Photographs by Meadow Linn

Friday, November 14, 2014

Dream Big: Allow for the Limitless Possibility of Your Own Potential


 Climb high
Climb far
Your goal the sky
Your aim the star

~Inscription at Williams College, my alma mater

Are you playing small? Are you dreaming big enough to reach your fullest potential? What if Oprah had only dreamed of an afternoon book club with her closest friends? What if Steve Jobs had never believed in the possibility of a handheld device that could connect us with the world? And, what if Gandhi had only hoped for friendship among a few people?

What could you do? Who could you become? And what gifts could you share with the world if you allowed for the limitless possibility of your own potential?

Dream big. Before my trip to Asheville, I spent hours pouring over real estate listings online. It was a fun way to get a better feel for the area and see if it would be somewhere I might eventually want to call home. One of the houses in particular caught my eye. So, when I was there, I did a drive-by of my “dream house.” I’d chosen it because it had space for a garden and was reasonably priced (though still more than I could afford at this time). In reality, the tiny bungalow was wedged within a dark canyon and situated underneath a freeway. Everything about it made me feel small. 

It was, however, a powerful moment. I nearly laughed when I saw the house. Why was I dreaming so small? Since I’m not in the market for a new house at this very moment, why not dream big? Why not envision myself in the most beautiful and expansive feeling house on the most sought-after street?

Be creative. Be big. Be bold. Be brave.
If you could do, be, or have absolutely anything, what would it be? Maybe the thing that would bring you the most joy is something that you can’t even begin to imagine yet because it’s so far out of your current realm. That’s okay. Dream it up anyway. There’s a possibility your dreams won’t come to fruition in the exact way you imagine them; yet, there’s a 100% chance they won’t come true if you don’t try.

Dreams need to be specific. In my bedroom I have a wooden box (called a “Miracle Box”) where I place slips of paper with my desires. These statements, I’m now realizing, are rather general and as a result they’re languishing. They say things like, “I am in love,” “I have happy children,” and “I have enough money to travel.” A few years ago I included a picture of my dream car, a silver Subaru Outback. The color didn’t really matter to me, but it mattered to the Universe. Of all these desires in the box, guess which one came to fruition? The car, of course! This happened because I was really specific about this dream. I didn’t just say, “I have a nice car,” I specified exactly what kind. Not only do I now have the Outback, but also it’s the same color as the one in the photo.

Take steps toward realizing your dreams. Recently I saw a Facebook post from that said, “There is nothing standing between you and your dreams. Take the first step.” It’s important not only to dream big, but also to take steps toward making those dreams come true. We don’t simply wish something to happen and then it appears. The car didn’t just magically show up on my doorstep. I saved. I planned. I researched. I actively manifested this dream to fruition. We need to be intimately involved in consciously creating our own life.

Even if it’s scary, take action. Working toward your dreams can be an exciting process, but also it can be daunting. The other day, while feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of chasing my big dream of publishing a second book, I opened a magazine to escape for a few minutes. What a surprise it was to “randomly” flip to a Subaru advertisement that said, “Chase your dreams.” The car in the ad was the exact make, model, and color as the car I manifested a few years ago! Even if failure feels inevitable, keep going. When I first put the car in my Miracle Box I had never before purchased a car, let alone a new one. 

Be grateful. If you approach your dreams from a place of everyone-else-has-what-I-want-poor-me, you’re going to have a difficult time reaching the stars. But if you’re grateful for what you already have and create an action plan to move into a state of even more joy and love, there’s a greater chance this will happen. Celebrate every triumph, no matter how small, because you’re making progress.

Here’s to big dreams! Spread your wings and fly. Before you know it, you’ll be soaring into your greatest potential. 

Shoot for the Stars Soup
Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Pomegranate and Maple Pear “Croutons”

I named this soup “Shoot for the Stars” because it’s so easy to make; yet, when topped with the pears and pomegranate, it looks like something you’d be served in an elegant restaurant. Dreaming big (and eating well) need not be difficult or complicated. The journey can be simple and delicious.

