inspiration, really?!

If you are the one of those people who often feel inspired, I bow to you with not an ounce of jealousy.  Well, ok, maybe a little jealousy.

Me?  I have to mine the caves of my mind, as in excavate, drill down for ideas.  I can’t explain it.  It could be my disposition.  It could be just me. Could be … who knows?  When I do run across a source of inspiration, it is a tickle.  It is something that pads lightly around the edges of my consciousness like lemon zest in a dish.  It is there, it perfumes the dish, but what is it?

Recently I watched the Olympic swimming trials, by mistake.  I happened to sit down while my husband had the TV on.  I watched, maybe, 20 minutes. You know what?  I started to feel a little inspired.  Inspired to do what… I am not sure.  But, there is no misinterpreting that tiny nudge of encouragement that leads to being enlivened and strengthened.

Lately I’ve found myself feeling a certain way;  and, subsequently telling myself I should be feeling otherwise.  Feeling down? C’mon, Kelly, get over it.  Feeling unmotivated and lethargic?  C’mon, Kelly, get something done.  In doing so, I am telling myself to be someone other than who I am in that moment.  In turn, it leads me away from my inherent nature.  By contrast, if I simply accept how I am feeling in any given moment, I am closer to my true essence.  Being closer to one’s inherent nature enables us to more easily tap into creativity or inspiration because our mind’s are freer.

If ideas germinate with a little tickle, a seed, then it is helpful to have a touchstone, especially if the modality encourages the mind to be freer.    A touchstone that can be used to access an open state of being is So Hum.  So Hum is a sanskrit word loosely meaning, “I am that.”  It is typically used as a mantra.  While practicing this mantra, “So” is thought to oneself on the inhale, “Hum” is thought on the exhale.  Since it’s message to the practitioner is, “I am that,” by remaining in that space, we will most likely not attempt to change who we are in a given moment.  Our minds will loosen up a little.  Once acceptance has occurred, transformation can, and probably will, happen.

Maybe having a few pictures of meals and a dessert may spawn some ideas for you as it does for me…

Why do I post these pictures?  Ideas.  In the past, I found a string of pictures like this to be arrogant.  A little shout-y, if you will.  A little look at me.  But, it occurred to me while contemplating inspiration, I frequently get encouragement from pictures or descriptions of something someone else cooked or baked, (or wrote).  I may not make or do anything remotely like they did;  nevertheless, it oftentimes gives me the nudge I need.

Photo #1:  The strawberry pie I made for two reasons.  It is pretty.  And, my husband loves strawberries.  Although the dessert is much more sugar-based than I typically will make, the color won out.

Photo #2:  The second dish was created by London-based chef, Yotam Ottolenghi.  He puts together ingredients in a new way.  Ways I would never contemplate… until I read about how he cooks.  The pasta sauce pictured above is made with pine nuts, raisins, celery, tomatoes, capers, olives, and a little sugar.  Very different.  Very good.

Photo #3:  Baked pasta with roasted vegetables.  I roasted an eggplant and an onion, par-boiled pasta, combined both pasta and vegetables with stewed, diced tomatoes, marinara sauce, basil, and topped the dish with parmesan cheese.  In the oven it went for about 25 minutes.

Photo #4:  Summer Minestrone.  A favorite of mine.  I came up with this last summer (hence, it’s name) because I love soup, but not hot soup when it is 95 + degrees outside.  It is good at room temperature or cold.  And, you can’t beat eating a jumble of vegetables.

The recipe for today’s post is for Baby Bok Choy Stir-Fry with Lemon Vinaigrette.  I’ve been making quite a few bean and rice dishes lately.  This one came about with ingredients I had on hand, and an idea for tahini dressing that I adapted.  The technique of sauteéing vegetables, adding them to prepared rice and beans, and topping it all with a vinaigrette is versatile and handy.  I’ve made this dish with a variety of kale also.

