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Category: Food

Nourishing the soul

Lavender fields

This coming week, I’ll have the luxury of time. Following plenty of grueling work, I’m taking a little vacation time, and I’ve also been given some comp time. With the weekend, I’ll have nearly a week off. I thought about taking an impromptu road trip, but ultimately decided to stay home.

So I’ve been giving thought to this question–how best to use this time to enjoy myself, to relax, to experience what brings me joy and pleasure–how best to nourish my soul?

I believe that the soul and body are differentiated, that the soul has its own trajectory before the body is born, which continues after the body dies. But for now, during this life, they are one–so what truly nourishes the soul also nourishes the body, and what truly nourishes the body also nourishes the soul. Meditation nourishes the soul, but it’s also been proven to change the mind for the better, as well as improve health outcomes for the body.

So here’s what I’d like to do next week … I may not get to all of it, but I’m going to have a good time trying!

  • As I do every week, I’ll take time to write. I hope I’ll feel inspired to write a bit more than usual.
  • I meditate twice a day, nearly every day without fail, but I often struggle to carve out the necessary time. Some months ago I accepted a challenge to meditate 40 minutes at a stretch for 40 days. It was a true challenge to find the time to do that, but often it felt like a true luxury rather than an obligation. I plan on some luxuriously long meditation time.
  • I’ve been thinking about a bath each and every day. That sounds like a little bit of heaven. (I take a shower every day, in case you’re picturing Pig-Pen! But I usually only have time to take a bath once a week or so.)
  • As a child, I read all the time, escaping into the world of books. I usually finished a book or two every day. These days, I read a lot of short-form writing, but books? Not so much anymore. I want to find a lovely new book and read it cover to cover.
  • While I’m at the bookstore, I’ll probably indulge in one of my favorite I-have-a-few-hours-all-to-myself activities. I like to select a large pile of magazines from an extensive newsstand, look through them, and choose two or three with the most beautiful images (useful for SoulCollage) to take home.
  • Perhaps I’ll feel inspired to make some collage art.
  • Have I mentioned sleep? Lots and lots of sleep-debt-erasing sleep.
  • Cooking is a beautiful way to be creative, and with immediate, tangible results too! I plan to cook something delicious and a bit decadent–probably my meatloaf, which I shape on a jellyroll pan, and cover entirely in bacon + glaze. Perhaps that’s more than a bit decadent?
  • I’ll definitely take some time to work in my garden. Gardening is a guaranteed way for me to quickly drop out of clock time and into the flow, where I feel I’m working hand-in-hand with God. It’s a great time to do some fall cleanup in the cool early morning hours.
  • Antiquing is another activity I find really relaxing. You never know what you’ll find, and usually I have no shopping agenda. There are no wrong turns, and serendipity very well may be around the next corner. You may see something you’ve never seen before, or find something stunningly beautiful–and be able to take it home for a song. (I’ve been to fancy antiques shows where I admired very old celadon pottery, each piece selling for thousands. But I find the glazes of 20th-century pottery just as pleasing, and nothing could be easier than finding a lovely piece, certainly for less than $100, and probably less than $50. A few weeks ago, I found a vintage red Swingline Cub stapler–à la Office Space, only one of the funniest movies of all time–for $6, and couldn’t have been more pleased.) I’ve made plans to visit one of my favorite town squares and its shops, antique and otherwise.
  • I love new experiences–they’re rather addictive once you start–and so I’ve made reservations at a restaurant I’ve never been to before. It’s in a restored 130-year-old house, just off that town square, that I can’t wait to see!
  • Naturally I’ll spend time with the people and animals who are important to me. I hope to get together with my sister. I’ll wish a friend who’s moving away bon voyage over brunch at a favorite restaurant. And hopefully the weather will be perfect for a visit to the dog park.
  • And of course, solitude is lovely too. There will be some (but considerably less than a hundred years!).

