a gift idea

For the new year, a mental and emotional housecleaning with the aid of recapitulation.  Who’s on board?

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Sally Kempton, author of Meditation for the Love of It, introduced me to a new topic, recapitulation. It is a lovely combination of reflection at year’s end and a mental and emotional housecleaning.  Recapitulation is a ritual of release in which the practitioner writes down his or her emotionally charged events over the past year and releases them.

This practice offers us a chance to sweep out some of those imprints, or samskaras, that have been left in our subconscious.  Whether or not we realize they are hanging around… they are.  Have you ever noticed a reaction you have over and over (and over) to a certain situation? Or, a recurring thought pattern summoned after doing something you feel you “shouldn’t have.”  Those are well imprinted samskaras.

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Once we begin or continue the process of letting go and releasing that which no longer serves us,  we are clearing room for the new.  It is the mental equivalent of getting rid of junk we’ve kept in our house or the garage for years.  By cleaning out old habits and thought patterns, our new intentions and goals may become clearer for the upcoming year; as well as, I’d argue, easier to reach.

In her article, Sally describes the process of recapitulation in four steps, “recalling a charged event, bringing it to consciousness, feeling remorse if appropriate, and then letting it go.”  I used a simple, modified version of what she recommends for this exercise.  From a place of general acceptance, I 1) wrote down my most charged events over the last twelve months, and 2) next to each event, off to the side, I wrote its corresponding feeling or emotion. I found my most emotionally charged events brought up feelings of shame, frustration, anxiety, anger, and fear.  3) I then spent a few minutes setting an intention to change my reactions and do my best if confronted with the same or a similar situation in the future.  Finally, 4) I mindfully cut up and disposed of my sheet of paper repeating a few times as Sally recommends, “May these negative events, feelings, and actions dissolve.”

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Try not to become overwhelmed with the idea of recalling the year’s emotional events.  In other words, try not to over analyze this process.  My sense for this practice is letting those charged events pop into conscious memory when asked and write them down. Then, review the list with the intention of doing what we can differently if we find ourselves in a similar situation.  Finally, letting it all dissolve by disposing of the list.  It can be burned in a fire or torn up.  Most importantly it is an act of release, not a malicious intent of ripping up what we do not want.  Rather, it is a gentle goodbye to that which no longer serves us.

Sally goes on to describe in the article how brain science explains that when we want to change it is important to, “consciously create a different neural pathway.”  The act of recapitulation helps us create different neural pathways because it is a way of physically doing something that demonstrates our desire to change.

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I see this process as one of the best gifts we can give ourselves.  A shot at unloading some old baggage and freeing us up to function in healthier ways.  It doesn’t cost anything.  And, it is something we will most likely benefit from for the rest of our lives.

coaxing the unfamiliar into the familiar

There is a tree I can see from my backyard.  Its showy blossoms are as pink as a newborn baby girl’s knit cap.  Having withstood many hurricanes, it stands solidly upright.  This tree with its solidity, showiness, and color stands in the background behind unsightly power lines.  It is not in anyone’s front yard.  It is not showcased along the road. It is in a neighbor’s side yard surrounded by scrub, weeds, and grass.  One has to look to see it.

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Could this be so with our true selves?  I think so.  Our true selves typically do not stand in the foreground or showcase themselves in our lives.  They sit in the background.  Guiding us when we allow it.  Our true selves are showy in their own way, but not outwardly so.  They are showy in their steadfast, solid natures that we will experience if we choose to get to know them.

Recently driving from Florida to South Carolina, I had an uneasy feeling.  Not knowing what it was and not having a desire to define it at that moment, I wrote down on the back of a receipt the thought that was bumping around in my head, “Can I make the unfamiliar, familiar?”

Over the course of a week, before returning home, I kept coming back to that question.  I wasn’t focused on it.  It was simply something that would pop into my mind while I was doing other things.  I did think at the time that I wanted to do whatever this feeling was telling me.  But, I didn’t know what the feeling was.  It was a little bit like sitting down in a restaurant and opening a menu that is four pages long and having no idea what you want to eat.  Although you are hungry, nothing sounds good.   

Just as the diner hopes something eventually appeals to her to eat, I was hoping something would ring true for whatever this thing was that was tugging at me.  On the return trip from South Carolina to Florida, I asked myself a couple questions.  Was my desire to become more adaptable in relatively unfamiliar territory – that which is outside of my hometown?  That didn’t strike a chord with me.  I thought about it and shrugged my shoulders.  Or, was it a deeper question?  Do I want more familiarity with myself?  Do I want to be able to access my steadfast, solid nature that emanantes from our true selves more readily?  The bell sounded, ding-ding-ding!   (If anyone has a more convincing way of writing the sound of a bell, please let me know.)  That thought rang true.  Well, ok, so the bell is sounding.  What do I do now? Sure, meditation is always an option and a great one at that.  It brings us home to ourselves.  But, what else can we do?

The day after I returned home to Florida from South Carolina, I attended a yoga conference called “Yoga of the Subtle Body,” given by Christopher Baxter based on the teachings of Tsoknyi Rinpoche and a book he has written, Open Heart, Open Mind.  In short, the conference was about understanding our subtle bodies and their influences on our thoughts, actions, and emotions.  At the end of the workshop, Mr. Baxter introduced us to Vase Breathing.  (The “vase” is the area about two inches below the navel.)   By breathing into this space, it gives the practitioner a sense of coming home (ding-ding-ding!) and introduces us to our now (becoming) more familiar steadfast selves.  

