Self-Love Kitchen: Mindful cooking practices to show yourself some love (Plus, a heart-healthy recipe!)

Haile Thomas is an In The Know cooking contributor. Follow her on Instagram and visit her website for more.

Many of us associate February with the theme of love — not just on the 14th, but all month long! The beautiful thing about love is that it comes in packages of all kinds, from the relationships we hold close to our hearts to the ways we care for our communities.

It’s important to remember that our love, felt within and shared with others, is always accessible. For instance, one of the universal expressions of love can be found (and experienced) over breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. Our meals, the ingredients we choose, the style of preparation, the celebration of our cultures, gathering and sharing what we’ve crafted are all embodiments of love. Food is both communal and deeply personal. Our relationship with our identities, affinities, well-being and bodies often start at the dinner table. Nutriment is where we truly begin.

Simply put, food is love. It’s a life-sustaining force, provided unconditionally by our planet, maintaining our experiencing of life. It’s an essential thread connecting us to humanity’s past, present and future. With this foundation of love, we can infuse our time in the kitchen and at the table with chosen practices of intention and care. To de-stress, we can tune into our senses and the delicious joys of cooking while showing our bodies some TLC.

In my own journey, I’ve discovered that offering ourselves this love can be deeply healing, transforming how we experience and interact with our world — both within and around us. Self-love talk may feel cliché at times, but I like to look at it this way: Self-love is simply being present. It’s paying attention to what your body, mind and soul may need at any given moment and then honoring that feedback by taking intentional action. Self-love is being there, and mindfulness is an incredible way of honoring of that.

While exploring ways to tap into self-love this February and beyond, I was drawn to provisions and the spaces that connect us to them. Of course, our kitchens are fundamental! And there’s a beautiful opportunity to make our time spent cooking in them more peaceful, rejuvenating and nourishing for our bodies, minds and souls.

If you want to turn your kitchen experience into one infused with some extra love and care, here are some mindful cooking practices to try the next time you whip up a meal.

Get Cozy

Setting the mood for a relaxing kitchen session starts with how you feel! Because of how casual cooking is most of the time, making your time in the kitchen feel special may be challenging. Depending on your living situation, it may be helpful to carve out a moment in your day to cook uninterrupted. Make a “date” with yourself and schedule it on your calendar! This will help set some boundaries with yourself and others, allowing you to fully sink into a mindful cooking session. But remember, you can cook with care even if you don’t make it into a special occasion or have hours to set aside. Any moment can be simmered in peace and presence if we allow ourselves to be there completely.

If you’d like, you can also wear textures and colors that bring you comfort and joy. How we feel in our bodies as we move about our kitchens (and out in the world!) greatly impacts our ability to feel comfortable in our self-expression and exploration. Soft textures may bring ease for some of us, while others enjoy materials with more flow and flexibility. Colors that are especially heart-opening include green and pink, as they have qualities that may help us access feelings of compassion, gratitude, grounding and love.

Set Your Space

A fantastic way to transform our kitchens into fertile spaces for self-love is through the ambiance. Grab a candle or light some incense (scents like pine, eucalyptus, lavender and rose are great for elevating your heart energy!) and let the smell ease you. Feel free to turn on music you love based on the experience you’d like to receive. Do you want to sing along, dance along or bop your way back in time? Or perhaps you’d rather be soothed by purely instrumentals and nature soundscapes.

Recipe Intention

While we can pre-plan what we’d like to make, there’s something lovely about creating a dish fit to what our bodies need right at that moment. Are there any flavors you’ve been craving? Is there nostalgia you wish to invoke by recreating a childhood favorite? Maybe there’s a new cuisine you’ve wanted to explore? Are there any ingredients you’re drawn to for nourishment? The concept of “intuitive eating” is based on these very questions. It’s all about tuning into your body and preparing a meal informed by the feedback you receive! In this process, we can also gift ourselves with compassion, showing up to our experiences with food with kindness and the release of judgment.

