If you ask any Grimalkin what the most important thing about clowder life is, they will always answer with the word “food.” Food, apart from being necessary for survival, is perhaps one of the most important things about life in a clowder. There are always feasts at festivals, birthdays, kittenings, rituals and even funerals. Grimalkins love food. Every important moment is celebrated or commiserated with food. When a stranger enters a Grimalkin’s home, they are offered food and drink before even asking what that stranger wants. When Grimalkins arrive from other clowders, food is laid out before them. Food is a Grimalkin’s way of saying “hello, welcome to my home. I offer you my paw in friendship,” or “I have offended you. I am sorry. Please accept my apology in the way of this meal.” Food bridges gaps and helps forge friendships. It helps mend broken hearts and broken bonds. It makes strangers into companions and adversaries into allies. Food is the glue that keeps Grimalkin society together.
Food can make love happen. For example if a tom wishes to court a queen, he will often cook for her. If it is the other way around, a queen may cook but she will often make clothes for him instead. It is true to say the way to a Grimalkin’s heart is through their stomach. If that tom is an exceptional cook, his courtship may end in divine union. Or children.
There are no strict rules about mealtimes at Grimalhame (or any other clowder). Communal mealtimes are served in the Central Council Chamber and a Grimalkin can choose to eat there, or make his or her own at home. Many like to attend the communal mealtimes just to socialise. There are four set times in which Grimalkins can eat in the chamber. Far Pavilions time is listed first in bold, then Earth time in normal typing to give you an idea of when we eat compared to human mealtimes. Don’t forget there are 30 hours in a day in our world. Breakfast (07:00 -10:00/06:00 – 09:00) – on the breakfast menu there is porridge (with a selection of toppings including fruit, jam and honey), wholemeal toast, butter and jam, crumpets, bacon, eggs (poached, fried, boiled or scrambled), sausage, grilled tomatoes, fresh forest mushrooms, a mix of sweetened cereal with honey and milk, To drink – fruit teas, spring water and fruit cordial. Lunch (14:00 – 17:00/12:00-14:00) – a selection of freshly baked wholemeal and seeded hlaf, cheese, haslet, soup (tomato, onion, vegetable, wild game, broth, carrot and kale, carrot and bean, and fish served with a trencher), wholemeal crackers with herb butter. To drink – spring water, fruit cordial, ale, wine. Dinner (19:00 – 22:00/16:00 – 18:00) – Grimalhame stew (meat with carrots, swede, leeks, peas and dumplings), roast pheasant (or whatever bird is available) with buttered vegetables, steamed/roasted/grilled fish (pike, trout, perch, with herb sauce, pot pie roast/mashed/boiled potatoes, fruit crumble with spiced custard or cream. To drink – metheglin, bragget, ale, mead, tea, fruit cordial, spring water, wine. Supper (24:00 – 27:00/20:00 – 22:00) – hot milk spiced with cinnamon and honey, posset, a selection of sweet biscuits (sweetmeal, ginger, barley). To drink – hot milk spiced with cinnamon and honey, posset, fruit tea, almond milk.
Of course, this is just a small selection of what is on offer during mealtimes. The cooks make sure there is something for everyone at the table and quite often they will just throw ingredients together and hope whatever comes out of the oven or the pot is edible.
The Grimalkin Pantry
A Grimalkin pantry is no different from the food stores in the main clowder kitchen. Here you will find jars and containers of every description. A Grimalkin’s food store is never empty, even in the lean months of winter. The Great Arcadian Forest, surrounding country, and the lakes, rivers and fish ponds provide food for the clowders and settlements all year round, especially in the autumn when the boughs are heavy with fruits and nuts.
We will often make our own jams and preserves whenever possible. Pickling is also a must during the autumn when preparing food that will last for months is essential. Onions and other vegetables such as kale, cauliflower, cabbage and gherkins are grown in the clowder gardens and out in the nearby forest and are a seasonal must for soups and casseroles. Come spring, it is not uncommon to be served last season’s pickles and preserves with every meal. We detest waste and will often foist pickles and jams on unwilling guests just to try to get rid of them.
The Clowder Kitchen
Should a Grimalkin become lost in the clowder, he would not care a jot as he or she would always be able to find their way to the clowder kitchen. If the Central Council Chamber is the heart of the clowder, then the kitchen is undoubtedly the soul. Situated on levels one and two the kitchen is divided up into three sections – the main kitchen, and the levels one and two storerooms. Because the clowder is so large, a great deal of space is reserved for the storing of food and drink. The kitchen itself is vast and accommodates ten fireplaces and sixteen ranges. Pots and pans hang from racks on the ceiling which, in turn, are hoisted up and down by a mind-boggling array of ropes and pulleys. There are shelves stacked with boxes, tins and jars of herbs, spices, pickles and oils and there are several huge wooden tables on which food is prepared.
The storerooms are divided into two sections – dry store and cold store. The walls, floor and ceiling of the cold store are marble which keeps the meat, fish, milk and butter cool. There are four large cold stores on level two. The dry stores (of which there are three) are sub-divided into sections so it is easy for the cooks to find what they are looking for. In storeroom one there are vegetables of all kinds and dried fruit (fresh fruit is kept in the cold store so it lasts longer). Storeroom two contains pulses, beans, bread, pastries and cereals. Storeroom three contains herbs, spices, jams, preserves, chutneys, oils and other condiments. Additional storage is provided for plates, bowls, cups and cutlery.