Probably some of the same things that feed my soul feed yours, but I suspect you have a long list all your own. How might you be able to nourish your soul today, or this week, in a truly meaningful way?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Lavender fields.

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Walk up to Life’s feast

Feast

I woke this morning with a picture in my mind–I suppose it was the tail end of a dream. Another person had cooked for me, and laid out before me many different dishes–a feast. I was tasting one of them and saying, “Oh, that is so good!”

This reminded me of the advice I received during a guided meditation from my sacral chakra totem, a leopard

Don’t be timid–walk up to life’s feast.

To me, that’s an entirely accurate description of what life is meant to be. I feel frustrated sometimes by the focus on the aspect of life that is suffering, or a “vale of tears,” in some traditions.

On the one hand, I do believe that suffering, or the possibility of suffering, is a key aspect of why we come here, why we incarnate. There are lessons that can’t be learned in paradise, and they are the ones we come here to learn.

At the same time, I believe suffering is often a clue that we’re going about life in an unskillful way.

I suspect that the possibility of suffering heightens the joy and pleasure we experience here, just as bitter, sour, and umami flavors enhance and enrich sweetness. (I’m thinking here of dark chocolate, lemon bars, and a wonderful and memorable chocolate-foie gras soup I had while traveling last December.)

But in addition to all we come here to learn, I believe we also come here to enjoy ourselves, to partake of Life’s feast.

Let’s dig in!

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Life’s feast. I wish I had one of those gorgeous heirloom tomatoes to bite into right now!

 

What’s not to love about that?

Rosie

I find it fascinating how, when I feel compelled to organize and clean, so often some sort of insight or breakthrough follows right on its heels.

This past weekend, I did two clutter-clearing kinds of things. First, I bought and organized a filing cabinet I’d been wanting for a couple weeks or so. (Really it’s years that I’ve liked the look of these little cabinets, especially the bright red ones!)

I also got a massage. It became clear to me some years ago that I tend to store negative cell memories in my shoulders and neck. My aha moment came when I was getting a shoulder massage from a coworker who was also a massage therapist (and quite intuitive as well, as I think many of them are), and she immediately started picking up on information about my father. I hadn’t been thinking about him at all–but I had far less than normal range of motion when turning my head due to pain in my neck (ah, the much-discussed pain in the neck!) and shoulders.

Unfortunately when I called to make my weekend appointment, my semi-regular massage therapist had left my salon, and I made an appointment with someone I didn’t know who was available.

The massage seemed OK, but afterwards I could quickly feel what I think was (and is) toxicity and therefore pain (a painful, slightly burning and stagnant sensation) spreading around my shoulder muscles and lower back. This was unlike anything I’ve experienced with a massage before, but I’ve since talked to someone who used to work at a spa who’s heard of this type of reaction before. (My usual massage therapist would really go after it at certain points, and I’d often do breathwork in order to tolerate the intensity. By using breathwork, I wouldn’t need to ask her to back off. I’d be sore afterwards, but not like this.)

Before long, my digestion was out of whack. And Monday morning I woke up nauseated–an unusual sensation for me. Fortunately I’d finished all pressing assignments before leaving the office on Friday, so had no reason not to stay home sick. By mid-morning, the promise of the nausea was fulfilled, and it wasn’t long before no particle of anything I’d eaten in recent memory remained in my body. (Talk about your clutter clearing.)

Meanwhile the ache had spread from the parts of my body that had been massaged (upper body only) to those that hadn’t. Note to self: Think of massage as less a salon service, more holistic healthcare. I’d actually gotten a recommendation of a massage therapist who sounds much more skillful prior to keeping my appointment … live and learn.

In my world, there are two kinds of sick–too sick to read, and the other, better kind. For a good while, I was too sick to read.

