daily management

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”  - Emerson.

On Monday of this week, my doctor told me I had abnormal test results. She also told me I need to come in for another procedure.  Not much other information was given.  Nor did I ask many questions.  She was in a hurry. We hung up the phone.  My emotions rally as if assembling in a mass meeting.

So, I am going for a second opinion and consultation with another doctor. We’ll see.

Again, “what lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”  - Emerson.

In a situation such as the medical one I found myself in this week, my mind comes up with all of the things that could be wrong with me quicker than greyhounds out of a starting gate.  Then, my emotions dovetail on my thoughts until soon enough they are leading me;  and, I have myself in a grave within six months.  No kidding.  The whole process doesn’t take long. I can pull it off within 1 – 2 minutes.  Why in the world don’t I think of everything that is right at that juncture in time?  I do not know.  I can, however, think of much that is right when I remind myself to and when I train myself to.  It takes management.

Daily Management of the Mind.  That is how I’ve come to think of it and what I call it.

Just as we might train our body to run a marathon, we can train our minds. We are able to learn how to calm the fluctuations of the mind.  Many of the same concepts apply in training the mind as training for a marathon.  It takes consistency and discipline.  It takes mindfulness and awareness.

How does one begin?  Spend time for a few moments daily being quiet in whatever form feels natural to you.  There is one caveat.  Tune out information and sound input to the extent that it is possible.  In other words, set the book down and turn off the laptop, TV, and radio.  In the long run this practice equips us to deal with everyday stresses.  It fine tunes the life skills we all need and put into practice everyday.  It leads us to contentment internally, rather than leading us away to find it externally.

Meditation, or sitting quietly, also aids us in recognizing that thoughts, feelings and emotions change with the moment.  If you’d like, you can watch your thoughts and emotions moving through your mind while sitting quietly, by observing them as if you were the witness.  In turn, detachment is created and learned giving you something else to put in your arsenal for managing your life.
 
 
 
 
 
Meanwhile, I’ve been playing around with various vegetarian dishes.  One of my favorites is a combination of beans and tomatoes with a poached egg on top.  The technique for poached egg dishes like this is to create a flavorful bed of ingredients that have already been cooked or sautéed on which the eggs rest.   In the same ovenproof skillet that the tomatoes and beans are cooked, the eggs are poached in the oven until the yolks are slightly set.

 

Poached Eggs with Tomatoes and Cannelini Beans                   Serves 2 -4 

loosely adapted from Bon Appétit

*Cook’s Notes:  If you do not have an ovenproof skillet, simply make the tomato and bean mixture in a skillet on the stove.  Transfer the ingredients to a lightly oiled baking dish and proceed adding cheese and eggs on top of the bean and tomato mixture.  I served the eggs with saltines and chopped tomatoes.

Ingredients 

1/2 medium yellow or sweet onion, diced

2 t. jarred, minced garlic or 1 clove fresh garlic, minced

2 t. paprika

1 t. cumin

1 15 oz can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained

1 15 oz can petite cut diced tomatoes or any stewed tomato of your choice

4 eggs

1/4  - 1/3 of a small log of goat cheese , a good 1″ thick slab, or more to taste

2 – 3 T. fresh parsley, roughly chopped, optional

salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425°.

  1. In a medium size *ovenproof skillet warm 2 – 3 T. of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté increasing the heat if necessary 10 minutes or until the veg begins to soften and turn a translucent color.
  2. Add garlic, lowering heat if necessary so as not to burn.  Stir 30 seconds or until garlic is fragrant.
  3. Add beans and diced tomatoes, paprika, cumin, black pepper, salt to taste, bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.
  4. Crumble goat cheese over cooked ingredients, add parsley if using, crack 4 eggs on top. Salt and pepper the eggs.  Bake at 425° for 7 – 9 minutes until eggs are set.  Serve hot.  Yield 2 – 4 servings.

the other side of the fence

The past few months, I’ve been battling life’s busyness.  It hasn’t been because the holiday season is in full swing with New Year’s right around the corner, although that is a contributor.  Rather, it has been the everyday things that come up.  Install new dishwasher. Check.  Wipe up the sticky stuff off the floor in front of the kitchen sink.  Check.  Plant 60 feet of new hedge in the backyard so Ollie, our labradoodle, is no longer able to escape under the fence.  Can’t put a checkmark on that one yet. I did put in the hedge.  He is still getting out.   Negotiate and purchase a new car.  Check.  Make Soup.  Check.

Our labradoodle’s latest adventure is escaping from the backyard by flattening himself like a pancake and squeezing out underneath the fence all of which he can do in under three seconds.  The fence being the new, taller fence that we installed so that he would not be able to jump over it.  Well, he is no longer jumping over it.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Ollie is not neutered.  I was in a free spirit state of mind when we got him and wanted Simon, our goldendoodle, and Ollie to be who they were born to be.  I still do.  But, that has consequences.  Non-neutered animals have greater ligament strength and, possibly, greater stamina than neutered animals.  The recent adventures of Ollie have led me to consider, once again, having him neutered.  I’ve fought with myself about this on and off for the past three years.  The end result of this internal struggle is that I feel I would be shortchanging Ollie by neutering him.  The Oxford Dictionary defines neutering as “to render ineffective, to deprive of vigor and force.”  
 