Baby Bok Choy Stir-Fry with Lemon Vinaigrette

Serves 3 – 4 

1 c. brown rice, cooked, set aside*

1 14 oz. can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed, set aside

1/2 medium sweet onion, diced

1 head baby bok choy, rinsed, thinly sliced

1 8 oz container baby bella mushrooms, cleaned of dirt, thinly sliced

1/2 c. + chicken or vegetarian broth, preferably low-sodium

1 lemon, room temperature, rinsed, zest and juice

extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Prepare brown rice according to package directions, set aside. *Depending on your preferred rice to bean ratio in this salad, you may use less rice.  I typically end up using about 2/3 of the cooked rice.  Or, I use all of it and add another can of beans.  Adjust seasonings and dressing accordingly.
  2. Rinse and drain beans, set aside.
  3. In a large skillet with a lid, heat 2 T  extra virgin olive oil over medium heat, add onion and a pinch of salt.  Sauté 3 – 4 minutes until the onion begins to soften and release its moisture.  Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt.  Sauté another 3 minutes or so until the mushrooms begin to release their moisture and begin to brown just slightly.
  4. Add bok choy, pour 1/2 c. broth or more depending on desired consistency over the top of the vegetables, add freshly ground black pepper to taste, put the lid on. Cook over medium to medium low heat until the greens begin to wilt and are cooked, about 5 minutes.  Remove pan from heat.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, add beans, cooked vegetable mixture, including the broth which becomes part of the dressing, and the rice.  Zest and juice lemon over mixture.  Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Drizzle about 4 T. of extra virgin olive oil over the salad.   Mix well to combine.  Serve warm or at room temperature.
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smoothing the rough edges


Words that take the rough edges off of life, cradling the current moment in a bit more softness than our everyday lives, jump off the page at me.  I don’t run into them often.  Recently, I heard it in Tina Chang’s words.  When discussing the writing she may do in an evening she explained, …”maybe much of it will be discarded, maybe some of it will be saved by the gods.”

What do I hear in that?  I hear silence.  I hear softness. I hear acceptance.  I hear surrender.  What is my reaction to these words?  It makes me want to breathe.  Breathe deeply.  Somehow those words distill the essence of the moment.  Time slows.

To me, Tina’s words are akin to the psychological effects of surrender.  During the process of surrender, time slows, the essence of the moment can become distilled.  “The act of surrender engages, rather than avoids, the process of transformation,” explains Mary Beth G. Moze.  I feel transformation in the words of Tina Chang.  This may be presumptuous of me, but it seems as if Ms. Chang has done the work she has needed and wanted to do, and then let it go.  More importantly, it seems as if she may transmute herself continually by the act of surrender.  If she is doing this, then she is letting go of any perceived control the ego has.  So can we.

Why am I interested in this?  I am fearful.  Fear is, in part, operated by our desire to control.  My fears (if they are strong) tend to lead to obsessive thoughts.  Could surrender be part of the puzzle I was missing in order to deal with this fear ?  I didn’t think so because I practice surrendering regularly.

I’ve learned over the years to welcome any and all thoughts.  Give them an equal place at the table as Rumi tells us to do.  Ok, been there, done that.  But, by welcoming this fear, this time it wasn’t taking an equal place at the table.  It took many seats.

We can employ what I think of as more traditional stress relievers that will help the situation, muscle relaxation, deep breathing, visualization, exercise, and keeping journals.  But, sometimes the stressor that causes the fear is just there.  There are times in life when, for whatever reason, it is not going to go away anytime soon.  What to do?

Recently while making dinner, a quinoa and rice beauty, I was carrying on a conversation in my head about how to explain to a seasoned, trained meditator, my problem, hoping she may have some advice for me with respect to dealing with this fear.  I knew from experience how the act of surrender gives rise to the process of transformation.  But, as I mentioned, I had tried that in the past weeks and it didn’t seem like I was making any progress.  I found myself time and time again coming back to my fears.  Telling myself I just needed to be braver.  Needed to pull up my socks and get done what needs to be done.  In other words, I was starting at point A, and I’d return to point A.  My goal was to get to B, not Z, just B.

While I was thinking about how I would explain my situation to the trained meditator, I realized what I needed to do.  I needed to surrender to the fear, as opposed to simply surrendering to a particular situation.  In my opinion, what I had been doing was trying to control and compartmentalize the fear.   The fear is not going to go away.  (It is a healthy fear, based on a medical situation, not an irrational fear.)  Possibly by my desire to control and compartmentalize it, I may have given it a bit more power.

Recently my husband and I learned the timeframe I would be in an upcoming surgery and a recovery room, my husband smiled and said jokingly, “I have plenty of time for a round of golf.”  His comment smoothed the rough edges.  Comparably, my surrendering to this fear (which is an ongoing act)  has also smoothed the rough edges, if only a bit.  By doing so, maybe I too have framed the current moment in softness.  Even if only for a moment.

One of my goals is to live life, “… from a new way of knowing rather than just seeing it from a different perspective,” as Moze describes when explaining how powerful the act of surrendering can be.  I am not saying I’ll reach that place soon or even in my lifetime.  But, if I can make small, small incremental movements toward that place, I am happy.

I read a recipe in Bon Appétit that got great reviews, but at first glance it did not look exciting to me.  I decided to try it.  My first instinct was wrong.  The dish is really good.  The elements of lemon juice, parsley and cheese contrast nicely with the different grains.  It has become one of our staples.

