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.
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daily management

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”  – Emerson.

On Monday of this week, my doctor told me I had abnormal test results. She also told me I need to come in for another procedure.  Not much other information was given.  Nor did I ask many questions.  She was in a hurry. We hung up the phone.  My emotions rally as if assembling in a mass meeting.

So, I am going for a second opinion and consultation with another doctor. We’ll see.

Again, “what lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.”  – Emerson.

In a situation such as the medical one I found myself in this week, my mind comes up with all of the things that could be wrong with me quicker than greyhounds out of a starting gate.  Then, my emotions dovetail on my thoughts until soon enough they are leading me;  and, I have myself in a grave within six months.  No kidding.  The whole process doesn’t take long. I can pull it off within 1 – 2 minutes.  Why in the world don’t I think of everything that is right at that juncture in time?  I do not know.  I can, however, think of much that is right when I remind myself to and when I train myself to.  It takes management.

Daily Management of the Mind.  That is how I’ve come to think of it and what I call it.

Just as we might train our body to run a marathon, we can train our minds. We are able to learn how to calm the fluctuations of the mind.  Many of the same concepts apply in training the mind as training for a marathon.  It takes consistency and discipline.  It takes mindfulness and awareness.

How does one begin?  Spend time for a few moments daily being quiet in whatever form feels natural to you.  There is one caveat.  Tune out information and sound input to the extent that it is possible.  In other words, set the book down and turn off the laptop, TV, and radio.  In the long run this practice equips us to deal with everyday stresses.  It fine tunes the life skills we all need and put into practice everyday.  It leads us to contentment internally, rather than leading us away to find it externally.

Meditation, or sitting quietly, also aids us in recognizing that thoughts, feelings and emotions change with the moment.  If you’d like, you can watch your thoughts and emotions moving through your mind while sitting quietly, by observing them as if you were the witness.  In turn, detachment is created and learned giving you something else to put in your arsenal for managing your life.

Meanwhile, I’ve been playing around with various vegetarian dishes.  One of my favorites is a combination of beans and tomatoes with a poached egg on top.  The technique for poached egg dishes like this is to create a flavorful bed of ingredients that have already been cooked or sautéed on which the eggs rest.   In the same ovenproof skillet that the tomatoes and beans are cooked, the eggs are poached in the oven until the yolks are slightly set.

Poached Eggs with Tomatoes and Cannelini Beans                   Serves 2 -4 

loosely adapted from Bon Appétit

*Cook’s Notes:  If you do not have an ovenproof skillet, simply make the tomato and bean mixture in a skillet on the stove.  Transfer the ingredients to a lightly oiled baking dish and proceed adding cheese and eggs on top of the bean and tomato mixture.  I served the eggs with saltines and chopped tomatoes.

Ingredients 

1/2 medium yellow or sweet onion, diced

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

2 t. paprika

1 t. cumin

1 15 oz can cannelini beans, rinsed and drained

1 15 oz can petite cut diced tomatoes or any stewed tomato of your choice

4 eggs

1/4  – 1/3 of a small log of goat cheese , a good 1″ thick slab, or more to taste

2 – 3 T. fresh parsley, roughly chopped, optional

salt and freshly ground black pepper

extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425°.

  1. In a medium size *ovenproof skillet warm 2 – 3 T. of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté increasing the heat if necessary 10 minutes or until the veg begins to soften and turn a translucent color.
  2. Add garlic, lowering heat if necessary so as not to burn.  Stir 30 seconds or until garlic is fragrant.
  3. Add beans and diced tomatoes, paprika, cumin, black pepper, salt to taste, bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.
  4. Crumble goat cheese over cooked ingredients, add parsley if using, crack 4 eggs on top. Salt and pepper the eggs.  Bake at 425° for 7 – 9 minutes until eggs are set.  Serve hot.  Yield 2 – 4 servings.