Cookbook author Mindy Toomay's blog about eating for health, cooking with spirit, and celebrating life in northern California. Here she dishes up food rants and raves, recipes, and plenty of kitchen wisdom.

By your own efforts, waken yourself, watch yourself, and live joyfully.
-- The Dhammapada

Why not make a daily pleasure out of a daily necessity?
-- Peter Mayle


Cooking as a refuge

Buddhist practitioners are taught to take refuge in the Buddha (the enlightened one, and the possibility that we ourselves can become enlightened); the dharma (the teachings of the Buddha, which provide all the guidance we need to become enlightened); and the sangha (the community of fellow practitioners who support and inspire us on the path). The idea is that since this human life includes a lot of suffering, we need these "three jewels" to keep us steady and strong and safe, no matter what outer circumstances come our way.

I experience cooking as a refuge in just this sense. Whatever challenges I may face on a given day, I set them aside when I cook, bringing my attention to the tasks at hand. And they are lovely, calming, life-affirming tasks -- chopping vegetables, stirring soup, tossing salad greens around with tongs until a slick of tasty dressing reaches every leaf.

Last night a big storm blew through -- a fitting metaphor for the turbulent mind. I'm facing some big decisions, needing to get clear about where and when to make certain changes, and this feels like an inner storm at times, when the flurry of possibilities and questions and concerns preoccupies my mind.

And so I cook, getting back to the basics, taking refuge in my kitchen, where I feel warm and creatively engaged and sensually alive. I think I'll make hot-and-sour soup, to soothe my insecurities and boost my immune system. It's a quick and easy recipe. Enjoy it as is, or ladle it over brown rice for a more substantial meal in a bowl.

Blessings and bon appetit!


2 tablespoons cornstarch (the kind from the natural food store isn't processed using aluminum)
5 tablespoons (75 ml) unseasoned rice vinegar (not the sweetened kind used to make sushi rice)
2 tablespoons (28 ml) soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less, to taste)6 fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon (15 ml) dark sesame oil
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
7 cups (1.7 L) vegetable broth
1 small carrot, finely diced
1 tablespoon (8 g) grated fresh ginger
4 ounces (115 g) firm tofu, cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup frozen peas, rinsed to melt away any ice crystals

Whisk together the cornstarch, vinegar, soy sauce, and cayenne until the cornstarch is dissolved. Set aside.

Remove the stems from the shiitakes and thinly slice them. In a stockpot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, onion, and garlic, and saute for 3 minutes. Add the broth, carrot, zucchini, and ginger and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the tofu. Simmer for 4 minutes. Add the peas and return to a simmer, then cook for 1 minute.

Remix the cornstarch mixture and stir it into the soup. Cook and stir until the broth is somewhat thickened, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.


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