A Day of Mindfulness at Thich Nhat Hanh’s Deer Park Monastery

This year, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary at Thich Nhat Hanh’s Deer Park Monastery with a Day of Mindfulness. We wanted to keep it simple but meaningful. We both have been practicing and studying Buddhism and couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day together.

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Upon arrival at the monastery, we were reminded to slow down, both literally and figuratively!

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We were also reminded to: “Breathe You are Alive” …

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…   “Peace is Every Step” …

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… and “I have arrived”

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I have arrived. I am home
In the here. In the now.
I am solid. I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.
-Thich Nhat Hanh

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The Days of Mindfulness at Deer Park Monastery usually start with a Dharma Talk at 9 am, followed by a walking meditation and mindful (silent) eating. Today, however, “things will be different” a monastic told us upon arrival. “It’s the end of the Vietnamese retreat which means there are lots of people visiting so the program might change”. My husband and I looked at each other with a little bit of disappointment in our faces. And just as he was reading our minds, he continued with a funny and mischievous smile “Well, this is part of life. Everything comes and goes, everything is impermanent”. The three of us burst into a laugh “yes, yes, yes … the Buddhist law of impermanence. We get it” .

My husband then asked “but are we going to get a chance to meditate?” Again, this man looked at us with an ever greater smile “When we walk, we meditate. When we eat we meditate. When we breath, we …”. Again, the three of us started laughing. He probably knew that my husband meant, “sitting meditation” but he gave us our first lesson, in the most Zen’ish way possible.

Around 9:30 am, we were asked to make two circles. The inner circle was for the first time attendees while the outer circle was for the rest of the people. We were a total of fifty people or so. One of the nuns started signing to Thich Nhat Hanh’s poem and asked everyone to join her:

I have arrived. I am home
In the here. In the now.

Soon after, we were given instructions for the walking meditation, based again on Thich Nhat’s teaching:

“When you practice walking meditation, you go for a stroll.  You have no purpose or direction in space or time.  The purpose of walking meditation is walking meditation itself.  Going is important, not arriving.  Walking meditation is not a means to an end; it is an end.  Each step is life; each step is peace and joy.  That is why we don’t have to hurry.  That is why we slow down.  We seem to move forward, but we don’t go anywhere; we are not drawn by a goal.  Thus we smile while we are walking”

She also suggested that we match our breathing to our steps (i.e. counting 2-3 steps while inhaling and 3-4 steps while exhaling. The exhales being longer than the inhales). One more thing, “no electronic devices”. 

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The walking meditation was beautiful and peaceful. We were surrounded by the chaparral mountains, the smell of white sage, the sounds of our shoes kissing the soft ground, kids laughing and fresh cold air.  I am not sure how long it took us to walk up and down the mountain behind the monastery. I completely lost track of time and space.

After the meditation, we were instructed to enter the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall. Today, they were conducting a Dharma Talk in Vietnamese with simultaneous translation for the English-speaking attendees. We were all given headphones.

I'll be in this meditation hall all day tomorrow #deerparkmonastery #thichnhathanh #peaceistheway #peaceiswithin #mindfulness #meditate #meditateeveryday #buddhism #meditation

The Dharma Talk was 90 minutes long and focused on the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddhist’s Noble Truths. At around 12:30 pm, we were invited to one of the Hamlet Dinning halls to  enjoy a mindful meal together.

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All meals were vegan and exquisite. I had Vietnamese collard greens soup, spicy tofu, a bean dish that taste like Spanish fabada and Vietnamese bok choy.

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After lunch, the Day of Mindfulness was officially over. We walked back to the top of the mountain to take pictures and breathe in the views. We also explored the camping grounds and agreed that we needed to come back with the kids for a weekend family retreat.

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What a magical day!

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About Deer Park Monastery

The Deer Park Monastery is a 400 acre sanctuary resting peacefully in the Chaparral mountains of Southern California. It was established in July 2000 by monastic and lay practitioners from Plum Village France. The monastery is under the direct guidance of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, and follow the traditions of engaged Buddhism, practicing mindfulness throughout our every day lives. For more information, visit Deer Park Monastery.

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Matthew Kenney and The Art Of Chocolate

“The greatest tragedies were written by the Greeks and Shakespeare…neither knew chocolate.”  ― Sandra Boynton

Here I am again again, at Matthew Kenney Santa Monica Culinary! 

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I recently completed their Weekend Intensive: Knife Skills and Sushi Workshop. While this was an incredible experience, this chocoholic was reeeeally looking forward to her next weekend intensive: The Art Of Raw Chocolate.  

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Ingredients

Few Ingredients: Coconut Powder. Oat Flour

Tools

Few Tools

Oils

Some Oils

Our instructors were beautiful Rachel Harper and Casey Dolezal.  We were four students in the class. Pascal and Sofie who were vacationing from Switzerland (of course, where there is chocolate there must be Swiss people) and Maddie who was also visiting but from Washington D.C.  

