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.
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since when is dependency…good?

Dependency is good, when it is interdependence.  When we are connected by a need that two parties fulfill, such as in the relationship between farmer and consumer, interdependence can shine.  Whether is it the government buying surplus crop from a farmer or a woman purchasing corn from a produce stand to feed her family, consumer and farmer are dependent upon each other.  This links us together.  In this example, we are connected by a need for nourishment and sustenance. Interdependence is a link of unending dependence.

In the past several months, I’ve circled the idea of mutual dependency like a wolf circling its prey.  It was both intriguing and confusing to me.  It was intriguing because I didn’t actively embrace mutual reliances.  (Yes, this is foolish.)  It is not necessarily that I shun being dependent upon others, but my off-handed reaction was driven more by an uneducated indifference and a lack of awareness.  My confusion was driven by its application in some meditation traditions.

When I think of dependency, my mind immediately bounces as quickly as a tennis ball bounces off of a racquet to codependency.  Without skipping a beat, emotionally I begin to back away.  So, I had to put in the time to retrain my mind that dependency can be something that is to be welcomed.

Now, I understand the vibe of mutual reliance can be virtuous.  Going forward, I hope that I think more often of the farmer’s hands who planted all of the root vegetables in the soup my husband and I enjoy.  Hands stained black with dirt and hard work as I saw at a dinner I recently attended honoring food and cooking.  Or, I hope I remember that my favorite plant in the front yard was started by Rick in his nursery.  Had he not started the plant from seed, I would not be able to enjoy looking at it everyday.

So, when is dependency good?  It is good when a link of unending dependence answers mutual needs.  If you are interested in reading more about this topic, as a starting point I suggest visiting The Interdependence Project at theidproject.org.

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Parsnips and Beans

I keep coming back to this soup.  I’ve made it at least twice in the past week.  I’ve eaten it for dinner and lunch.  While it is not pretty or fancy, it is just the sort of thing I crave in a soup.  Tender, chunky vegetables that have retained a bit of bite.  A good dose of onion, lots of beans, a grain, and a little bit of seasoning to pull it all together.

Cook’s Notes:  *Vidalia green onions are typically found in markets the months of February, March, and early April.  They have a large white bulb and are the length of leeks. I love them and use them for the months they are available in place of sweet onions.  (If you cannot find them, simply substitute a sweet onion. I would not substitute the smaller, thinner green onion.)

Chunky Parsnip and Bean Soup

  • 2 lg. or 3 small carrots, rinsed, diced, (peel on)
  • 2 lg. or 3 small parsnips, rinsed, diced, (peel on)
  • 2 lg. *Vidalia spring onions with green tops, rinsed, slice thinly including the green tops
  • or 1 medium sweet onion
  • 1 to 2 t. ground thyme
  • 2 t. oregano
  • 2 – 3 T. tomato paste
  • 1 15 oz. can cannelini beans, rinsed, and drained
  • 1 15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed, and drained
  • 4 + c. vegetable broth, preferably low-sodium and water as desired
  • 2 + c. cooked brown rice
  • salt to taste
  1. In a medium saucepan, cook 1 c. brown rice according to package directions.  Set aside.
  2. In a large stockpot or dutch oven, heat 1 – 2 T. extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.  Add the diced carrots and parsnips with a pinch of salt.  Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently as they begin to soften, about 8 or so minutes.  Add the onion and continue to cook over medium heat about another 8 minutes, reducing the heat if necessary.
  3. When the vegetables are fork tender and the onion has become translucent, push the veg to the side and add 2 or 3 T. of tomato paste.  Stir continuously as the paste loses its raw flavor, about 1 – 2 minutes.
  4. Add the spices.  Stir continuously about 1 – 2 minutes to bloom the spices.  Add 3 c. of broth, half of each dish of drained and rinsed beans, and half of the rice.  Stir to combine.  Now add the remaining broth, rice, and beans to your liking.  Substitute 1 c. water for broth, if desired.  (I ended up using about 2/3 of each can of beans, 2 1/2 c. of broth, 1c. of water, and 2 1/2 c. of the cooked rice.)  Simmer for 5 or so minutes until the flavors begin to come together.  Serve hot.  Dress each bowl of soup with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if desired.

the sweetness of allowing

Do you have a situation(s) in your life you’d like to change? The past several months have found me wrestling and wrangling with circumstances in my life I wanted to learn how to approach differently.  I simply couldn’t find a way to do it, until recently.  About a week ago, I came up with an idea I thought may help.  I would try to be with these situations differently; and, I would try to allow them.

