Hannah van Sickle
Great Barrington — Nancy Lee’s Elixir might just be the cure for what ails you. Her restaurant, tucked off the proverbial beaten path, is an experience for the senses that — if one allows –permeates visitors to the core and fosters both mindfulness and reflection. Lee is quietly and happily pursuing what she calls “right livelihood,” a Buddhist practice that translates to doing something that serves humanity while simultaneously creating income. The genesis of this ideal stems from the Buddha who encouraged his disciples to make their living in a way that does not cause harm and ideally that is ethically positive. In this vein, Lee is meeting people at different levels of consciousness and teaching, through example, the benefits that come when we make a practice of pausing. As steam curls from deep bowls of porridge — prepared with currants, mulberries, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, vegan butter, and a drizzle of dark maple syrup — Lee speaks quietly — and enthusiastically — about a trio of practices she is offering in the New Year to encourage taking pause as a means of learning about healthy lifestyles.
“People love tea and I brew really good tea,” Lee says of those who understand Elixir to be a tea salon. However, in a more complex capacity — when at the helm of her cobalt blue enamel Heartland gas range — Lee is using food as medicine in hopes of teaching people about how to take care of themselves through what they ingest. In many ways, she has been a pioneer in this arena. She offers a monthly 21-day cleanse where participants gather for a mid-day meal together. The menu, consisting of miso soup, salad, a main macrobiotic meal and tea, has attracted a steady following. After lunch each day, cleanse participants go home with a box of fresh juices, smoothies, herbal infusions and soup for dinner. This, coupled with Lee’s lifestyle recommendations, are resulting in participants who — after three weeks — are not only looking and feeling better, but who are also embracing Lee’s philosophy: “Eating intentionally prepared food raises one’s consciousness, [helps one] find clarity and make better decisions.”
Lee is both humbled and excited by the following she has cultivated; this, coupled with the popularity of her monthly cleanse, has paved the way for a handful of new offerings for 2018.
A Silent Zen Meditation Meal will take place each morning (Thursday-Monday) at 8 a.m. Participants will arrive promptly and enjoy a silent 45-minute meal together. In a culture where the importance of modalities such as yoga and meditation are understood to be beneficial, Lee is providing an opportunity to be in community – silently — while eating. “It is very powerful,” Lee says, of both the meditative practice and mindful eating. Immediately following the morning meal, Lee will invite the community to Writing Our Way Into the Day, an informal writing group, from 9-10 a.m. She will offer no-pressure writing prompts, and the group will take shape as participants gather to enjoy the comfort of working independently in a shared space. Every four to six weeks, a different guest author will join the group to offer prompts and to facilitate discussion. Finally, Lee is happy to continue her Thursday Evening Dinner Salon series featuring a wholesome dinner, prepared by Lee, followed by an inspirational presenter. Carol Murko, culinary artist and creator of Heirloom Meals, will present on January 11th; New York Times best-selling author Simon Winchester will be featured on January 18th; and a week later an intimate evening of story and chant with Carrie Grossman on January 25th.
“Eating well creates balance,” says Lee, a seasoned chef, gardener and herbalist who has acquired a reputation for really delicious food — nearly all via word of mouth. Her creations in the kitchen are driven by the simple belief that eating well creates balance. “There is a disconnect,” she says, citing that many do not make the correlation between food and fuel that nourishes the body. She opened her oasis more than two years ago as a vegetarian restaurant; now, in her third year, Lee is following her heart and offers 100 percent organic gourmet vegan fare with an international flair. Elixir, like much of the Berkshires, has become a destination. Vegans find this spot through Happy Cow (an online dining guide to vegetarian/vegan restaurants), and she was recently awarded a 5-star sticker from Yelp!, an online platform that publishes crowd-sourced reviews of local restaurants.
Lee cuts straight to the chase: “Center your life around caring for your body — everything stems from that.” I am a diehard coffee fanatic who, after two midwinter stops at Elixir, is considering giving up my daily red-eye (a shot of espresso in dark roast coffee). I am currently hooked on the Elixircino — a golden, sweet blend of turmeric, ginger and coconut cream with just a hint of maple syrup and topped with a visible dash of cinnamon. Go check it out. Elixir is nestled next to The Triplex Cinema behind Railroad Street; it is open to the public, Thursday-Monday, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. For more information, visit www.elixirgb.com or contact chef/owner Nancy Lee by calling 413-644-8999.