We started the class by learning a little bit about the history of cacao and how the Aztecs believed that cacao seeds were the gift of the divine ( more specifically the gifts of Quetzalcoatl, the God of wisdom). I truly believe this! These seeds had so much value they were eventually used as a form of currency.  C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E = Liquid Gold! 

We also covered some of the health benefits of raw cacao which includes:

-Promotes cardiovascular health
-Protects from environmental and metabolic toxins
-Increases the levels of specific neurotransmitters in our brains
-Raises the level of serotonin in the brain
-Stimulates the secretion of endorphins

We learned about the three main cultivar groups of cacao ( Criollo  sometimes referred to as the “King of Cacao”, Forastero and Trinatario) and the many types of chocolates made from the cacao beans. Finally, they introduced us to the most commonly used sweeteners and super foods used in raw cuisine. 

After this brief introduction, we were given our first assignment: To prepare Cinnamon Spiced Brigadeiro, using the following ingredients:

1 1/2 cups of soaked cashews
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
3 teaspoons of cinnamon
3/4 cup of melted cacao butter
pinch of cayenne pepper and salt.

This was refrigerated for several hours to be used later for our chocolate truffles. 

Our second task was to team up in groups of two and prepare one batch of Fudge Brownies. This was also placed in the freezer for a couple of hours.

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Our third task was Spice Mole Lettuce Wraps. For this, we prepared a green and red slaw with fine julienne carrots and cilantro mixed with a dressing of lime juice, rice vinegar, grape seed oil, cumin seed and salt. The sunflower mole was done by combining sunflower cacao butter with a vegetable sauce that reminded me of spicy Spanish gazpacho but thicker in texture. This was made with raisins, chipotle pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, dates, shallots, garlic, carrot juice, lemon juice, chili, cumin, cardamon, salt and pepper.

We assembled the wraps by placing some butter lettuce leaves on a cutting board, adding a couple of spoons of sunflower mole sauce, the cole slaw and finishing it with small dices of tomatoes and avocados.

We then dressed up the plate with the extra mole using a spoon and pouring the extra mole in fast swirling motion. I love that I always learn something new about presentation when taking these classes at Matthew Kenney Culinary.  I must admit that I am proud of the finished dish! It not only looks beautiful but it tasted equally delicious! I was happy to learn that this was also going to be our lunch as I was getting extremely hungry! 

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My Mole Lettuce Wraps

With Sofie at lunch

With Sofie at lunch

 After a quick half an hour break, we prepared some hot chocolate with almond milk, cacao powder, coconut butter, vanilla extract, palm sugar and a pinch of cinnamon, cayenne pepper and salt. This was the perfect drink at the moment as the room was getting a little cold and we all needed a little kick. 

Hot Chocolate

After preparing and drinking the hot chocolate, we removed the fudge from the freezer, cut it into 2 x 3 inches reactangles and placed in the dehydrator.  

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Next, we learned how to temper chocolate. In raw cuisine, this means bringing the chocolate to just 115 degrees Fahrenheit ( 46 degrees Celsius) , then cooling it down to 84 degrees  Fahrenheit ( 29 degrees Celsius) and then heating it up to 88 degrees Fahrenheit ( 31 degrees Celsius). 

My instructors

 We made 2 kinds of bonbons fillings, a cherry port and a hazelnut cream. 

Making bonbons

Maddie and I making bonbons

Pascal and Sofie

Pascal and Sofie aka The Swiss Team

 While we waited for the bonbons to harden, we prepared chocolate truffles which we covered in dark chocolate, hemp seeds, nuts and cacao powder.   

Chocolate hands

Chocolate hands

More chocolate hands

More chocolate hands

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Our final product. Not bad!

My Instructors II

Our talented instructors, Rachael and Casey

As with my previous experience, the class came to an end before we knew it.  To combat the chocolate comatose, we headed next door to M.A.K.E, Matthew Kenney’s restaurant, and ordered fresh squeezed green juices! 

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 What can a “chocoholic” plant-based cook-in-training say about a class called “The Art Of Chocolate” at the world-renowned Matthew Kenney Santa Monica Culinary Institute? Thank you Rachael and Casey! This class surpassed all my expectations! Oh how I wish I could sign up for Level 1 and 2! Hope to take class from you again!

Matthew Kenney Culinary School in Santa Monica

I have been a big fan of Matthew Kenny for many years. He is a chef, an entrepreneur, an author of over a dozen delicious-looking raw vegan cooking books and above all a true artist.

