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Mindfulness in the Kitchen – an Edible Meditation

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With a busy day to juggle, the kitchen could offer a rewardingly good excuse for the practice of mindfulness – an edible meditation. With our increasingly pressured lives, it is true that pure meditation, with no other outcome than having spent time in quiet contemplation, is a welcome antidote for hectic lives. However, it is not always easy to find or allow that time for self, that may have no tangible result. Cooking a meal or even making a cup of tea helps to keep that ‘doing, productive mind’, nicely busy and allow space for the ‘being in the moment mind’ a chance to… well… be, for the moment, able to take the lead.

Meditation and cooking have much in common, if we choose to see, and can openly receive them, in this way. Food, like the breath is both inside and out. Its vital process occurring whether we notice or not. We will make food and eat, probably several times a day, but our level of mindless distraction or mindful attention will naturally vary. As we allow ourselves time to notice and tune into our ingredients as we cook with them, we are an engaged, connected observer to a process that can otherwise become IMG_0126mechanical if not automatic, in the rush of daily demands. An embodied activity, with a meal to show for it, cooking offers a wholesome and unifying opportunity, with a cyclical reminder, for mindful practice.

Our meditation practice does need to be prepared for, in the ritual of routine, if it is going to either happen at all, or be helpful to our day. Kitchen meditation is also helped along with our preparation routines, our personal rituals that set this time aside for creative contemplation. Do we set the practice up by scanning the fridge and store-cupboard for decisive inspiration, or by checking through the recipe book, referring to our weekly menu plan? Planning and preparing what we will cook, enables embodied thinking, head and tummy have time to talk, setting up the intention for this productive meditation. Likewise, as we need to draw the meditation to a close, allowing this time of contemplative practice to absorb, and grow throughout the day, so as we lay our meal out ready, the sense of peaceful satisfaction liberates our creative confidence for the day.

By setting our intention for what, why and how to cook, our ego driven, doing brain is relieved of its duty to stand on guard, satisfied its work is being done. Now our inner-tutor, our digestive brain is asked to take the leading reigns, since food is of course, its specialist topic. By asking our first, ‘brain in our guts’ to mindfully lead our cooking practice, we find relaxed release from our busy ego. We find an inner peace that arises from connecting with this inner brain, the one we share with every other living thing, that will be breathing in this moment of now with us, if not the pleasure of eating this meal with us.IMG_1782

Our inner tutor, who we sometimes call our ‘gut instinct’, operates through ‘discerning observation’ rather than our head’s critical judgment mode. Whilst working within the broad focus of the meal being made, there is a receptive openness to the process and how it will be formed by what’s suggested or remembered as we mindfully enable our intuition to lead in our cooking practice. A look in our larder reminds us we have an ingredient yet to try. A taste of the sauce, allows us to stand back to gain perspective, so we can see what’s missing for greater depth or balance of flavour. The pan’s aroma reminds us of a sunny holiday and entices us to add an unexpected chilli into the pot. There is a fluid release of creative intuition taking place in a kitchen meditation…IMG_0790

Meditation, like a good meal, feeds, but more importantly flavours our day with the quiet satisfaction of spiritual sustenance. With this full tummy, quelled head and happy heart, we find a trust in managing come what may. A mindfully conscious approach to our kitchen practice, offers a cyclical return to our intuitive awareness; our inner self has the chance to breathe, to freely expand in the present moment. Cooking offers a purity of purpose, a delicious excuse to escape into the pleasures, the potential of the present, held within a process that engages us, mind body and soul. Every part of us can fully get involved with this edible task. Our creative imagination soothes our hungry, inner mind, so that we feel a relaxed unity of intention, in the comfort of our kitchen meditation.

Posted on: August 1, 2017

Magic Marmalade

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For a number of reasons, I am delighted to get Christmas over and get on with the new year, bringing with it the promise of more sunlight and not long to wait till my birthday – quite why I should be willing age along, I don’t know, but I’m a fan of presents, fun and friends which come with birthdays! There’s something of all of this in making marmalade. It’s the first bright sign the work of the new year has begun, and a batch of aromatic marmalade provides a store of gifts (I might even prefer giving to receiving gifts these days!) including my own breakfast treat. The scope of the task can be daunting, until you begin delegating. I find in my classes and at home, men chop so much better than me… they are neat and exact – if slow… finding patience in time is my current practice, and marmalade is the perfect muse.

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Enter teenage son, in need of extra pocket money – to him delegate orange peel chopping whilst taking the opportunity to explain the work of pips in pectin,(which it occurs to me is similar to stock from bones) whilst admiring the calm diligence with which said son gets a tedious task done. By watching and working alongside him I found the pleasure in patience.

