are in this life, the things we have yet to understand, the trust we have yet to develop, but that grows, day by day, in others and ourselves.

I don’t really understand how the French show love as a culture. And I don’t yet understand very well the particular kinds of love that speak to each brilliant and bizarre individual with whom I live and love and grow. But to realize that this is what I am seeking—how to love, and also how to be loved—this is a good beginning. And for now, there is cake, and cookies too.

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Chocolate Olive Oil Cake With Cranberry Preserves And A Quote

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This is possibly my favorite quote of all time. It comes from Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials. The characters and story gripped me and lit my mind on fire when I first read them as an adolescent, and I come back to them now as I am studying the principles of developing enlightened mind. I sometimes think of the books as my introduction to Buddhist philosophy, though I couldn’t have named it that at the time and who can say where Pullman’s own inspiration came from. Nevertheless, the seamless mingling in that universe of science and religion, desire and altruism, cause and effect, formed a literary introduction to the philosophical tenets of interdependence and karma.

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Pullman’s words remind me of the necessity to work with ourselves, our lives, and our situation here and now. Enlightened mind develops beginning with our mind as it is in this moment, each moment. We build our own heaven around us as we improve our understanding and our habits. The angels, the citizens of our divine republic, are those around us, who become seraphic as we see them clearly. Pullman’s heaven is without a god, as is the heaven of wisdom in this world, for we are still subject to one another.

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As the last week of retreat brings this intense period of study to a close, I anticipate applying philosophy to active life, and wondering how I’ll integrate these new ideas over the months and years to come. Having a philosophic basis creates a context in which to frame situations, but living out the day-to-day business of being a person in the world is what fills in the picture and allows us to understand the truth or error of philosophy.

In short, back to business and we’ll see what comes up. In the meantime, cake as ever to keep us chipper as we toil our days away. This time it’s a moist chocolate olive cake with a tangy swirl of cranberry preserves. Easy, classy, quick to please. It’s that kind of Sunday.

Recipe…

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How To Fall In Love, With Beings And Coconut Caramel Walnut Blondies

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“Commit acts of kindness from heart and mind. Then you will fall in love with all beings.”

Quote of the day from Khenpo Tenzin.

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Kindness is for ourselves as much as for others. If there is no permanent self, we are no more or less deserving of our own love. We must love ourselves as we aspire to love all beings.

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Somewhere between self-cherishing and self-chastising, there is kindness, falling in love with oneself as we fall in love with all beings.

I made blondies this weekend. We all needed a little sweetness to carry us through the depths of so much philosophy and reflection. This is a good recipe for falling in love. It is mind-meltingly delicious. Decadent, yes–sometimes we need to be enveloped in decadence to receive love. Sometimes loving oneself is the greatest form of decadence, the leisure that allows us to then love others.

This is all the good things of American baked goods of my childhood. Gooey, caramel-y, chewy-moist, brown-sugar sweet. It’s the tricked-out cousin of a chocolate chip cookie, with more depth and sensuousness on account of the nuts. It’s the follow-up classic to last week’s avant garde, and it’s ohsogood. There may have screams and moans at the dinner table when these went down. Just sayin.

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