Similarly, don’t we neuter our lives when we engage in much of life’s busyness?  Don’t we hamper and shortchange ourselves directing our time, energy and attention to things that may very well be left undone?  Are we not depriving ourselves of our personal vigor and force when we engage in busyness?

When I ask myself questions such as those put forth above, my answer is “yes” to each.  There are many times in my life when I wish I could answer each of those questions with a resounding, “no.”  Why?  Because in many ways it is easier to keep busy.  We avoid things by keeping busy.  That is one reason I prefer to keep myself occupied.  I can avoid my fears.  If I am engaged in doing something, I don’t have to face my fears.  Does it help?  Does that deal with the issue or the fear?  No.  At least not for me anyway.

 

Avoidance aside, to my mind the real risk of constant busyness is that it pulls us away from being in the present moment.  It leads us into the future by way of achievement and accomplishment, but it isn’t centering and grounding.  We may cross off items 1 – 5 on our list … but where does that leave us?  Really.  It leaves us with items 1 – 5 crossed off the list.  Maybe we feel a bit relieved temporarily once those items are checked.  But, does it leave us better off?  Does it leave us centered and grounded as experiencing the present moment can?

 
 

Being in the present moment can come about by doing something that calms your mind and focuses attention.  One way in which to do this is to orient yourself to the space and time you currently occupy.  Become aware of the space on your left side, right side, in front and behind you, underneath you.  Become aware of the air around you.  By becoming oriented to the time and space which we currently occupy, time’s significance is modified.  Our experience of time and our relationship to it changes. The things we thought were so important to accomplish?  Maybe we’ll find they are no longer significant.  Maybe we’ll find ourselves being less busy.

Here is the final kicker.  If we are truly engaged in the present moment, we are not thinking about the past or the future.  Our mind becomes freer.  It becomes less encumbered with fear.
 
 

This New Year will find me becoming more aware of and developing a better understanding of my reasons for engaging in busyness.  Might I slip?  Might I need to remind myself of those things I want in my life and those things I really don’t need?  Absolutely.  I’ll slip and fall.  And, happily do it all over again.

What am I going to do with Ollie and the escaping issue?  I have a few other tricks up my sleeve.  After laying landscape timbers along the fence line that function as kind of an outdoor baseboard for the bottom of the fence, I bought a hybrid bike.  Once I buy a bike attachment for his harness that will keep both of us safe, I can ride with him while he runs.  That will accomplish fulfilling one of his needs (lots of exercise) in turn maybe lessening his desire to find adventure on the other side of the fence.

Maybe we too can find fulfillment in becoming a little more engaged in the present moment, thereby lessening our need to be busy.

Cranberry Spice Cake was on board to be the recipe du jour, adapted from Bon Appétit.  It is a pretty, festive cake.

But on the same day I made the cake, I also made Split Pea Soup.  The nutritional qualities of dried legumes combined with the relative ease of making soup with split peas because they do not need to be soaked, equals a need for me to share this.

I am bowled over by split pea’s nutritional content.  A one cup serving of split peas provide 14 grams each of fiber and protein along with many trace minerals.   That is tough to beat.

When I want to bake something sweet, I look for what I think of as the everydayness in a recipe.  When I want to make soup, I think of what I have in the refrigerator.  I already had on hand, as I typically do, onions and carrots.  Parsnips I had purchased to roast.  A bag of split peas was in the pantry.

Split Pea Soup with Parsnips                             Serves 4 – 6 

Cooks Notes:  The split peas will have a bite to them after cooking.  The consistency is not similar to canned split pea soups.  By blending or mashing the contents of the soup, the end result is a thicker, creamier soup.  The parsnips add a hint of sweetness.  I had less than 1/2 of a ham steak on hand.  I added it, diced, at the end.

Ingredients

1 lb. dried green split peas

1 large yellow or sweet onion, diced

2 – 3 carrots, rinsed, diced

2 parsnips, rinsed, diced

1 t. jarred minced garlic or 1 clove fresh garlic, minced

6 – 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 T. (heaping) oregano

1/2 or 1 thick cut ham steak, chopped (optional)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. In a mesh colander, rinse split peas removing any debris, set aside.
  2. In a dutch oven or large saucepan, warm over medium heat 3 T. extra virgin olive oil.  Saute onion, carrot and parsnips over medium, medium high heat with a generous pinch of salt and black pepper until the vegetables have softened, approximately 10 – 15 minutes taking care to reduce heat if vegetables are browning too much.
  3. Add garlic.  Stir 30 – 60 seconds until garlic is fragrant.  Add the peas and 6 c. of broth.  Bring to a gentle boil.  Reduce heat and simmer about 45 minutes skimming off foam.
  4. Add remainder of broth to desired consistency.   Simmer another 45 minutes until peas are al dente.  With either a hand held masher or an immersion blender, mash or blend peas and vegetables until roughly 1/2 of peas and veg are blended.  Add ham if desired.  Stir and warm through.  Adjust seasonings.  Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.

 

uncover your winningest self

Most of you have probably already figured this out, I am slower than most.  It has taken me 41 years and a couple months to comprehend the magnitude of accumulated effect.  In other words, it has taken me 41 years and a couple months to do something other than stand at the starting line, flail, jump up and down, and wonder how am I going to get to the finish line?  Baby steps.  Start small.  Set achievable goals.  Yes?  Yes;  but, I think it goes deeper than that.