So, maybe in the near future look for that solid, steadfast tree that has been standing tall for decades.  And, maybe take a few minutes to breath into the area just below your navel.   While doing so, notice if you have a sensation of solidity and coming home.  Notice if you begin to feel a little more familiar with yourself.

If we are lucky diners, baked pumpkin steel cut oatmeal will be on the menu.  This is a delicious breakfast treat that can be made the night before and eaten throughout the week.  Another one of Faith’s great ideas, the chewy oats combined with creamy pumpkin and spices make this a fun way to liven up an oatmeal breakfast.  (The only changes I’ve made when making this dish were to increase the spices a tad and sub soymilk for dairy, neither of which are reflected below.)

Baked Pumpkin Steel Cut Oatmeal

recipe adapted from Faith Durand at The Kitchn
serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large oven-proof saucepan with lid or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the oats and toast them, stirring frequently.  Adjusting the heat as necessary.
  2. Push the oats over to the side of the pan, and add the second tablespoon of butter in the cleared area of the pan. Add the pumpkin, sugar, and spices cooking the rawness out of the pumpkin about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir frequently.
  3. Add the milk.  Stir to combine.  Add the water, vanilla and salt.  Stir to combine.
  4. Put a lid on the pan and bake for about 35 minutes.  (Be very careful when removing lid.  Steam burns!)  Stir the oatmeal. It will thicken as it cools. Serve immediately or refrigerate for the week ahead.

 

change with color

In the movie, The Magic of Belle Isle, starring Morgan Freeman, Freeman moves to a small town for a summer and ends up mentoring a young girl, Finnigan, who is almost ten years old.  She wants to be a writer.  Knowing he was a writer, she asks him to teach her.  They exchange $34.18 and he agrees to give her lessons.

Their first lesson begins with both of them out by a road in their neighborhood.  It is an ordinary looking road that one might see in many neighborhoods.  The colors are a neutral palette: the green of leafy canopies, the beige of homes, the gray of concrete.  Trees are here and there, neither plotted nor planned.  Mailboxes line the street in soldier-like fashion.

As the camera pans down the street, Freeman asks Finnigan to look down the road.

“Tell me what it is you do not see,” he says to her.

She spins around toward him, eyebrows raised, hands on hips, “What?!  I paid you $34.18 for lessons.  What do you mean tell you about what I don’t see?”

Angry, she stomps off.  Freeman chuckles gently and calls out to her, “Next lesson will be tomorrow morning!”

What is it that we do not see?  What is it that we do not hear?  I can tell you what I do hear oftentimes, cancer.  It lightly treads around the edges of my consciousness looking for an opening to peek in and ask, “Remember me?”  My neural pathways are well grooved (anymore tunneling and I’d show up in China, head first) when it comes to my mind and dealing with illnesses.  I am missing other good life stuff as my mind travels down that familiar pathway.

Since I want to create new patterns of thinking, going forward how am I going to handle adversity differently?

Certainly there are times when the adversity will be front and center.  If your child seems to be having allergic reactions to foods but you are not yet sure which foods, you’ll be giving that issue more brain space while it is being handled and resolved.  Or, maybe you’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer and need to make treatment decisions.

But, during those times when we are handling difficult tasks, do we see what it is we are not seeing as Freeman was teaching Finnigan to do?  Do we hear what it is we are not hearing?  Are we able to maintain awareness such that we live in the present letting the past lie and allowing the future to come as it will?

 

There are times in my life when I find this more difficult to do than others.  Lately it has been difficult. So, I’ll be working on this in the coming months and years. (It is a lifetime practice.)  Training to become more aware of what is, presently, rather than what could or should or might be.

 
 

If we find ourselves getting caught up in frequent, repetitive thoughts, one idea is to give yourself and your mind a break.  For one or two minutes, hear what it is you are not hearing.  Maybe your toddler is softly humming to herself or the birds are singing.  See what it is you are not seeing.  Maybe the deep purple of cooked black rice could be the next best crayola color, or the clouds have taken on the hue of autumn’s evening light, deep gold.

In shining our light of awareness on what it is we are not hearing or seeing, those familiar grooved pathways we are desirous of changing will become a little less worn. In cultivating this practice, we will develop our mindfulness muscles and create new neural pathways.

Marcia Rose Shulman has well greased pathways in creating gorgeous food.  Her Black Rice Risotto is loaded with color, nutrition, and flavor.  The magenta hue of the beets bleeds beautifully throughout the dish.  Using two different grains provides different textures.  The wine adds complexity and depth of flavor.  Depending on how much cheese you choose to use, the traditional comforting creaminess of a risotto is intact.

Below is my adapted version.  I increased the vegetable to rice ratio.  Omitted the cheese. (But included it as an option in the recipe for those of you who want to add it. A different cheese alternative could be Manchego.  It would be nice grated over the top of the finished dish.) Roasted the beets with the skins on. And, substituted farro for the arborio rice to boost nutrition and texture.

Black Rice Risotto

adapted from Martha Rose Shulman

  • 1 c. black rice*, such as Forbidden Foods Rice, cooked
  • 1 c. farro*
  • 1 qt. vegetable or chicken stock, as needed, preferably low-sodium
  • 1 bunch beet greens, rinsed, stems removed
  • 2 or 3 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 c. onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or 1 t. jarred minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 medium or large beets, rinsed well, cut into bite size pieces, roasted**
  • 1/2 c. parmesan cheese, if using, for a more traditional risotto
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Cook black rice according to package directions, set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan, warm over medium heat 2 T. extra virgin olive oil.  Once heated, add diced onion.  Sauté the onion until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes, add the farro and garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the grains are fragrant about 3 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 qt. stock in a medium saucepan to barely boiling.  Cook the washed beet greens for about 10 seconds or less in stock, just until wilted.  Remove greens with tongs reserving stock.  Set greens aside to cut into bite size pieces.  Turn heat down to simmer on the stock.
  4. Stir the wine into the grain and onion mixture.  Continue stirring frequently until the liquid is absorbed.  Continue adding 1/2 c. or so of broth, stir frequently.  When liquid has been absorbed add another 1/2 c. or so of stock.  Continue adding stock when liquid has been absorbed for about 25 minutes total cooking time until farro is al dente.
  5. Meanwhile in a large mixing bowl, place roasted beets, cooked beet greens, add amounts of cooked rice and farro to your liking, reserving the remaining grains for another meal*, add parmesan cheese if using.  Combine well.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve.