IMG_0698I come from a long line (as many an English lass does) of marmalade makers. I’ve always loved the home-madeness of it, and now for my own kitchen, the exciting smell and comforting feel of fulfilling my birthright is delicious. I’m sorry to say my domestic skills do not run to keeping things clean, so I hope you can read my Grandma’s recipe through the fog of spills (and here’s an early photo of gran on the right, great gran in the middle).

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What you need to make marmalade:

1kg seville oranges, 2-3 lemons, 2+kg preserving sugar, 6 pints of water (and more for soaking pips)

chopping board, good knife, friendly patient hands x 2-3, small bowl for pips, lemon squeezer, preserving pan, muslin and string to tie, rubber gloves (to be explained…!), measuring jug, jam jars with lids if poss. plate and spoon (to test for a set), two evenings in and around home, about 2-3 hours of hands on time. radio/conversation catch up.

How to make marmalade:

  1. Best to work in pairs, whilst one squeezes juice from oranges and lemons, reserving the pips in small bowl and juice into preserving pan; the other finely chops the peel into pretty even jewels – adding them to preserving pan, along with 6 pints of water.

2. You leave both pips and peel to soak for 24 hours, to soften. Coming back the next day, you tie the pips into a muslin bag, pouring left over water into the preserving pan.

3. Put your pan on to boil, having tied the muslin pip bag onto the handle, so that it will bubble away with the peel. This releases the pectin we need to set the marmalade – the more pips the quicker the set. I’m sure you can imagine the smell that will reward your labours. The kitchen is filled with orange steam, as you simmer for 2 hours. Next bit is tricky – use the rubber gloves to squeeze as much gooey pectin from the muslin bag into your marmalade, as you can. It’s so hot, this is not easy, but quite satisfying. Get as absolutely much as you can muster, then you add scary amount of sugar (I use 2kg rather than the nearly 3 suggested!), stirring till dissolved.

4. Boil hard for 1hour, testing for a set by cooling a little marmalade on a plate and if it jelly-jams to a sticky end, you know it’s done. Obviously you want to do this as quickly as possible, rather than boiling your hard work away into the marvellous steam! You can check your marmalade is sweet enough for you at this point too. Take off the heat, and leave to cool for few minutes.

5. Warm plenty of clean jam jars – always optimistic for making lots! Pour into the pots, leaving a centimetre or so in case you would like wax lids (not a standard I’ve ever reached).  Leave to cool over night. Eat with toast, butter and delight.

Marmalade Muse – The Three of Hearts

The suit of hearts is all about love – of course. As we enter into valentines week, we dwell on the pleasure of spending time with our loved ones. Making marmalade always makes me feel marvellous, as I use it as time to spend at home, with favourite people. She shares a few nutrients (fibre, vitamins A and C), but she’s mainly about the shear joy of sweet orange jelly, home made, eaten in the quiet of morning. The taste of comforting connection past and present.

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Posted on: February 12, 2017

Surprises and Layers: Black Forest Bonfire Gateaux

Black Forest Gateaux is my better half’s favourite, and its pretty up there in cake rating for me too (tbh, I think all the best cakes are German in origin). This version came about as I wanted to make enough to celebrate the man’s 49th birthday. She fully came of age as my 50th birthday gift for dear pal ‘Sister Shell’ where she had to ‘feed the 5000’ with enough glitz and glamour befitting the lovely Shelley.

Crowned the Queen of Clubs, she’s my disco diva recipe – all about the delicious fun of my favourite things, people and flavours.  If you’ve got chocolate, cream and fruit in one place, making music with mousse and macaroon…. just mmmmm…. for the love of life inside this cake.

Each layer of this cake surprises as much as it delights, but its foundation is my favourite

Macaroon base:

  • 250g icing sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 25g caster sugar

How to do it: A Domestic Goddess recipe from Nigella – a trendy treat – love them!

  1. Put the oven on to 180′ (gas mark 4) and line baking sheet with baking paper.
  2. Sift together the icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa powder.
  3. Whisk egg whites till nearly stiff (as for meringues – which is what you’re making here), sprinkle over the caster sugar and whisk again till falls from whisk into ‘mountain peaks’ (everything must be spanking clean to do this properly – I use lemon to clean bowl and whiskers. On this occasion I left it to the teen boy – lax – mistake – when it came to pouring out the snowy mountain peaks, underneath was a lake of unfixable egg white…
  4. With a metal spoon, gradually fold and mix in the dry ingredients into this spongy meringue mix.
  5. On this occasion it will form one large base, either square or round as you prefer, so spread onto baking sheet and bake for 12-15 mins (think about your oven, whether it cooks fast, hot or slow, is it fan or not – and time accordingly – you want this to be gooey, not dry as mine was this time as I failed to listen to the timer – arghh!)