Serves 4 

1 cauliflower, broken into florets
1 bosc pear, pealed, cored, and cut into chunks
4 Tbsp. olive oil
½ tsp. fresh cracked pepper
¾ tsp. fine grain French gray salt, or other artisanal salt
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
5 cups water
2 tsp. lemon juice

Maple Pear “Croutons”:
1 firm bosc pear, peeled, cored, and cut into tiny cubes
2 Tbsp. maple syrup

To serve:
Maple pear “croutons”
Chopped chives

Preheat oven to 450ºF.

Put the cauliflower florets and chunks of pear into a roasting pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle 3 Tbsp. of the olive oil over the cauliflower, and sprinkle with the cracked pepper and ½ tsp. of the salt. Using clean hands, toss the cauliflower until the oil is evenly distributed. Roast in the oven until the edges of the cauliflower are caramelized and the centers are soft, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile in a medium-sized soup pot, warm the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and remaining ¼ tsp. salt. Sauté over medium heat until the onion is soft and translucent.

While the onions sauté, peel, core, and cut the firm bosc pear into tiny cubes. In a small frying pan, heat the maple syrup over medium heat. Simmer for about four minutes, until thick syrup is formed. Remove from the heat, add the pear cubes to the pan, and gently toss until fully coated. Set aside.

Remove the cauliflower from the oven and add to the soup pot. Pour in the water and mix in the lemon juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes to give the flavors time to marry. Turn off the heat. Purée the soup using an immersion blender or a blender on medium speed.

To serve, top with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, chopped chives, and maple pear “croutons.”

Monday, October 13, 2014

Being in the Flow

Do you feel like you’re butting your head up against a wall and no matter how much you try, nothing seems to come together? This is what happens when you’re out of the flow.
Do you feel at other times as though your life is miraculously unfolding in ways that far surpass your wildest dreams? This is what happens when you’re in the flow.

Like a pendulum swinging to and fro, I’ve experienced both extremes. In recent years I’ve noticed this especially poignantly on my birthday.

My 36th birthday was a disaster. I’d had my heart broken by a man who I thought had potential to be “the one.” And no amount of birthday cheer could pull me out of the dark hole I’d fallen into. My mom tried absolutely everything to cheer me up, but it was for naught. As a result of my spiraling depression, there was no flow to the day. My mom had organized a day of pampering, but somehow nothing turned out as planned. We went to Sephora to have our makeup done, but the woman was out with the flu. As we were walking down the street, my shoe broke. Things that should have been simple appeared as massive hurdles.

I understand now that the day was mirroring the way I was feeling. There was no flow to the day because I wasn’t in the flow.

In bed on my 35th birthday with severe abdominal pains
My 35th birthday wasn’t much better. I spent that birthday in bed with excruciating abdominal pains that, after a trip to the Emergency Room, was diagnosed as ovarian cysts. I wasn’t in the flow then either. For a few years I’d been dreading 35 because everything I’d read said a woman’s fertility withers like a brittle leaf in the autumn sun at that age. So, rather than celebrating that birthday with cake and ice cream, I spent it worrying that I might never become a mother. Since I’d put so much charge on turning 35, I wasn’t in the flow. As a result, my body created a physical manifestation of the angst I’d been carrying with me. 

However, on the eve of turning 37, something seems different this year.

I feel as though I’m embarking on a new phase of my life. There’s nothing specific that I can pinpoint; it’s more of a feeling. And from what I’ve been hearing, it sounds as though there are many others who are also feeling this way.

