There is so much being written about mindfulness at the moment and there is growing evidence that when you practice being mindful you feel less stressed, anxious and depressed and that can only ever be a good thing for all of us.
The Oxford dictionary definition of the word is : “The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. A mental state achieved by focussing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique. ” Couldn’t have put it better myself.
Friends have been kind enough to give me mindfulness colouring in books which are all the rage. I love a pencil case full of every colour under the sun crayons and pencils but because I’m incredibly impatient I find it difficult to concentrate long enough to finish the picture. A friend suggested taking the time to tune in when I’m doing the dishes and focus on the feel of bubbles and water. This is another helpful suggestion but when you have a sink bursting with pots and pans that you need for the next dish it’s a wee bit tricky.
My mindfulness is cooking. I always have either the radio or music on. When it gets frantic and stressful I try and tune in to the music or chat to get me through. I also find concentrating on what I’m making relaxing and it keeps me in the present moment. That’s not to say my mind doesn’t wander or worry but it definitely helps.
I’ve been lucky enough to cook in some stunning places. My work as a private chef has taken me to castle kitchens, celebrity kitchens, movie set trailers, remote lodge kitchens, industrial kitchens, stadium kitchens, restaurant kitchens. Lots of them are not as glamorous as they may sound – small, cramped, soulless, no windows or ventilation, hot, stuffy, limited equipment the list goes on. I would turn up with my knife box packed with as much equipment as I could squeeze in. Scales, measuring spoons, gas blow torch [a favourite with airport security!] Most of the time I had no clue as what was awaiting me, a brief job description and the number of guests if I was lucky. It certainly kept things interesting and on edge.
I was cooking in a house in Holland Park London and the kitchen took up an entire floor of the house – spectacular. I started to unpack until a member of staff told me “We don’t cook in here but you can use the children’s kitchen in the basement” This room featured a teeny tiny gas cooker and not enough room to swing a cat! Most of my jobs had AGA cookers and when they work there’s nothing better, until I met a vintage one in a lodge near the Isle of Skye. It hadn’t been serviced since before the Second World War so it only had 2 temperatures. The roasting oven was as hot as Hades and the simmering oven was stone cold. So when I was trying to whip up 6 cheeky cheese soufflés I had to bake them with the door open! The secret to a perfect soufflé is to not open the door during cooking.
If I was lucky a lot of these remote and interesting places had views to die for. More often than not there was no phone or internet connection so a walk was as good as it got. Where I work at the moment has one of the most stunning views from the kitchen window on record. I happily stand at my cooker and enjoy the view, always keeping one eye on the pot. I look out at our kitchen garden which keeps us supplied Summer and Winter, behind the garden is a loch and we are surrounded by fields. The orchard is home to some free range chickens and a yurt for when you need to gather your thoughts in peace and quiet. In the Summer the very lovely and talented gardener our very own Monty Don of the North keeps us going with carrots of every colour and size; radish, broad beans, lettuce, sprouting broccoli, peas, edible flowers, cucumbers, chilli, rocket, rainbow chard, courgettes, basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley. Crates and crates appear at the kitchen door and it’s ready steady cook time.
©Catriona Macdougall cookyourselfhappier.com 2019
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