Cumin-Scented Quinoa and Rice                            6 servings

adapted from Bon Appétit

Cooks Note:  I’ve adapted the recipe and included the ingredients I used.  Although the contrast of colors is pleasant, and we eat with our eyes, you can use what you have on hand for the grains.  The original recipe calls for adding fresh chives and cilantro.  I did not have any on hand.  They would be a nice addition.

1/2 c. short or long grain red rice (sub black or brown)

1 c. black quinoa, rinse well and set aside (sub red or transparent color)

1 bay leaf (optional)

1/4 tsp. salt, more to taste

4 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 small onion, diced

1/2 tsp. jarred minced garlic or 1 garlic clove, minced

2 tsp. ground cumin

3 T. fresh lemon juice

1/4 c. flat-leaf parsley, rinsed and chopped, set aside

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, sliced

1 lemon, cut into wedges

small wedges of ricotta salata cheese or goat cheese, optional

  1. Prepare rice and quinoa according to package directions.  Set aside. (Add bay leaf, if using, to quinoa while cooking.  Remove bay leaf once cooking is done.)
  2. Meanwhile, heat 2 T. oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add onion, pinch of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and cumin.  Cook, stirring often, for about 1 – 2 minutes until the garlic and cumin are fragrant.  Remove from heat.
  3. Transfer quinoa and rice to a large mixing bowl.  Add onion mixture.  Add remaining oil, lemon juice, parsley and other herbs, salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Combine well.
  4. Serve with wedges of avocado and lemon, adding additional herbs if desired.  Crumble cheese over top of each portion, if using.

soup, summer, and craziness

I can become emotional and disorganized in the face of making big decisions.  Along with these attractive traits, once in awhile I’ll thrown in being ornery, more easily frustrated and irritable.  If there is a full moon, watch out.  I probably don’t have to tell you it is all on the north side of slightly unbecoming.  Not pretty, I know.

I have been kicking around the idea of returning to graduate school;  hence, the conflicting thoughts in my mind.

Two or more opposing thoughts in the mind create conflict.  I find it best to have at least four to six.  Cognitive dissonance and I are old friends.  We are on a first name basis.

I do suppose that I could approach the process in a more logical manner. Step 1.  Sit for GREs.  Step 2. Wait for score.  Step 3. Determine if score will get me into a graduate school.  Step 4.  I won’t bore you anymore.  You get the picture.  But, oh no, I don’t handle it the logical way.  At least not at first.  I have to begin the process by imagining things like leaving my family to attend school; or, once again, paying back a mountain of debt acquired during one’s education.  I handle it the emotional way.

To me, summer soup (my take on minestrone soup) is a far cry from the messiness of opposing thoughts and decisions.  It is a no muss, no fuss, straightforward dish.  I enjoy making this soup in the summer months because it is good served at room temperature.  The flavors seem to meld and heighten a bit more when the soup is allowed to rest after cooking.

Full of vegetables and beans, a healthier dish is hard to find.   It is also a forgiving soup. Use what you have in your vegetable drawer.  Zucchini instead of carrots ?  Great. Cabbage instead of spinach ?  All the better. Leftover rice in the frig?  Put it in your soup and leave out the ditalini.

Summer Soup

1/2   large sweet onion, diced

2   stalks celery, rinsed and diced

4   carrots, rinsed and diced

8 oz.  button mushrooms, rinsed or wiped, thinly sliced

1  T.  oregano

1/2 T. basil

15 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed, set aside

15 oz can corn, drained and rinsed, set aside

4 c. (more, if needed, for desired consistency) low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth

1/2 c. (scant) ditalini pasta, uncooked

6 – 9 oz. bag fresh spinach, rinsed, set aside

extra virgin olive oil

freshly ground black pepper and salt

1.  In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat 2 T. or so of olive oil over medium heat.

2.  Once the oil is fragrant, add the diced onion, carrot and celery.  Add a pinch of salt.  Sweat vegetables until they have softened and begin to turn slightly translucent.  About 10 minutes.

3.  Add mushrooms and pinch of salt.  Sweat mushrooms until they begin to give up their moisture and develop a slight golden brown color.  About 5 minutes.

4.  Add seasonings including freshly ground black pepper to taste.   Stir to incorporate.

5.  Add kidney beans, corn, 3 c. of the broth and ditalini.  Simmer 10 minutes until pasta is al dente.  Do not overcook.

6.  Add remaining stock and spinach.  Stir to incorporate.  Put lid on pot and remove from heat allowing the heat from the dish to cook and wilt the spinach.  Check after 5 – 10 minutes.  Once spinach is wilted, remove lid, serve immediately or at room temperature with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil dressing each bowl.