what is living?

The author, Joyce Maynard, says she feels most at home at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.  It is there she engages in those activities that define what living is to her.  And, more importantly, I am surmising she has also found a way of being.
Ponte Vedra Beach
What is living?  Maynard has prompted me to, once again, think about this question.  I’ve rolled this question around in my mind frequently over the past five years or so.  It has rolled in and out of consciousness.  But, this time around the idea of living has collided with me differently.  Why?  For the first time, I believe I am developing the ability to define what living is to me.  Am I a late bloomer?  Very likely.
Jasmine

The question deserves to be asked at different stages in life.  Maybe during those times when we feel like we are not doing what we want to do with our lives. Or, a need is perceived to make a significant change regardless of how we feel about the way we are currently choosing to live. Or, maybe you feel a small tug to make just a little change in your world.  Yet, you are not sure what that change should be.

I don’t know about you, but I am always looking for help when I make decisions throughout life.  So, in any form this question is used, if we ask it of ourselves, intentions begin to cultivate and grow.  Even if an audible answer does not arise (lucky you if one does!)  after we whisper to ourselves, “what does living mean to me?” the mind will take note of whatever the felt experience is.  Try not to need or expect an answer.  If you do get one, it does not have to be or need to be verbal.  In fact, I’ve found I do not get any audible answers or thoughts. I get a feeling. If the question brings up confusion, that is ok.  Let it bring up confusion.  It did for me for many years.  And, I am sure it will again in years to come.

(This is not to say I do not have confusion and anxiety with some areas of my life.  I do.  But, I am saying that some aspects of my life have been smoothed out and have lost their rough edges where confusion and indecisiveness used to reside.  I use myself as an example to, hopefully, create a rough guide for someone else who may want to gain a better understanding around their individual way of being.)

Asking the question, “what is living to me?” is similar to setting an intention at the beginning of a yoga class.  It prompts an energy and begins to sketch a blueprint that establishes a framework.  Yes, it is a blueprint that is in pencil because our lives are constantly in flux.  But, nevertheless, it is your blueprint.  This blueprint and framework will create a spaciousness allowing you to make changes, however large or small.  Some past fears may fall away.  It is your awareness that will take you there and shape your life’s path as time moves on just as Joyce Maynard did when she found Guatemala is where she feels most at home. It has become her way of being.

Nava Atlas' Vegan Sloppy Joes

A vegan treat, Nava Atlas’ sloppy joes.  Here I’ve posted her recipe verbatim.  But, when I made them I took the technique and subbed ingredients.  One addition I added that I’ll throw out there if you’d like to try, add 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and baking cocoa powder. It really brings a depth of flavor to the dish that I enjoyed.  Another thing I enjoyed was chili sauce rather than tomato sauce.   Either way, these are fun to make and are a really good, substantial dinner.  I dressed the bread with sharp dijon mustard, sweet pickle relish, and refreshing red leaf lettuce.

Nava Atlas’ Pinto Bean and Quinoa Sloppy Joes    

Serves: 4 to 6

  • 1/2 cup raw quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 1/2 medium green bell pepper, finely diced
  • 15- to 16-ounce can pinto or red beans,
    drained, rinsed, and coarsely mashed (or 1 1/2 cups cooked)
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 medium tomato, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 teaspoon agave nectar or natural granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder, or more, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro, plus more for topping, optional
  • Shredded lettuce, baby spinach leaves, or green sprouts
  • 6 whole grain rolls, English muffins, or mini-pitas

Combine the quinoa with 1 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a slow boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the bell pepper and sauté until both are golden.

Add the remaining ingredients except the last two, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook over medium-low heat, loosely covered, for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let the skillet stand off the heat for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle further and for the quinoa to absorb the tomatoey flavors.

For each serving, spoon some of the filling onto the bottoms of whole-grain rolls and cover with the tops. Or, you can serve these open-faced.

where the butterfly flew

Black sooty mold covering much of our property on the north side of our house results in anger?  Well, yes.  Or, maybe.  Wait a minute, I am not so sure.  But, I am sure that anger wraps itself around a victim and squeezes tightly.  (As it did to me for a few days.) It is the python of human emotions.

IMGP4472 (3)

While I was finishing cutting off numerous palm fronds and tree branches sticky with a white, sugary substance (called honeydew) and slick with black sooty mold the rugose spiraling whitefly leaves behind, again I contemplated this anger I had. Really?  Could I really be this angry at a whitefly (even if the South Florida press does call it an insect tsunami) that is feeding on much of our landscaping? At its root, the anger seemed misguided. But, surely there must be somewhere or something to whom, at whom, I can point the finger for this grave injustice.

Meanwhile, this anger found me outside cutting back foliage surrounded by the tiny white creature flying about madly as I removed their food source.  Spontaneously, I found myself asking the flies (while swatting them away from my head) if we could find a peaceful way to coexist.  Say, possibly, a bit of a more balanced approach than black soot covering the north side of our property.  Then, just as quickly and without conscious thought, I asked myself if I could find a bit of a more balanced approach when dealing with myself.  Without making this too confusing, in other words, I discovered I was angry at myself.

Red Croton

As soon as I had made that realization, everything softened.  It all kinda drooped into a deflated acceptance.  As the anger with myself melted, I was no longer angry with mother nature.  Annoyed, perhaps, at still having to deal with this new insect wanting to feed on many of our plants, but the anger that squeezes tightly was gone.