*Marcia’s recipe calls for 1 c. cooked black rice.  I used about 1/3 of the cooked rice.  If desire less rice in the dish with fewer leftovers, 1/2 c. rice could be cooked.

**To roast the beets:  preheat the oven to 350°.  On a large baking sheet place cut beets, toss them with salt, pepper and olive oil.  Spread them out evenly.   Roast 25 – 35 minutes until soft.

Yield: 4 servings

 

 

 

 

fall anyone?

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Golden roasted beets with red lentils and toasted walnuts dressed with extra virgin olive oil, a drizzle of walnut oil, healthy doses of salt and freshly ground black pepper, and topped with herbed goat cheese, a recipe by Laura Calder I adapted.

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(Pictured before going into the oven), my go-to everyday whole wheat cake dotted with fresh kiwi, apricots, plums, diced dried apricots, and chopped pecans.  

I am ushering in fall this week with one of my favorite grains, farro.  Cooked risotto-style, the whole grain creates its own sauce while combining beautifully with its savory counterparts.

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I learned this risotto-style cooking technique from Martha Rose Shulman.  It yields a lovely, chewy grain and is a healthier option than arborio rice, the rice traditionally used to make risottos.

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Toasting the grains for a couple minutes lends a more distinct nutty flavor to the dish.  The addition of sun-dried tomatoes are sweet and chewy and the pinto beans give the meal more substance and texture.  A sprinkling of pumpkin seeds lend crunch. The dish is equally as good served without cheese.

Farro with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Pumpkin Seeds

  • 1/2 large sweet onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 lb. farro
  • 1/4 c. white wine
  • 1 – 1 1/2  c. low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 t. thyme
  • 1 15 oz. can pinto or cannelini beans, drained, rinsed, set aside
  • 1/4 c. julienne cut sun-dried tomatoes
  • goat cheese or other tangy cheese for topping, to taste, optional
  • 1/4 c. or so pumpkin seeds or pine nuts
  • chopped parsley, garnish
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  1. In a large skillet heat 2 – 3 T. extra virgin olive oil, sauté onion over medium heat with a generous pinch of salt.  Once onion begins to soften, about 3-4 minutes, add garlic.  Stir for 30 seconds or so until garlic is fragrant turning heat down if necessary.
  2. Add farro to the onion mixture, toast the grain for 2-3 minutes while stirring continuously.
  3. Add white wine, thyme, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Stir to combine. Cook farro over medium to medium low heat maintaining a simmer while stirring frequently.  Once the wine is absorbed, add about 1/2 c. of broth just until it barely covers the grains. Continue to cook while stirring frequently.
  4. Continue adding 1/4 – 1/2 c. broth when liquid is absorbed.  The process will take about 25 -35 minutes.  An al dente grain, I’ve found to be between 25-30 minutes, if you prefer a softer grain, cook a bit longer.  (After 40 minutes of cooking the grain will begin to get mushy.)
  5. Once the grain’s consistency is to your liking, stir in beans and sun-dried tomatoes.  Warm through 1 minute.  Off heat, taste and adjust seasonings. Top with seeds.  Garnish with cheese and parsley, if using.  Serve immediately.Yield 3 – 4 servings

 

basil, lemon, and lime

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These last bits and bites of summer.  While I reach with outstretched arms to grab hold (even though my yoga training has taught me not to grasp!) of the increasingly shorter days, I wanted to bake a sweet with basil, lemon, and lime.  These cookies are easy to make.   All ingredients go into one bowl.

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Lemon-Lime Basil Shortbread Cookies

Adapted from Bon Appétit’s Test Kitchen, July 2011 

Cook’s Notes:  I substituted whole wheat flour. (I know – sacreligious in shortbreads, but I couldn’t help myself.)  I also made the dough with my hands rather than a food processor.  Since I wanted the cookie to be a little more savory than sweet, I opted not to use sanding sugar.  

Ingredients

  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. powdered sugar plus more for pressing cookies
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 2 T. sliced fresh basil leaves
  • 1 t. finely grated lemon zest plus 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 t. finely grated lime zest
  • 1/4 t. kosher salt
  • sanding sugar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Place flour, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, butter, basil, both zests, lemon juice, and salt in a food processor, or in a medium size mixing bowl if combining ingredients with your hands.  Pulse until large, moist clumps form. Measure level tablespoonfuls of dough.  Roll between your palms to form balls. Place on a large baking sheet, spacing 2″ apart. Lightly dust the bottom of a flat measuring cup with powdered sugar and press cookies into 2″ rounds, dusting cup bottom with powdered sugar as needed to prevent sticking. Sprinkle tops of cookies with sanding sugar, if using.
  2. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 10-13 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack. Cool.

