Monday, February 27, 2012

Learning How to Boil Water


I've just begun reading Tamar Adler's book An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace and it seems to me an intimidating thing to learn to cook in the ways she is describing. It's not that she prescribes anything difficult. On the contrary, everything in the opening chapter "How to Boil Water" seems as easy as doing just that. It is her sense of the system of cooking that intimidates me. It is in many ways so new to me that I don't know what to do.

(The book, by the way, is gorgeously written. Go to your library or bookstore and get a copy. She is clear, poetic, and ingenious. I don't think I can so recommend any other book about cooking and living. And all that after only one chapter.)

Learning to do something in a new way is a tremendous task. I have written about the work I have done to make big changes in my life. Three years ago I couldn't have imagined accepting something that went against my way of thinking. I thought the only response to such a thing was to fight but that is only one option and often the least productive choice. I'm beginning to learn that the first step is to accept change. From there, almost anything is possible.

Adler's ideas about cooking begin in places where I haven't even begun to think. She really does talk about how to boil water. I had never thought about such a thing beyond discussing with my wife whether to begin with hot or cold water.

I've undergone a similar experience running without shoes. It was a radical thing to go barefoot, yet it makes perfect sense. I was hurting myself by running even as I was also making myself healthy. That is, the exertion was good, but not the pounding. I didn't know how to run. I started wearing bare-foot shoes and that was alright, but it wasn't the real beginning. Chucking the shoes was a beginning in that my body had to learn the most basic motions of running.

It hadn't occurred to me that encasing my feet in wondrous protection robbed me of the simple knowledge of how to run. That, however, is exactly what had happened. It's the same with food. Buying microwave popcorn is ridiculous. A pan, some oil, and kernels are easy and make better food. It's a good beginning.

Learning something new is a process of peeling layers we have put over our world. I understand that with running. I stopped wearing headphones when I run. They interfere with being in the moment of running. I don't think deeply while running because meditating on the sound of my feet and breathing makes me more aware. And I try not to wear shoes when I run because they take me away from the ways in which my body needs to run. Running barefoot, letting my mind meditate, and listening to my body make me a better runner, free me of injury, and bring me happiness. Tamar Adler is helping me do the same things with cooking.

If I keep peeling away the layers, accepting the world as it really is, instead of following prescriptions, I just might discover a way to be just who I have always hoped to be.

To that, I say, write on.