But, once I felt better, I really felt better. I got a bit of a post-illness high. I spring-cleaned some more, I felt cheery. (The high continued today. I asserted myself; there was no getting me down.) I also realized, when there was very little in the house appropriate for a sick person to eat, that my diet–organic, unprocessed, and delicious though it may be–really is too rich. I’m feeling ready to do something about that.

And … I was ready to hear the guidance that yes, at last, it is time to go. I can see clearly that now I’m in the right frame of mind to set intentions and parameters, and make good decisions about what’s next. “Get me the hell out of here” isn’t the best launching pad to success, I do see that now.

I don’t exactly regret anything, and I feel pretty pleased with the eventual outcome, but I do believe I’ll think twice about the skill of anyone in whose hands I place my body in the future. I also realized while writing this that probably the reason I have felt so traumatized recently by being treated unfairly (and I think betrayed is not too strong a word) by authority figures was a connection to past-life issues in this area. (So many of us have lost our lives and loved ones unjustly in the past. If you tend to seize up a bit around the so-called “important” people of this world, you very likely have this in common with me.) So probably the toxicity I’m feeling has not to do just with recent and earlier experiences, but likely some past-life stuff as well. All part of the clutter I’m here to clear.

The toxicity is certainly not all gone–I can clearly feel it still in my body, there’s more work to do–but today I feel lighter, as well as having a mandate to move forward. And what’s not to love about that?

This post is illustrated by my SoulCollage card Persistence + Rosie the Riveter.

Cunning in the kitchen

Right now the world outside is frozen, and just beginning to thaw. Here, we have no snow tires or chains, snow plows, or salt, and very little sanding. Everyone says that people here don’t know how to drive in the ice and snow, but the reality is that without the normal tools people use in places with an actual winter, it is really darn difficult, not to say impossible, depending on what kind of vehicle you have. My car is only two-wheel drive.

A few years ago when it iced and I got bored with the food in the house, I decided to venture out to the grocery store. I never got there, but I did have an interesting adventure that yielded no actual food. I got stuck on the hill across the street from the grocery store, and several nice people helped me. Someone came running out from the vet next door with a pan of kitty litter, and a couple guys pushed me. I was smart enough to drive back down the hill and go home.

Thursday night on my way home from work, the rain started to freeze on my windshield while I was still waiting for the engine to warm up. I was losing visibility as I worked to stay in my lane while defrosting the windshield. I live only a couple miles from the office, but by the time I got home, a substantial crust of ice had formed on the back windshield. And here I’ve been ever since.

The larder is a bit bare, as I typically go grocery shopping on the weekend. I’ve eaten the last of the frozen fish, the last of the ham, the last of the green onions and grapefruit. I’ve begun pulling assorted oddments out of the deep freeze, and finding them lacking.

I typically bake an egg for breakfast, but since I had only one egg left yesterday morning, and it looked like I was going to be eating at least one more breakfast before going to the store, I decided to make pancake batter instead. I diluted some leftover heavy whipping cream with water to approximate whole milk–and I must say, the pancakes were excellent. (Thanks, Stonewall Kitchens. I do know how to make pancakes from scratch, of course, but this mix is quite good.)

However, the lean blueberry sausage I pulled from the freezer and fried up didn’t quite make the grade, and ended up in the dogs’ scrambled eggs. A bit of Parmesan cheese also missed the mark, and I decided to eat my spaghetti without it. (It will go in the next batch of eggs for the dogs, which will definitely require a trip to the grocery store, as I’ve now used every last egg in the house.)

The only tomato product in the house, not counting ketchup and chili sauce, was leftover frozen tomato paste. (While I realize some people do dress spaghetti with ketchup-derived sauces, believe me when I say I will risk life and limb prior to taking that step.) The flavor of the thawed tomato paste was less than vibrant, so I had to pull out all my improvisational tricks to end up with a satisfying pantry spaghetti sauce. Along with the fresh onion and garlic I had on hand, and the usual Italian herbs, I threw in Chardonnay, juice from the jalapeno jar, cayenne pepper, molasses, brown sugar, celery salt–and finally ended up with something quite good.

