Happiness is a Dish Served Warm
My journey to mindful cooking started in the 1970ies as a five-year old in my parent’s kitchen. My Mom took care for our delicious daily meals, and at weekends, my Dad was in charge for experimental cookeries. He had sailed the seven seas in his first professional life as a navigator, and he brought the flavors of the Far East to our home. My father had no concept of „awareness“ in mind – I guess no one did at that time in my Northern-German hometown. However, he unknowingly taught me its main principles: patience and attention; finding joy in kitchen routines; being modest.
I enthusiastically inhaled all of this, except for the modesty part: every few minutes I would ask for my parent’s applause for my elaborate outcomes as a little sous-chef. Much to the amusement of my kindergarteners, I was familiar with the secrets of bihun and curry before I could even spell the words. And when I was a schoolgirl already, my Dad discovered the Chinese lǔ tradition of red cooking. So we learned our next Zen lesson: Let time work its miracles. Our shared satisfaction about another Sunday spent so well in the kitchen taught me a thing or two about happiness.
Times went on. My Grandma showed me how to prepare Hessian Grüne Sauce in spring, and I was introduced to the sweet joy of foraging & preserving blackberries in summer. Until as a teenager, I discovered my sense of rebellion along with wholegrain pasta. When nouvelle cuisine hit the book shelves and gourmet temples, I couldn’t care less.
After A-Levels, I graduated as a window dresser, only to move to Berlin in the middle of the 1990ies to inscribe to cultural anthropology. It was food for thought, and it were New Age times. So besides our studies, my friends and me took a seat at various meditation workshop’s dinner tables to enjoy the mindful capacities of both sitting & eating, including lots of edible blossoms. At Christmas, I used to prepare a feasty five-course dinner for my family. And when finally our master theses started to drive us mad, my fellow studtents and me dived deep into French cuisine rustique at weekends.
It were wonderful times, both at university and in kitchen, and we ended up with profound academic insights in thick description and a hard-earned addiction to fresh truffles. When we got our degree at the beginning of a new millenium, my friends adviced me to “do something with food”. Instead, I tried out the many options of cultural work. When I met Arne, we became friends first, then a working team, and finally we fell in love. Nutrition’s cabinet of wonders was a passion for both of us, yet our professional path lead us to a multi-creative freelance business in public relations.
Something with Food
It was only when I started my first food blog in the early 2010th, that I hesitantly stepped at the culinary realm’s threshold. I wrote down my best vegetarian treats, did some really bad food photography and hit enter. And nothing happened. But once all the initial problems of an aspiring food blogger where mastered, I embraced the chance to have a self-edited voice (including extended food props shopping). It were great times to re-discover all the good stuff from sourdough & fermentation to home-growing & heirloom varieties. We were many, and we supported the idea of home-cooking as a matter of joy and sustainability alike – change-making while soup is in the making.
In the meantime, Arne and me had founded Food with a View as our exciting commute project. Life had many flattering goodies for us from awards to travels to cooking shows, and inquiries from the food branch started to roll in. Until one day, we held a book contract in our hands, and in 2017, our coffeetable cookbook Die grüne Stadtküche was published. It was a dream come true, supported by a wonderful team – something printed with ribbons and all, telling our story of green cooking & living. When our baby was awarded with a design prize soon after, we couldn’t have been more thankful.
Even though I loved what we did, I had likewise started to miss something in between “been there, done that”. The modest satisfaction in my father’s cookery; the unpretentious pleasure that my mother had in simple ingredients; the careless joy while cooking with friends. And I realized that turning your heart-felt hobby into a profession can feel incredibly wrong at times. It was not before Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan from South Corea graced Chef’s Table, that I felt a far childhood memory coming closer. The episode was finished at half past twelve at night, but I was wide-awake and started to prepare noodle soup right away. No fancy ingredients, just letting crops and spices show me the way. I hadn’t felt this joyful in years while cooking.
Next day, we got back to our work routine, but a sense of devotion had started to come back into play. It was not a moment too soon. When my Mom went severely sick, we did intense research on eating habits that supported her conventional therapies. Comfort food became a whole new notion, both for her and for us: food to share and food to enjoy on your own, food to calm down and food to lift up. It wasn’t just about nutritional facts, but also about listening to your body & soul when there is time for eating and time for fasting. And it came another time, when we were just peacefully holding hands, letting go. These intimate days with my mother, my family and our closest friends meant a world to us. It were lessons in mindful compassion, and they had an impact on what food means to me.
Cook your Life Well
It took us some time to take up and resort all threads, yet new perspectives have started to fall into place beautifully. While Arne increasingly follows his path as a street & landscape photographer, I re-unite my new and old passions in what I call mindful cooking. I have long been thinking wether I should have been assisting in a remote monastery’s kitchen, somewhere high in the Far Eastern mountains to “proof my cooking mindful”. Which may happen or not. And if it does one day, I will be more than thankful, not the least to bring to full circle those comforting childhood days with my father’s sublime cookeries.
To me however, mindful cooking is an attitude rather than a label. For the time being, I’m a passionate homecook engaged in all things sustainability, a food photographer searching for beauty in the mundane, and a (mostly) dedicated meditation practitioner. Not the least, a curious ethnologist. And I am thankful for all challenges, fortunes and wonderful people I had and have the chance to cross paths with. At times, I remember a quote by Joachim Ringelnatz that my Mom had written in my childhood’s memory book: „Live, laugh well! Do your thing well!“ She had always lived up to these words, and I guess she would like the addition „Cook your life well“.
Which is what I try to do, both in kitchen and beyond. And I invite you to join me.