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.
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uncover your winningest self

Most of you have probably already figured this out, I am slower than most.  It has taken me 41 years and a couple months to comprehend the magnitude of accumulated effect.  In other words, it has taken me 41 years and a couple months to do something other than stand at the starting line, flail, jump up and down, and wonder how am I going to get to the finish line?  Baby steps.  Start small.  Set achievable goals.  Yes?  Yes;  but, I think it goes deeper than that.

We drag ourselves down daily in a myriad of ways.  We sabotage ourselves, usually subconsciously.  But, there are steps we can take to unwind some of those thoughts that we no longer need.  That no longer support us, if they ever did.  The first step to make is recognizing and understanding that we are doing it.  For this first step, it doesn’t matter why we are doing it.  Simply a recognition of it makes a difference.
How do we recognize it?  For example, let’s say I have a goal of writing a novel.  And, I can’t figure out why I don’t just start writing one. I have kept many journals about various subject matters I may someday like to write about.   But, I’ve not put the blood, sweat and tears into forming and shaping the material into a story.  Well, I took some time to listen to myself when I sat down at the keyboard.  I began to realize I had a small voice telling me I couldn’t do it.  (That small voice can get really loud.)  It asks me how could I accomplish such a thing?

What am I doing in this scenario?  I am standing at the starting line, flailing, jumping up and down while wondering how am I ever going to get to the finish line.   If I listen more closely to that small voice,  it asks me why start on something I may never accomplish?  Why waste my time when so many other things can be done?  So, in other words, I am sabotaging myself with these thoughts, and by not putting in the effort to make my goal happen.

Two other common ways of undermining ourselves are dilution of personal power and attachments.  Years ago, when I first heard of the concept of personal power, my immediate reaction (emotional reaction) was a negative one.  To my mind, at the time, the word “power” carried with it a negative connotation.  Something that is not necessarily used for the common good.  However, as I began to understand the concept, I developed a much greater appreciation for personal power.

As it turns out, personal power is a good thing.  It  serves the individual well, and equally so, those around him or her.   As Dr. Robert Stephenson describes in The Ethics of Interpersonal Relationships (2009),  there “is a clear distinction between positive power and negative power.  Personal power is based on strength, confidence, and competence.”   He further goes on to explain that when it is “externalized it manifests in things such as generosity, creativity, and good will.  Its primary aim is mastery of self, not others.”

How else do we dilute our personal power?   A few more examples are expectations we have of others, blaming others and attachments.  Recently my husband and I were leaving to return home after a vacation.  I didn’t want to leave.  He had vacationed, it was time to go, time to move on.  I, on the other hand, had an attachment to place.  That didn’t necessarily surprise me.  I know that about myself.  But, you see, I don’t want attachments like that.  Why?  Attachments cause pain and suffering.  The desire to hold onto something causes pain and suffering.  (It is not the enjoyment of the vacation that causes the pain and suffering.  It is the attachment to the enjoyment.  Big distinction.)  Attachments weigh us down.  It causes us to get stuck.  In many ways, it chains us to the past making it difficult to move into the future.  It dilutes our personal power.  Just because I don’t want attachments doesn’t mean I’ll snap my fingers and I’ll no longer have those feelings.  I am sure I’ll have attachment related feelings the rest of my life.  But, I’ve made a small step forward by recognizing it.

Dilution of personal power and attachments remind me of aparigraha.  It is a Sanskrit word meaning non-attachment, non-possessiveness.  It calls for a letting go of whatever the individual is holding onto.  It is a favorite of mine.  I first learned of aparigraha about six years ago.  A yoga instructor mentioned it in a class I was attending.  I don’t recall the context;  but, I’ve heard alot of Sanskrit words and that one stuck with me.  A letting go, a non-clinging, non-possesive call to action.  I believe the reason it stuck with me is because although I’ve made progress in this area,  I still have a lifetime more to do.  And, that is ok.

It was a toss-up today between banana bread and roasted apples.  I am a big fan of both.  But, if I had to pick one, it would be banana bread.  You can’t beat it in the morning with a mug of coffee.  I’ve made banana bread lots of different ways.  I’ve made it with all flour, no oatmeal.  I’ve tried fewer bananas, no nuts.  Below is one of my favorite ways to make it.  It ends up being quite dense with loads of flavor.  This is not a sweet bread.  Serve with honey if desired.