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spaciousness or slurry

Recently, I was grooming our two pups.  We were outside.  It was at least 90 degrees with 85% humidity.  Mosquitoes were using us as their breakfast.  Ollie was wiggling.  Simon wanted nothing to do with any kind of grooming tool being placed on his body.  Hair, sweat, and fur were combined in a slurry on my face.  (Oh yeah, there may have also been some blood in the slurry due to the mosquito that bit me on the forehead.)

Did I have a feeling of spaciousness in these moments?  Ah, no.  In fact, I didn’t have a feeling of anything other than… oh my goodness, let’s get this done!  Between those thoughts and trying to keep the fur out of my mouth, I became sucked into the process.  I did not maintain presence of mind; and, I didn’t realize it until I got them both inside and got myself cleaned up.  Isn’t that how living in today’s world is?  Modern society sucks us into it’s process of being.  And, dare I say, we allow it to happen.

Well, ok. So this is not new news.  Modern life is busy.  But, how do we deal with it in relation to spaciousness?  Do our minds have an openness such that we can rest in the midst of everything?  What about our ability (my dwindling ability) to reside on an open platform with fewer encumbrances? Don’t we want that?

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When I think of spaciousness, I see myself physically pushing away life’s stuff.  Gently clearing a room with one sweep of the arm.  Why?  Because the external qualities of openness to me look and feel like an empty room with beautifully colored walls and gracefully arched doorways.  (To another, it may be the vastness of a mountain range.)  It is inviting. It draws me in. It’s space is silent.  It has no expectations.  It has no agenda. It is just there, open and waiting.

 

The internal qualities of spaciousness are quite similar.  Within this space, the fluctuations of our minds are calmed.  We drop our discordant selves.  The mind rests.  Even if only for a moment or two, it rests.  My sense for it is during that pause, we become suspended in awareness.  Simple momentary awareness.

 

How do we hit the pause button in everyday life?  Try sitting quietly for a few minutes each day and breathe.  We may notice our breath or the airplane that is flying overhead.  Notice and breathe.  This gracious space awaits all of us and is always accessible.  I’ll keep trying.  I’ll keep trying to bring my mind back to a resting place for a breath or two, choosing a little bit of spaciousness over slurry.

 
 

Before we reach enlightenment, we need to eat.  Below are a few ideas for a meal and side dishes followed by a recipe for Fig + Date Bread:

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Laura Calder introduced me to the idea that cauliflower, sliced olives, and julienne cut sun-dried tomatoes are a very nice combination indeed.

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Inspired by Giada DeLaurentiis, I made a dish combining cooked lentils and rice, corn, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, celery, carrot, garlic, topped with tomato slices, italian style panko bread crumbs and cheese.  In the oven at 350° for about 20 – 30 minutes melds the flavors and bakes the top layer of tomatoes and cheese.  

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My twist on a  raw mushroom salad.  It may not be for everyone, but if you like mushrooms it is interesting to try.  Thinly sliced mushrooms and green summer squash, tossed with a vinaigrette of lemon juice and zest, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Finish the salad with chopped parsley. 

Fig + Date Bread 

I was trolling Heidi Swanson’s site and came upon a recipe by Melissa Clark, Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread.  The bread looked wonderful.  It had huge chunks of chocolate, lots of bananas, and a glaze.  But, I wanted something different.  I love sweetening foods with dates lately, and I had figs in the frig.  So, I adapted Melissa’s recipe…

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Fig + Date Bread 

8 oz., fresh mission figs, rinsed, stems removed, and quartered, set aside

10 dried and pitted dates, thinly sliced, set aside

1 ripe banana, mashed, set aside

Dry Ingredients

2 c. whole wheat flour (spelt flour would also work well)

1/2 c. brown sugar

3/4 t. baking soda

pinch of salt

Wet Ingredients 

2 eggs

1/2 c. low-fat plain yogurt

1/3 c. vegetable or canola oil

1 T. lemon juice, (juice from 1/2 lemon)

zest of one lemon

1 t. vanilla

Instructions 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º.  Butter a standard size loaf pan.  Set aside.  Prepare banana, dates, and figs.  Set aside.
  2. Combine and mix dry ingredients.
  3. Combine and mix wet ingredients.  Add the mashed banana to the wet. Mix well.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir just until combined.  Gently fold in the dates and figs.
  5. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan.  Bake 40 – 50 minutes or until loaf becomes golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let loaf rest on a wire rack 15 minutes before turning out.

feeling guilty?

I volunteer at a preschool reading to a group of children.  Lately, I haven’t been enjoying it.  When I say lately, I mean for the past year.  (Yes, I know. I am a fast reactor.) But, I feel like I should continue to do it.  I’d feel guilty if I stop.  My husband says that is classic liberal guilt.  I don’t know what to call it.

I suspected a negative thought pattern lurking in this situation.  Although, as I understand it, some rational forms of guilt are healthy.  It can drive our desire to empathize with others.  It helps us keep ourselves in check, such as when your spouse is outside in the 95 degree heat pulling grass out of a planting bed that had grown into it from the lawn.  He shouldn’t really be the only one doing that, should he?

But, irrational thinking leading to guilt is something we’d do better dispelling. In many instances our guilt is driven by something conditioned in us.  And, typically, it is attached to judgment.  In the case of the preschool, I am judging myself.

So, out of my July activity jar, amidst the “figure out how to preserve mangos,” and “attend yoga class,”  I pulled, “how to dispel guilt.” Hmmm.  How did I get so lucky?

I started with two baselines:  1) guilt as a negative emotion, and 2) circumstances are neutral until we label them.  I would perceive myself as a selfish person if I stop reading to the kids. And, I’ve labeled the situation as “bad.” (Negative emotion and labeling of circumstance.)

