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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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

 

 

 

 

you are on the right path, baby

The past few months I’ve been thinking, it is just me or are the mosquitoes as bad as they seem to be?  As it turns out, it is the worst mosquito season in history, or so I am told.

To be outside means you have to either keep moving or don long sleeves and long pants because within less than a minute, five to six mosquitoes will be on one limb of your body.   Well, ok.  I can handle that.  But, I want my two pups to be able to play outside without seeing them covered in mosquitoes.   Solution?  Bat house!

Then, my thoughts immediately trip to…quick, Kelly, run to the house!  Order online two bat houses!  (Why two, I have no idea, when one would be plenty.)  Request that your husband go to the hardware store and immediately buy two posts to put the bat houses on!  (Never mind the bat houses will probably take at least 3 – 5 days for delivery.)

Problem solved or an example of impulsivity?  Maybe both.  But, I’ve found there are very few moments in life that demand an immediate reaction.  Mosquitoes and bat houses should not be one of them.

More typically than not, forethought and a period of time stands a person in better stead than reacting.  I’ve learned how to keep my impulsivity in check.  Now, that desire to react immediately rarely comes up.  (However, when I am in a certain frame of mind, I am much more vulnerable to it.)

In learning to keep impulsivity in check, did I develop a different neural pathway?  I think so.

Each person’s neural pathways are created over time.  Our cells talk to each other. They send electrochemical messages to each other endlessly.  Over time, we tend to develop well worn neural pathways. The more the same cells talk to each other, the more the others do not experience as much activity or no activity, the inactive cells essentially become useless and eventually die off.  The active cells keep sending the same messages between them, traveling the same path.

Dr. Gene Van Tassell describes the pathways as, “the more often a pathway is used, the more sensitive the pathway becomes and the more developed that pathway becomes in the individual brain.”

Ok, so we’ve developed many well worn pathways in our brain.  Big deal?  Maybe yes, maybe no.   It is a big deal if those pathways lead us away from healthy behavior.  If those pathways find us repeating behaviors that are destructive or counterproductive. It is then that someone should call a time-out on the playing field.

Time-out’s are good.  They can help keep things in check.  If life is far off base, sure it can be tough to get things headed in the right direction.  But, you’ll get there.  Take the steady approach, thumb your nose at impulsivity, and while you are at it, bake a quiche. Why?  Why not.

For dinner, I pair it with a simple green salad and bread with olive oil.

I’ve played around with a number of different types of quiches and different crusts.  A quiche that I want to eat does not have a crust and relies on something other than cheese for the big flavor component.  So, I stir in 2  1/2 cups of roasted vegetables.  The flavor of the vegetables marries well with the eggs and cheese.  If the roasted vegetables are prepared in advance, this can be a quick weeknight meal.  Leftovers are good for breakfast as well, cold or hot.

Farmhouse Crustless Quiche

4  eggs

1/2 c. milk

1/2 c. ricotta or mascarpone cheese, room temperature

1 c. mixture of shredded cheeses, pecorino, cheddar, asiago, mozzarella, your choice

2 1/2 c. roasted vegetables, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, onions (recipe below)

1 T. oregano

salt and freshly ground black pepper

optional condiments:  sour cream and salsa

1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Butter a deep dish 9″ pie plate.  Place pie plate on a baking sheet to avoid spillage in the oven.  Set aside.

2.  In a medium mixing bowl whisk eggs and milk together.  Whisk in cheeses, both shredded and ricotta or mascarpone.  Whisk until yolks are broken and mixture is incorporated.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add oregano.  Whisk to combine.

3.  Fold the vegetable mixture into the cheese mixture.  Stir to combine.

4.  Pour the mixture into the pie plate.  Bake for 30 – 40 minutes until a golden brown crust forms on the top and the middle of the quiche barely moves when jiggled a bit.

Let the quiche rest for 15 minutes before serving.  Serve topped with sour cream or salsa, if desired.

Roasted Vegetables

Yield 3 cups +
Cooks Note:  The mixture of the vegetables is up to you.  Use what you have on hand.  I’ve found carrots, parsnips and onions add great flavor.   Add  a green vegetable such as broccoli or asparagus for color and additional nutrients.  Bell peppers would work well, any color.  The trick is to cut the vegetables into similar sizes so they roast evenly.

1 large yellow onion, chopped

5 carrots, rinsed and chopped

3 – 4 parsnips, rinsed and chopped

2 c.  broccoli florets, rinsed

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Pile your vegetables on two large rimmed baking sheets, evenly divided.  Drizzle olive oil over the top, maybe 2 – 3 T. over each pile of vegetables.  Salt and pepper to taste. Using your hands, toss the vegetables to incorporate the oil, salt and pepper.

2.  Spread the vegetables in a single layer on each sheet.  Check for doneness after 30 minutes of baking.  Roast 30 – 45 minutes until they begin to turn golden brown and are fork tender.