My Curious Shrine

In the winter I am prone to pondering conundrums such as:  is it better to be curious or reverent toward nature? This perplexity came about after I happened upon an old dark brown cabinet at a local thrift shop. It was in dire need of sanding, painting, and other repair wizardry – where my husband gracefully steps in. But it was the perfect cabinet of curiosity for our kitchen. Since our kitchen was in desperate need of displaying the curious, I stepped up to the counter with my forty bucks. Soon I had plenty of time to ponder the curious as I plied sandpaper and brush.

Wintertime in Michigan  is very cold and it is sometimes only a little less so in our kitchen. Growing things such as sprouts, fermenting drinks like rejuvelac, or making the delicate crème fraiche , had proven impossible. Even ripening bananas was taking far too long. When recipe writers suggest “room temperature” they overlook my winter kitchen of 60-65 degrees. To  have a warm cabinet to hold such curiosities while they grew and fermented seemed ideal. Indonesian tempeh requires 88 degrees for its 24 hours of incubation – now another possibility. For in winter I still crave the absolute – freshly harvested crops of the tiny, the curious, the super quick growers:  sprouts, microbes, and fungi (rizopus oligosporus for tempeh).

Of course the old European cabinets of curiosity were much more –  well curious – tending toward the macabre. They featured the dead rather than the living:  butterflies pinned to fabric, skeletons of fish, frogs in jars. But they showed imagination and a fascination with life, even if their life was made inaccessible, near and distant at the same time.

One of my favorite life forms is the buckwheat sprout. It is what I pile into a bowl every morning along with shredded coconut, nuts, raisins, hemp seeds, and sometimes cacao nibs. With this “new” cabinet, outfitted with a 200 watt light bulb turning on and off, maintaining a 75-80 degree temperature, I can grow them to edible size in a day and a half, just like in high summer. And it seems the quick optimum growth makes them sweeter.

buckwheat cereal

Other objects also find this cabinet home:  more classic objects of curiosity such as a Japanese viewing stone or suiseki I found many years ago. But the Japanese created shrines for their objects rather than cabinets. Their Shinto shrines housed yorishiros  – objects which can attract kami or spirit –  such as stone. To them, all nature was charged with spiritual power, and special forms were used as heightened links to this higher nature.

This cabinet appears to be a hybrid, but I really prefer to select out the best from the ancient seed of Shinto animism, and create life.

            A Shinto Shrine

          A shrine:  here, keeping
            Far from the garden lights,
              Float wild birds, sleeping.

                              --Shiki
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