In addition to the main kitchen, there are small kitchenettes. These small rooms are equipped with a small stove, table and chair. Everyone is free to use the kitchenettes and many Grimalkins (particularly the older generation) take advantage of them should they rise before dawn (or the clowder cooks). Those who partake in breakfast in the kitchenettes do so in silence before the rest of the clowder is up and about. Grimalkins breaking their fast in the kitchenettes often greet each other with a simple nod or a touch of the paw to the forehead. Breakfasting with the rest of the clowder can be a noisy affair.
On average, around seventy per cent of clowder citizens cook in their own homes with their own food. The other thirty per cent ascend to the clowder kitchen for their first meal of the day. Breakfast in the clowder is a social event, as are all meals eaten in the Central Council Chamber (which transforms into a dining hall four times a day). Although many are able to cook their own food at home, some like the social aspect of communal mastication and frequent the chamber simply to catch up with friends and neighbours. This is especially true for the older members of the clowder who, after a lifetime of cooking for oneself and their families, opt for being catered for by the clowder cooks.
Use of the clowder kitchen increases during the winter months as Grimalkins find their food supplies running low. Even though the kitchen is free at the point of use, clowder citizens are required to contribute to the running and maintenance of the kitchen and storerooms. Those who are able are required to wash and clean up after mealtimes (which is not that great a chore as Grimalkins are obsessively clean), or to forage and/or collect vegetables from the clowder gardens. Collecting from the gardens can be a fun affair, especially when young ones eager to please their elders are involved.
Because we love food, there is no lack of volunteers for the kitchen. Occasionally a rota has to be employed because of the numbers willing to offer their services to Head Cook. I suspect there may be ulterior motives involved and many a surreptitious paw has been dipped in the custard and a sly biscuit munched while Cook has her back turned.
It is often said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some believe beauty is on the surface – a beautiful face, a beautiful body, a beautiful painting, or beautiful flower. While in some cases that may be the case, true beauty is more than what we see with our eyes. True beauty is what we see and feel with our heart.
What you value or deem beautiful is often a reflection of yourself; if you can see the beauty in yourself – your values, honesty, integrity, the love you have for others and other beings, it makes you beautiful on the outside. If you can bring out the best in others, that is beautiful. If you have compassion for those less fortunate, that is beautiful.
Forgiveness is beautiful. While some find it hard to forgive (and that is okay), when we choose to forgive others it is beautiful. We may feel hurt and resentful one day, then the deep, transformative power of sleep, dreams and love we hold deep within allows us to forgive others their transgressions, whether they have truly hurt us, or it is a perceived hurt. It brings forth the ability to move beyond to a place where our hearts can see clearly again. The dawn rises on a new day and yesterday’s woes and sorrows slowly fade into memory. The love we kept locked away because of those hurts comes forward once again through forgiveness, and that too, is beautiful. It brings peace and balance. But remember, forgiveness is always a choice.
Human beings suffer terribly because of the perceived nature of beauty. Grimalkins have no such affliction. Human beings, for the most part, judge themselves based on how they look to others, how attractive they are, how much approval they receive from others. They place their worth in the hands of others who too, do not know their own worth either. Let me tell you how Grimalkins value beauty.
Grimalkins are self aware, yes, but we are introspective. We understand that each one of us is different – big, small, black, grey, calico etc. We are mindful of our existence every day. We place value on ourselves, not by the colour of our fur or how long our whiskers are. No, we measure our worth by the values and principles we hold. Take my family – the Moonpaws. Our motto is Wisdom Before Knowledge. I find self worth and beauty in teaching youngsters to read and write, by sharing history and encouraging curiosity and a sense of yearning for knowledge in the individuals I meet. It makes me feel good and worthy because I have something to share that inspires others. So you see, your worth comes from inside, not from outside, not from approval from others. I may not get a thank you, but to see someone set off on an academic journey with excitement is more than enough to fill my heart with joy. That is where true self worth lies.
Grimalkins live in the moment. We change and improve the things we can change and accept the things we cannot. We express gratitude for the things we have for it is the small things in our lives that can bring us great joy and comfort. We do (or try not to) worry about the morrow. We do not live in fear as humans do – fear of what others may think, feel or do. We say how we feel because our words may make a difference, but they may not. But we never know. It doesn’t matter. Living without fear is beautiful. It opens up a wealth of possibilities that lead on to more beautiful things. Pride and ego are not things Grimalkins are too afflicted by. We strive for peace and balance and a quiet life. But even we can fall by the wayside at times.
Too often human beings are too afraid to say things to each other, too afraid to say “I love that about you, it makes me feel….” or “…it is beautiful because…” If people recognised and acknowledged the beauty in others, then they may realise that their self worth and value comes from the inside, not from validation from the outside. A beautiful person can facilitate change and transformation in you, quite unexpectedly, making you into a better, more beautiful person. You, in turn, may go on to be the catalyst of change in someone else and so it goes on.
Beauty is not about how you look or how you physically present yourself to the world. True beauty is bringing out the best in yourself and in others. Be beautiful every day. Celebrate and be content with the small things – the smell of Earl Grey tea on a rainy day, the feeling of warm sand between your toes, the sound of the sea, seeing tiny shoots appear in your pots where there was only bare soil before. New books. Fresh strawberries, incense and wind chimes, the list of things you find beautiful is endless so take time to be mindful of them and express gratitude for the sense of contentment they bring you.
Appreciation for the little things is beautiful. Be mindful of them and you will find small oases of peace in the maelstrom of life.