Never give up! The key to success in the kitchen–and no doubt elsewhere as well. Skill and cunning can trump raw materials!

Now I’ve reached that stage of cabin fever where I’m starting to have food fantasies. As I walked through the kitchen just now on my way back from the freezing laundry room where I’d just put a load of laundry in the dryer, without conscious intention I suddenly vividly conjured a steaming dish of lovely Thai curry. Mmmm … that would be fabulous. (This is something I go out for rather than cooking it myself, so I have only a small fraction of the necessary ingredients on hand.) Something else to do when the ice melts …

I’ve been thinking how best to prepare for the next hard freeze. I could, and should, have left work early and gone to the grocery store–and that’s what I’m going to do next time. This freeze has been harder than predicted (whereas the last predicted winter weather episode panned out to exactly nothing).

I really enjoy the flavor of absolutely fresh ingredients, so I’m struggling to think how I can have the variety of ingredients I’d like on hand without compromising freshness or flavor. Right now I don’t have as many canned goods on hand as I usually do, so bumping those up makes all kinds of sense. Since I was disappointed in the quality of the meat and cheese I pulled from the freezer this weekend, I’m feeling a bit reluctant to stockpile there.

How do you stock your pantry and cook from it when you don’t have access to any ingredients other than what you have on hand?

How to spend Black Friday

Trinity Trails

Today was a lovely day where I did not much of anything. No shopping atall … the only money I spent was at a restaurant. What I was doing today was relaxing … that was my mission.

I was raised to believe that being productive was next to godliness, and I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard “Time is money.” Here’s the thing: It’s not.

This is what I’ve learned on my own (heresy as usual): Doing nothing is a completely worthwhile activity.

Today was, of course, Black Friday, which has virtually no meaning to me, not least because my goal is always to have my Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving. I don’t always achieve that goal, but this year I did. I shop throughout the year for the people in my life who I know will be on my Christmas list. When I see something perfect for someone, I buy it and put it on my gift shelf.

Each fall I make a list of what I have, and then just fill in a few gaps. My mother and her husband are big coffee drinkers, but would never spring for fair-trade or organic on their own. (“Isn’t all coffee fair trade?”) Since it needs to be fresh, that’s one of the last things I buy. I believe I did that in October.

So instead of shopping today, I slept in. Ate a leisurely breakfast. And lunch. When I went out to water the garden, I also cut back my tender plants that have been taken out by the frosts thus far. Also cut up a fall tree branch (my light-weight purple Dramm loppers, a past Christmas present, totally came through for me), and put everything in my yard carts (the city makes free mulch from our yard trimmings).

I did a tad bit of essential housecleaning, then took a long walk by the river. Tried something new–a pumpkin, coffee, and Kahlua drink, and some brisket-stuffed peppers.

Dropped by my mother’s to pick up the gravy I forgot to ask for yesterday to go with my leftovers. As I drove, I noticed how relaxed my muscles were. Ah … my strategy of doing nothing is really working.

Now that it’s fall

To be interested in the changing seasons is … a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring. –George Santayana

All at once the leaves are finally changing color, and just beginning to fall and crunch underfoot.

Today at lunchtime, when I took Gracie out into the front yard, I noticed how beautiful the trees have become. My Chinese pistachio, redbud, and ash are all shades of gold and red. My neighbors’ trees are also turning beautiful colors. A gorgeous one across the street that I’d never noticed before caught my eye, now that it’s wearing its fall coat.

Now come the gifts of the latter seasons. Woodsmoke hangs in the air, lingers in the dogs’ fur. Friends walking in the arched front door of my English cottage-style bungalow say how cozy it is (no one appreciates cozy in the sweltering heat of summer). Hot chocolate, Dublin Dr Pepper short ribs, brisket braised with carrots, cobbler warm from the oven–these all belong to the fall and winter seasons.

