Fresh out of college, Gesshin Claire Greenwood found her way to a Buddhist monastery in Japan and was ordained as a Buddhist nun. Zen appealed to Greenwood because of its all-encompassing approach to life and how to live it, its willingness to face life’s big questions, and its radically simple yet profound emphasis on presence, reality, the now. At the monastery, she also discovered an affinity for working in the kitchen, especially the practice of creating delicious, satisfying meals using whatever was at hand — even when what was at hand was bamboo. Based on the philosophy of oryoki, or “just enough,” this book combines stories with recipes. From perfect rice, potatoes, and broths to hearty stews, colorful stir-fries, hot and cold noodles, and delicate sorbet, Greenwood shows food to be a direct, daily way to understand Zen practice. With eloquent prose, she takes readers into monasteries and markets, messy kitchens and predawn meditation rooms, and offers food for thought that nourishes and delights body, mind, and spirit.
In this essay-focused cookbook, Greenwood (Bow First, Ask Questions Later), a meditation instructor in San Francisco, evocatively writes of her time in Japan. At age 24, she was ordained a Buddhist nun; two years later, she was in charge of the kitchen at a Japanese convent. An inviting narrator, Greenwood infuses the book with humility, addressing her own mistakes, including foolishly expecting Buddhism to allow her to escape adult responsibilities, as well as more philosophical discussions, such as cultural appropriation (she has qualms as "a white person writing a book on Japanese food," but feels compelled to share what the Japanese nuns taught her). Buddhist teachings, such as the titular concept of "just enough," are sprinkled throughout, making for a rich reading experience. Here she shares cooking tips and observations on MSG ("the links between MSG and sickness are not backed up by science," she argues), making use of leftovers ("You must peel your carrots, scrub them thoroughly and save the peels," to saut them with soy sauce and sake as a side dish), and offers some terrific vegetarian dishes, such as tofu and walnut-stuffed mushrooms; happosai, a flavor-packed Buddhist riff on chop suey; a cashew tomato soup; and marinated fried eggplant. While home cooks will wish for more recipes, they'll still take away a few new tricks for the kitchen and some spiritual insights.