Prep with Presence

Once you’re ready to jump into cooking, I invite you to take your time with each step. As a Studio Ghibli fan, I adore how Hayao Miyazaki’s films capture cooking with vibrancy and romance. The depiction of big bubbling stews, sautés with glorious flames and sizzle or glistening fresh produce bring me deep-seated comfort. As I’m making my own meals, I try my best to slow down and romanticize the cooking process by really paying attention to all of the delicious details. Offer each step your full attention. Feel the textures of your ingredients, notice their shapes, bumps and curves. As you cook, notice the smells awakened when you strip herbs from their stalks or as billowing pillows of steam rise into the air. While you chop, peel, mash, pour or stir, focus on the crisp sounds. IRL ASMR, anyone?

Engaged Eating

After preparing your meal with care, enjoy it with the same intent. Quite often, our mealtimes are treated as transitory parts of our days. We’re rushing through our mealtimes just trying to get to the next thing or eating with distractions all around. But zooming through our meals or zoning out of them isn’t the greatest for our digestive systems and can disconnect us from our hunger and fullness signals. But like a prayer before a meal, we can welcome small but mighty moments of presence, gratitude and peace as we eat.

Before eating, you can set your space once more. Bring your candles from the kitchen or put on some calming music. Help yourself focus on your food by turning off or setting aside any electronics. Take a moment to observe the meal before you. Smell its aromas and take a few deep belly breaths before digging in. This is the perfect time to give thanks as you wish (i.e., to the Earth and all who made your meal possible). And don’t forget to express some gratitude to yourself for taking the time to cook with love! As you chew, continue breathing deeply and notice how the flavors come alive and evolve while you eat. Simmer in the sweetness of the moment.

If you’d like to put these practices into action with a simple dish, check out my recipe, Watermelon Radish Toast with Orange Maple Cream, below. It’s fresh, seasonal and sweet with a vibrant, citrusy pop! This super easy recipe features antioxidant-rich and heart-healthy radishes and citrus, plus de-stressing herbs like basil and thyme — with steps for slowing down included in the instructions as guidance! 

As a bonus, I’ve added a little loving mealtime affirmation that you can recite when taking your first bite (and many more!). 

Watermelon Radish Toast with Orange Maple Cream

Credit: Haile Thomas

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup vegan cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 2 thick slices of sourdough bread (I used gluten-free!)
  • 1 medium watermelon radish, thinly sliced (you’ll need 6 pieces)
  • 1 basil leaf, thinly julienned
  • 1 sprig thyme, leaves removed from stalk
  • Flaky salt (like Maldon) and pepper to taste

How To:

In a small bowl, combine vegan cream cheese with 1/2 tablespoon pure maple syrup. As you mix, focus on how the maple swirls into the cream cheese with each stir, incorporate until smooth. Zest a small orange and squeeze the tablespoon of the juice. While doing so, breathe in deeply, taking in the bright and awakening aroma of the citrus. Mix zest and orange juice into the cream cheese mixture until well combined. Set aside.

Toast bread slices to your liking with the method of your choice (I used my toaster!). While the bread is toasting, thinly slice the watermelon radish into about six slices. Before cutting into the radish, observe its peculiar shape. Carefully slice and witness its colorful, radial pattern come into view. Set aside. Finally, grab your herbs. Gently roll your basil leaf and cut vertically into small, julienned strips. Take a few breaths here and sink into the refreshing and sweet smell of basil. Next, strip your thyme sprig of its leaves, and ease into its grounding, savory aroma. Set herbs aside.

When the bread slices are toasted to your desire, spread the orange maple cream evenly across each piece. Top each piece of bread with three slices of watermelon radish and drizzle ½ teaspoon of maple syrup on top of the toast. Sprinkle basil slivers and thyme leaves on top of each toast and top with salt and pepper to taste. Before taking your first bite, admire your masterpiece!

Take a few breaths here to drop into the moment. Offer thanks at this time, and feel free to repeat the following affirmation out loud or in your head, “I am worthy of nourishment and care. In this food, there is love.” Say this as many times as needed. Dig in and enjoy!

If you enjoyed this story, find out why you should be eating oatmeal all year long!

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