We drag ourselves down daily in a myriad of ways.  We sabotage ourselves, usually subconsciously.  But, there are steps we can take to unwind some of those thoughts that we no longer need.  That no longer support us, if they ever did.  The first step to make is recognizing and understanding that we are doing it.  For this first step, it doesn’t matter why we are doing it.  Simply a recognition of it makes a difference.
 
 
 
 
 
 
How do we recognize it?  For example, let’s say I have a goal of writing a novel.  And, I can’t figure out why I don’t just start writing one. I have kept many journals about various subject matters I may someday like to write about.   But, I’ve not put the blood, sweat and tears into forming and shaping the material into a story.  Well, I took some time to listen to myself when I sat down at the keyboard.  I began to realize I had a small voice telling me I couldn’t do it.  (That small voice can get really loud.)  It asks me how could I accomplish such a thing?
 

What am I doing in this scenario?  I am standing at the starting line, flailing, jumping up and down while wondering how am I ever going to get to the finish line.   If I listen more closely to that small voice,  it asks me why start on something I may never accomplish?  Why waste my time when so many other things can be done?  So, in other words, I am sabotaging myself with these thoughts, and by not putting in the effort to make my goal happen.

 
 

 
 
 
Two other common ways of undermining ourselves are dilution of personal power and attachments.  Years ago, when I first heard of the concept of personal power, my immediate reaction (emotional reaction) was a negative one.  To my mind, at the time, the word “power” carried with it a negative connotation.  Something that is not necessarily used for the common good.  However, as I began to understand the concept, I developed a much greater appreciation for personal power.
 

As it turns out, personal power is a good thing.  It  serves the individual well, and equally so, those around him or her.   As Dr. Robert Stephenson describes in The Ethics of Interpersonal Relationships (2009),  there “is a clear distinction between positive power and negative power.  Personal power is based on strength, confidence, and competence.”   He further goes on to explain that when it is “externalized it manifests in things such as generosity, creativity, and good will.  Its primary aim is mastery of self, not others.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
How else do we dilute our personal power?   A few more examples are expectations we have of others, blaming others and attachments.  Recently my husband and I were leaving to return home after a vacation.  I didn’t want to leave.  He had vacationed, it was time to go, time to move on.  I, on the other hand, had an attachment to place.  That didn’t necessarily surprise me.  I know that about myself.  But, you see, I don’t want attachments like that.  Why?  Attachments cause pain and suffering.  The desire to hold onto something causes pain and suffering.  (It is not the enjoyment of the vacation that causes the pain and suffering.  It is the attachment to the enjoyment.  Big distinction.)  Attachments weigh us down.  It causes us to get stuck.  In many ways, it chains us to the past making it difficult to move into the future.  It dilutes our personal power.  Just because I don’t want attachments doesn’t mean I’ll snap my fingers and I’ll no longer have those feelings.  I am sure I’ll have attachment related feelings the rest of my life.  But, I’ve made a small step forward by recognizing it.

Dilution of personal power and attachments remind me of aparigraha.  It is a Sanskrit word meaning non-attachment, non-possessiveness.  It calls for a letting go of whatever the individual is holding onto.  It is a favorite of mine.  I first learned of aparigraha about six years ago.  A yoga instructor mentioned it in a class I was attending.  I don’t recall the context;  but, I’ve heard alot of Sanskrit words and that one stuck with me.  A letting go, a non-clinging, non-possesive call to action.  I believe the reason it stuck with me is because although I’ve made progress in this area,  I still have a lifetime more to do.  And, that is ok.

It was a toss-up today between banana bread and roasted apples.  I am a big fan of both.  But, if I had to pick one, it would be banana bread.  You can’t beat it in the morning with a mug of coffee.  I’ve made banana bread lots of different ways.  I’ve made it with all flour, no oatmeal.  I’ve tried fewer bananas, no nuts.  Below is one of my favorite ways to make it.  It ends up being quite dense with loads of flavor.  This is not a sweet bread.  Serve with honey if desired.

Banana Bread with Oats and Wheat Bran 

1 1/3 c. whole wheat flour

1 1/ 3 c. old fashioned oats

1/4 c. wheat bran

1 t. baking powder (preferably aluminum free)

1 t. baking soda

1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. nutmeg

1/4 t. allspice (optional)

pinch of salt

3 ripe bananas, peeled, mashed, set aside

1/3 c. brown sugar

1/3 c. sugar

2 eggs

1/4 c. (scant) vegetable oil

1/4 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a loaf pan.  Set aside.  In a medium size mixing bowl, peel and mash bananas, set aside.
  2. In another medium size mixing bowl, combine the flour through the salt.  With either a hand held mixer, or a whisk, combine sugars and banana mash.  Mix until well combined.  Add eggs and oil.  Mix until well combined.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry flour mixture.  Mix until combined.  Fold in walnuts.
  4. Pour the batter into the buttered loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 55 – 60 minutes until a toothpick or knife inserted comes out clean and the top of the loaf is golden brown.  Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.  Turn out loaf to cool further.

are you itchy?

Do you feel content? Most likely, each of us would answer that question differently given our present life circumstances and our state of mind at the time.  

If Ollie, our 3 year old labradoodle, were asked, I am pretty certain he would give a rapid-fire bark response.  ”Yes, (bark, bark, bark! as he announces his answer to the world, head held high ) there is contentment in this world.  If I’ve had enough activity, contentment is resting after running and playing!”   

