Monday, January 31, 2011

another year...

This year, on January 1, 2011, added up to a decade that I have been coming up almost every month to offer a dana meal to the community at Abhayagiri Monastery.

For this anniversary dana meal, Karen and I were joined by our husbands as well as our friends, Tom and Tina. My introduction to a dana meal was originally through Tom and Tina's suggestion, ten years ago, to offer a meal to the monastery on New Year's Day. The idea seemed like an auspicious way to start the New Year.

Soon after that first visit, a timid, almost questioning thought arose: I think I could commit for one year to bring a meal once a month---over these past ten years, I see how that one spontaneous thought has evolved into so many directions: a deeper understanding of the power of dana, as well as bringing countless visible and invisible gifts into my life...
in particular
a sangha and a dhamma home

In the first words of the Dhammapada, the Buddha said, "mind is the forerunner of all things." I have always loved contemplating that mind blowing teaching (excuse the pun). As I go through life, I drag this thing called "my" mind around with me and "it" alone creates my reality?!?

After that first year was over, the most natural thing seemed to be continuing on...Luckily two friends, Karen and Cassidy, who are talented and experienced cooks were interested in joining me for that first year.

One month at a time, driving the two and a quarter hours each way, come rain or snow, hell or high water, (110 degrees in the summer, torrential down pours sometimes even snow in winter) the meal must get delivered, offered.

On the drive up, sometimes listening to dhamma talks or other times, arguing with each other but always grateful for the beautiful and uncrowded landscape of Northern California.

The time passed and relationships deepened.

I became apart of the Abhayagiri sangha and found a dhamma home.

Many small moments were dhamma...

Anticipating the 10 year anniversary, I was wondered how to celebrate the event...some spectacular dessert, something special...

But in the end it was simply and profoundly another day another dana.



KALE SALAD (see post from Dec. 8th for recipe)

LIGHTER VEGETARIAN LASAGNE (From Moosewood cookbook)
2 cups cubed zucchini
1 cup cubed red peppers
1 cup chopped tomatoes
4 cups sliced mushrooms (about 12 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
10 ounces fresh spinach
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup grated low-fat mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 1/2 cups of tomato sauce
1 pound uncooked lasagna noodles
(I quadrupled the amounts to feed approximately 25)

preheat oven 350

Combine the zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, salt, and wine in a saucepan, bring to boil, cover, and then simmer on low heat for 10 mins. until all of the vegetables are tender and juicy. Stir in the basil and set aside.

Cover and cook the spinach on high heat in just the water clinging to the leaves for 3 minutes, until wilted but still bright green. Drain and chop coursely. Combine with the ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan and set aside.

Spread ~1 cup of the tomato sauce evenly on the bottom of a 8x12 inch baking dish.
Layer with noodles, generous amount of undrained vegetables, and some spinach-cheese mixture. Cover with a second layer of noodles, sauce, vegetables, some spinach-cheese mixture
and a third layer of noodles. Finally, add the rest of the vegetables, the remaining spinach-cheese mixture, a fourth layer of noodles, and the rest of the sauce.
Cover tightly with foil and bake until the noodles are tender, about 60-70 minutes.
Let sit at least 10 minutes before cutting.

I prepare the lasagnes the day before.

makes about 50 cookies
1 cup unsalted butter, room temp.
3 TBSP sugar
2 cups flour
2 cups raw pecans
1 tsp vanilla
at least 2 cups of powered sugar
heat oven to 350 and toast pecans for about 5 minutes or until they smell good
reduce oven temp to 250
cream butter and sugar together
add one cup of flour at a time
add finely chop pecans to mixture (I use a mini food processor for chopping)
add 1 tsp of vanilla
form into small round balls with palms of your hands
bake 1 hour at 250
remove from oven and while still hot, roll into the powered sugar
let cool on wire rack
roll in powered sugar again

from the kitchen dana wish list we brought:
one gallon of honey
salad dressing
different herb teas

plus 2 pounds of coffee beans offered to Ajahn Yatico for his solo month long walking journey in India (pictured below)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

have Buddha, will travel...

The day before the annual 10 day Thanksgiving retreat all things were mindfully topsy-turvy.
Spirits were high and there was a pleasant buzz around the monastery in anticipation of the retreat. The many retreat accoutrements were being packed up and loaded into sangha members' cars, to be driven down to the Angela Center in Santa Rosa.

All things aligned perfectly to allow the retreat to go on:
Ajahn Pasanno agreed to teach-(last year at this time, who would have imagined Ajahn Amaro moving to England!!!)
Paul Friedlander offered to be the registrar-
Paul Eaton offered to cook-
Cyndia Hitesi offered manage-
Juliann offered to teach movement-
sadhu, sadhu, sadhu!!!

