Sunday, March 23, 2008

End of Retreat (written March 16)

Okay, I think I'm finally free to go up to my place and crash. I had a busy week (okay, lots of sitting around too, but ...). For this retreat my job was assistant tenzo. The Tenzo is the head cook, and an important position in Zen Buddhism, and of course on any retreat. What it meant being the assistant was that every work period (2 each day) was in the kitchen, and some other times as well. So, I put together the water and oats for breakfast the night before and when we came in to sit in the morning (5:30-ish am), I turned on the burners on the water on low so they would be ready when it was time to cook. I cooked oats and tea for breakfast. I feel confident about my ability there, and I did just fine. However, that was the limit of my confidence and competence.

One thing I learned this week is that I really don't know how to cook. At least, I don't know how to cook the way they cook here, and for the quantities of people we often serve. I don't really know how to do menus and plan ahead and make sure there's plenty of variety, and enough protein, and accommodate everyone's allergies and food sensitivities, not to mention tastes. So I spent a couple of days with a lot of anxiety, bringing up all my old fears of not being good enough, until I finally just accepted that I don't know how to do this, and then I could relax and start asking a lot of clarifying questions and just make it clear that I don't know how to do this stuff. I think the Tenzo figured out after a while that she had to make things simple for me. I'm moving into a Tenzo-in-training role, and I can tell it's going to take a while.

And I was right about the effect of low-flow water and not very hot water on the ability to cook for a lot of people for a retreat. We were quite literally heating water on the stove, and in fact hauling boiling water from across the street in order to have 2 sets of three tubs for people to wash their dishes. Maybe I should explain that. For our in-town retreats, we do setups for everyone to have a plate, bowl, knife, fork, soup spoon, mug, and cloth napkin. Each person serves themselves on a tray which we then take upstairs to the zendo (meditation hall). We chant and eat in silence there. When we're done with the meal, everyone comes back downstairs, cleans off their tray and wipes it down, and stands in line to wash their dishes in hot soapy water, hot rinse water, and cool bleach water (the approved 3-sink system generally used). Then they dry it, stack everything back together and put it back into its place on the table until the next meal. (Most of the time I just used a bowl and spoon, maybe a mug for water, and my napkin.)

Breakfast was oats, fruit, and tea, every morning (I cooked oats and tea, and Tenzo and other temporarily assigned people dealt with fruit and setting up the table). The noon meal was the big meal, and usually required all the dishes (plate, bowl, and cutlery). Supper was usually some variation on soup and bread. The fewest people we served was 15, and the most was 32. We actually did run out of food for one meal -- the one with mashed potatoes a tofu loaf and green beans (good down-home cooking, right? Very popular.). Tenzo and I made do with leftover pasta and vegies for that meal. And this morning I skimped the oats a tad, and Tenzo made do with banana bread (which she pronounced right tasty). Tenzo and assistant go last in the line, so if there are shortages we get to know that, and take the consequences. We also had a lot of leftover curry rice one day, because I made about twice as much as I needed to. Seems I really didn't understand the measurements of rice cookers. Now I know that one better. It was all fine -- the Sunday noon meal is traditionally mostly leftovers from the week, so we had a good place to start. Still, this tenzo is very good at estimating quantities, and there weren't all that many leftovers. So she made a big batch of fried rice, and pulled out the rest of the leftovers, and made garlic bread, put out the rest of the banana bread, and we had a feast.

The other thing on my mind this last week was getting the grant in. We're applying for a grant to do repairs on our main building, now that we have a new roof and water has stopped leaking in. We decided to do the grant 3 weeks ago, so we had to pull it together very quickly. I was hoping to have it done before the retreat, but that didn't happen. I got extensive revisions in on Monday. This meant that instead of resting or studying after dinner each night, I was here in front of the computer pulling everything together. The deadline was yesterday, and I made it in just under the wire. Last night in meditation I had noodles and numbers dancing in my head!

Today, after everyone else left, after doing cleanup, I did the post-cleanup cleanup. I went into the kitchen, and found a lot of things out of place, a lot of things that needed to be brought back across the street to the Dharma House, and a mountain of dishes that still needed to be run through the dishwasher. So I just started in on those, and gradually got things put away, finally mopping the kitchen floor, which never was able to get done during the week as people were always in there when there were people available to do the mopping. That felt good.

I took a break, finally, and then went back across the street for a meeting with ZCO Sangha Council. We decided to go down to a nearby Thai restaurant for the meeting, and had a good dinner and a good time, and even got some business done.

Well, anyway, I wanted to write up a little of this before heading home for bed. I suspect that I will crash very soon. Maybe a hot bath ...


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