Of course when you’re with me, you will be my favourite – as now goes for layer two – chocolate mousse (next to the whipped up cream, tangy fruit and crispy base, we taste what’s meant by a disco diva as she steps up a level dancing the Belgian Truffle, but in huge mouthfuls …OMG….)

What you will need:

  • 225g dark chocolate
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 225ml double cream

How to do it: hail Delia for this recipe that brought the Black Forest firmly back on the top table – here’s her stage one, ‘the filling’:

  1. Melt the chocolate in a ‘bain marie’ (glass bowl over saucepan of boiling water). Allow to cool down for a few minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, beat your egg whites (as above, make sure very clean bowl and whiskers) into soft mountain peaks (you lift the whisk through the mix and it forms into the alps).
  3. Now beat the egg yolks till thick and frothy – by this time your chocolate should have cooled down enough to mix them in without it curdling.
  4. Using a metal spoon cut and fold to mix the alpine egg whites into the chocolate to make a mousse.
  5. For mousse you leave this is fridge to set, but to spread easily onto your cake, it is often best to leave it out and use quite quickly.

For the sponge part, Delia is using a no-flour sponge in order to be able to roll it – tis a lovely light sponge, bit of a faff, but it’s so light next to the heavier layers, it works just beautifully, meltingly well.

You need:

  • baking sheet lined with baking paper (roughly 30cm x 20cm, or slightly bigger)
  • 6 large eggs separated
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 50g cocoa powder

How to do it:

  1. With very clean bowl and whisks (you’re used to this now), whisk egg whites into alpine peaks
  2. Now whisk egg yolks with caster sugar until thick and frothy.
  3. Fold in sifted cocoa powder into egg yolks.
  4. Carefully, with a metal spoon, mix in the alpine egg whites into the chocolatey – gradually to keep in as much air as possible.
  5. Bake in pre-heated oven (180′) for apx 20mins – it will be firm but springy to touch – it will be very puffy but soon deflates as it cools.

Putting the cake together – whisk some cream and stir into your mousse mix, if making the bonfire version.  You now have 3 layers to build into a bonfire which you do by cutting and pasting them together. You then fire it up with mango, pomegranate seeds, raspberries – orange and red fruit flames, surrounded with matchmakers and flakes for bonfire notes. Indoor sparklers complete the effect. The only two photos I managed to snatch, grab and keep from ‘shy’ teens on the day of making, refuse to upload (sabotage?) Clearly, I will need to find another excuse to make it, and return my disco diva, Queen of Clubs to her preferred Black Forest Gown.

The full story… Who is She?

In this scheme, the suit of Clubs hail from the winter season. This is when we might look in our cupboard, find it all but bare and have beans on toast, fish finger jambouri or brimming ready to make festive treats – it’s a season of chance and luck, scraping by or full-on party fun. Cue the Queen of Clubs, who only needs to hear the word “party” and the tunes are up, the lipstick’s on and shoes are tapping … She’s probably the most talented of all the Queens, keeping the fires burning despite the drizzle, winds and mist, making do with meagre supplies, dark and dreary moods. So hearing the chance to party, she gathers her skirts and skills together, in a series of surprising layers of sensual delights.

We can be forgiven for thinking her brilliance knows no bounds, donning her disco diva gown, dancing with ease wherever she is. However, she’s too smart to be seduced by glorification, and will chide with a rueful smile, that she only does what she’s good at! Leaving Jacks, Kings, Eights, Threes – whoever else – to cleverly manage where she cannot. This is the strength of our Queen of Clubs: knowing who she is, happy in her skin, she loves to share that delicious dance ‘to your own tune in time’.

 

 

 

Posted on: November 20, 2016

Harvesting it all Apple Crumble Cake

image-1Having harvested the fields (supermarkets neighbour’s garden) I’ve put together as much substance as I could find and think of, into this cake to celebrate autumn. It began life as a German Apple Cake but has evolved in response to the other half’s request for a fruit and nut cake. We’re avoiding wheat at the moment, and aiming to cram as much protein in as possible into alternative afternoon or midmorning treats, so this cake is doing it’s very best to have, do and please all. (For full story see below.)
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I have not used weights when I made the cake/bread/muffin mixture, checked the taste and texture (which is quite stiff because of the amount of goods in there but you can feel is also very moist as it slips off the spoon and dissolves in your mouth, I love raw cake!).