Here’s an example of how things are currently in the flow. I’m not sure why, but a few months ago I got the idea that I wanted to celebrate my birthday at Disneyland. But, going to Anaheim was not in the flow. My autumn schedule was jam-packed, and finding a friend to join me would be difficult. Since it didn’t seem to be in the flow, I let it go. But, two days ago, an Australian friend out-of-the-blue said she was going to be in Los Angeles and was planning to spend a day at Disneyland, on my birthday! And then, as if by magic, everywhere I looked I saw signs that pointed me in that direction. When I turned on the television, there was a commercial for Disneyland, and I just happened to open a family album to a photo from a past trip to the Magic Kingdom. When you’re in the flow, life is filled with synchronicity.

Cinderella's Castle at Disneyland
Something shifted in me this summer when I was sick with whooping cough. After spending two months in bed, I’m no longer willing to just coast or wait for life to happen. I’ve noticed myself jumping more quickly on opportunities, and as a result there have been even more such opportunities. Joy and happiness beget joy and happiness. And the more joy and happiness you experience, the more you’ll be in the flow, and the more you’re in the flow, the more seemingly effortless life will be.

Action steps: When you’re out of the flow, getting back in the flow can feel like a Herculean task. However, you don’t have to build Rome in a day. Start small. Last year when I was in a deep depression on my birthday, my mom and I sat by the river and dangled our feet in the current. Although my heart still hurt, watching autumn leaves flow downstream was a spark that put me back on the path to regaining my flow. There was such wonderment in that seemingly small moment. When you savor the small moments, bit-by-bit you’ll get back into the flow, and miracles will abound. We’re on the precipice of something special…I can feel it!

Happy Birthday Applesauce Cake

This is the birthday cake my mom made for me every year when I was growing up. I was the only kid in the 80s with a gluten-free birthday cake, I’m pretty sure. But even when I started eating wheat in my teens, this remained a favorite. This is my mom’s recipe, with just a few updates. I hope you love it as much as we do. I’ll be enjoying a big slice on my birthday! 

I’ve written instructions for using a standing mixer, but this cake can easily be made by hand.

With my Happy Birthday Applesauce Cake
Makes 1 small cake

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
½ cup coconut sugar
3 eggs
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 1/3 cup brown rice flour
3 Tbsp. potato starch (not potato flour)
2 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. ground cloves
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 325ºF.

Grease an 8x8x2 or a 9-inch round pan*.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachement, cream the butter and sugars on medium-low, scraping down the sides as necessary. Turn off the machine and add the eggs and applesauce. Mix on low until combined.

In a medium bowl combine the brown rice flour, potato starch, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves. With the standing mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until fully combined.

Turn off the machine and mix in the walnuts and raisins by hand.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. My mom’s recipe says to bake the cake in an 8x8x2 inch pan for 1 hour 15 minutes. However, when I used a 9-inch round spring-form pan, the cake only took 50 minutes.

Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature before frosting.

* Greasing with butter is probably sufficient; however, I like to use parchment and flour as well. To use my this-cake-has-absolutely-no-chance-of-sticking method, place the cake pan on a piece of parchment paper and with a pencil trace around the edge. Cut the parchment to fit into the bottom or the pan. Grease the bottom and sides of the pan with butter. Then place the parchment in the bottom of the pan and grease the top of the parchment. Add brown rice flour to the pan and tap the sides to evenly coat with a thin layer of flour.

Cream Cheese Frosting

My mom's original handwritten recipe

Makes about 2 cups

1 8-oz pkg. cream cheese
1 cup (8 oz.) sour cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon juice

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Slowly bring the mixer to high, then beat until smooth, approximately 3 minutes.

Since I have an autumn birthday, my mom always decorated my cake with colorful leaves

Monday, September 29, 2014

Are you a Dream Stomper or a Dream Supporter?

Do you have someone in your life that supports you no matter what? Does this person believe in your dreams, no matter how hair-brained they might seem? Or, is your life filled with Dream Stompers? These are the people who may think they have your best interest at heart but somehow have a way of quelling your enthusiasm and limiting your possibility.