For Ollie, contentment doesn’t come easily.  He is an intense pup. A good hour’s run will take the edge off, as it did the day I took the picture posted above.  After a satisfactory run,  he’ll rest comfortably during the day, albeit mostly awake and alert, always at the ready for his next adventure.  God bless him.  A good 2 1/2 hour romp including lots of running and play is really more his style.

For most of us, much like Ollie, contentment does not come easily.  I think each of us knows, subconsciously or consciously, contentment does not come from external sources.  Our actions, however, indicate otherwise.  How many of us when feeling bored, irritable, or disconcerted reach for a bag of chips or head to the mall for so-called retail therapy?  As a society, we welcome distractions.

There are times in my life when I think distractions, if used well, are healthy.  If distractions are used as purely escapist behaviors, then a problem is simply being avoided.  And, most likely, nothing is being solved or addressed.  

Let me give you an example.  There is an obsessive side to me.  I know it.  It is there.  It will most likely always be there.  If I am obsessing about something, I can do one of three things.  1)  I can continue to obsess about it.  2)  I can sit with it in meditation and try to look beyond the obsession and dissect the emotional layers underneath.  3)  Or, I can set it aside, choose a healthy outlet for my energy, and move on.  

This is where contentment and distraction intersect.  In the example above, the problem arises if I choose to continually avoid the feeling or thought that is bothering me by using an escapist behavior.  If I continue to avoid the feeling or thought by distracting myself, the problem will not be addressed; and, in all likelihood, it will get worse until it manifests itself in some way that demands attention.  In this scenario, I have not moved toward well-being and contentment.  I am seeking contentment externally, outside of myself.  

Whereas, if I take the time to simply acknowledge the feeling or thought, and accept it, if that is comfortable, and then remain with that thought or feeling by sitting quietly, I begin to address the issue.  I have addressed the issue by not running from it, by acknowledging it, and maybe accepting it.  I have taken a step toward well-being and contentment.    If I choose to not acknowledge this part of me, distract myself, and run from the problem continually,  I’ve then used distractions as escapist behavior. And, I have not moved toward well-being and contentment.  

There are a myriad of distractions in this world leading to momentary hits of pleasure, (plug your favorite in here… from retail therapy to gambling.)  Daily distractions can and do continually rub up against our ability to be content like a persistently itchy mosquito bite demanding attention.  So, what is the big deal? Why not scratch that darn bite?  Seeking pleasure and happiness from external sources may bring us to a brief state of contentment, but it is not long-lasting.    

So, what is one to do to combat everyday life?  Try resting in your own space without needing to do anything, just being.  If you are game, try it for a few minutes each day.  Sit comfortably in a quiet space. Listen to yourself breathe.  See if it changes your perspective, or slightly, subtly, buoys your sense of well-being and contentment.  

Is it a cure-all? Will you stop wanting to scratch that mosquito bite?  I don’t know.  But, you may find you are a little less itchy, and more content.    



I really enjoy simple, vegetarian meals.  But, to my mind, they’ve got to be substantial and full of flavor. Thanks to Molly at Remedial Eating, I now have another good, simple vegetarian meal to tuck into the back of my mind.  No recipe required.  

I have long been a fan of roasted vegetables.  A few of my favorites I put in the oven are parsnips, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.  But, I tend to roast my favorites again and again.  Another good thing about Molly’s idea for a meal?  This vegetarian dish incorporates eggplant, zucchini or summer squash, and green beans. Vegetables I don’t reach for often enough.  I am glad to have an excuse to roast something different.

The basic components are roasted vegetables served over brown rice, a fried egg on top, and feta crumbled over the whole.  More specifically, I put on each plate a bed of brown rice, added a bit of soy sauce, placed the roasted vegetables on top of the rice,  crumbled feta over the vegetables and topped it with one or two fried eggs. Cannelini or garbanzo beans could be incorporated for a bigger dose of protein and fiber.  

For those of you who prefer a recipe, below are loose guidelines to create this meal.  Cheers.  

Roasted Vegetables and Eggs                                Serves 3   

Ingredients

1 c. brown rice, make according to package directions, set aside

1 medium eggplant, rinsed, cut into 1 inch cubes

2- 3 summer squash or zucchini, rinsed, cut into 1 inch cubes

3 large handfuls fresh green beans, rinsed, cut off ends, cut in half

1 – 2 eggs per person

feta cheese 

soy sauce to drizzle over rice  

Instructions

  1. Begin by preheating oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare the brown rice and let cook while the vegetables roast.  
  2. On a large cookie sheet or jelly roll pan, place prepared vegetables.  Salt and pepper the vegetables.  Drizzle olive oil, two to three T., over the entire batch.  Toss to coat. Spread evenly on cookie sheet.  Roast 35 – 45 minutes until vegetables are fork tender and begin to carmelize.  Check after 35 minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, heat a medium size frying pan.  As soon as veg is done, fry the eggs in a little butter and olive oil, season with salt and pepper.  
  4. While the eggs are frying, place rice on each plate, drizzle with soy sauce, add veg., grate cheese over veg and rice, top with fried egg.   Serve immediately.   

 

lemons of the mind

Let’s just get this on the table – someone should put a sticker on my forehead labeled, “imposter.”  A sticker would be preferable to permanent marker because it would take quite awhile for the marker to wear off, and I am not above only labeling myself for as long as I can take it.

I startled myself recently.  I was in the kitchen washing dishes when the thought came to me that I have not been honest with myself.  And, I didn’t realize it.