My first attempts in handling these aspects of my life were to work on changing my reactions to them.  While not altogether a bad idea, I wasn’t making any headway.  It became a battle.  Perhaps I developed an expectation that I had to alter my responses. I don’t know.  But, I subscribe to Aristotle’s theory “we are what we repeatedly do.”  So, my thinking was if I could modify my responses to these circumstances, I’d step off of the circular mental train track I was on.  Even though I would find myself back on the same track at times, once I had the opportunity to get off the track, I was pretty confident I could do it more and more often.  Yet, something about it wasn’t a fit for me with these situations.

One morning while doing household tasks, I had a feeling. Not a thought, but a feeling that I could be with these aspects of my life differently.  I could allow them.  I could allow them to be as they are.  In doing so, my presence around each circumstance changed.  (If that makes sense.) With this change, I was afforded the opportunity of approaching the situations with less emotion. In turn, equipping myself to more readily allow them.

I can’t emphasize enough the significance around my changed presence in each situation.  For me, that seemed to be a key.  Not for solving a problem or fixing it, but for being with it.

Possibly this led to a change in reaction as well?  I don’t think it did.  My reactions, although softened, are about the same.  But in modifying my presence around each circumstance, I’ve been granted space.  Breathing room.

Approaching and allowing the situations rather than changing my reactions reminds me of the difference between a Meyer lemon and a regular lemon. While both are lemons, the Meyer lemon is sweeter and less acidic than a standard lemon.  It has less bite.  Less zing. In like manner, I noticed less bite and zing when approaching each situation and allowing it.

Most likely, we could all use a little less bite and zing in our lives.  Maybe by changing our presence around a difficult situation, a little more sweetness can emerge out of the most challenging areas of our lives.  I hope so.  And, for the record, I think it can.  Scratch that.  I know it can.
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How about a dinner idea for a substantial vegan meal? Chunks of roasted butternut squash combined with coconut milk soaked quinoa and garbanzo beans brightened with wilted baby spinach leaves.  This is a good meal to use the proportions of vegetable, grain (although quinoa is technically a seed, any whole grain could be substituted), and bean you enjoy.  The following is a blueprint to follow.
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Here’s how I did it:
  • I medium butternut squash, cubed and *roasted at 350 degrees until softened and lightly browned, about 35 – 40 minutes
  • 1 c. or so white or red quinoa, or combo, cooked, set aside
  • 1 14 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained, rinsed, set aside
  • 1/2 med. yellow or sweet onion, diced, sautéed in large skillet with coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil and large pinch salt
  • 2 t. curry powder
  • 1 t. each, turmeric and coriander
  • 1/2 c. or so full fat or lite coconut milk
  • 2 – 3 c. baby spinach, rinsed and drained
  • salt to taste
  1. Once squash and quinoa are prepared and the onion has softened, add beans and spices to the skillet.  Bloom the spices by allowing them to heat while stirring constantly, about 1- 2 minutes.
  2. Add the coconut milk and the spinach, stir to combine, put the lid on and steam the spinach over medium heat to medium low heat until it wilts, about 3 – 5 minutes.
  3. After the spinach is wilted, stir in the amounts of quinoa and squash you’d prefer.  Adjust with more coconut milk if necessary.  Salt to taste.  Warm through and serve.

Cook’s Notes:  Many cooks prefer full-fat coconut milk for the flavor and texture.  Although I do use it, sometimes it tends to be a bit too heavy for me.  I found in this recipe the light coconut milk lends enough of a subtle coconut flavor so the full-fat is not needed.  It is purely preference.

Roasted Squash:  Remove the tough outer skin of the squash by halving the squash.  Then, with two shorter pieces to work with, slice off the bulb of each piece where it narrows resulting in a stable cutting surface.  Next, cut straight down the side of the squash with your hand on the top of the vegetable stabilizing it.  Scrape out the seeds as necessary.  Cut the vegetable into bite-size cubes.  On a large baking sheet, toss the squash with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil.  Spread into an even layer.  Roast at 350 degrees for 35- 40 minutes until the squash is soft and barely beginning to brown.

change with color

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Rice Risotto

adapted from Martha Rose Shulman

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

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

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

Yield: 4 servings

 

 

 

 

fall anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

Farro with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Pumpkin Seeds

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