Tip: a measuring guide for cakes is to weigh however many eggs you want to use (I used 6) with their shells on, then you need equal quantities of flour, butter and sugar – for example if your eggs weigh 600g, you will need 600g flour, 600g butter and 600g sugar (always taste check the sugar as you can use a lot less, especially when adding the amount of dried fruit or date syrup as I have here).

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 Flours (grains, seeds and nuts) Moist kit Sugars Flavours
Rye flour

Ground almonds

Ground pumpkin and sunflower seeds

Chopped hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans

Baking powder    (apx 1 level teaspoon per 200g flours, you can add 1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda for extra lift)

 

 

Unsalted butter    (can be substituted for coconut oil)

 

Whisked egg         (can be substituted for chia seeds)

 

 

 

 

Brown sugar

Cooking apples, peeled and chopped small:     1-3cm chunks

Dates – chopped and syrup

Sultanas

Apricots

 

Lemon juice

Vanilla essence

Almond essence

Cinnamon (ground)

 

How to do it:

  • Sift all the dry ingredients together (not the sugar), thoroughly mixing and adding plenty of air through your fingers
  • Melt butter slowly and gently
  • Whisk your eggs, add in flavours of lemon juice, vanilla and almond – if using.
  • Add half the amount of sugar you intend to use to dry ingredients
  • Stir in your chopped nuts and dried fruit, along with chopped apple and ground cinnamon if using (do, it’s apple’s best pal)
  • Now mix all ingredients together, stirring with full commitment, as this is now a heavily laden batter…
  • Test for flavour, adding more sugar as necessary – I like to use date syrup for added depth of gooey texture
  • Bake in prepared tin (brushed with butter to avoid sticking) or what I’m now using – silicone cases – perfect ease! for between 40-50 mins at 160’ – depending on size of cake and strength of your oven. Put timer on for 30mins and check it. You want a crispy top and moist cake. Cook it slowly and surly to allow this heavy cake plenty of time to heat through.

Apple topping – After swiping next door’s overhanging apples, I melted butter with sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon, cooking the peeled and chopped cooking apples, into this mixture for about 3-5minutes depending on how crunchy and testy you fancy them: taste-test-choose.

For the crumble – rub flours, sugars, chopped nuts, seeds into breadcrumbs with chopped hard butter (in equal proportions ie. 100g each flour, sugar and butter)– bake separately from the cake and add when ready to serve or present.

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The Full Story…

This cake is my Ace of Spades. For me, Spades allude to autumn and imply hearty ‘peasant’ food which is as earthily moorish as it is sumptuously basic. I love to get aces when playing cards, they always bring that fun of a dual player, at the top and bottom of the suit, carrying a high value (normally) wherever they are. It is that capacity to hold and have it all, that gives the ace an air of confident excitement, a steady trust with the beginning and the ending in one place, all at once.

Giving Attention to Intention

So the intention of this ‘cake’ (given its rather dense nature, some may call this a bread to save disappointment) is to include as much from nature’s autumn bounty as possible, from seed, grain and nut to fruit both zestily fresh and sweetly dried. The beginnings and endings celebrated in one glorious coming out party. It does seem that this cake is an opportunity for Mother Nature to show off all her children’ various talents and potential.

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I made it in fact, for my local fair, raising funds to resurrect our suburban village barn, which has been wrestled back from commercial to community gain. This was no mean feat and I wanted to celebrate the tenacious, community spirited efforts of the “Friends of Westdene Green”. However, now the work really begins as our barn needs plenty of TLC to revive her spirits and realise her potential.

The Ace of Spades, Harvesting it All cake, is then, about enjoying the fruits of labour, whilst planting the seeds for new beginnings. Packed with powerful proteins and bursting with fruitful flavour, The Ace of Spades has got it going on – all of it!

Learning My Lesson

I did learn something important however in this project, where I was also trying to promote Therapy Kitchen to a local audience – trying to do it all, too much at once, ends in disappointment… I’m always looking for the angle that means I can click as many boxes as possible in one event, cutting corners, saving time etc etc. I needed to focus on just the raising of funds for the barn, not selling clothes (my cynical daughter and I were also selling wardrobe misfits!) and Therapy Kitchen at the same time!

This weekend as my made the cake for Saturday afternoon tea and Sunday easy breakfast (it’s big!), I realised how much better it would be without crumble topping – this topping generally goes with a much lighter ‘sponge’ which even my optimism doesn’t really dare to describe this bounteous cake/bread/muffin affair. So, having it all, is sometimes too much. Less is more (now there’s a lesson). Pulling back and focusing in, allows more scope for development and indeed satisfaction.