At that moment in the kitchen, I understood that driving my desire to find distractions when it is time for me to sit down and write was because I did not want to deal with the task of meeting my mind.  It is much easier to keep busy.

(The phrase “meeting my mind,” one of my favorite phrases, is an idiom from Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, an international teacher of Buddhist philosophy.)

I’ve found in the past several months when it is time for me to write,  I’ll actively look for something else to do.  I go in search of a distraction.   Then, I become frustrated with myself for not having written that day.

The light bulb should have come on for me many months ago.  I meditate regularly. (I believe it is one of the best things we can do for ourselves, our families and our neighbors.)  The reason the lightbulb should have come on for me sooner, is that I’ve experienced this feeling before.  When I began my meditation practice about eight years ago, it was very difficult for me to sit down to practice.  I would argue internally with myself, make excuses, probably complain;  but,  I knew it is what I had to do.  I knew if I wanted to begin purging myself of irrational fears and begin to know myself, as unpleasant as that process could be, I needed to sit for meditation.  So, I did.  I fought myself and I sat.  Fought myself and sat.

As a newbie writer, writing for me entails quite a bit of thinking, editing, revisions and the like.  All of which lend themselves to the opposite of being busy.  During that time my mind has the opportunity to tell me all of those things I do not want to hear.  Or, at least, I don’t want to hear them repeatedly.

So, when you are fortunate enough to notice a subtlety in yourself, slightly different perspective or understanding, however small it may be, rejoice.  Rejoice silently.  Be grateful.   I believe tiny shifts hold big promise.

Nothing new here.  But, to my mind, a crisp or a crumble is hard to beat for a late summer dessert.  Cooks Illustrated has a good recipe for apple crisp.  I’ve tweaked it a bit, adding lots of oats and almonds, less sugar, more fruit, and some spices, to incorporate what I like into a dessert.   I’ve tried many other recipes.  Time and time again I go back to this method.

Peach Blueberry Crisp

adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Filling

8 small peaches, rinsed and cut into bite size pieces, skins on, set aside

1 pint blueberries, rinsed and set aside

zest of 1 lemon (optional)

juice of 1/2 lemon (bottled lemon juice can be substituted)

1 T. fresh ginger, peeled and minced (optional)

1/4 c. (scant) sugar

Topping

1 1/4 c. old fashioned oats

1/4 c. sliced or slivered almonds (optional)

1/4 c. sugar

1/4 c. brown sugar

3 T. flour

1/4 t. each cinnamon and nutmeg

pinch salt

5 T. cold butter, diced

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  In an 8 x 8 baking dish, combine the filling ingredients.  Toss to coat and spread evenly in baking dish.

2.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine topping ingredients from oats to pinch of salt.  Mix until well incorporated.  Cut in the diced, cold butter with pastry cutter or hands.  Combine until butter is incorporated throughout the topping mixture. ( I find that my hands to the best job here.)

3.  Spread topping evenly over fruit mixture.  Place baking dish on a baking sheet to avoid spillage in the oven.  Bake for 40 – 50 minutes until topping begins to turn golden brown and fruit juices are bubbling.  Check oven after 40 minutes to ensure topping does not brown too much.  Serve warm.

you are on the right path, baby

The past few months I’ve been thinking, it is just me or are the mosquitoes as bad as they seem to be?  As it turns out, it is the worst mosquito season in history, or so I am told.

To be outside means you have to either keep moving or don long sleeves and long pants because within less than a minute, five to six mosquitoes will be on one limb of your body.   Well, ok.  I can handle that.  But, I want my two pups to be able to play outside without seeing them covered in mosquitoes.   Solution?  Bat house!

Then, my thoughts immediately trip to…quick, Kelly, run to the house!  Order online two bat houses!  (Why two, I have no idea, when one would be plenty.)  Request that your husband go to the hardware store and immediately buy two posts to put the bat houses on!  (Never mind the bat houses will probably take at least 3 – 5 days for delivery.)

Problem solved or an example of impulsivity?  Maybe both.  But, I’ve found there are very few moments in life that demand an immediate reaction.  Mosquitoes and bat houses should not be one of them.

More typically than not, forethought and a period of time stands a person in better stead than reacting.  I’ve learned how to keep my impulsivity in check.  Now, that desire to react immediately rarely comes up.  (However, when I am in a certain frame of mind, I am much more vulnerable to it.)

In learning to keep impulsivity in check, did I develop a different neural pathway?  I think so.

Each person’s neural pathways are created over time.  Our cells talk to each other. They send electrochemical messages to each other endlessly.  Over time, we tend to develop well worn neural pathways. The more the same cells talk to each other, the more the others do not experience as much activity or no activity, the inactive cells essentially become useless and eventually die off.  The active cells keep sending the same messages between them, traveling the same path.

Dr. Gene Van Tassell describes the pathways as, “the more often a pathway is used, the more sensitive the pathway becomes and the more developed that pathway becomes in the individual brain.”

Ok, so we’ve developed many well worn pathways in our brain.  Big deal?  Maybe yes, maybe no.   It is a big deal if those pathways lead us away from healthy behavior.  If those pathways find us repeating behaviors that are destructive or counterproductive. It is then that someone should call a time-out on the playing field.

Time-out’s are good.  They can help keep things in check.  If life is far off base, sure it can be tough to get things headed in the right direction.  But, you’ll get there.  Take the steady approach, thumb your nose at impulsivity, and while you are at it, bake a quiche. Why?  Why not.

