Transform Your Kitchen: Create A Winter Hearth

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Before electricity, the hearth was literally the center of the home–the source of food, warmth, and light­­. The modern-day kitchen is still a hub of activity, but the emphasis has changed. Mealtimes are hit or miss, and families don’t gather around the table as much. Kitchens have become psychological battlegrounds for issues of gender (whose job is it to cook?), nutrition (frozen vs. home-cooked), and time (who has an hour to make dinner?). And, in a culture that’s perpetually watching its weight, the refrigerator can be a diet war zone.

With a little care and thought, you can transform your kitchen into a more spiritual and inviting place–and winter is a good time because we crave the hearth’s warmth during the cold, drab months.

Soften up

First, think about how your kitchen décor makes you feel. Does it need softening? Most kitchen surfaces–countertops, floors–are hard and cold, much like the world outside at this time of year. The antidote? “Make a comfy nest for yourself in the kitchen,” advises Cait Johnson, author of Witch in the Kitchen: Magical Cooking for All Seasons (Destiny Books, 2001), who places a fluffy rug in front of her sink to stand on while doing dishes. She also recommends soft cushions for kitchen chairs, which tend to be straight-backed and rigid. Her kitchen in upstate New York is home to a large, curvy armchair. “It’s heaven to curl up in it and read cookbooks while I dream about food and decide what to fix for dinner,” she says.

Although winter is a dark time of year, its dormancy is a preamble to spring. To honor the season, Johnson suggests arranging bare branches in an earthenware jug. Then, to remind yourself of the life under the soil, force spring bulbs such as paperwhites or daffodils to bloom early.

For soft light and sweet honey scent, make your own candles by melting beeswax on the stove and pouring it into glass votive holders with lead-free wicks. As they burn, think how you’re reawakening the traditional hearth flame in your own kitchen.

Cook’s Guide to Emotional Well Being

From Witch in the Kitchen, by Cait Johnson (Destiny Books, 2001)

Conscious cooking

After weeks of eating heavy holiday foods, simpler winter fare can seem boring. Wake up your tastebuds with fresh, lively food–perhaps even experimenting with new flavors. The winter standbys–cabbage, potatoes, squash, apples, carrots–can be spruced up with a few early spring greens or with mung bean or alfalfa sprouts that you can grow yourself.

The fragrance of cooking food can also be nurturing, notes Jon Robertson, co-author with Robin Robertson of The Sacred Kitchen (New World Library, 1999). “What’s better than the scent of bread baking or soup bubbling on the stove?” he muses. “These smells remind us of childhood and help create a harmonious space. Even if you don’t have time to cook, simmer a pan of cider mulled with cloves and cinnamon–nothing smells more like home.”

Johnson appreciates how the kitchen connects her with long-gone female ancestors. “I’m a firm believer in using kitchen items with soul,” she says. Years ago, her folk artist grandmother painted her a set of salad bowls. “Every time I take out a bowl, I feel her presence,” she says. “I love using old-fashioned kitchen tools–peelers and coffee grinders–especially when they have a history for me or a connection with someone I love. Sure, I use a food processor, but sometimes it’s nice to just be in the moment and take a few extra minutes to chop the onions by hand.”

Waking earth cake
Serves 6 to 8

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup unsulphured molasses
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
Frozen yogurt or ice cream as topping (optional)
Surprises for hiding inside cake: clean coin, small polished crystal, ring, small gold or silver charm

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flours and baking soda. Stir in the oil and molasses. This mixture will resemble crumb topping. Remove a cup of it and reserve.

3. In a small bowl, combine the hot water and blackstrap molasses. Add to remaining mixture in large bowl and mix thoroughly.

4. Stir in one or more of the non-meltable surprises.

5. Pour batter into a buttered 9-inch-round baking pan. Sprinkle with reserved crumb topping, and bake in preheated oven until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

6. Serve warm with a dollop of ice cream.

Adapted from Witch in the Kitchen, by Cait Johnson (Destiny Books, 2001)

Kitchen rituals

Many people believe that as you cook, you infuse your mood and emotions into the meal. Some even turn cooking into meditation. Whatever you do, do it with intention, and you’ll create a meaningful ritual. “Put on your apron as if you were donning the robe of a high priestess,” Johnson suggests. “Then pour yourself a glass of wine or nonalcoholic grape juice and take your first sip as a way to align yourself with the sacred act of preparing the fruits of the earth that will feed your body and soul.”

Here are some other kitchen rituals:

Tea ritual:After a stressful day, take a ten-minute mini-retreat by brewing up a soothing mug of your favorite tea. Lavender or chamomile will calm your nerves, but even caffeinated tea is relaxing if you’re engaged with preparing and drinking it, says Johnson.

Give-away ritual: A new year is a time to start over, and the kitchen is no exception. Johnson recommends you take stock and give kitchen gadgets that are collecting dust to someone who needs them. This ritual also creates space for new things to come into your home.

Healing ritual: Dedicate your meal by focusing on a specific intention while you cook. For a friend recently diagnosed with a debilitating illness, Robertson and his wife did a prayer ritual with the meal’s ingredients, then cooked with one thought: “Let the love in my heart come through my hands and into this food.” The woman, who had lost her appetite, ate three helpings that night and days later told her friends she still felt good.

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