So, here’s how to make the Ace of Spades, including the crumble topping, which is for you to decide whether for you, ’tis or ’tis not apposite.

Posted on: October 19, 2016

From Playing cards to Recipe Cards

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Characterful Cooking

When I cook, I like to think of the character, the nature and qualities of the dish, what it is they would like to say, what aspect of me they might tap into and help me express. I have such a chatterbox head, so engaging my imagination whilst cooking, holds my attention on the job in hand. Although I’m so food orientated that I’m pretty focused on the rewards and sensory gain, when it comes to cooking.  It has been the one place that I have unwittingly practiced mindfulness, felt able to indulge a creative pleasure, could be discerning without judging, but most importantly, express my love of food and those I cook for (including of course, myself).

One of my favourite dishes is Risotto. No idea why it got into my head that it was hard to cook but there it was; so finding out how simple it is, was almost a let down for this adventurous cook. However, I realised what is hard is the amount of patience involved: the standing still, doing one thing, ideally quite slowly – for this somewhat hyperactive cook… So when it came to characterising the dish to myself and in class, I came up with the blond diva: who needs constant stirring of attention, being soothingly spoken to but not overwhelmed with too much information at once (pour liquid in slowly, and you can drift off as long as your gaze remains lovingly with her) – remind her how gorgeous she is and how much everyone will love her once she arrives – late – on stage…. I was delighted and surprised to find how easily my students tapped into the idea and became quite animated, some of the less inhibited really playing along and falling in love with her, sending her to their table with wanton glamour. The results were delicious and quickly became a course favourite. So, the madness in the method worked.

Loving Food

My first course was called ‘Learn to Love Cooking’, as when we take pleasure in the process, charmed to live in a world that has garlic, beetroot, thyme, vanilla… that’s when we add the spice fun that tastes better than good. Encouraging students, as I did myself, to audibly appreciate how good the ingredients look as you chop them, how their aroma and colours light up as you introduce heat and oil… After all, English squirming aside, we all glow a little brighter under a compliment. Cooking with playful pleasure, allowing our senses, our in-tuition to take the lead, rather than our head dutifully following the recipe book, tastes of creative confidence. As the exquisite cook Tita in Like Water for Chocolate (if you’ve not seen this film, do, it’s a deliciously mad Mexican gem) reveals, the emotion we cook with is conjured in the eating…. As the various house mates who got to try my students’ sumptuous risotto will stand witness.

Great Grandma’s Hands

The notion of using playing cards as the stage for these recipe characters to perform on, came from linking two key sources of inspiration for me. Firstly, my dear Great Grandmother (Nana), with whom I was privileged to while away many an hour over “milk with a dash” and chatter about birds, cakes, wars, hats, books…. playing Bezique or her version of rummy. As I loved her, I loved playing cards and drinking sweet milky coffee. From her warm, wise and wily words, I learned about life, love and laughter.

Spiritual Dimensions

My second source of inspiration was Carl Jung, in particular his notion of the collective unconscious, of synchronicity and how this connected with his understanding of the Tarot. His ideas offered a deep ancestral reservoir of alliance, of “meaningful coincidence” where time and space melt, allowing our unconscious mind, our inner-tutor to hold sway. His broad, experiential theological study gave me the bridge between art, science and spirituality, that this 80’s urban teenager needed. But what I owe most to Jung is how he demystified, validated and revealed my secret indulgence – reading the Tarot. Thinking about the cards in terms of ancient archetypes that could tap into our shared unconscious, connected me to a timeless, intimate human experience and appealed to my romantic leaning.

Each card tells a story from inside out, from past to present and onwards. The excitement and reassurance of interconnection. The joker in cards as the Fool in the tarot, always raising an alternative grin that shakes the play into a new direction. I’d always wondered why the Queen of Spades was of such high value in so many games, so when I found that Spades were actually the suit of Swords in the Tarot, it all made sense, Swords indicating aristocracy. In my recipe cards, Spades are spades, digging the land and honouring the strength of my Arian peasant roots – see Ace of Spades as my first recipe blog waiting to be written…

The ingredients for a creative recipe book as a set of playing cards, based around intuitive cooking, came then from these various roots learning, ideas, people, stories and of course food – all the things that make my life what it is.  Since we are indeed, what we eat.

Posted on: September 29, 2016

Blog coming soon …

In the meantime, please check out my dear friend Checkyskitchen.blogspot.com – a brilliant source of inspiration!

Posted on: September 18, 2016