Byron Katie wrote a book titled, “Who Would You Be Without Your Story?”  In this book, Katie outlines five steps to help us question negative thinking, or automatic negative thoughts.  I preface these five steps with we must first be aware of them.  It seems a little silly.  But, it is common, especially with automatic negative thoughts, for thoughts to come and go largely unnoticed by our conscious.  We react to them. But, we may not be aware of them.   Awareness can be developed by quieting the fluctuations of the mind.

The five steps to question negative thinking Katie recommends are:

  1. Is this thought/idea true?
  2. Do I know absolutely that it is true?
  3. Pay attention to how you are reacting physically when you have the thought(s)… is there worry, concern, anger?
  4. Who would you be without that thought?
  5. Turn the thought around.  List five reasons why the reverse of your thoughts could be true.
I found step #5 to be the most powerful.  If one is handling irrational thoughts, leading to guilt or otherwise, it can put those to rest; or, at least, challenge them.

I am always on the lookout for what I think of as an “everyday” cake.  A cake that does not require eggs and butter to come to room temperature.  A cake I can substitute oil for butter.  A cake I can make with a combination of whole wheat flour and spelt flour and reduce the sugar by half.  A dessert I can pack loads of fruit into.  About a year ago, I happened upon a cranberry cake recipe in Bon Appétit.  Subsequently, I’ve overhauled it to incorporate those things I want.  Swapping out different fruits with the seasons.

Since I make this dessert to withstand alot of fruit, it has more of a scone texture than it’s softer counterpart and it is not as sweet.  Sometimes we eat it topped with honey. Recently, I made two versions of this dessert, Mango Banana Cake and  Olive Oil Cake with Mango. Neither one of these sweets will make you feel guilty eating it.

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Peaches would be a good substitute for the mangos.  Maybe peaches and blueberries?

Before we get on to the baking recipes, a couple ideas for everyday dinners.  First, an enchilada of sorts.  Sauté onions and baby bella mushrooms, add prepared quinoa and black beans.  Season mixture to your liking.  Fill tortillas with the bean mixture, add a sprinkling of cheese on top, and roll.  Bake at 350 degrees until warmed through and tortillas begin to brown just a touch.  Top with corn salsa and sour cream or plain yogurt and parsley.

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A summer pasta idea.  Grilled vegetables, your choice, tossed with prepared pasta. (I prefer bronze plated pasta.)  Mix grilled vegetables with prepared pasta, make a sauce out of room temperature goat cheese, plain yogurt, lemon zest and juice, black pepper, and turmeric for it’s anti-inflammatory properties.  Combine the sauce ingredients and warm through.  Stir into pasta mixture.  Serve warm.

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Mango Banana Cake

2 1/2 c. mangos, about 2 – 3 large, rinsed, skins removed, cubed, set aside

2 ripe bananas, mashed, set aside

Dry Ingredients

1 1/2 c. flour, (I used equal parts whole wheat and spelt), all-purpose white is fine

pinch of salt

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. cardamom (optional)

1 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

Wet Ingredients

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 c. canola oil

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla

Instructions 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter  a 9″ round cake pan.  Set aside.
  2. Prepare the fruit.
  3. In a medium size mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  In another medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and oil.  Beat the eggs and vanilla into the sugar mixture.
  4. Combine the flour mixture to the wet in thirds.  (I’ve done this backwards many times. It seems to work.  But those who know baking much better than I say to always add the dry to the wet.)  Do not over mix batter.  Stir just until incorporated.  Gently fold in fruit.
  5. Pour prepared mixture into cake pan.  Bake until light golden brown and a knife inserted into middle of cake comes out clean, about 40 – 50 minutes.  Let rest for 15 minutes.  Then, after running a knife around the edge, turn out cake onto a rack to avoid it becoming soggy.  Flip cake right side up to cool. Serve drizzled with honey, if desired.
 
The wet ingredients are changed a bit in the next recipe.
 
 
 
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Olive Oil Cake with Mango 

2 1/2 c. mangos, about 2 – 3 large, rinsed, skins removed, cubed, set aside

Dry Ingredients

1 1/2 c. flour, (I used equal parts whole wheat and spelt), all-purpose white is fine

pinch of salt

1/2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. cardamom (optional)

1 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda

Wet Ingredients

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla

1/2 c. plain yogurt

Instructions 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter  a 9″ round cake pan.  Set aside.
  2. Prepare the fruit.
  3. In a medium size mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients.  In another medium size mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and oil.  Beat the eggs and vanilla into the sugar mixture.
  4. Combine the flour mixture to the wet in thirds.  Do not over mix batter.  Stir just until incorporated.  Gently fold in fruit.
  5. Pour prepared mixture into cake pan.  Bake until light golden brown and a knife inserted into middle of cake comes out clean, about 40 – 50 minutes.  Let rest for 15 minutes.  Then, after running a knife around the edge, turn out cake onto a rack to avoid it becoming soggy.  Flip cake right side up to cool.  Serve drizzled with honey, if desired.

inspiration, really?!

If you are the one of those people who often feel inspired, I bow to you with not an ounce of jealousy.  Well, ok, maybe a little jealousy.

Me?  I have to mine the caves of my mind, as in excavate, drill down for ideas.  I can’t explain it.  It could be my disposition.  It could be just me. Could be … who knows?  When I do run across a source of inspiration, it is a tickle.  It is something that pads lightly around the edges of my consciousness like lemon zest in a dish.  It is there, it perfumes the dish, but what is it?

Recently I watched the Olympic swimming trials, by mistake.  I happened to sit down while my husband had the TV on.  I watched, maybe, 20 minutes. You know what?  I started to feel a little inspired.  Inspired to do what… I am not sure.  But, there is no misinterpreting that tiny nudge of encouragement that leads to being enlivened and strengthened.

