Dharma Doodles, Real Words, And Blueberry Chèvre Salad

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Pre-study session whiteboard doodles. “When we take to the road, we don’t know where we will wind up in the end.” Walking the Buddhist path, the goal is to wind up enlightened. In order to do that, I have to understand where I am now, as this allows me to choose the road that leads from here to there. My life is a constant ping-pong between developing an understanding of what enlightenment means and developing an understanding of myself. I wanna connect the right dots, you know?

Yesterday my friend Katya and I presented a segment of The Jewel Ornament of Liberation in the main hall of the Institute.  Gampopa wrote the text in the eleventh century, and it describes the path to enlightenment in logical, step-by-step detail. Gampopa wrote it based on his own experience of realizing enlightement. Thus, what he described was not an abstract philosophical treatise, but something more along the lines of his field notes. “Go left at Bodhi tree to find spiritual master. Pause for homage to Three Jewels.”

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I, as it happens, have not attained enlightenment. Presenting this text put me face-to-face with my actual experience of the world in relation to the experience I aspire to embody. I can say the words. I did my best to say them clearly and with a touch of humor to keep things lively. I can grasp that old age is painful and death is frightening. I can even cogitate that we will all experience these difficulties and thus, we are all in this together. Better to care for each other than go it alone, in other words. But I don’t know it in my bones, not really.

You want to know what surprised me the most about presenting a teaching for which I have the utmost respect and which I feel ill-prepared to truly transmit? Rather than dragging me down, the enormity of the gulf between my understanding and my aspiration became an anchor. Crossing this gap is why I am here. If I want to get where I am going, I have to start somewhere. And the only place I can start is where I am. So here we go.

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I’ll choke on a French word or two, talk a little too fast, and my answer to most questions will be that I don’t know, because I don’t, and that’s perfect.

In the meantime, people keep having birthdays, so I highly recommend this pineapple upside-down cake from Epicurious. And for my birthday, some one gave me organic dried blueberries, which turned into a Perigord-inspired (minus the duck confit, but I guess you could add that if you had the fancy) salad of endive, walnut, aged goat cheese, fresh pear and dried blueberries. Tossed with walnut oil, lemon juice, and a smattering of fresh parsley, it proves both that I live in an awesome region and that I am capable of making food other than cake. I encourage you to give it a go. If you also live in a place where you can find local walnuts and goat cheese, A+.

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A Week Of Cake, With Mocha Cheesecake And More

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We had a week of cake. Maybe you have to be stubborn to be in the Dharma. There’s a lot of Aries around here.

I made this carrot cake for my birthday. It’s one of the best I’ve ever had and definitely the best I’ve ever made. If you like dense, direct carrot cake (some people like fluffy carrot cake with pineapple and coconut, which is lost on me), this is a serious win. I opted for a little less frosting with a hint of lemon zest to brighten the spices in the cake.

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Then there was chocolate genoise with wild blackberry mousse (adapted from here and here, with agar subbed for gelatin for veggie friendliness).

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I also made a Snickers inspired tart, which has yet to have a written recipe, but if you feel like improvising, it involved peanut shortbread, homemade caramel, peanut butter white chocolate mousse and milk chocolate ganache. All the elements are simple, but the combination is a show stopper.

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And finally, mocha cheesecake (recipe after the jump).

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Above are a few drawings in the current series, plus a garland-cum-birthday card for one of the cake recipients, which pretty much captures how I feel right now:

Sometimes there are no words. And sometimes we don’t need any.

I have nothing profound to say. I am surrounded by good people. And I get to make them cake. Life is alright I guess.

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Double Anniversary And Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

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Tomorrow is my birthday, which marks twenty-five years that I’ve been on this earth. And Monday was my Dhagpo anniversary, which marks one year since I arrived in this magical corner of the Dordogne.

Birthdays are good for a lot of things—taking oneself to the symphony, eating midnight cake with best friends, exploring ancient caves in distant lands. I guess I’ve had some pretty stellar birthdays. Tomorrow I get to make lunch for my favorite wily old Tibetan, meditate with the Buddha’s relics, and eat cake with my Dhagpo family. The goodness of my life takes my breath away.

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Which reminds me of another thing birthdays are good for: taking stock and giving thanks. What have I done in this year of my life? Moved a few thousand miles around the world; fallen in love; accepted responsibility; faced heartache; realized dreams. I’ve become a part of something bigger than myself, for which I am ready to give my all and teach my heart to open.

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Which is no easy thing. I told a friend yesterday that when I really look and let myself feel, beneath the quotidian flotsam, I always have the sense that my heart is broken. He said, “A broken heart is an open heart.” I chided him for inexcusable cliché. He laughed me off and said, “Fine, but it’s true.” And damn it all, but it is true.

I’d like to heal my heart, to sew up all the cracks and feel better once and for all. But a heart with no cracks lets nothing in. And feeling fine is a fixed affair, while the world is not a fixed place.  So, okay world, thank you for breaking my heart. With change, and beauty, with terrifying uncertainty, and ear-ringing possibility, with everything that I cannot determine, and to which I can only open.

I’m in for another year. Let’s do this thing.

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I mentioned cake, but that’s for tomorrow and so there are no pictures yet. For now I give you cookies, because who doesn’t like cookies and plus these had people raving. If you think it is both distastefully wholesome and rather uninventive to add oatmeal to peanut butter cookies, I understand. I thought so too. I only did it because I wanted to use up some oats on the same day I needed to stave off a possible too-much-peanut-butter-and-jelly-by-the-spoonful catastrophe.  Fortunately, it turns out the result is much greater than the sum of its parts. Two familiar flavors with two awesome textures meet up for homey, toothy, utter satisfaction.

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Recipe…

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