This post was sponsored by The Mindful Kitchen, all thoughts my own.
In the first weeks back to work in January, as the lull of New Year festivity fades, thoughts often turn to food and feeling a little healthier. While I’m not opposed to using the start of another year as motivation to adopt some conscious habits in any area of life, I do feel concern when I see people taking an unrealistic leap. ‘New Year new you’ rhetoric abounds, and I don’t think it leads down good roads. Whether it be fad diets, choices that can’t be sustained, or taking on too much, we have to be careful with how we approach any kind of lifestyle shift, prioritising kindness and wellbeing over self-shaming and unhealthy attitudes to our bodies and minds.
This is why I like the approach of The Mindful Kitchen, which was developed by a holistic and environmentally minded foodie Heather Thomas after years of involvement in climate communication, food and the arts. The Mindful Kitchen aims to connect people to the natural world, to understand our identities and value in relation to nature, through food. Passionate about positive change and nurturing nature relatedness, Thomas’ new cookbook (also called The Mindful Kitchen, published by Leaping Hare Press) is equal parts practical and meditation. It inspires us to find natural, joy-infused rituals and moments of mindfulness in our daily lives, increasing awareness of the world around us, our place within it, and how we can love it a little better.
Over the last several months, I decided to test the book out for myself. Here’s how I got on.
Featuring 100 seasonal vegetarian recipes, meaningful invitations to reflect and a dash of philosophy, Thomas’ writing encourages us to contemplate our food, its origins, and how we cultivate a slow and thoughtful approach to our diets. Naturally, I love all of these things.
Instead of focusing on what’s ‘clean’, the book instead invites us to consider how we may eat in symbiosis with the world around us. How we can understand ourselves as part of nature and not separate from it. How we can eat seasonally, preparing foods that suit our bodies shifting needs throughout the year. How, as we cook, we can remember all the incredible elements that came together in order to allow our food to reach us (healthy soil, water, air, plants, animals, microorganisms and more). And how seeing our connection to nature, and setting up our cooking schedules to suit the seasons, can inherently improve our wellbeing from the inside, rather than feel we must alter what’s on the outside. Through this mindset change, we also see behaviour change too, naturally acting in more conscious ways as we improve our nature relatedness.
The book combines old and new, spanning classic flavours and experimental ideas. It includes everything from risotto and pasta, to rhubarb and lentil curry or apple cake lasagne. It has a generous array of different dishes including dips, soups, salads, snacks and sides, alongside quick bites, larger meals that can be prepped in bulk, drinks, desserts and even tips for how to make your own butter or zero waste veggie stock. Essentially, it has something for everyone.
Plus, each recipe brings together flavours that provoke curiosity while simplifying and slowing down our food. Like a great fine dining experience, where each small moment is curated to enhance enjoyment and slowly savour each bite, each dish is also an invitation to breathe and enjoy the food experience fully.
The book is also split into different moods: eating for vitality, comfort, creativity, and celebration. Each explores how what we eat affects our holistic wellbeing, how we see ourselves in the world, and how to cultivate nourishment and love through food. In turn, these changed perspectives help us naturally move towards more regenerative lifestyle choices and priorities, as the reader becomes more mindful and more loving towards our earth. Recipes also include little pause-for-thought moments such as explaining more about the value and history of specific ingredients, prompts to consider what emotions certain parts of the recipe elicit, small rituals to encourage mindfulness, personal questions to reflect on, and tips for how to get more creative in the kitchen. It’s a double whammy: you get a recipe to explore, and some food for thought while you make it too.
For most people, however, the most important part of a cookbook is, of course, the recipes themselves. This book has delicious options in droves. It’s hard for me to choose just one favourite, but I will say that some personal highlights include: preserved lemon spaghetti, which is incredibly fresh and full of vitality while also feeling like a indulgent comfort food; a rich leek and hazelnut risotto which encourages mindfulness through the process of consistent stirring and also prompted my mum to go back for seconds; and a bean, ale, mustard and truffle stew that is so hearty and warming that I have been consuming it by the bucketload through the cold weather.
Because the book is seasonal, it’s also exciting to look forward to what can be tried as the weather starts to change. I find myself excitedly checking what foods are coming into season next: anticipating what I might try first, how I might explore it, and who I might cook it for. Food is an inherently collaborative thing, both in terms of the collaboration of nature and farmers to bring it to our plate and in the act of sharing with others. Because the book takes such a meaningful and unique approach to diet, many of the recipes also lend themselves to more social connection. I’m not just thinking about what I’ll cook next, I’m thinking of who might enjoy this recipe, or who would be fun to share this conversation prompt with while we eat. As a lover of deep conversation, this ticks multiple boxes for me: providing the means to host a delicious dinner and the spark to ignite invigorating conversation (with a bit of philosophy) as we go. By the end of a Mindful Kitchen dinner, I often find myself with a strong urge to go down to the beach or for a walk in the woods with friends to digest mentally and physically, which I think is a particularly good thing!
It’s hard to summarise the power of this book and, while I am a foodie, I am not a professional food writer by any means. But hopefully what I can convey is that The Mindful Kitchen exceeds at helping us learn the language of nature. By offering stories about how history, anthropology and ecology come together through food, the book opens a reader’s eyes to the fullness of what food can be and fosters deeper appreciation and wonder, all the while nudging us towards a fuller understanding of slow and seasonal living. It can help us cultivate connections with the wider world and the people around us, as well as growing an understanding of the regenerative systems we need to advocate for in order to combat climate breakdown.
And, beyond all that, the food tastes really, really good.