I continued working, yet the work was different.  Yes, I still needed to remove the heavily infested fronds from one plant in particular.  But, I now did so at a slower pace.  I, once again, tuned into what was going on in nature around me.  (While in my angry state, I was just whacking away at fronds not available emotionally to listen to the wind or the birds.)  As I was finishing up, a large black and yellow butterfly came to rest on our viburnum hedge an arm’s length from me.  It rested for a beat or two – longer than I’ve witnessed before.  It seemed to be acknowledging my acceptance of anger at myself.  At the same time, I acknowledged the presence of peace.

Here is a summery creamy dressing to use on salads, stir into grains, or as a sandwich spread.
Creamy Avocado Dressing
Creamy Avocado Dressing
Megan Gordon’s recipe


1 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Greek yogurt

Combine all ingredients except for the yogurt in a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Process until smooth.  Add yogurt.  Give it one more whirl or two to combine. Taste and adjust for salt.

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.

IMGP4427

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.

IMGP4391

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.

IMGP4389

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.

to tend or to dog paddle

I am dog paddling.  A softer way to put it may be to say I am running in place. Either way, I can attribute it to two things when I start to feel like this:

1) Charged emotion is present.

2) Most likely, fear is involved.

As I mentioned in December’s post, identifying charged events can be helpful in releasing some of the power within them.  Similarly, identifying the charged emotion(s) beneath those events is also helpful in loosening up the stronghold emotion sometimes seems to have in our lives.

January Orchid

Of course, emotions are a part of being human.  Though some may be more difficult than others to handle, both positive and negative emotions can lead us to areas of our life that may need a little tending, if you will.  They need a little care and thought.

I’ve come to think of those aspects of my life simply as being a bit neglected.  Neglected because unprocessed emotions will typically stick around.  And, they are, in effect, neglected because had they been tended to they most likely wouldn’t be sticking around weighing on us, causing us to repeat behavior patterns that we just can’t seem to shake.

January Orchids

I very well may be making this too simplistic, but I think of a main character in a children’s book, a girl about eight years old.  Perhaps this little girl is a sullen friendless child moping around from day to day.  She sees other children playing outside and gets very angry that she does not have a friend.  She experiences jealousy while peering out her bedroom window at the trio of girls playing hopscotch in front of her home.  This goes on for months.

White Rose

But, soon she begins to venture out of her home.  She introduces herself to the group of hopscotcher’s and befriends them.

This little girl was running in place as she moped around from day to day in her home.  She was feeling charged emotion and, possibly, fear was present.  Acknowledging the desire for change, she stepped outside to introduce herself to the group of girls playing outside her home.  Now, she no longer feels anger or jealousy when she sees a group of kids playing together.  She (inadvertently) tended to her emotions.   Seeing the same situation now draws a different response from her.

We too can dissolve tightly held emotions around certain situations in our lives and begin to experience the same situations differently.  Where charged emotion is present if we bring time and attention to it, rather then busy ourselves with whatever method we use for distraction, it may loosen up and begin to dissolve.  The edges of those emotions may begin to soften.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Curry

A friend of mine often reminds me to look under and around emotion.  To soften, loosen up, and eventually dissolve strong emotional reactions, we may ask ourselves what underlies a particular event or situation?  If we are angry, why are we angry?  Might fear be hiding under that anger?  If it is fear, what are we afraid of and is it a realistic fear?

These are just some simple ways to address charged emotion in our lives.  I know I have areas in my life I’d like to tend to a bit more.  If I can, I’ll gently bring time and attention to them.  Maybe, then, the future will find me dog paddling just a little bit less.

Some of my favorite dishes lately have involved curry, coconut milk, and coconut oil.  I found combining many of these traditional curry elements with sweet potatoes, quinoa, and black beans makes for an enjoyable, substantial meal.  The potatoes lend sweetness, the curry is pleasantly pungent, and the quinoa soaks up all of the flavors of the sauce.

Black Bean, Quinoa, and Sweet Potato Curry

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, rinsed, cut into bite-sized pieces, and roasted
  • 1 c. quinoa (white or “regular”), rinsed, cooked according to package directions, set aside
  • 1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed, drained, set aside
  • 1 15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed, drained, set aside
  • 2 T. coconut oil
  • 1 thick slice (about 1/2″ thick) yellow or sweet onion, diced
  • 2 scallions, rinsed, diced, reserving a handful of green tops for garnish, if desired
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1″ knob fresh ginger, skin removed, minced or 1 T. jarred minced ginger
  • 1/2 c. full-fat coconut milk, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine or good quality *vegetable broth
  • 1 T. curry powder
  • 1 1/2 t. turmeric
  • 1/2 t. coriander
  • salt

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Clean and cut the sweet potatoes (leaving the skin on) into bite-size pieces.  On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss the sweet potatoes with salt, pepper, and extra virgin olive oil.  Bake until they are fork tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the quinoa according to the package directions.  Cook until the translucent ring around the seed becomes visible, about 15 minutes.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, add 2 T. coconut oil, warm gently over medium heat, add onion and scallions with a pinch of salt, cook until soft, 3 – 5 min.

Add the spices, stirring constantly until fragrant, about one minute.  Add the garlic and ginger stirring constantly until fragrant, about one minute.

Add the wine or broth.  Deglaze the pan and stir to incorporate the ingredients.  Add the coconut milk, black beans, 1/2 of the cooked quinoa, and a pinch of salt.  Stir and warm through for a few minutes.

Add the roasted sweet potatoes and the pinto beans to desired bean to grain ratio (I used almost all of the pintos.) If desired, add more quinoa.  Taste and adjust seasonings. Add more coconut milk for a looser consistency.

Once warmed through, about 3 – 5 minutes, serve.  To reheat, add a splash or two of coconut milk before warming.

Serves 2 – 3 generously.

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.

 

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.