For dinner, I pair it with a simple green salad and bread with olive oil.

I’ve played around with a number of different types of quiches and different crusts.  A quiche that I want to eat does not have a crust and relies on something other than cheese for the big flavor component.  So, I stir in 2  1/2 cups of roasted vegetables.  The flavor of the vegetables marries well with the eggs and cheese.  If the roasted vegetables are prepared in advance, this can be a quick weeknight meal.  Leftovers are good for breakfast as well, cold or hot.

Farmhouse Crustless Quiche

4  eggs

1/2 c. milk

1/2 c. ricotta or mascarpone cheese, room temperature

1 c. mixture of shredded cheeses, pecorino, cheddar, asiago, mozzarella, your choice

2 1/2 c. roasted vegetables, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, onions (recipe below)

1 T. oregano

salt and freshly ground black pepper

optional condiments:  sour cream and salsa

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Butter a deep dish 9″ pie plate.  Place pie plate on a baking sheet to avoid spillage in the oven.  Set aside.

2.  In a medium mixing bowl whisk eggs and milk together.  Whisk in cheeses, both shredded and ricotta or mascarpone.  Whisk until yolks are broken and mixture is incorporated.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add oregano.  Whisk to combine.

3.  Fold the vegetable mixture into the cheese mixture.  Stir to combine.

4.  Pour the mixture into the pie plate.  Bake for 30 – 40 minutes until a golden brown crust forms on the top and the middle of the quiche barely moves when jiggled a bit.

Let the quiche rest for 15 minutes before serving.  Serve topped with sour cream or salsa, if desired.

Roasted Vegetables

Yield 3 cups +
Cooks Note:  The mixture of the vegetables is up to you.  Use what you have on hand.  I’ve found carrots, parsnips and onions add great flavor.   Add  a green vegetable such as broccoli or asparagus for color and additional nutrients.  Bell peppers would work well, any color.  The trick is to cut the vegetables into similar sizes so they roast evenly.

1 large yellow onion, chopped

5 carrots, rinsed and chopped

3 – 4 parsnips, rinsed and chopped

2 c.  broccoli florets, rinsed

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Pile your vegetables on two large rimmed baking sheets, evenly divided.  Drizzle olive oil over the top, maybe 2 – 3 T. over each pile of vegetables.  Salt and pepper to taste. Using your hands, toss the vegetables to incorporate the oil, salt and pepper.

2.  Spread the vegetables in a single layer on each sheet.  Check for doneness after 30 minutes of baking.  Roast 30 – 45 minutes until they begin to turn golden brown and are fork tender.

soup, summer, and craziness

I can become emotional and disorganized in the face of making big decisions.  Along with these attractive traits, once in awhile I’ll thrown in being ornery, more easily frustrated and irritable.  If there is a full moon, watch out.  I probably don’t have to tell you it is all on the north side of slightly unbecoming.  Not pretty, I know.

I have been kicking around the idea of returning to graduate school;  hence, the conflicting thoughts in my mind.

Two or more opposing thoughts in the mind create conflict.  I find it best to have at least four to six.  Cognitive dissonance and I are old friends.  We are on a first name basis.

I do suppose that I could approach the process in a more logical manner. Step 1.  Sit for GREs.  Step 2. Wait for score.  Step 3. Determine if score will get me into a graduate school.  Step 4.  I won’t bore you anymore.  You get the picture.  But, oh no, I don’t handle it the logical way.  At least not at first.  I have to begin the process by imagining things like leaving my family to attend school; or, once again, paying back a mountain of debt acquired during one’s education.  I handle it the emotional way.

To me, summer soup (my take on minestrone soup) is a far cry from the messiness of opposing thoughts and decisions.  It is a no muss, no fuss, straightforward dish.  I enjoy making this soup in the summer months because it is good served at room temperature.  The flavors seem to meld and heighten a bit more when the soup is allowed to rest after cooking.

Full of vegetables and beans, a healthier dish is hard to find.   It is also a forgiving soup. Use what you have in your vegetable drawer.  Zucchini instead of carrots ?  Great. Cabbage instead of spinach ?  All the better. Leftover rice in the frig?  Put it in your soup and leave out the ditalini.

 

Summer Soup

1/2   large sweet onion, diced

2   stalks celery, rinsed and diced

4   carrots, rinsed and diced

8 oz.  button mushrooms, rinsed or wiped, thinly sliced

1  T.  oregano

1/2 T. basil

15 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed, set aside

15 oz can corn, drained and rinsed, set aside

4 c. (more, if needed, for desired consistency) low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

1/2 c. (scant) ditalini pasta, uncooked

6 – 9 oz. bag fresh spinach, rinsed, set aside

extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper and salt

1.  In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat 2 T. or so of olive oil over medium heat.

2.  Once the oil is fragrant, add the diced onion, carrot and celery.  Add a pinch of salt.  Sweat vegetables until they have softened and begin to turn slightly translucent.  About 10 minutes.

3.  Add mushrooms and pinch of salt.  Sweat mushrooms until they begin to give up their moisture and develop a slight golden brown color.  About 5 minutes.

4.  Add seasonings including freshly ground black pepper to taste.   Stir to incorporate.

5.  Add kidney beans, corn, 3 c. of the broth and ditalini.  Simmer 10 minutes until pasta is al dente.  Do not overcook.