Opaque tights, booties, warm woolen skirts, layered sweaters, cashmere-lined leather gloves, a plaid wool lining zipped snugly into a trench coat–getting dressed really is more fun in cooler weather.

All these gifts are ours, now that it’s fall.

Cream of sunchoke soup

I believe in the value of trying new things as often as possible, so this weekend I bought sunchokes at the farmer’s market. I find food a deliciously inconsequential way to switch things up. Whenever I hear about someone who eats the same thing at the same time, week in and week out, or engages in other repetitive behavior, a part of me thinks, “Alzheimer’s waiting to happen!” So I like to seize the opportunity to try something new whenever it presents itself. Yesterday, it was sunchokes, something I’ve never cooked (I don’t think I’ve ever eaten them before either).

Sunchokes are a root vegetable, also known as Jerusalem artichokes. Their delicate flavor is similar to that of an artichoke heart. The ones I bought were purple on the outside with pure white flesh; they can also be brown, red, and white. Sunchokes tend to be rich in the carbohydrate inulin, which some people digest better than others.

I had some leftover cream in the fridge, so in the spirit of wasting nothing, decided to make a cream soup.

In the market basket I take to farmers’ markets, I keep a couple of ceramic egg cartons, and a small ceramic berry basket. I filled this berry basket with sunchokes, which turned out to be 9.5 ounces when I weighed them. Please adjust the recipe below to the quantity of sunchokes you want to use. I used a generous half of my carton of chicken broth.

Cream of sunchoke soup

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a soup course

9.5 oz sunchokes
32 oz carton chicken broth
4 T heavy whipping cream (or 8T half and half)
1 shallot, diced fine
6 cloves garlic, peeled
olive oil
1 pat butter
thyme
salt
white peppercorns
1 t cornstarch (optional)

Scrub and rinse the sunchokes well. These knobby little tubers really know how to hang on to dirt!

Drizzle a little olive oil on a jelly roll pan. Halve the sunchokes lengthwise and place cut side down on the pan along with the garlic, ensuring each piece is lightly coated in olive oil. You can add a bit of salt and pepper at this point if you like.

Roast in a 400° oven for about 20 minutes. Place the pan where it can cool.

In a small enameled Dutch oven, melt a pat of butter over low-medium heat. Add the finely-diced shallot and soften.

Meanwhile, dice the roasted vegetables and add them to the pot. Cover generously with chicken broth. Add salt, freshly-ground white pepper, and thyme to taste. A little cayenne or nutmeg would also be a good addition.

Bring to a boil slowly over medium heat, and then reduce heat to allow the soup to simmer. Enrich with 4 T heavy whipping cream. Simmer for about 15 minutes until the sunchokes are tender.

Dissolve a teaspoon of cornstarch in water or chicken broth, and stir in to thicken the soup as desired.

Note: If you like pureed soups, you can use an immersion blender to puree the soup at this point, instead of thickening it.

Serve with whole-grain crackers and some Chardonnay.

Bon appetit!

Pantry spaghetti sauce

Just now the house smells deliciously of tomato sauce. Here’s how to make the magic from your very own pantry and garden … this recipe serves 4 moderately hungry people, or two ravenous ones. These are ingredients I consider pantry essentials and always keep on hand.

1 pat butter
1 small to medium yellow onion–or white or purple, diced medium
1 small can tomato sauce, preferably organic
1/2 small can tomato paste, preferably organic
basil from the garden (or dried Italian herbs), 12 large leaves each standard and Thai
1 small hot pepper (I used a ripe black olive pepper from my garden–thimble-sized and very hot), or cayenne pepper
white and black peppercorns
pasta, preferably Italian (I use 2-2.5 oz per person)
good Parmesan cheese

In a stainless steel saucepan, melt a pat of butter over gentle heat.

Add a small to medium onion, diced medium.

Add a small hot pepper if you have one, diced fine. Otherwise, add a sprinkle or two of cayenne pepper.