Banana Bread with Oats and Wheat Bran 

1 1/3 c. whole wheat flour

1 1/ 3 c. old fashioned oats

1/4 c. wheat bran

1 t. baking powder (preferably aluminum free)

1 t. baking soda

1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. nutmeg

1/4 t. allspice (optional)

pinch of salt

3 ripe bananas, peeled, mashed, set aside

1/3 c. brown sugar

1/3 c. sugar

2 eggs

1/4 c. (scant) vegetable oil

1/4 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a loaf pan.  Set aside.  In a medium size mixing bowl, peel and mash bananas, set aside.
  2. In another medium size mixing bowl, combine the flour through the salt.  With either a hand held mixer, or a whisk, combine sugars and banana mash.  Mix until well combined.  Add eggs and oil.  Mix until well combined.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry flour mixture.  Mix until combined.  Fold in walnuts.
  4. Pour the batter into the buttered loaf pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 55 – 60 minutes until a toothpick or knife inserted comes out clean and the top of the loaf is golden brown.  Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.  Turn out loaf to cool further.

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.

what is truth?

As much as baked oatmeal and spiced molasses cookies have been on my mind lately, truth has as well.  What is truth?  Do each of us have our own personal truths?  How can individuals view reality differently, if we do?  I have a need to come to an acceptance about this.  Or, at least, an acceptance of it as it relates to who I am now.

Certainly, there are universal truths that can be and have been scientifically quantified. But, personal truths seem to be a different matter.  It is all relative.

The exploration of truth led me to the theory of relativism.  (Stick with me here, I won’t stray too far from baked oatmeal.) In my limited understanding, relativism is a concept that explains there are varying points of view and frames of reference from which each of us view situations, there are no absolute personal truths.

Wikipedia defines truth, in part,  as a “state of being in accord with a particular fact or reality.”  In other words, an individual’s frame of reference and viewpoint will directly impact their perception of reality.  In following, it seems, one’s perception of reality will impact their truth.  Invariably, I come back to personal truth is always relative to a particular point of view, set of beliefs, or frame of reference.

Thank goodness oatmeal is easier to struggle with than truth.

I tried different variations of baked oatmeal only to be disappointed.   While the ingredients were appealing, oatmeal, milk, eggs, butter, raisins, the result wasn’t what I anticipated.  The final product didn’t have enough flavor.  The texture was too dry.  I was after a creamier consistency.

So, I started thinking about the dish from the bottom up.  For some reason a pineapple upside down cake sprang to mind – wouldn’t it be nice to have a sweet surprise at the bottom of the dish?  A sweet surprise that also lends a great deal of moisture….

such as mashed bananas…

layered with apples…

and sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Baked Oatmeal with Bananas and Apples

Cooks Note:  Not included in this recipe, but I think would make a good addition, are sliced almonds.  Next time I make this dish, I’ll add 1/2 c. sliced almonds to the dry mixture.  

This dish is best eaten warm out of the oven. However, leftovers heated up, topped with a little milk, honey, or applesauce is good also.

The brandy is optional.  I often use a little bit with baked apple dishes.   

Serves 6

4 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed

2 apples, sliced thinly

1 1/2 t. each cinnamon, nutmeg

2 c. old-fashioned oats

1/2 c. brown sugar

2 t. baking powder

pinch salt

1 c. milk

1 c. (scant) applesauce (I used natural applesauce)

1 egg

1/4 c. molasses

1/4 c. butter (melted and cooled)

2 t. brandy, optional

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 2 quart baking dish.  Set aside.  

2.  In a medium size mixing bowl, mash the bananas with a fork or potato masher.  Spread evenly in baking dish.  

3.  Thinly slice the apples.  Layer them evenly over bananas.  Sprinkle banana apple mixture with 1/2 t. each, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Set aside.  

4.   In same medium mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients, oatmeal, brown sugar,  baking powder, salt and remaining 1 t. each, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Stir to combine.  

5.  In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients until combined.  (The milk, egg, applesauce, molasses, melted butter, and brandy, if using.)   Pour the wet ingredient mixture into the dry ingredient mixture.  Stir to combine.  Pour evenly over the banana apple mixture.  

6.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Increase heat to 400 degrees.  Bake for another 10 – 15 minutes until top begins to brown slightly.  Serve warm and ponder truth.  

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.