6.  Add remaining stock and spinach.  Stir to incorporate.  Put lid on pot and remove from heat allowing the heat from the dish to cook and wilt the spinach.  Check after 5 – 10 minutes.  Once spinach is wilted, remove lid, serve immediately or at room temperature with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil dressing each bowl.

what is truth?

As much as baked oatmeal and spiced molasses cookies have been on my mind lately, truth has as well.  What is truth?  Do each of us have our own personal truths?  How can individuals view reality differently, if we do?  I have a need to come to an acceptance about this.  Or, at least, an acceptance of it as it relates to who I am now.

Certainly, there are universal truths that can be and have been scientifically quantified. But, personal truths seem to be a different matter.  It is all relative.

The exploration of truth led me to the theory of relativism.  (Stick with me here, I won’t stray too far from baked oatmeal.) In my limited understanding, relativism is a concept that explains there are varying points of view and frames of reference from which each of us view situations, there are no absolute personal truths.

Wikipedia defines truth, in part,  as a “state of being in accord with a particular fact or reality.”  In other words, an individual’s frame of reference and viewpoint will directly impact their perception of reality.  In following, it seems, one’s perception of reality will impact their truth.  Invariably, I come back to personal truth is always relative to a particular point of view, set of beliefs, or frame of reference.

Thank goodness oatmeal is easier to struggle with than truth.

I tried different variations of baked oatmeal only to be disappointed.   While the ingredients were appealing, oatmeal, milk, eggs, butter, raisins, the result wasn’t what I anticipated.  The final product didn’t have enough flavor.  The texture was too dry.  I was after a creamier consistency.

So, I started thinking about the dish from the bottom up.  For some reason a pineapple upside down cake sprang to mind – wouldn’t it be nice to have a sweet surprise at the bottom of the dish?  A sweet surprise that also lends a great deal of moisture….

such as mashed bananas…

 

layered with apples…

and sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Baked Oatmeal with Bananas and Apples

Cooks Note:  Not included in this recipe, but I think would make a good addition, are sliced almonds.  Next time I make this dish, I’ll add 1/2 c. sliced almonds to the dry mixture.  

This dish is best eaten warm out of the oven. However, leftovers heated up, topped with a little milk, honey, or applesauce is good also.

The brandy is optional.  I often use a little bit with baked apple dishes.   

Serves 6

4 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed

2 apples, sliced thinly

1 1/2 t. each cinnamon, nutmeg

2 c. old-fashioned oats

1/2 c. brown sugar

2 t. baking powder

pinch salt

1 c. milk

1 c. (scant) applesauce (I used natural applesauce)

1 egg

1/4 c. molasses

1/4 c. butter (melted and cooled)

2 t. brandy, optional

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 2 quart baking dish.  Set aside.  

2.  In a medium size mixing bowl, mash the bananas with a fork or potato masher.  Spread evenly in baking dish.  

3.  Thinly slice the apples.  Layer them evenly over bananas.  Sprinkle banana apple mixture with 1/2 t. each, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Set aside.  

4.   In same medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients, oatmeal, brown sugar,  baking powder, salt and remaining 1 t. each, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Stir to combine.  

5.  In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients until combined.  (The milk, egg, applesauce, molasses, melted butter, and brandy, if using.)   Pour the wet ingredient mixture into the dry ingredient mixture.  Stir to combine.  Pour evenly over the banana apple mixture.  

6.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Increase heat to 400 degrees.  Bake for another 10 – 15 minutes until top begins to brown slightly.  Serve warm and ponder truth.  

perspective

Perspectives can be skewed in life. They can be skewed by what another person has told us.  They can be skewed by our own frame of reference, worldview, and sets of beliefs with which we were raised.

One’s perspective and mental constructs seem to go hand in hand.  As humans, we form associations in memory and develop mental constructs around those associations. For example, many of us have probably developed over the years a mental construct of happiness. We believe, whether consciously or subconsciously,  we will only be happy in life if certain things happen. Therefore, we will most likely conduct our life accordingly to fit within those parameters, to the extent we can control it.  In other words, those mental constructs can control our actions and reactions.

What would it be like to live outside of those parameters we’ve set for ourselves?  Or, at least get a glimpse of what it could be like to live outside of one of the constructs each of us has created for ourselves.  Freeing?  Liberating?  I think so.

Most of us may also have some type of mental construct that defines for us what makes a good meal.  The meal below may seem a bit simple and peasant-ish or it could be viewed as a satisfying, hearty meal.

imgp3033

Inspired by Sarah at In Praise of Leftovers, I put together this meal, tweaked things with what I happened to have on hand.  I thought the outcome was worthy of a spot on the dinner table.

The mashing of the beans combined with broth creates a sauce.  The spiced up sour cream provides a nice, cool counterpoint to the texture of the meal.  A squeeze of fresh lime juice adds a good dose of tart.

Below is a loose recipe.  Adjust the ingredients to your taste.  If you like more bean sauce and less rice, mash another can of beans.  Sounds very un -glamorous, I know.

imgp3051

Sweet Potatoes, Black Beans and Rice

Serves 3 – 4

4 sweet potatoes, rinsed and sliced
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 c. (uncooked) brown rice, prepare according to package directions, set aside
1/2 c. plus more to taste, chicken or vegetable broth
1 T. + a pinch, chili powder
1 T. + a pinch, paprika
1/4 c. sour cream 
salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil 
lime, sliced, optional 

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Prepare the brown rice according to the package directions.  Set aside.