Lately I’ve found myself feeling a certain way;  and, subsequently telling myself I should be feeling otherwise.  Feeling down? C’mon, Kelly, get over it.  Feeling unmotivated and lethargic?  C’mon, Kelly, get something done.  In doing so, I am telling myself to be someone other than who I am in that moment.  In turn, it leads me away from my inherent nature.  By contrast, if I simply accept how I am feeling in any given moment, I am closer to my true essence.  Being closer to one’s inherent nature enables us to more easily tap into creativity or inspiration because our mind’s are freer.

If ideas germinate with a little tickle, a seed, then it is helpful to have a touchstone, especially if the modality encourages the mind to be freer.    A touchstone that can be used to access an open state of being is So Hum.  So Hum is a sanskrit word loosely meaning, “I am that.”  It is typically used as a mantra.  While practicing this mantra, “So” is thought to oneself on the inhale, “Hum” is thought on the exhale.  Since it’s message to the practitioner is, “I am that,” by remaining in that space, we will most likely not attempt to change who we are in a given moment.  Our minds will loosen up a little.  Once acceptance has occurred, transformation can, and probably will, happen.

Maybe having a few pictures of meals and a dessert may spawn some ideas for you as it does for me…

Why do I post these pictures?  Ideas.  In the past, I found a string of pictures like this to be arrogant.  A little shout-y, if you will.  A little look at me.  But, it occurred to me while contemplating inspiration, I frequently get encouragement from pictures or descriptions of something someone else cooked or baked, (or wrote).  I may not make or do anything remotely like they did;  nevertheless, it oftentimes gives me the nudge I need.

Photo #1:  The strawberry pie I made for two reasons.  It is pretty.  And, my husband loves strawberries.  Although the dessert is much more sugar-based than I typically will make, the color won out.

Photo #2:  The second dish was created by London-based chef, Yotam Ottolenghi.  He puts together ingredients in a new way.  Ways I would never contemplate… until I read about how he cooks.  The pasta sauce pictured above is made with pine nuts, raisins, celery, tomatoes, capers, olives, and a little sugar.  Very different.  Very good.

Photo #3:  Baked pasta with roasted vegetables.  I roasted an eggplant and an onion, par-boiled pasta, combined both pasta and vegetables with stewed, diced tomatoes, marinara sauce, basil, and topped the dish with parmesan cheese.  In the oven it went for about 25 minutes.

Photo #4:  Summer Minestrone.  A favorite of mine.  I came up with this last summer (hence, it’s name) because I love soup, but not hot soup when it is 95 + degrees outside.  It is good at room temperature or cold.  And, you can’t beat eating a jumble of vegetables.

The recipe for today’s post is for Baby Bok Choy Stir-Fry with Lemon Vinaigrette.  I’ve been making quite a few bean and rice dishes lately.  This one came about with ingredients I had on hand, and an idea for tahini dressing that I adapted.  The technique of sauteéing vegetables, adding them to prepared rice and beans, and topping it all with a vinaigrette is versatile and handy.  I’ve made this dish with a variety of kale also.

Baby Bok Choy Stir-Fry with Lemon Vinaigrette

Serves 3 – 4 

1 c. brown rice, cooked, set aside*

1 14 oz. can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed, set aside

1/2 medium sweet onion, diced

1 head baby bok choy, rinsed, thinly sliced

1 8 oz container baby bella mushrooms, cleaned of dirt, thinly sliced

1/2 c. + chicken or vegetarian broth, preferably low-sodium

1 lemon, room temperature, rinsed, zest and juice

extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Prepare brown rice according to package directions, set aside. *Depending on your preferred rice to bean ratio in this salad, you may use less rice.  I typically end up using about 2/3 of the cooked rice.  Or, I use all of it and add another can of beans.  Adjust seasonings and dressing accordingly.
  2. Rinse and drain beans, set aside.
  3. In a large skillet with a lid, heat 2 T  extra virgin olive oil over medium heat, add onion and a pinch of salt.  Sauté 3 – 4 minutes until the onion begins to soften and release its moisture.  Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt.  Sauté another 3 minutes or so until the mushrooms begin to release their moisture and begin to brown just slightly.
  4. Add bok choy, pour 1/2 c. broth or more depending on desired consistency over the top of the vegetables, add freshly ground black pepper to taste, put the lid on. Cook over medium to medium low heat until the greens begin to wilt and are cooked, about 5 minutes.  Remove pan from heat.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, add beans, cooked vegetable mixture, including the broth which becomes part of the dressing, and the rice.  Zest and juice lemon over mixture.  Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Drizzle about 4 T. of extra virgin olive oil over the salad.   Mix well to combine.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
 

smoothing the rough edges


Words that take the rough edges off of life, cradling the current moment in a bit more softness than our everyday lives, jump off the page at me.  I don’t run into them often.  Recently, I heard it in Tina Chang’s words.  When discussing the writing she may do in an evening she explained, …”maybe much of it will be discarded, maybe some of it will be saved by the gods.”

What do I hear in that?  I hear silence.  I hear softness. I hear acceptance.  I hear surrender.  What is my reaction to these words?  It makes me want to breathe.  Breathe deeply.  Somehow those words distill the essence of the moment.  Time slows.

To me, Tina’s words are akin to the psychological effects of surrender.  During the process of surrender, time slows, the essence of the moment can become distilled.  ”The act of surrender engages, rather than avoids, the process of transformation,” explains Mary Beth G. Moze.  I feel transformation in the words of Tina Chang.  This may be presumptuous of me, but it seems as if Ms. Chang has done the work she has needed and wanted to do, and then let it go.  More importantly, it seems as if she may transmute herself continually by the act of surrender.  If she is doing this, then she is letting go of any perceived control the ego has.  So can we.