Matthew Kenney BooksFor many months, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make it to the Matthew Kenney Culinary Academy  in Santa Monica.  In the perfect world, I’d have signed up for Level 1 ( Fundamentals of Raw Cuisine) , Level 2 ( Advance Raw Cuisine) and Level 3 ( Professional Raw applications). But I would have had to take a leave from work and move temporarily to Santa Monica since this requires 4 weeks or 120 hours for each level. I have the feeling my family would object to that too! Although lately they seem to enjoy eating my class assignments  (I am currently working towards my professional plant-based certification at Rouxbe Cooking School, a program lead by Chef Chad Sarno).

I have no doubt I will make it to Matthew Kenney Culinary full-time some day. In the meantime, I am “getting a taste”  of his weekend intensive courses including a Knife Skills and (Raw Vegan) Sushi Workshop on June 29th and The Art of Chocolate on July 20th. After all, like Lao Tzu said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step”

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I want to be part of this picture. Photo Credit: Matthew Kenney Santa Monica

I signed up for these classes a couple of months ago and ever since I’ve been patiently waiting for the day to come. When last Sunday arrived,  I woke up with the biggest smile on my face, like a kid on Christmas morning. “Why have I waited this long to sign up for class?. 

I arrived at the Matthew Kenney Culinary Santa Monica around 10:55 am or five minutes before class started. I must say that this place is a little hard to find at first. It’s located inside The Market at Santa Monica Place and it’s adjacent to Matthew Kenney’s M.A.K.E restaurant.

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M.A.K.E restaurant and entrance (to the right) to Matthew Kenney Culinary.

The Matthew Kenney Culinary has a state-of-the-art kitchen with beautiful granite countertops and glass walls, allowing the curious shoppers at The Market to take a nice peek at the on-going class.

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Upon arrival, we were directed to our stations where we were given our high quality whites, black aprons and the program for the day. I was feeling like a professional chef already. I was also happy to learn that we were a small group, allowing for more 1:1 time.

Our instructor, Chef Sean Murray, proceeded with brief introductions and a quick overview of kitchen safety and the basics  ( how to hold a knife,  the “claw” grip, etc …).

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We spent the first couple of hours going over the different cuts and performing fine julienne ( 1/16 inch x 1/16 inch x 2-2 1/2 inches ) on carrots, red peppers and cucumbers. My previously acquired knife skills came in handy. However, I soon realized that I have a long ways to go before becoming a “lean mean cutting machine”.  For this class, we practiced cuts with a ceramic Pure Komanchi knife which it’s not as sharp as my chef  Global knife back at home. We discarded a lot of produce since we were keeping only  the best fine julienne cuts for our sushi. 

We learned how to make pickled ginger combining rice vinegar with agave, water, beet juice and salt.  We prepared smoked shiitakes with tamari and sesame oil.  We learned how to incorporate smokey flavor into the mushroom by using a smoke gun which intensified the mushrooms’ rich umami flavor. 

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After all ingredients were cut,  our instructor taught us how to roll sushi properly and plate it nicely with the previously marinated pickled ginger. Presentation is everything, after all! IMG_2955

The class split up for lunch for about 30 minutes or so. And what it took 2 hours to prepare, took 5 minutes to devour! 

My first attempt at making sushi

My first attempt at making sushi

I sat in the M.A.K.E restaurant with my new friend and classmate, Clare L. We enjoyed our colorful dishes and a little bit of chef treatment. As we were still wearing our chef whites, a couple of people stopped by our table  to ask us for our restaurant business hours.  This made me giggle inside. We could have told them that we didn’t work there but we assumed our “chef on a lunch break” role and directed them to “our” waitress for further info. At the studio where I practice yoga, I often get confused for one of the instructors.  I kind of like it!

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After lunch, we went back to class and spent the rest of the course learning how to make different rolls, including a jicama “rice” one, and Dragon roll ( with the avocado outside) and a Temaki sushi, also known as Cone Sushi or Hand Roll sushi.

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Chef Sean showing us how to prepare a Dragon Roll

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Our cooking instructor, Chef Sean Murray, was excellent. He was able to answer many of our questions but what I truly enjoyed was his focus on technique and presentation. Every single aspect matters when preparing sushi.

Temaki Sushi

Before we knew it, it was already 4 pm and class was over! I was feeling accomplished, happy, a little tired and  hungry. I grabbed a really quick bite and headed back to San Diego ( again) with a big smile on my face. I had just completed my Knife Skills and Sushi Workshop at none other than the Matthew Kenney Culinary Santa Monica! Oh, I really want to sign up for level 1,2 and 3!

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Many thanks to Matthew Kenney and his staff, Chef Sean Murray, for this amazing weekend intensive course! It’s all I ever wished for! Well, meeting Matthew Kenney will be next! 

I am looking forward to my next class in a couple of weeks:  The Art of Chocolate. Yes, (raw vegan) C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E! Now we are talking!