2.  While the brown rice is cooking, rinse and scrub the sweet potatoes.  Slice them into half – moons.  Pile them onto a cookie sheet.  Drizzle extra virgin olive oil, about 2 – 3 T., over the potatoes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Toss the mixture until potatoes are evenly coated.  Spread out on cookie sheet until evenly distributed.  Roast in oven 30 minutes or until fork tender.

3,  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat add the rinsed and drained black beans, 1/2 c. broth, 1 T. each chili powder and paprika.  Fresh ground black pepper to taste.  Stir to combine.  Crush the beans into a soft pulp with a fork or a potato masher.  Once heated through, turn bean mixture to low.  Add additional broth if desired.

4.  Combine the sour cream with a pinch of chili powder and paprika.

5.  Serve the bean mixture ladled over the rice.  Top with sweet potatoes and a dollop of the sour cream mixture.  Add a good squeeze of lime, if desired.

onions and life

Shades of gray punctuated with bursts of color.  Onions and life.  Onions have a bite when eaten raw.   But, they can be transformed into a sweet pile of beautiful color, as can life.

I was in the kitchen hoping to be inspired for the evening’s dinner while unloading the dishwasher.  The unloading of the dishwasher was not inspiring me.  So, I tried Food Network.

Having read about relishes the prior evening, I wanted to do something different with vegetables.  On TV, Alex Guarnaschelli was making onion jam.  I love onions. I usually have a big pile of onions in our kitchen.  I’ve never made onion jam.  She piled the jam on cornbread after it was done.  I’ve eaten my fair share of cornbread lately and can’t seem to get enough.  I was sold.  I had an idea.

But, let me first get back to life.

Life can also be raw.  It can be shades of gray.  Lest the one reader (me) who reads this blog is scared off…I don’t mean to be a downer.  I think it is a good thing to steep oneself in the realities of life.  It is grounding.  If we run away from the reality of life, our problems or issues will either be ignored or pushed into our subconscious.  If pushed into our subconscious, they will manifest at some point, possibly in other ways.  If the issue is ignored, it will most likely arise with more teeth than it originally had.

An onion, when cooked slowly over low heat,  seems to be almost coaxed into another form.  We can do the same with ourselves.  Gently coax yourself into noticing your feelings.  Feel them.  Acknowledge them.  Move on.  If you believe something just isn’t “right ” about those feelings, examine them.  Ask yourself why you feel a certain way.  Bump it off a spouse or a trusted friend.

Sliced Onions

This pile of onions becomes…

Onion Jam

Let me give you an example of something that does not seem quite “right” in my life.  I am struggling under the weight of my parents divorce. Why, one might ask, are you, Kelly, struggling under the weight of it?  It is not your divorce.  And, you’d have every right to ask me why.  Do I detect a whiff of codependence in the otherwise onion and vinegar smelling air?  Maybe. But, I wasn’t sure.

While I was pondering how it was I could be so affected by my parents divorce, I was reading a psychology related book.  The bibliography listed a book titled, Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie.  My interest was piqued.  I bought it.  I read it.  I am working through some of the exercises given in the book that I feel are relevant to me.

Dealing with a personal issue does not mean we will not see the bursts of color in life.  If fact, I believe, if we deal with the uglier issues in life, each of us will be better suited, better equipped, to experience the moments of real joy, those bursts of color. Why?  Our mind becomes less clouded and cluttered when we step up to the plate and meet something head on.  Our subsconscious begins to clear out…if only just a bit. It loosens its stronghold on us.  We grow stronger.  We may become less likely to react and more likely to act in healthier ways.  We peel back some of the proverbial onion layers.

Enough about life, back to the jam.  Alex used large red onions, red wine, honey and red wine vinegar.  I had sweet yellow onions in the cupboard.  I decided to use those in place of red onions.  I was not in the mood to write down or look up the recipe.   So, I remembered the basic components and went from there.

The onions are sliced thinly.  Piled into a skillet with a little canola oil and cooked with a big pinch of salt until they become translucent.  Later red wine is added, and then a mixture of honey and red wine vinegar is incorporated.  Sound good?  It is. The end result is a gorgeous mash of sweet, flavored onions.  Onion jam.

Onion Jam 

adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli 

Cook’s Note:  Use the recipe below as a general guideline.  Cook to your taste. I changed the ratio of vinegar to honey.  As shown below, I decreased the amount of red wine vinegar.  Alex used 1/2 c. each of honey and vinegar.  This makes quite a bit of jam.  The recipe is easily halved.    

1/4 c. canola oil

4 large red or sweet yellow onions, thinly sliced

2 c. red wine

1/2 c. honey

1/4 c. red wine vinegar

1.  In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until the onions give up their liquid, about 7 – 10 minutes.  Reduce the heat to medium low and continue to slowly cook the onions another 10 minutes or so.

2.  Once they begin to look translucent, add the red wine. Cook until the wine reduces almost completely.  Leave on low heat.  Prepare the vinegar and honey.

3.  In a separate small pan, heat the honey until it begins to bubble.  Add the red wine vinegar.  Simmer on low heat for 2 – 3 minutes.

4.  Pour the honey mixture over the onions.  Stir to incorporate.  Adjust seasonings. Continue to cook over low heat until the liquid is absorbed and the consistency of the mixture becomes jam-like, about 5 minutes.