Why am I interested in this?  I am fearful.  Fear is, in part, operated by our desire to control.  My fears (if they are strong) tend to lead to obsessive thoughts.  Could surrender be part of the puzzle I was missing in order to deal with this fear ?  I didn’t think so because I practice surrendering regularly.

I’ve learned over the years to welcome any and all thoughts.  Give them an equal place at the table as Rumi tells us to do.  Ok, been there, done that.  But, by welcoming this fear, this time it wasn’t taking an equal place at the table.  It took many seats.

We can employ what I think of as more traditional stress relievers that will help the situation, muscle relaxation, deep breathing, visualization, exercise, and keeping journals.  But, sometimes the stressor that causes the fear is just there.  There are times in life when, for whatever reason, it is not going to go away anytime soon.  What to do?

Recently while making dinner, a quinoa and rice beauty, I was carrying on a conversation in my head about how to explain to a seasoned, trained meditator, my problem, hoping she may have some advice for me with respect to dealing with this fear.  I knew from experience how the act of surrender gives rise to the process of transformation.  But, as I mentioned, I had tried that in the past weeks and it didn’t seem like I was making any progress.  I found myself time and time again coming back to my fears.  Telling myself I just needed to be braver.  Needed to pull up my socks and get done what needs to be done.  In other words, I was starting at point A, and I’d return to point A.  My goal was to get to B, not Z, just B.

While I was thinking about how I would explain my situation to the trained meditator, I realized what I needed to do.  I needed to surrender to the fear, as opposed to simply surrendering to a particular situation.  In my opinion, what I had been doing was trying to control and compartmentalize the fear.   The fear is not going to go away.  (It is a healthy fear, based on a medical situation, not an irrational fear.)  Possibly by my desire to control and compartmentalize it, I may have given it a bit more power.

Recently my husband and I learned the timeframe I would be in an upcoming surgery and a recovery room, my husband smiled and said jokingly, “I have plenty of time for a round of golf.”  His comment smoothed the rough edges.  Comparably, my surrendering to this fear (which is an ongoing act)  has also smoothed the rough edges, if only a bit.  By doing so, maybe I too have framed the current moment in softness.  Even if only for a moment.

One of my goals is to live life, “… from a new way of knowing rather than just seeing it from a different perspective,” as Moze describes when explaining how powerful the act of surrendering can be.  I am not saying I’ll reach that place soon or even in my lifetime.  But, if I can make small, small incremental movements toward that place, I am happy.

I read a recipe in Bon Appétit that got great reviews, but at first glance it did not look exciting to me.  I decided to try it.  My first instinct was wrong.  The dish is really good.  The elements of lemon juice, parsley and cheese contrast nicely with the different grains.  It has become one of our staples.

Cumin-Scented Quinoa and Rice                            6 servings

adapted from Bon Appétit

Cooks Note:  I’ve adapted the recipe and included the ingredients I used.  Although the contrast of colors is pleasant, and we eat with our eyes, you can use what you have on hand for the grains.  The original recipe calls for adding fresh chives and cilantro.  I did not have any on hand.  They would be a nice addition.

1/2 c. short or long grain red rice (sub black or brown)

1 c. black quinoa, rinse well and set aside (sub red or transparent color)

1 bay leaf (optional)

1/4 tsp. salt, more to taste

4 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 small onion, diced

1/2 tsp. jarred minced garlic or 1 garlic clove, minced

2 tsp. ground cumin

3 T. fresh lemon juice

1/4 c. flat-leaf parsley, rinsed and chopped, set aside

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, sliced

1 lemon, cut into wedges

small wedges of ricotta salata cheese or goat cheese, optional

  1. Prepare rice and quinoa according to package directions.  Set aside. (Add bay leaf, if using, to quinoa while cooking.  Remove bay leaf once cooking is done.)
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 T. oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and cumin.  Cook, stirring often, for about 1 – 2 minutes until the garlic and cumin are fragrant.  Remove from heat.
  3. Transfer quinoa and rice to a large mixing bowl.  Add onion mixture.  Add remaining oil, lemon juice, parsley and other herbs, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Combine well.
  4. Serve with wedges of avocado and lemon, adding additional herbs if desired.  Crumble cheese over top of each portion, if using.

obstacles be gone!

If I could just get out of my my own way, I may get somewhere.  But, that would also mean I need to remove my obstacles, my psychological obstacles. Ugh. Obstacles that I’ve created.  Double ugh.  I wish I could say that removing self-imposed obstacles can be done by squeezing our eyes shut as intensely as only a four year-old can, waving a magic wand, and…pouf ! we would open our eyes and immediately feel lighter, happier, and brighter.

But, removal of obstacles is a little bit like Butternut Squash Lasagne and “The Little Engine That Could.”  The former takes time.  Time to make and bake.  The latter uses more mind power.   Removal of obstacles takes both.  It takes time and mind power.  Well then, let’s get to it.

It is said that emotional wounds prevent us from manifesting our true happiness.  If this is the case, it seems to me our wounds, wounds that we have not yet healed,  may be co-owner of creating many of our obstacles.  If psychological wounds lead to obstacles, then, by recognizing the wounds and obstacles are there, accepting them, and believing we won’t let them define us, we should find ourselves mentally healthier and happier.

