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.

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





the other side of the fence

The past few months, I’ve been battling life’s busyness.  It hasn’t been because the holiday season is in full swing with New Year’s right around the corner, although that is a contributor.  Rather, it has been the everyday things that come up.  Install new dishwasher. Check.  Wipe up the sticky stuff off the floor in front of the kitchen sink.  Check.  Plant 60 feet of new hedge in the backyard so Ollie, our labradoodle, is no longer able to escape under the fence.  Can’t put a checkmark on that one yet. I did put in the hedge.  He is still getting out.   Negotiate and purchase a new car.  Check.  Make Soup.  Check.

Our labradoodle’s latest adventure is escaping from the backyard by flattening himself like a pancake and squeezing out underneath the fence all of which he can do in under three seconds.  The fence being the new, taller fence that we installed so that he would not be able to jump over it.  Well, he is no longer jumping over it.
Ollie is not neutered.  I was in a free spirit state of mind when we got him and wanted Simon, our goldendoodle, and Ollie to be who they were born to be.  I still do.  But, that has consequences.  Non-neutered animals have greater ligament strength and, possibly, greater stamina than neutered animals.  The recent adventures of Ollie have led me to consider, once again, having him neutered.  I’ve fought with myself about this on and off for the past three years.  The end result of this internal struggle is that I feel I would be shortchanging Ollie by neutering him.  The Oxford Dictionary defines neutering as “to render ineffective, to deprive of vigor and force.”  

Similarly, don’t we neuter our lives when we engage in much of life’s busyness?  Don’t we hamper and shortchange ourselves directing our time, energy and attention to things that may very well be left undone?  Are we not depriving ourselves of our personal vigor and force when we engage in busyness?

When I ask myself questions such as those put forth above, my answer is “yes” to each.  There are many times in my life when I wish I could answer each of those questions with a resounding, “no.”  Why?  Because in many ways it is easier to keep busy.  We avoid things by keeping busy.  That is one reason I prefer to keep myself occupied.  I can avoid my fears.  If I am engaged in doing something, I don’t have to face my fears.  Does it help?  Does that deal with the issue or the fear?  No.  At least not for me anyway.

Avoidance aside, to my mind the real risk of constant busyness is that it pulls us away from being in the present moment.  It leads us into the future by way of achievement and accomplishment, but it isn’t centering and grounding.  We may cross off items 1 – 5 on our list … but where does that leave us?  Really.  It leaves us with items 1 – 5 crossed off the list.  Maybe we feel a bit relieved temporarily once those items are checked.  But, does it leave us better off?  Does it leave us centered and grounded as experiencing the present moment can?

Being in the present moment can come about by doing something that calms your mind and focuses attention.  One way in which to do this is to orient yourself to the space and time you currently occupy.  Become aware of the space on your left side, right side, in front and behind you, underneath you.  Become aware of the air around you.  By becoming oriented to the time and space which we currently occupy, time’s significance is modified.  Our experience of time and our relationship to it changes. The things we thought were so important to accomplish?  Maybe we’ll find they are no longer significant.  Maybe we’ll find ourselves being less busy.

Here is the final kicker.  If we are truly engaged in the present moment, we are not thinking about the past or the future.  Our mind becomes freer.  It becomes less encumbered with fear.

This New Year will find me becoming more aware of and developing a better understanding of my reasons for engaging in busyness.  Might I slip?  Might I need to remind myself of those things I want in my life and those things I really don’t need?  Absolutely.  I’ll slip and fall.  And, happily do it all over again.

What am I going to do with Ollie and the escaping issue?  I have a few other tricks up my sleeve.  After laying landscape timbers along the fence line that function as kind of an outdoor baseboard for the bottom of the fence, I bought a hybrid bike.  Once I buy a bike attachment for his harness that will keep both of us safe, I can ride with him while he runs.  That will accomplish fulfilling one of his needs (lots of exercise) in turn maybe lessening his desire to find adventure on the other side of the fence.

Maybe we too can find fulfillment in becoming a little more engaged in the present moment, thereby lessening our need to be busy.

Cranberry Spice Cake was on board to be the recipe du jour, adapted from Bon Appétit.  It is a pretty, festive cake.

But on the same day I made the cake, I also made Split Pea Soup.  The nutritional qualities of dried legumes combined with the relative ease of making soup with split peas because they do not need to be soaked, equals a need for me to share this.

I am bowled over by split pea’s nutritional content.  A one cup serving of split peas provide 14 grams each of fiber and protein along with many trace minerals.   That is tough to beat.

When I want to bake something sweet, I look for what I think of as the everydayness in a recipe.  When I want to make soup, I think of what I have in the refrigerator.  I already had on hand, as I typically do, onions and carrots.  Parsnips I had purchased to roast.  A bag of split peas was in the pantry.

Split Pea Soup with Parsnips                             Serves 4 – 6 

Cooks Notes:  The split peas will have a bite to them after cooking.  The consistency is not similar to canned split pea soups.  By blending or mashing the contents of the soup, the end result is a thicker, creamier soup.  The parsnips add a hint of sweetness.  I had less than 1/2 of a ham steak on hand.  I added it, diced, at the end.


1 lb. dried green split peas

1 large yellow or sweet onion, diced

2 – 3 carrots, rinsed, diced

2 parsnips, rinsed, diced

1 t. jarred minced garlic or 1 clove fresh garlic, minced

6 – 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 T. (heaping) oregano

1/2 or 1 thick cut ham steak, chopped (optional)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil


  1. In a mesh colander, rinse split peas removing any debris, set aside.
  2. In a dutch oven or large saucepan, warm over medium heat 3 T. extra virgin olive oil.  Saute onion, carrot and parsnips over medium, medium high heat with a generous pinch of salt and black pepper until the vegetables have softened, approximately 10 – 15 minutes taking care to reduce heat if vegetables are browning too much.
  3. Add garlic.  Stir 30 – 60 seconds until garlic is fragrant.  Add the peas and 6 c. of broth.  Bring to a gentle boil.  Reduce heat and simmer about 45 minutes skimming off foam.
  4. Add remainder of broth to desired consistency.   Simmer another 45 minutes until peas are al dente.  With either a hand held masher or an immersion blender, mash or blend peas and vegetables until roughly 1/2 of peas and veg are blended.  Add ham if desired.  Stir and warm through.  Adjust seasonings.  Serve hot with a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.