Friday 27 May – It’s raining this morning. I’m in the kitchen with the breakfast team. Whenever we volunteer for kitchen duty we know we are stepping in to the sacred and intentional practice of Conscious Kitchen.
Conscious Kitchen is a beautifully grounding and flexible life practice. You can take it with you wherever you go, in the form of a set of principles and an attitude that I’d like to share with you here as a story of this day in the life of Axladitsa’s kitchen.
Vanessa and Maria have been talking about supplies – what fruit and vegetables are left? What more do we need? Kiria Athina is chopping walnuts to add to the nut and seed mix for toasting. Now that the oatmeal is cooked (dried figs in it this morning), I have decided to withdraw from physical contribution in order to record my thoughts about the sublime collective practice of Conscious Kitchen.
Nici is cutting fruit, Athina has moved on to toasting the nuts, while Vanessa has concocted something ineffable with bananas, cocoa nibs, cinnamon, cloves, walnuts and orange peel (we’re experimenting with cutting and sun-drying citrus peel for use in the eco-loos (deodorising) and around the olive trees (bug repellent), rather than putting it in the compost where they burn the worms).
Yesterday it was Claire’s birthday, so the kitchen team went into joyous overdrive. Before we even started, Vanessa Reid, the originator of the Conscious Kitchen concept, demonstrated two important principles of the practice by inviting us to look around and see who was in the kitchen, and then each to set an intention around a quality we wanted to bring to the making the meal – with the idea that the people eating the meal will consume those qualities and intentions. In other words: the intentions you put into the meal come into the food. If you’re hectic or frustrated, we’ll taste it. And so the quality of presence of those preparing the meal is transmitted to the food that we eat.
Two more principles of Conscious Kitchen are use what’s there and left-overs are really ingredients for today’s meal. Janell had made a fabulous soup stock from the chicken and lamb bones of the previous day (her own birthday feast), into which we threw artichoke leaves discarded from the lunch preparations. The artichoke leaves were then recovered when the stock was strained, and made into an artichoke paste, destined to become a layer in the innovative Surprise Lasagna conjured by master chef Nici from left-over bread mixed with eggs and milk, topped with the artichoke paste, finished with a mix of carrots and tiny bits of lamb meticulously picked off the stock bones by Steve…
The story of this dish itself demonstrates a few more key principles: firstly, upcycle what you have into something new – the stock demonstrates a double upcycling, first from last night’s bones into stock, and then reclaiming the artichoke leaves, that had already instilled their flavour to the stock, as a layer in the lasagne. Secondly, cook collectively when you can, inspiring each other to branch out, experiment and innovate, offering our gifts and expertise – thus is lasagne born!
Meanwhile, Penny, Claire and I went off foraging for salad greens, following the principle of seeing beyond your current scope –what else is there out there available to us that we never knew we could eat? Having Penny with us, as a nature sprite who talks to plants and knows them well, we came back with dandelions, mallow (leaves and flowers), wild garlic flowers, different leaves from the mint family, all bulked out with plantain and milk thistle, and made it into a feral salad with a sumptuous vinaigrette marrying cabernet balsamic and Axladitsa olive oil.
When we returned, we discovered there was also a rice pilaf with lovely toasted almond slivers, a divine salsa with onion caramelised in baslamic vinegar and red wine, courgette and apple and a crunchy living chutney made with sprouted mung beans, fresh lovage, olive oil, salt and lemon juice.
The last remaining touch to complete our banquet preparation was creating beauty – decorating the table and the food in preparation for welcoming the guests of honour.
When the community gathered in the kitchen, Vanessa spoke to the gathering about what was in all the dishes, so that all present would understand where our food came from (another principle: know what you eat). Introducing the meal and sharing your experience of preparing it brings the guests into the space and creates awareness: the meal is alive, and the fruit of a story in producing it. When all the plates were full, we offered a moment of grace, the cooks sang a spontaneous (and funny) song of thanks to the earth.
Just before we tucked in, Vanessa chimed in one last time: “Notice your first bite – notice how it feels in your mouth, the taste, the texture: what ingredients can you discern?” We broke this bread together in joy and awe, knowing that we would never eat a meal like this again.
After dinner, we sang birthday songs from all the cultures present, old and new, and Nici whipped out a gorgeous carrot cake topped with a mix of greek yoghourt and lemon curd all the way from Leeds, UK.
In a nutshell (where else?) Conscious Kitchen is the practice of consciousness in daily living – it invites us to do what we always do and then that bit more: noticing what is present, bringing intention to life, offering the fruits of our labour as a gift of love.