Addressing both psychological elements of wounds and removal of obstacles are big concepts to handle in a small space.  Maybe someday we can drill down deeper into it.  But, I think simply developing an awareness of wounds and obstacles in our lives is quite helpful, quite healing in and of itself.  As a good friend of Scott’s says, “Just showing up is 80% of the job.”  The same rings true for beginning to identify these two elements in our lives.  Because once we simply begin to notice them, I believe we’ve come a long way.

So, where do we start?  How do we do this work?

A good place to start is by becoming mindful of obstacles we’ve put squarely in our paths of something we want to accomplish.  Ask yourself,  have I set a goal but find myself doing everything except those things that enable me to progress toward it?  Or, do you want to accomplish something, but find yourself running around doing everything but that one thing you want done?  If so, don’t judge it.  Just be mindful of it.  Realize that it is there.  Recognize any wounds that may or may not accompany that particular obstacle.  Ask yourself, do I have a wound associated with this obstacle that needs to be healed?  Give yourself a few quiet moments and see where your attention is directed in your body.  Just feel what comes up.

Here is an example from my life. I wanted to learn how to cook.  But, I didn’t want to go through the process of making it happen.  Why?  Because I had obstacles I didn’t want to deal with.  Exasperation and frustration were standing squarely in my way of achieving enjoyment being in the kitchen. They stood there appearing unmovable with their arms crossed.

I had an undercurrent of thoughts that started rolling as soon as I entered the kitchen.  Yet, the thoughts happened so quickly that 1) they were barely perceptible, and 2) the exasperation and frustration were almost instantaneous when I began to make a meal.  As Yongey Minygur Rinpoche, a renowned Tibetan Buddhist master, points out, it is very easy to not notice our thoughts. Early on in his undertaking of meditation practice, he describes his experience of noticing his thoughts as, “The chatter was going on alongside everything else I was thinking and feeling, though so faintly I hadn’t recognized it.”

We may feel the thoughts first because our central nervous system will react to them whether or not we realize what we’ve been thinking.  That can also be a clue to our undercurrent of thoughts.  We may feel something before we notice them.

Turns out, my frustration got its’ power from a bit of perfectionism I expected of myself, a perceived lack of time, and self-doubt at my skills in the kitchen.  The CEO of Lululemon Athletica says when we set goals, we should expect to fail 50% of the time.  Now, if a crisp or crumble I make has too much topping and not enough fruit as it did a few nights ago, I don’t blink an eye.  I just think to myself, “Ok, I’ll do it differently next time. ”

 

A recipe for healing seems to be in order … this is how I think of it:

Step 1:  Notice how you feel (recognition of wounds and obstacles.) Ask yourself if there may be one wound or obstacle you’d like healed or removed.  Give yourself a few quiet moments to listen for a response.

Another clue in identifying obstacles is looking for areas in our lives where we make continual excuses about not doing something.  Or, maybe we need to forgive ourselves for a past action to remove an obstacle.  Pay attention to areas of your life where you simply have a feeling needs work.

Step 2:  Be mindful of the response you receive in step#1, if there is one, and gentle with a feeling, if one comes up.

This exercise is not meant to be used to chastise ourselves.  It is meant to treat your feelings with gentleness and respect.  Accept and acknowledge the thought or feeling, if there is one.  Whether negative or positive, give that thought or feeling a place at the table.  It is a part of you.  Don’t push it away.  But, at some point, you may tell it it is no longer going to take a front seat anymore.  It is time for another, healthier emotion to take the front seat.

Step 3:  Excavate.  Look into that emotion or thought.  What is beneath it and in it?  Tell it you are sorry for what happened (healing wounds.)  But, things happen and you are ready to move on.

Step 4:  Rest. Repeat.

Being mindful and developing awareness can be done while driving to school to pick up your child, or while unloading the dishwasher.  They can be and are meant to be woven into our everyday lives.  Ohby the way, I don’t see any harm in squeezing our eyes shut and waving a magic wand when we feel like it.  I, for one, have tried it and I am pretty sure a little fairy dust came my way.

For another recipe, how about trying a Butternut Squash Lasagne?  The typical flavor profile of a lasagne is changed using the squash.  It is slightly sweeter with a different texture.  I added spinach because I love something green in almost any dish.  The result is a healthy, not too involved, lasagne.

Years ago while making a butternut squash casserole, I found squash pairs well with nutmeg, sauteéd onion, and bread crumbs.  Continuing that theme, I added those elements to this recipe.

Butternut Squash Lasagne

1/2 medium sweet onion, diced, sauteéd in olive oil, set aside

1 12 oz. frozen package of butternut squash package, thawed, set aside

1 12 oz. frozen package of chopped spinach, thawed, drained well of moisture, set aside

1 15 oz. whole milk or part-skim ricotta cheese

1 egg

1/4 t. nutmeg

1/4 c. (scant) panko bread crumbs

handful of basil leaves, rinsed, chopped (optional)

freshly ground black pepper

1 32 oz. jar marinara sauce

9 no-bake lasagne noodles

1 c. or so shredded mozzarella

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven according to the pasta instructions.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sauteéd onion through the basil.  Add black pepper to taste.
  3. In a 10″ x 8 ” baking dish( if you do not have a 10″x8″, try a 9″x9″ baking dish), evenly layer 1/3 of the sauce, 3 pasta sheets, 1/3 of the squash filling.  Repeat twice until the final dish has three layers of sauce, pasta and squash filling.
  4. Top the lasagne with cheese.
  5. Place baking dish on a baking sheet to avoid spillage in the oven.  Tent with foil.  Bake for 1 hour and ten minutes or until sauce is bubbling up around edges.  Remove foil for the last ten minutes of baking time.  Let lasagne rest for at least 15 minutes, preferably 30, before cutting. Serve warm.