Wash a dozen leaves each standard and Thai basil (more if the leaves are small). Slice into the pan using herb scissors. (If you have no fresh basil on hand, add dried Italian herbs to taste after adding the tomato sauce, paste, and water.)

Saute gently until the onion begins to brown.

Add the tomato sauce and half the can of tomato paste, plus enough water to thin the sauce to your liking. (Add more paste to thicken the sauce.)

Add half a dozen grinds each white and black pepper. Taste, and correct the seasoning if needed.

Simmer the sauce while you put well-salted water on to boil. At the boil, toss in a small handful of good spaghetti (such as Lidia’s) for each person, and reduce the heat to medium high. Cook al dente and drain.

Plate the pasta and sauce in pasta bowls or on large rimmed plates, top with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese, and serve immediately to people you love (including you).

Bon appetit!

A pantry feast

There’s something life-affirming about good food.

As I recover from the flu, I’m grateful for every delicious morsel yielded up by my refrigerator and pantry. Thankfully, this malady isn’t affecting my digestion, so while my sense of smell is not all it could be, I’m still well able to enjoy food.

Like purple asparagus and mature white cheddar. A nice Chardonnay. Sweet home-grown pomegranates from a coworker. Onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, and eggs from the farmer’s market. Good Parmesan cheese and pecans.

Housebound, I’m starting to feel like improvising. A menu plan can be a lifesaver during a busy week, but with all the busyness subtracted, the food looms large. I take it as a good sign that I feel like being creative. A pantry spaghetti sauce would be delicious. With butter, onions, tomato sauce, and basil from the garden, not to mention good pasta, Parmesan, and the last of the wine, a feast fit for the gods is well within my grasp.

A day off from the world

Occasionally I take a day off from the world voluntarily; today, my body has made an executive decision.

I think it’s probably flu … that, or a highly flu-like cold. I have congestion, sneezing, body ache (normally I only have this with flu), a low-grade fever, and I’ve already used every kleenex in the house.

It’s Sunday and I had all sorts of fun plans, but all that will have to wait for a Sunday when I don’t have the flu.

Since I’m running a fever, there’s no doubt that I’m going to have to call in sick to work tomorrow, since I will definitely be contagious. And since I don’t have my laptop, I won’t be able to work from home either. This saddens me not at all. When this thought occurs to me, in fact, I’m immediately cheered. The only thing better than a day off from the world is two days off.

All my life, my definition of really sick has been “too sick to read,” and thankfully, I am not that sick. After taking a fantastic homeopathic flu remedy, I’m feeling pretty decent today. But I’ve already taken the last dose I had on hand, so I’m going to have to get out and restock today.

So the only question that remains is how to achieve what must be done while maintaining maximum comfort and pampering for the body that’s making a statement today: So much, and no more. This far, and no farther. You must rest, and you must remember that I am in charge, Without me, you can do nothing in this world.

In a stroke of excellent timing, we got a good rain last night, so that’s one thing already done for me–I don’t need to water the garden. Mother Nature has already taken care of business. However, I will need to get ready and go shopping.

On the pampering front, I bought some excellent chocolate yesterday, and despite remembering that my mother always said that chocolate is bad for you when you’re sick (hard to believe both then and now), it sounded good, and so I’ve had a few bites of a large dark truffle flavored with rum, molasses, and pecans.

Delicious. Independent research suggests that my mother may not know everything about the positive effects of chocolate.

A pile of good magazines is nearby. Another cup of steaming fruit-infused green tea would probably not go amiss. Lighting a candle–I found an almond biscotti scented one–can only be good.

Right now my dog Gracie and I are curled up in bed, back again after breakfast, comforted by soft cotton sheets and quilts. Just a moment ago she sighed in contentment.

On my inner guidance channel, the usual tunes are playing. All is well. All will be well. All will be very well. You have nothing to worry about.

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