How to Find the Sacred in Food: Inspiration from 'Mariel's Kitchen'

An impassioned essay and a yummy recipe from Mariel Hemingway's new four-season cookbook Mariel's Kitchen: Simple Ingredients for a Delicious and Satisfying Life.

We all have a relationship to food that is at once joyous and infuriating. Food is a basic essential; we can't get away from it. We have to eat to survive and thrive. Yet it appears, in this country especially, that we've turned desperate around food, through over indulgence. This may seem contradictory; let me explain.

We love to eat because we love the feeling that food gives us. It is nurturing, it is grounding. Often, however, that feeling is a replacement for our sense of well-being and love. By nature, humans want more love — that's all anybody really wants — so we turn to food to get a sense of self. It's easier that way, because it has no person attached to it, judging us or finding reasons we shouldn't be loved.

So we eat more, because if love is what we desire, we certainly want more of it. We anthropomorphize food, making it our friend, our lover, our partner, our therapist. This takes away the need to look at the deeper issues of why we feel unloved.

Make food a celebratory, expressive aspect of your life!

Food is such a beautiful part of our lives. I want to invite people and myself to gracefully find a way to turn food into a valued ceremony that enhances our lives on every level. Instead of making food a person, I would like to make food another essence of myself. Food becomes that which expresses my delicacy as a woman and as a being who cares for herself.

When food is overindulged in, it takes on qualities of a master and slave. Food becomes the master and the eater becomes its slave. With that, there comes the constant need to please. You become split within yourself. Instead of being true to your essence and your nature, you serve your outer self, the one ruled by food. If food can come down from the realm of regal master and become our inner essence, everyone benefits. We slow down and eat with conscious awareness of how we chew, how we set a table, what we prepare for the enhancement of our essence.

If food becomes our artistic expression, then we all become very careful in the implementation of our gift. Our making of nourishment becomes the act with which we create something that, like a sand mandala that gets blown out of existence by the wind, is not permanently in sight but is constant in our being. Still, the energy that was put into the food stays with us and moves into our cells, into our sense of self. It becomes the essence of us. It can be healing when we have made it from love instead of using it as the outer expression of a love that is hollow and perhaps not real love at all.

Focus more on where your food comes from

Real food is like real love; it is born of the earth. It grows like some kind of miracle that we have come to take for granted. Yet the journey I am on right now is to remember where my food has come from, the journey that it has taken from field to plate.

This is not woo woo stuff! This is awareness of life and how we inhabit the planet. This is about all people becoming themselves deeply, caring for their world by caring for themselves.

To some extent, we make food and try new recipes to satisfy the needs of our bodies and families, and sometimes to impress the outside world. But we can also see it as developing our inner world, using the deliberate act of choosing and cooking food as a very basic practice of becoming more authentic. When we step back, become quiet, and consider that food may come from something greater than ourselves, however we want to picture that, whether as Nature, Spirit, Source, Gaia, or God, our awareness shifts. Food consciousness, I believe, is a foundation of our spiritual life.

Throughout history, in all sacred places, the ritual of food has a profound place in the connection to the spirit. Whether in the preparation, the sacrament, the blessing, the intent, or the symbolism, cooking is understood to be a ritual of connection and devotion. Done consciously, it becomes sacred to the development of your sense of self and your connection to your bigger self, that part of you that is already perfect.

Care for your inner environment by being aware of your participation in the outer environment, that place the sustenance comes from, and you feel a deeper connection to yourself as a unique expression of the divine.

Try this sample recipe from Mariel's Kitchen

Grilled Scallops with Fennel and Peppers

Serves 4

2 tablespoons coconut or olive oi
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large organic fennel bulb, trimmed and julienned, reserving fronds for garnish
1 large organic red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, julienned
1 large organic yellow or orange bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, julienned
2 teaspoons Xylosweet
1 garlic clove, minced
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 large sea scallops, muscle removed if necessary(about 12 ounces)

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and all the butter over medium-low heat in a large sauté pan. Add fennel, peppers, and Xylosweet and sauté, stirring frequently, until fennel caramelizes, 10 to 12 minutes. Add garlic, salt, and pepper and sauté until garlic becomes fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

2. Preheat grill pan over high heat.

3. Pat scallops dry with paper towels and brush both sides with oil. Season with salt and pepper. Grill scallops until they have developed deep golden grill marks on both sides and are opaque throughout, being careful not to overcook.

4. To serve, spoon warm fennel mixture onto individual dinner plates. Top with grilled scallops. Garnish with reserved fresh fennel fronds.

Mariel's Kitchen: Simple ingredients for a delicious and satisfying life

From Mariel's Kitchen: Simple Ingredients for a Delicious and Satisfying Life by Mariel Hemingway. Copyright © 2009 HarperOne. Republished with permission.

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