Rachel Cole is a life coach, retreat leader, writer, and teacher. Her focus, her life's work, is helping women to lead wise, well-nourished, pleasurable lives. She is also a cracker-jack cook, with a history in working with food, sustainable agriculture, and running programs in food education. These days she spends her time exploring the question 'What are you truly hungry for?' in her workshops and coaching sections.
Today Rachel is sharing her five essentials for a passionate, engaged and well-fed life, both in and out of the kitchen.
1. A willingness to let it be what it is.
We have this idea that our cooking has to look and taste a certain way, especially if we're following a recipe or if we're cooking something off of a blog and we want it to look like the photo. Or if we're trying to recapture something our mother used to make and it has to taste exactly like when she makes it. But chances are for that to happen, there's going to be some trial and error along the way. Chances are it didn't happen the first time out of the gate and it probably won't happen again the next time we make it. So it's important to have a willingness to let go of needing something to be a certain way.
If we release our expectations of the outcome and at the same time encourage what's good to come out, we may end up with something different than what we intended but equally as good. Maybe even better!
I think so much of this applies to life, too — right? It's all about trial and error. It reminds me of dating. When I think of the worst dates I've had, and when I think of my so-called kitchen failures, these are some of the best stories that I have. I mean, you can't buy stories that good! So there's always a gift. The kitchen can give us so much more than perfect dishes.
2. An attunement to our body.
We live in a world that's very much focused on from-the-neck-up thinking when it comes to what to eat and how to cook and how to eat. We have a lot of ideas about right and wrong and shoulds and shouldn'ts and we forget that our body has all this brilliant wisdom about what it wants to eat. So when the question 'what's for dinner?' comes up, we can check in with our body for the answer. This wisdom is unique to each of us and it changes every day.
When we listen to our body, the question 'what to eat' can be taken off of our to-do list. We don't have to figure out — there's nothing to figure out there. We can can just settle into receptivity and listen to our body. And the more we practice that and bring that into the kitchen, the more open that channel becomes, it gets clearer and clearer. It's a real gift. My third point is very much related to this ...
3. Have your compass needle pointed towards pleasure.
When I let pleasure be my North Star in the kitchen, it guides me to where I need to go. My body perceives pleasure when I'm giving it what it wants. So that could be kale or it could be ooey-gooey chocolate brownies but it probably isn't about having ooey-gooey chocolate brownies three times a day because that's not going to give me pleasure.
Pleasure is a wonderful marker for me. It allows me to know when I'm hungry and when I'm full. For example, I might stop experiencing pleasure at, say, 15 bites into something. It's kind of remarkable — I'll notice that the pleasure is decreasing and I know that my body is satisfied.
What happens if people don't know how to listen, or they're confused about the messages? It's a lot of trial and error at first (see #1, above.) If we think we know what our body is asking for and we go have that and we feel stuffed and sick, instead of that being a failure, see it as wonderful feedback. Think: OK! I missed the mark somewhere there — maybe I went four bites past what my body wanted. It's a dance we do and it's not perfect but it is incredibly liberating and nourishing.
Really simple questions can bring us into listening: Do I want something warm or cold? Do I want something dry or wet? Sweet or tart? Crunchy or smooth? Begin by asking these really simple questions as a way to focus and all of a sudden it's like boom! I want watermelon and feta cheese!
Of course we may discover in this process that it's not food that we're hungry for at all. In the process of tuning into the body, we may find that we're not actually hungry for food, we're hungry a hug, or peace and quiet, or rest, warmth, love, sleep, excitement. The book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch is a fantastic resource for this.
4. It's important to have fresh food in the kitchen.
And this doesn't necessarily mean raw food, or just fruits and vegetables. I'm talking about food that has an aliveness to it and that can be anything — a loaf of bread, a chicken, a bottle of olive oil, a bag of beans, anything. Again, when we're tuning in and looking closer, we develop a sense for this aliveness.
Take leftovers: they can still be good, we're not really sick of them, but still, we know it when they've lost their life and they've lost their appeal. You can look at your freezer right now and see what has life to you and what doesn't. (Not all leftovers are dead, of course!)
5. It's important to have objects that feel good.
And not just feel good in our hands but feel good to look at, and feel good to use, feel good in our kitchens. From our silverware and dishes and bowls and cooking utensils to our graters and peelers and knives and pots and pans, they don't have to be super expensive but they have to feel good. They have to make us want to go into the kitchen. If we're not cooking, if we don't like being in the kitchen, maybe it's because we don't like all the stuff that's in there.
I just oiled all of my wooden things — all of my wooden utensils and bowls and boards. It deepened my relationship with each of the pieces and I smile when I pick them up. It brings me joy to see how I quenched their thirst — that great feeling you get when you've taken care of something.
Or another example is that I love going to thrift stores or Goodwill and looking for grapefruit spoons. It's just something I really enjoy. They're not super expensive, they cost something like 10 cents, but I really like using them and not just for grapefruit!
On fearing food. There's this way that we've become incredibly afraid of food, that food has been made out to be evil. In terms of cutting through all that, I think a lot about my grandparents and great-grandparents. They didn't stress that much about food. My 93-year old grandfather has eaten dessert everyday of his life. I'm sure he has had his share of foods that contained Crisco and here he is, still healthy and vital at 93! Do I recommend a Crisco-rich diet? No. But there's a message here about relaxing a little bit.
On intuitive eating. Everyone is born an intuitive eater. Everyone. I hear a lot from people 'what if I've never experienced that?' Well, you did. You may have been disconnected from it at a very early age, but you came into this world with it and it's never left you. It's still there.
On mentors and kitchen spirits. Whether they're people we know or don't know, I think its important that we find kitchen teachers and kitchen mentors to bring into the kitchen with us. I feel privileged when I go into the kitchen and I can feel that my mother and grandmother and Julia Child and Deborah Madison and Alice Waters are there with me. I grew up with those influences, with those teachers, through their books and TV appearances, so they're always there.
Every time I roll pie dough, I hear Julia Child instructing me: beat the disk with the rolling pin, roll only away from your body, quarter turn and roll away from your body, quarter turn and roll away from your body…flip it over and begin again. Anytime I go to roll the dough towards me or move my body instead of the dough, I can hear her. It's not like a finger wagging, it's more like ... oh thank you.
But even if you haven't grown up with them, I think that it's important to have mentor spirits. Read The Joy of Cooking cover to cover so you can feel Irma and Marion in the kitchen with you. Read Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and you'll feel Deborah in the kitchen with you, you'll hear her voice. Or your favorite food blogger or your husband's mother. There's something about going into the kitchen and not being alone. They're in there with you in spirit.
What are you cooking now that you're excited about? I just dug out from the back of my fridge a big jar of preserved Meyer lemons that I made last year. (Yes, it still feels vibrant and alive!) I love preserved lemons. I put them on sandwiches, on salad dressings, in all kinds of things but my boyfriend had never had them until he met me. They're a really distinct flavor that makes you go 'what!?!' in a good way, so its been fun to cook things for him.
The other day I made us this roasted cauliflower/potato/dill soup and I made some yogurt cheese by straining the yogurt and then chopped up some of the preserved lemons and smeared that on slices of Tartine walnut bread. It was just soup and bread with some yogurt cheese — it was so simple, but it was really delicious.
(Image credits: Andrea Scher; Andrea Scher; Leela Cyd; 3191 Mies Apart; Leela Cyd; Emma Christensen)