I am writing this on the evening of my final day of my second stay at Madhyamaka Buddhist Meditation Centre (here is the story of my first and in re-reading it again I feel exactly the same this time around). Once again it was a wonderful week of reflection, stillness and mindful duties.
I decided to take time out over my birthday... this is becoming something of a tradition for me! Last year I spent the entire month of May with the Merkaba Community living of grid in the mountains of Portugal, and the year before I took my first ever solo trip abroad to Lanzarote- which then led to my retreats!
This past week I have painted railings, scrubbed paving stones, weeded the garden, worked in the shop, cleared the sawdust from a newly built kitchen, carried rubbish across the site...
I also made an epic chocolate cake and designed a fun scavenger hunt!
The chocolate and raspberry brownie cake I made this afternoon was something of a leaving gift to the other residents and volunteers. I wasn't initially going to provide the full recipe here as it wasn't particularly heathy (plenty of sugar and wheat flour and vegetable oil as that is all I had available) and the main focus on this occasion was that is was vegan since there were a few vegan volunteers and no vegan sweets other than fruit.
However, it was a totally delicious cake and so I have provided notes of ways to make it healthier if you were so inclined. I'd definitely make it again using those tweaks. The recipe is featured at the bottom of this post (apologies for awful photos that do not do the cake justice- we were too eager to scoff it- I had kept them waiting all day since I announced it at breakfast time after all!)
I still managed to hide some veg in it and nope, no one guessed the secret ingredient, ha ha ;-)
We did have one other vegan cake during my week here. It was a yummy banana cake that was baked as a belated birthday treat for me by one of the residents here- a guy called Jonathan. I was so excited by and grateful for his kind gesture. ;-)
My favourite 'job' was to design a scavenger hunt for the members of the public when they visit. I made two versions- inside and outside.
What I loved most about putting it together was the way to forced me to 'see' the world anew as I took photos of items throughout the site. I explored my surroundings through entirely new eyes, looking for the details so easily overlooked.
For the first time I truly saw the patterns, the textures, the side and rear views, the colours and shapes out of the context of 'general magnificence'. I looked above me and below me to frame a view rarely seen but now given a space for appreciation evermore. I'd never noticed before the carved underside of the huge stone entrance canopy but it was absolutely beautiful and now everytime I walk through the main entrance doors I glance up and smile inside.
When you focus in on the details you see them in their true beauty. Without context you loose sense of expectation and your brain can not 'fill in the gaps' it otherwise would do.
I remember when I was an art student in my late teens, on every trip I went I'd take my sketch book and pencils. One holiday with my boyfriend at the time, i'd woken up long before he had and after a while not wanting to wake him, I started to draw him. From the angle I was sat his head was upside to me... and so I literally drew the shapes I saw in front of me and not the human features my brain told me were there. It was a quick ten minute sketch as he woke shortly after I began, but to this day I still think it is one of the best drawings I have ever created.
@@I wonder what might be created if you quite literally viewed your world from a new perspective?@@
A few other mementos I am bringing home with me... more fallen branches to make new dreamcatcher wall hangings, and lots of wild garlic growing in abundance in the woodland garden. Hopefully a recipe using that to come soon!
Recipe: Chocolate and Raspberry Brownie Cake
Note: all quantities are approximate since I had no measuring implements and worked on the basis of visual quantities and intuition. :-) If the final mixed batter is nice and thick and drops loosely from a spoon you've got it right (if not add a little extra milk or flour).
Makes a large cake pan approx 8x15inch (halve the recipe for a regular cake pan)
2 cups non-dairy milk
1 large banana
2/3 cup veg oil*
1/3 cup raspberry jam*
1 fist sized sweet potato
3 cups plain flour*
1 cup cocoa
2/3 cup granulated sugar*
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
100g bar dark chocolate (mine had freeze dried raspberries in it too) (this is optional)
Finely grate the peeled sweet potato, mash the banana well and mix together in a medium bowl. Add the milk and veg oil and mix all together well.
In a separate large bowl, mix together all remaining dry ingredients other than the chocolate if using. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well until you have a smooth thick batter.
Pour into a large lined baking tin and press broken up chunks of the dark chocolate and a little extra jam if you fancy into the top.
Bake for approx. 30-35 mins at 180C (I loosely covered the top with tinfoil for the last 10 mins to prevent excess browning). A toothpick should come out clean.
Allow to cool slightly and serve hot or cool fully and serve cold. I made a hot banana custard alongside.
*HEALTHY NOTES: you could swap the veg oil for melted coconut oil, swap the jam for a refined sugar free version or use fresh/frozen raspberry chunks. You could use wholemeal spelt flour or ground oat flour (oat flour may not rise quite so much), you could use unrefined coconut sugar. You could use 100% cocoa chunks or omit the chocolate entirely.