I read an article recently in which the author said that when searching for your life purpose it’s important to find something at which you don’t mind failing, because likely there will be many failed attempts before you find success. Those who stomp on your dreams are often only trying to protect you from what could potentially end in failure; however, in most cases you have to be willing to tumble a few times before you soar. If a baby bird spent all of his time afraid to fall, he would never know the joys of flying out of the nest.

Just a couple days ago, pretty much out-of-the-blue, I got the idea that perhaps Asheville, North Carolina will be my next town.

Let me back up a little bit. I moved to the Central Coast of California five years ago because my parents were here. However, they’ve recently purchased acreage in Northern California and are planning to move there in the spring. People frequently ask me what I’ll do when my parents move. My response has always been that I’m waiting to see which way the wind will blow.

Since I hadn’t planned to think about whether I would move and where I would go until at least March, I was surprised by this inkling intuition about Asheville, which I owe surprisingly to a novel set near there.

Picking up and moving to North Carolina seems rather crazy…With the exception of a week on the Outer Banks in college I’ve spent no time in the South. I’ve never been to Asheville, and I don’t know a single person there.

However, when I mentioned this to my mom, who is my Dream Supporter, she didn’t say, “Are you crazy?” Instead, she said, “What a great idea! Why don’t you go check it out.” So, even though I usually like to spend a long time weighing options before making decisions, within two days of having this intuition, I’d already booked a flight.

As a Dream Supporter, my mom didn’t question how financially feasible or potentially challenging it could be to pick up and move to a city where I have no friends or connections. Instead, she’s been staying up late at night with me looking at real estate listings, just for the heck of it. I’m not currently in a position to purchase a home, but I already know that. A Dream Supporter doesn’t need to tell you all the things that could be impediments. Instead, they help you envision potential.

When I said, “There are a lot of Bed and Breakfasts in that area. I think I would make a good innkeeper,” she didn’t say, “Running an inn is a lot of work.” Or “Where would you find the money to buy a Bed and Breakfast?” Instead, she said, “You’d be great at that! You could organize tours, host workshops, and offer cooking classes.” Although this sounds intriguing to me now, I’m not even certain this would ultimately be the right path for me, but why stomp on the idea before I have a chance to explore it. Her enthusiasm allows me to be even more creative as I brainstorm and envision what my future steps might be. 

A Dream Supporter helps you live in the realm of possibility. A Dream Stomper, no matter how well intentioned, squashes potential before it even has a chance to grow. I already know that the idea of moving to a place I’ve never visited is crazy, somewhat irrational, and currently makes no financial or social sense. However, it’s not necessary to have someone tell me that. Those thoughts are already present in my mind. If it’s not meant to be, I will discover that in due time. So, why not spend hours the time being pouring over real estate listings and daydreaming about a possible adventure?  

It’s your choice. Do you want to want to live in the realm of possibility where you might fail, or live in the realm of practicality where you might not spread your wings to their full capacity? If it’s the former, as much as possible surround yourself with people who uplift you and support you. Sometimes we can’t avoid the occasional Dream Stomper because they are related to you, but it only takes one Dream Supporter to make a difference. Here’s a little-known secret…One of the best ways to have a Dream Supporter in your life is to be a Dream Supporter for others. The more you support others the more support there will be for you. Here’s to soaring!

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes
Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free

Although I’m very excited to see if Asheville could possibly be my next home, I think I’m most looking forward to seeing the fall color. The photos I’ve seen of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains in autumn look amazing!!! Autumn to me means...colorful leaves, crisp air, longer shadows, apple picking, and an abundance of warm and comforting foods. And, of course, it wouldn’t be autumn without pumpkin spiced pancakes! This version is not only totally scrumptious, but also it’s gluten-free and dairy-free.

Makes about 10 4-inch Pancakes

1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour*
3 tsp. double-acting baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg (if not grating it yourself, use less)
1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
3 Tbsp. coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup canned coconut milk** (full-fat, not light)
3 eggs
coconut oil for cooking the pancakes

*The one I use is a blend of brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and potato starch
** I use Natural Value, which has a high fat content, so I have not added oil to the batter. If, however, your pancakes stick to the pan, add more coconut oil to the griddle and/or a bit to the batter.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, spices, and coconut sugar. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the pumpkin, coconut milk, and eggs together. Pour this into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir to combine. 

