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May 3, 2020

Covid-19: Seeking Equanimity in the Kitchen

In the very full days before Covid-19 most of us ate on the run. We ate when we could, what we could. We ate rushing out of the door, in our cars, buses or Ubers/taxis, at our work desks. We often ate fast food as it was easier than slow food. We lived and ate unmindfully, so to speak.

Come Corona and we are on lock down, bound to our homes, those that have them and kitchens. Again, those that have them. I am one of these privileged persons. I have a beautiful kitchen, custom made to suit my needs and those of my family, as we built our home.

I like good food and enjoy cooking and baking. I read about food and get pleasure from growing herbs and vegetables in my garden.  I enjoy simple, straightforward, healthy, and uncomplicated cooking. In the last several years I have taken great pleasure at baking, making jams and pickles for family and friends. I feel good when I give a bottle of something handmade, with a homemade label. Or, muffins of varying recipes. When I find out that someone likes a particular jam, pickle, or baked item, I try and make it for them.

But, I probably didn’t value or use my kitchen as I could have. Having a full time person who is a cook, spoilt me and my family. While my kitchen beckoned many times, I ignored the call. I was busy – rushing out of the door for an assignment, meeting friends, doing house chores. Every now and then I would bake and cook my more favourite dishes.

Over the last 18 months I have been quite immobile due to a leg surgery and unable to stand for long periods of time. I am now stronger and healing, so am back, gradually, in the kitchen. In the last few weeks, I have made raw mango chutney with the assistance of our cook and full timer, Prakash.  And, made a load of my signature soup, which is rather special, if I say so myself.  I have gone back to baking muffins and breads and for the first time, tried my hand at making biscotti, something I grew to love during my years in Italy.

Making things with our hands, especially during the days of Corona, is good for us. It calms the mind and we have something to show for it when its done. The process is as important as the result.

For me, every step is important. It starts with thinking about what I am going to make in the kitchen and when. I make sure I have time, so I am not distracted by what else I have to do. I consult with Prakash about what would be a good time for me and him.  I prepare the kitchen so I can work mindfully – clearing spaces, collecting all the ingredients, as well as the implements I will need – bowls, cutting boards, knives, spoons, and whiskers. And, electronic mixers and beaters too.  A kitchen towel on my right shoulder too.

Then, washing, cutting, and cooking, step by step. Standing over the stove, inhaling the aromas and marvelling at the process  of how everything comes together. Every now and then, stopping to rest, having some water. And, then the final result. Deep satisfaction and of course, cleaning up!

While baking, I enjoy the the sensation of flour between my fingers and hands, the whisking of eggs, mixing of ingredients and preparing the dishes to bake them in. For me, all these are meditative acts. To watch the muffins, cakes and bread rise through the glass window of the oven and have the kitchen (and some part of the house) fill with aromas of baking, is a huge reward.

It is time to share. Not just the act of consuming these goodies, but for me photographing them and sharing with friends on social media. It is also a way of documenting what I have been doing and how I am growing in my attempts to create and bring pleasure to those around me. It’s a photographic food journal.

Cooking and baking can calm the mind. It can lead to equanimity, which brings us mental stability and composure to deal with difficult emotions, such as pain, frustration, and anger many of us are experiencing at this time.

In these times of Corona, we need equanimity.  And of course, after Corona too.

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