Become one with food

2011-05-25 00:00

THE best cookbooks are always about more than the preparation of food — they offer the would-be cook more to think about than oven temperatures and cooking times. And here is one to relish — The Cake the Buddha Ate, which is the second more-than-cookery book to come out of the kitchens of the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo, following Quiet Food in 2005. The earlier book is now in its sixth edition, while The Cake the Buddha Ate is already into a second printing.

Browse through The Cake the Buddha Ate, and besides delicious vegetarian recipes and sinful puddings from chef Daniel Jardim, you will find poems, stories and anecdotes about food, the retreat centre and its activities and photographs — not just of the dishes mentioned but of views, people working in the kitchens, and scenes in and around the centre. It is a book that speaks of a way of life as much as it tells you how to produce a specific meal.

This aspect of the book is something that feature writer on this newspaper Stephen Coan, who, along with Dorian Haarhof contributed poems to The Cake the Buddha Ate, picked up on when he spoke at the recent Durban launch of the book. A regular teacher at the centre, Coan asked the question that rises with the publication of any cookery book: is there really a need for another?

As he put it: “We live in a world, in a city, where people are starving. Yet food is everywhere, or images of it at least. Food and its presentation — let alone its preparation — seem to have become a socially acceptable form of pornography extolled by any number of celebrity chefs.”

Coan went on to say that what The Cake the Buddha Ate offers that most other cookbooks don’t is a reflection on our relationship with food. He quoted advice from Vic Kotze, a Catholic priest in Johannesburg, who said that in a world where there is both hunger and greed, you must first be grateful that you have food to eat and then you must honour it, preparing your food as best and tastily as you can, given the ingredients to hand.

And that is the prevailing attitude of this addition to the shelves of cookbooks. Speaking from a Buddhist perspective, Coan recommended “becoming one with the apple crumble”. I haven’t had a go at that yet, but have made and loved the sweet potato and cumin soup, the spicy tomato couscous and the lemon, ginger and coconut slices (I made those to follow the cucumber sandwiches while watching the royal wedding). And I’ve set my sights on the roasted beetroot and butternut with pan-fried green beans, partly because the colour of the beetroot in the photograph is so breathtaking. This looks like food that will appeal to all the senses.

But, maybe that is seeing food as pornography. So I can sober myself up by reading Louis van Loon’s explanation of why he became a vegetarian; about the firing of pots made at raku retreats at the centre or Japanese brush painting; Haarhof’s poem on the Gong at a retreat centre. And, on the subject of gongs, how the stand that holds the centre’s ancient Chinese gong came into being.

There is also the explanation of how the book got its title. But that is a special story, and you will need to buy the book to read it. I’m not going to spoil the fun.

•  The Cake The Buddha Ate is published by Jacana.

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