informing our behavior

Like a blinking yellow light pulsing hypnotically on a stop light, our storylines hum through our minds continuously informing our behavior and our way of being in the world.  Living without gently tapping into that tape, or storyline, is akin to walking around with heavy chains wrapped around our waists.  The chains drag us down and keep us in familiarity.  Yet, we are human.  The familiar tapes playing in our minds are a part of each of us.

By nature, we are drawn to familiarity and routine.  Much of what we do routinely is life giving.  A habit of waking at 6:30 a.m., going for a jog, and eating a healthy breakfast; or, rising early to sit quietly either meditating, praying, or simply centering before the day begins, are all life giving activities.  However, when we have a sense that our habits or routines are not conducive to our overall well-being, or when they are no longer serving us, possibly it is time to simply observe and become aware of what our storylines are saying.

For example, heeding my aversion to writing is not in my best interest;  nor, I would argue, in the best interest of those around me.  (The process of writing does something for me that makes me a happier person if I engage in the act.  So, I can be a more pleasant person to be around if I have written on a given day.)  Though I am drawn to writing, I am disinclined to do it.  So, I can easily hypnotically avoid it.  Drawing awareness to this aversion has helped.  As with many areas of my life, I’ve allowed the hum of my tape to direct my behavior.  As I’ve mentioned before, it is when I sit down to write that many of my storylines come home to roost.

IMGP4430Barging in the front door and taking their places at the table without even a thoughtful knock, each of them tries to outdo the other to be heard.  With an offbeat party favor in hand, some of them wave the red flags that I must be handing out as they enter yelling “pick me! pick me! I’ll tell you how you feel about writing,” as they sit at the dining room table each wanting a chance to speak.  My usual is to let them all speak at once. One of them quips “you can’t do this, you can’t write.”  Or, “this is too hard.  It is not worth the time.”  Followed up by the guest with the biggest flag sitting in the center seat, “whoa… good thing you don’t need to earn a living being a writer because no one would have food to eat!”

While I am fully aware of my complicity, I feel powerless at times.  Powerless when I buy into what they are saying.  Again and again they tell me who I am.  They define me.  They guide my decisions.  And, I listen.  But, we are not powerless.  I think each of us knows this.

IMGP4433While it is normal that I’ve not (yet) created another pathway for those well-grooved thoughts slipping seamlessly through my neural pathways, if I decide to stop writing that day because of those thoughts, I have listened to what they have to say and taken their advice.  My error is not in listening to them, (although there are varying opinions on this), my error comes when I act based on what the storylines are saying.

I heed Rumi’s advice.  I believe all emotions, thoughts, and feelings deserve time on the playing field of our minds.  In other words, they should not be dismissively pushed away or repressed because this can result in making them stronger.  Those that are recurring purely based on emotion (not steeped in reality), or those that are simply ruminating thoughts should be acknowledged, then set aside or transcended so that our actions or reactions are not based on thoughts that do not serve us.

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I share my powerless feelings and negative thoughts for two reasons:  1) There is liberation after awareness.  And, 2) negative low-humming tapes can be difficult to detect.  Usually we have to get really quiet and listen.  My desire is that possibly, by reading this, you have a sense that you are not crazy or abnormal if you have a bunch of negative thoughts running through your head.  It has been my experience that is quite normal and widespread.  It is simply part and parcel of being human.  And, my hope is we (I) keep in mind there is liberation after awareness of the negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  The chains do loosen and can be removed.  We can stop watching the yellow light blinking at the stop light.

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Freedom from storylines can come in many forms. Years ago my desire to cook and bake was stymied by the thoughts and emotions I experienced while in the kitchen.  (They directed my behavior.) Among other things, the low hum moving through my mind said I should expect perfection with anything I made.  Coupled with my thoughts, my emotions while in the kitchen seemed almost insurmountable.  I would instantly (seemingly instantly, there are small gaps between thought, feeling, and behavior) become frustrated, anxious, and irritable when making much more than toast or oatmeal.

But, as I mention in my “About” page, I had the feeling that somewhere between the frustration and irritability was a lesson I needed to learn.  A lesson I wanted to learn.  Now, I no longer carry those negative thoughts into the kitchen with me. I did it by getting quiet and listening, really listening to the storyline that played when I entered the kitchen.  I developed an awareness of what my mind was telling me.  I then challenged those thoughts based on reality.

What would it be like to live with a more direct experience of reality?  What would it be like to quiet, even if only for a breath or two, the continual tape that runs through our minds? What happens when we bring awareness into our daily lives?  When we bring awareness into our daily lives, the storylines quiet, the blinking yellow light has less control over our behavior, and we experience reality more directly.

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I frequently make what I think of as everyday cakes.  My definition of an everyday cake is that it uses very little or no sugar, no butter, and it has a substantial fruit or vegetable component. This banana cake adapted from Green Kitchen Stories meets those criteria.   It is loaded with flavor and it is healthy.

Baker’s Notes:  Although this is a gluten free cake, for those of you who would rather bake with wheat flour, a combination of whole wheat, whole wheat pastry flour, and/or white whole wheat flours would do very well.

Vegan and Gluten Free Banana Cake 

  • 1 cup brown rice flour (or superfine brown rice flour)
  • 1 cup quinoa flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • big pinch of salt
  • 3 ripe bananas, mashed, set aside
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
  • 1/2 cup soymilk (unsweetened)
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup seeds or nuts, chopped, if necessary (I used raw pumpkin seeds)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease and flour a 10″x4″ loaf pan or a 9″ round cake pan. Set aside.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour through salt.
  3. In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork or potato masher, then add apple sauce, milk, vanilla, and nuts. Stir to combine.  Combine the wet ingredients with the dry.
  4. Pour into prepared baking dish. Baking times will vary according to the size pan chosen.  About 50 minutes to 1  hour for the loaf pan and 35 – 40 minutes for the 9″ round cake pan.   Check for doneness with a toothpick inserted in the center.  The cake will develop a slight golden brown color around the edges.  Once baked, cool on a wire rack before turning out.  Ready to serve once cooled.  Store the remainder in fridge.

pie

With a hue the color of a lemon just finishing its metamorphosis from green to yellow, the pies my maternal grandmother used to make took center stage on our dining room table. The lightly browned peaks on the lemon meringue pies crested over the soft yellow interior tumbling from one side to another.

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“Grandma! Grandma! Can I have some pie?” I would inevitably ask as soon as I returned home from elementary school. But, the carefully prepared dessert was reserved for after dinner.  I knew as much, yet I could not keep myself from asking.

If it had been a hot day, the meringue might be slightly speckled and glistening, the air bubbles whipped into the egg whites having a bit of a hard time withstanding the heat.

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Yesterday I returned home from visiting her.  She lived independently until age ninety-four; and, although she has suffered a chain of events in the last six weeks that would not allow her to stand in a kitchen and make a pie, I know she would remember those grand desserts.

It wouldn’t surprise me if she kicks this pneumonia stuff and transitions into assisted living soon.  Maybe I should bake a pie in her honor and have it sitting prominently in the room when she moves in.

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Visiting a care facility, we see the fragile part of life.  In a park about a half mile from the nursing home, I saw vibrant life.  I saw green things growing with bugs, birds, and beetles moving about.  I went to that park after each visit to help me further accept the cycle of birth, life, and death. While I cannot say I am further along accepting those bigger life issues, I can say I envision a grand dessert sitting atop a picnic table with a little boy or girl just waiting for dinner to be done, and a grandmother smiling.

 

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.

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.

 

basil, lemon, and lime

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.

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.

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?

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:

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

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.  

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…

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.