Lavinia Plonka offers a delightful smorgasbord of opportunities for culinary delight, going beyond standard cookbook fare to provide a feast that transcends the five senses. Your sense of taste will be tempted by the delicious recipes. In order to take the stress out of cooking, each recipe contains a Playing With Your Food section. This provides substitution tips, how to avoid kitchen disasters, ways to rescue mistakes and much more. For your sense of humor, Plonka has included stories; both traditional folk tales as well as humorous essays that explore subjects like cooking with a significant other, fear of an empty refrigerator, and the universe as a cosmic soup. But what makes Playing in the Kitchen completely unique are the movement explorations designed to make everything from chopping to washing the dishes a pleasurable and ergonomic adventure. Lavinia Plonka is an expert teacher of the Feldenkrais Method®, and has created innovative sequences based on Feldenkrais’ teaching that awaken your kinesthetic sense. You’ll never cook the same way again!
Non–cooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet. – Julia Child
I owe my approach to cooking to a seminal childhood event. My mother seemed like a wizard in the kitchen. I would sit on the stool and watch, fascinated. Occasionally she allowed me to do little things, like stir or pour. It was very exciting. One day, when I was about 9, they did something no parent in 21st century America would dream of. They went out to run errands and left me alone with my two younger siblings. I decided, since my parents worked so hard, that I would surprise them by making soup. I put everything I loved into my soup; potatoes, noodles, barley and salt. I gave it a stir, and then went outside to play, because I knew soup cooks itself. When my parents pulled into the driveway a couple of hours later, I could hardly wait to show them the surprise. Unbelievably, my brilliant soup had cooked down into a charred pot of inedible paste. My parents, who were generally harsh disciplinarians, laughed and congratulated me on trying something so difficult. My mother explained the nature of starch. And my father said, “The important thing is that you tried something new. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!”
These words have informed most of my life choices, but never more than in the kitchen. While there have been some spectacular failures in my culinary adventures, fortunately, no one’s survival depended on it. The only suffering that occurred was my bruised ego. And unlike a failed career or marriage, it’s quite simple to just start over. I can’t tell you how many times the word “Oops!” has escaped my lips – whether it’s because a carrot leapt from the chopping board and landed in the compost bucket, or because I just thoughtlessly dumped the chocolate into the food processor that I was supposed to carefully fold in at the end of a recipe. I have accidentally skipped steps in a recipe, omitted entire sections and misread the directions. I have botched my share of mayonnaises and sponge cakes. But I’ve also discovered some really cool recipe variations, developed new approaches to a recipe and sometimes ended up revamping a recipe entirely because my error opened up new possibilities.
Throughout my lifetime of Playing in the Kitchen, I have been a passionate student of personal development. My first career as a performer was dedicated to creating and performing stories of search and transformation (with the help of some slapstick comedy). This led to a curiosity about the nature of our emotions and expressions. I discovered the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education. Somatic Education is literally educating through the body. As a practitioner of this elegant approach to self study (Smithsonian Magazine once called it a “revolutionary approach to learning”), I began to recognize the links between habitual tensions, our emotional life and how we get in our own way. This led to two of my books: What Are You Afraid Of? A Body/Mind Guide to Courageous Living and Walking Your Talk: Changing Your Life Through the Magic of Body Language.
This study of the relationship of movement to tension spilled over into other aspects of life, including the kitchen. I noticed how some people get nervous at the thought of cooking. Whether due to upbringing, temperament or lack of experience, the idea of play does not enter into their culinary experience. Cooking is a chore, or even a terrifying event. Some people spend huge amounts of money on catered meals in fear of disappointing their guests with their own attempts. I’ve seen cooks chop with their shoulders up by their ears, grim determination wiring their jaws into grimaces of pain. I found myself devising exercises for my friends to help with better body mechanics or relaxation as we prepared meals together. Then some chefs came to see me for Feldenkrais lessons because of repetitive strain injuries or aching feet. I began to be curious about the connection between Playing in the Kitchen and relaxation.
Meanwhile, people who knew my love of cooking started asking me for recipes. At one point I compiled them into a booklet. Requests increased. People complained that their booklet fell apart or that the food stains had made the ink run. Publications began requesting humorous articles about food and the body. And suddenly, all of this material seemed to call for what you are holding in your hand. Recipes, stories, movement exercises for better use of self and tips for transforming cooking from work to play are the ingredients of this literary buffet I’ve prepared for you.
Playing in the Kitchen can be a metaphoric journey, a body/mind investigation or just the act of baking a pie. Therefore, I’m offering a smorgasbord of options for exploring your personal relationship to kitchen playtime. Here’s the menu.
I cannot take credit for most of the recipes. I have culled them from books, magazines, NPR stories, old wives’ tales and the occasional flash of personal brilliance. While many of the sources are out of print, when it seems appropriate or useful, I have included the source for your further reading. The recipes I’ve chosen are not designed to teach you how to cook, or how to cook in a particular style. They are the recipes people always ask me about. They are the recipes I’ve mailed and emailed to others so many times they live in a special file. I have made so many mistakes cooking most of these recipes, that I’ve discovered variations, or at least have learned ways to rescue the meal. Therefore, every recipe also contains tips, suggestions, and “rescue remedies” such as substitutions for missing ingredients so that meal preparation can remain play and not turn into a hair–raising exploit.
I have been a teacher of the Feldenkrais Method for many years. Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais was an engineer, martial artist and athlete who developed a movement technology that affords anyone the opportunity to live a more functional, pain–free life. Using sequences of small movements, the Feldenkrais Method teaches us how to use ourselves more effectively. It is used in universities and rehab clinics around the world. People at all levels of performance, from Olympic athletes and concert violinists to persons suffering from limitations due to injury or illness, attest to its value for increasing abilities and enhancing quality of life. The Feldenkrais Method allows you to discover, in a delightful and effortless manner, how to free yourself of lifelong habits of tension and holding.
I have included several movement explorations based on Feldenkrais’ teachings that I have found particularly helpful not just in the kitchen, but in all aspects of life. Some of them are designed to be done before or after cooking, but most can just be integrated into your kitchen routine. They can reduce stress, ease physical and mental discomfort and improve use of self while chopping, cooking or even lifting heavy pots. Since it’s not easy to work in the kitchen and read movement instructions at the same time, I have recorded the explorations in this book. They are available as free audio downloads on my website: www.laviniaplonka.com. Play them while you’re Playing in the Kitchen!
I’ve included stories about food, about cooking food, about my relationship to food. Some of them are traditional folk tales that I have found particularly relevant. Some of them are essays from my own never-ending relationship with the act of cooking.
So if you never cook a single recipe from this book, I hope you will find some of the other ingredients I’ve included worth tasting. Words are as much a feast for the mind as food is for the body. Above all, I hope that this book inspires a sense of play – in the kitchen and in life.