Day's Menu:
Kale Salad with Sesame Seeds & Arame
(this is our new favorite dish)

1 cup arame seaweed, soaked in plenty of warm water for about 15 minutes
2 bunches curly or Tuscan kale, leaves removed from the stems and sliced very thinly
2 carrots
3 scallions, sliced very thinly
2 tablespoons of sesame seeds
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons umeboshi plum vinegar

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add the shredded kale and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes or so. Drain the kale and rinse under cold water, then drain very well, squeezing out as much water as you can, and place it in a large bowl. the kale will be very compresses at this point so take a minute and fluff it back up by pulling it apart.

2. Drain the arame and press out as much water as you can. Add the arame to the kale and toss well.

3. Whisk together the sesame oil and umeboshi vinegar.

4. Add the carrots, scallions, sesame seeds, and dressing-toss everything together.

We used 6 bunches of kale
and gomashio instead of sesame seeds.

bagels, cream cheese, and lox

9 bagels and 1 loaf of German rye bread

plus for the kitchen:
2 bottles of olive oil
2 quarts of honey
3 bags of hard candy for wan phra

Sunday, November 21, 2010

another sangha...

Buddha said "the whole of the holy life is association with good and noble friends, with noble practices and with noble ways of living."

Arriving at Abhayagiri in the morning, I never know who or what I'll find in the kitchen. It could be cold, dark, and empty. Or, it may be warm and lively with smiling faces of sangha from all over the world, stirring pots, chopping vegetables and cooking rice. Over the years, sangha I've met in the Abhayagiri kitchen have inspired and supported my practice in big and small ways.

From the outside, so much of long term practice can seem ascetic and lonely (silent 3 month retreats away from family and friends, long hours of sitting and walking, and the renunciation of three meals a day). But the Buddha's statement about good and noble friends being the whole of the holy life has always been inspiring because connecting with others in a deep and genuine way is the natural impulse of the heart and mind.
When I first began to practice, I would repeat, almost like a mantra, "the whole of the holy life is good friends." I found the phrase comforting in its simplicity, in a practice that seemed at times so demanding and overwhelming. I had no friends that shared my interest in dhamma, but over the years, as I continued on with the foundational practices of dana, metta, and mindfulness, sangha has evolved.
Today taking refuge in the sangha, (in the meditation hall, on my cushion at home, or in the kitchen at Abhayagiri) I connect with the twenty-six hundred year old linage of sangha, spiritual seekers, on this great journey and with a smile, I remember Trunpa Rinpoche's words, "We are all in the same boat."

The day's meal:

4 heads of broccoli (steamed)
5 heads of cauliflower (steamed)
makings of a salad (forgotten at home - 1st time in 10 years something was forgotten!)


2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted, plus more to grease baking dish
8 slices Pain de Siegle or sourdough bread
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
4 large eggs
2 cups milk
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1. Butter an 8 inch square baking dish; line bottom with 4 slices bread. Sprinkle with half of each cheese. Top with chives. Layer with remaining bread and cheese.

2. Whish together eggs, milk, melted butter, cayenne, salt and pepper. Pour mixture into baking dish. Cover; refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bake strata until puffed and golden, one hour to one hour and 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 6: for the monastery, we quadruple the recipe

Thursday, September 23, 2010

an economy of gifts

Usually when I see the word "economics" my eyes cross. I feel like I need to read more of Paul Krugman's columns, and feel guilty that I just don't like the topic.

But, the alms bowl brings economics into new territory: the economics of gift giving.

For 2600 years there has been a thriving tradition of gift giving - a cycle of lay supporters and the monastic community that relies on mutual support and reciprocity. The alms bowl is a perfect symbol of this.

Calling the alms bowl a begging bowl is a prevalent misnomer - the bowl in fact encapsulates this ethos of giving. Lay people offer food or other requisites, and though there is no expectation for a gift in return, there will follow teachings of the dharma.

Above is a photo of alms bowls, washed and drying in the sun after the meal. Alms bowls are not only used for meals and alms gatherings, but can also carry monk's or nun's possessions when traveling.

For the daily meal, monks and nuns never request food. Dogen, a 13th century monk, said: "The mouth of a monk is like an oven." That is to say, monastics never express preferences, and though we always strive to cook a delicious and filling meal (and behind the scenes are constantly inquiring and trying to discover each monk's personal preference), all meals are always gratefully accepted.

In September, we brought food on a Wednesday. The weekend before was cold and rainy and the forecast for the following weekend was for temperatures in the nineties - we were in the middle of change, trying to balance warming and cooling dishes.

