By Melanie Lee
Author, “A Year In Sedona~Meeting The Muse At Wisdom’s Edge”
(January 29, 2018)
The muse of conscious cookery came calling our first winter in Sedona, and not a minute too soon. Culinary matters had gotten completely out of hand during the transition to our second half of life, what with meals on the fly and lots of comfort food to keep the metabolic engines running at full tilt. Blech. Clearly the time had come for a major overhaul, a new diet honoring world cookery traditions emphasizing fundamentals like vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts, fish. The trick was how to balance a longtime commitment to my husband’s personal version of the four basic food groups — chocolate, coffee, pizza and tacos. I might take some doing but I knew I could bring him around. Because, after all, we were on the way to wisdom’s edge.
With the zeal of the newly converted, we attacked the cabinets choked with accumulated mummified food inside their entombed in suffocating cellophane and cardboard caskets. Farewell and RIP! Ditto frozen and canned vegetables (except for peas and beans, which got the food gurus’ thumbs up). We considered growing our own supply and studied up on the art of vegetable growing in a garden appropriate for an altitude of 4,500 feet. Luckily, if we fell short there was always the thriving local Farmer’s Market only two blocks away. As we’d recently learned from the garage sale muse, sweeping away the old just meant more room for the new. The muse of conscious cookery promptly appeared, and I signed up for some Ayurvedic cooking classes offered by a local yoga center.
Meeting the cooking muse involved an exotic foray into the world of Ayurveda and its amazing approach to creating healthy, life giving fare. Ayurveda means ‘knowledge of life,’ and is a 4,000 year old system of health and well-being originating in India. Offering a perspective on matters of health through diet, it’s a mini-medical system all about what and how to eat, and Indian cookery is world renowned for its strong and fragrant spices, many of which have been found to have exceptional curative properties. Almost any food can be useful for promoting health if it’s fresh, in season and prepared in a conscious, loving manner, and we already had in the kitchen almost everything needed for creating pungent, aromatic wonders. It’s all about how it’s put together. I could hardly wait for the cooking class where I would soon meet Annapurna, the Hindu goddess of cooking, as well as six other eager apprentices with some knowledge and experience of Ayurveda, and our chef, Melissa.
Shepherding our merry band of foodies into a cozy group around a prep counter next to the stove, our chef encouraged a hearty appreciation of the savory sights, smells, sounds and tastes emanating from the assembled elements. The meal would soon appear in all its colorful, sensual detail and as stomachs purred appreciatively, Melissa sifted and shaped a cacophony of familiar and new ingredients, producing something completely new, whole and beautiful from an initial jumble of disparate parts. An epiphany of creativity incarnate!
The main event was Kitchari, a sumptuous mung bean + rice stew celebrated for its supremely nourishing qualities, easily digestible and inherently healing with its variety of warming spices and herbs. Coriander, turmeric, cumin, fennel, salt, cardamom and hing as well as cilantro, ginger and lime as garnish held court to produce the six tastes, achieving a delicate balance necessary for true health: salty, sweet, sour, pungent, astringent and bitter. As the stew simmered, Melissa popped in some sliced zucchini, carrots and chopped chard and then there it was, ready to nourish us in all its savory wonder.
Next up was the real star of the show. Dessert, a saffron, honey and cream cheese stuffed date production, delivered the goods. If you’ve not tried this delight, rush right on out to the store and get the goods. The night after the cooking class I whipped up some and served it at a small soiree here at the house. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you it was the highlight of the evening.
Looking back now, I see that meet up with the cooking muse as so much more than a cut-and-dried, so to speak, approach to new recipes and food prep. Topics close to the heart not usually found in a cooking class had been given a real and important place in the course of the three hour adventure in conscious cookery. Personal narrative was encouraged and childhood tales of learning to share skills, talents and service through helping out in the kitchen as kids were honored. That was the real gift from the muse because by the time we’d finished a warm, hearty bowl of Kitchari and a helping of the delightful dessert dates, the spirit of appreciation, inclusion and nurturing had taken hold. I felt nourished in every way that mattered — body, mind and spirit.
I suspect the collective stories and warm conversational flow during the meal was made possible by the sweet creative spirit of Annapurna, the cooking muse that hovered above us. With the feeling of having been part of something bigger and better than a mere meal, I headed into my second half/third act with the sure sense that at last I was learning how to truly feast on my life. (Note: Recipes for Kitchari and Dessert Dates can be found in my book (“A Year In Sedona~Meeting The Muse At Wisdom’s Edge”)
Melanie Lee is an award-winning writer, editor, artist and author. Growing up in Texas, she read mostly biography and autobiography and dreamed of being a writer who could help inspire others to meet their muse by honoring beauty in everyday life. She holds degrees in languages and journalism and was a features editor and columnist, writing everything from lifestyle stories and business news to profiles of entrepreneurs, artists and inventors engaged in the creative pursuit of right livelihood. She lived for ten years in Northern New Mexico where she was creator and director of Sojourns Writing Workshops of Santa Fe.
At the second half of life she moved to Sedona with her husband Louis Michalski. She met her muse anew, took up painting, became a yoga teacher and avid hiker and wrote “A Year in Sedona~Meeting the Muse at Wisdom’s Edge“, available on Amazon.com or from the author. She can be contacted at
P.O. Box 1419 Sedona, AZ 86339 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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Thanks for your kind words, much