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.

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sweet rusticity

Fall tends to catch me looking forward to a bit of cooler weather (not easy to come by in South Florida and not that I’ve secretly been hoping for it for months !)  Close on the heels of the notion of cooler weather, comes ideas of apple desserts.

There are many from which to choose, but those with huge chunks of apples peeking out from beneath a sweet, crunchy, buttery topping are among my favorites.
I adore rustic fruit desserts for many reasons…the act of making them seems almost ancestral.   Somehow, for me, the more craggy and chunky a dish is – the more pleasurable it is to make and to eat.  Possibly the appeal of creating a simple and unassuming dish such as this, is that it seems more earthy, more direct and uninhibited. Yes, all of that from a dessert.  Enjoy.

Apple Crisp

adapted from Cooks’ Illustrated

Bakers Note:  This is a sweet dessert.  If you prefer a little less sweetness, simply cut back on the sugar.  Keep in mind the kind of apple you use may bring a sweet or a tart quality to the final baked good.

I have made many variations on this dessert.  I’ve found that the addition of the oats adds the substance, heft and crunch that I prefer to the topping.   The cinnamon and nutmeg lend a bit of heat and spice.  The lemon juice makes all of those elements sparkle just a little bit more.

For the filling:

6  medium to large apples, washed and cut into large (1″) bite-size pieces
1/4 c. (scant) sugar
juice of one lemon (optional)

For the topping:

2/3 c. old-fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. each white and brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
pinch of salt
5 T. cold, unsalted butter, diced
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Butter an 8×8 baking dish and place on a baking sheet.  Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl add the chopped apples, sugar and lemon juice.  Stir to combine.   Pour evenly into the baking dish, leveling out the fruit if necessary.
  3. In the same mixing bowl, combine the oats through the salt.  Stir to combine. Scatter the diced butter pieces over the oat mixture.  Mix with your hands until the topping resembles a coarse meal with pea-sized lumps.  (I have found the best tools for this exercise are your hands.  You could use a large fork, or a standard mixer, if you prefer.)
  4. Evenly scatter the topping over the prepared fruit.  Bake in preheated oven on the baking sheet (which will catch any juices bubbling over) for 30 – 35 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for another 10 – 15 minutes until the top turns golden brown.