September's menu for 25:

tuna (9 cans)
celery (1 bunch)
red onion (1 )

eggs (2 dozen)
celery (1 bunch)
green onions (2 bunches)

avocados cut not mashed (10)
medium hot salsa (1 jar) stirred into the avocados
with tortilla chips (2 bags)

mixed bean salad (4 cans from Trader Joes)

3 baked kobocha squashes
onions (2)
shitake mushrooms
chicken stock (1 quart)
coconut milk (1 can)
blended, plus water to thin
spinach leaves added before serving

2 sticks unsalted butter
1 package cream cheese
2 cups flour
1 bag of walnuts (small pieces or chopped)
1 bag light brown sugar
1 egg
oil or melted butter

Combine softened butter with softened cream cheese and blend well.
Add flour and continue to blend until smooth.
Divide dough in half, flatten in a circle, and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate over night.

Remove from refrig. Place some flour on surface you will be using and start rolling
out dough maintaining the circle, which can be any size you prefer.

Beat one egg spread and egg wash over the two dough circles.

Place either some cooking oil or melted butter on the circles, then sprinkle brown sugar on dough, smooth it out, sprinkle with cinnamon and follow with walnuts.

Cut dough into thin strips (1/16 inch). Roll each up, and place them on a lightly greased cookie sheet seam side down. Bake at 375-400 degrees depending on your oven until lightly golden
Remove from cooking sheet and let cool.

other offerings for the Abhayagiri kitchen:

3 bags of hard candies to be offered at late tea on wan phra
1 box of tea tree toothpicks
plus 1 gallon of white wine vinegar and 2 bottles of molasses

Living in a world where everything has a price tag, I'm inspired by a community where generosity and gratitude thrive daily. This practice establishes giving and receiving as a way of life, and I believe that the extraordinary in this world comes through this cycle of gift giving.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Whatever IS will be WAS"--Bhikkhu Nanamoli

On Sunday July 18th, the mood at the Abhayagiri Monastery was a mixture of sadness and celebration. The scene was a farewell meal offering for Ajahn Amaro. The next day, he left for England to become the abbot of Amaravati monastery.

On special days, like this farewell meal, the kitchen is a busy place. The Thai sangha (community) fill the kitchen with the most savory of smells, cooking dish after dish, yummy curry after yummy curry. Knowing this, I brought freshly smoked tuna, cheeses...simple things that could be prepared easily and quickly.

Midsummer brought an abundance of fresh fruit. Desserts of all sorts decorated the table, and to cap the feast was one of my favorite dishes-a big bowl of Thai sticky rice.

Besides food, sangha members brought traditional gifts for Ajahn: flowers, candles, and incense.

These gifts are expressions of the impermanence of all things: flowers fade, the candle flame goes out, the sticks of incense burn away.

Coming once a month these last nine years, I have encountered many changes at the monastery:

a new kitchen
new kitchen managers
new kitchen reorganizations (where are the towels?)
anagarikas (novices) taking vows
monks coming and going
the passing of Jay

yes, all conditioned things are subject to change...

But I never thought our most perfect co-abbots, Ajahn Amaro and Ajahn Pasanno, would be split apart--oh pshaw to anicca (impermanence)!

In gratitude to Ajahn Amaro...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Why "another day another dana"?

another day another dana because...

"Love people and feed them"--Neem Karoli Baba

I coined the phrase "another day another dana" standing in the kitchen of the Abhayagiri monastery after we had prepared and offered yet another meal (at that point it had been a number of years since we made a commitment to come once a month with a meal offering for the community).

It was all so simple -- cooking a meal is the stuff of everyday life -- and yet the commitment to this practice proved profound.

The qualities of mind that developed (happiness, contentment, gratitude) have been the rewards.

The practice of generosity is a touchstone: how much to give? when to give? when not to give? on and on...

I learned I could practice this fundamental teaching of Buddhism, generosity, within my life as a householder.

no special teacher -
no secret teaching -
no travel to a foreign setting -

"so simple you can't believe it"

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Visit in April

another day another dana because...

"If you knew, as I do, the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing some of it." -- The Buddha

I'm always surprised to hear that most people think Buddhist monks and nuns are vegetarians.

In fact, the Buddha never prohibited the eating of meat. It's an individual choice by the community members if they want to be vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore.

At Abhayagiri, all meals that offered are excepted with gratitude.

Below is a meal that was served by us in April.

The menu:

pasta with kale, feta cheese, and pine nuts (3 pounds of rice pasta, 6 bunches of kale, 2 yellow onions, 3 cartons of feta cheese, 2 packages of pine nuts)

garlic bread (2 loaves of french bread, 2 heads of garlic, 2 cubes of butter plus olive oil)--leftover butter, oil, garlic is poured over pasta

salami and brie cheese ( 2 large salami and 3 wedges of brie)

2 cartons of cookies

plus four big bunches of broccoli (to be prepared the next day)

feeding 20
(monastics and lay supporters)