Melt a bit of coconut oil in a medium pan or griddle or medium heat. Using a ladle or large spoon, pour enough batter onto the griddle to make a four inch pancake. Cook until the bottom is golden brown and the top is covered in bubbles, flip and cook for a few minutes more on the other side. Repeat. Enjoy with maple syrup.

This is Earth Balance in this photo, but you can use whatever topping suits you best!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What Is So Today... May Not Be So Tomorrow

Life is not static. For better or worse, nothing stays the same forever. Heraclitus famously said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

You are not stuck in your current situation. What today might seem unbearable can tomorrow be the very thing that propels you forward into the life of your dreams, for tomorrow you are not the same as you are today, because each experience, whether good or bad, brings wisdom, understanding, and perspective.

This has certainly been the case for me with my illness. When I was in bed for months with whooping cough, I could not imagine ever having energy again to do the things I love. But now that I’m fully recovered, my life feels fuller than ever before. Even though it was difficult to see when I was in the throes of it, I now recognize that the disease was a powerful catalyst. 

Things change. What is true today may not be true tomorrow.

When we’re in pain or when we’re feeling sad, lonely, hurt, frustrated, worn out, burnt out, or any of the many other possible emotions that come with the ebbs and flows of life, it can be nearly impossible to imagine anything different. For example, a number of years ago when I had constant back pain that resulted in sciatica, I could not picture a day when I’d be able to comfortably ride in a car or bend over to pick something up off the floor. I figured this was the life I was stuck with. Although I still have to be careful, I can now do activities that I would have never dreamed possible back then. And, when I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, I lamented that I’d never again be able to go to a sushi bar without lugging a bottle of gluten-free tamari in my purse. Little did I know that just a few years hence, Kikkoman would start making gluten-free soy sauce, which would be available in many Japanese restaurants. Anguish, whether it’s from something seemingly small or the deepest pain imaginable, does not last forever. Even after immense tragedy or unbearable heartbreak, somehow we find a way to keep going.

If you were to look at the life stories of the people that as a society we deem to be successful, many of them did not come upon their success without some form of struggle along the way. This doesn’t mean that struggle is necessary for growth, but it does show that what is isn’t always what was.

Over the years I’ve had many bouts of worry about my future as it pertains to relationships, finances, and career; however, I also know this to be true: Life has a way of working itself out. Having been single for a long time, despite all my talk of wanting to fall in love and have a family, sometimes I have difficulty imagining any scenario other than the one where I continue to live alone with my dog, cats, and chickens, because at the moment, this is all I know. But, the truth is…things change, and life works out as it’s meant to, even if it doesn’t follow the timeline that we expect. Sometimes life can change very fast. It only takes one phone call, one piece of mail, or one seemingly random encounter to forever alter the course of your life.

Are you in a difficult situation? Do you find yourself feeling as though you simply have to accept your lot in life, no matter how much it feels like drudgery? Are you frustrated? Do you feel a lack of freedom? If so, I want you to know that everything is going to be okay. We often hear that bad things can happen in an instant, but good things can happen in an instant too. We simply have to be open to the unexpected and willing to allow magic to unfold. When you next step into that river, you’ll discover that, indeed, you are not the same, nor is the river the same. Here’s to tomorrow!

Magic Double-Chocolate Pudding
(Dairy-Free and Honey-Sweetened)

After I was diagnosed with gluten and dairy intolerance, tears would smart at my eyes while I looked longingly at the recipes in my favorite cookbooks that I would never again be able to taste. Mostly, I resented the lack of freedom. But, just as with anything, things change. Now, nearly four years hence, I’ve come to embrace this new identity and revel in new flavors and textures. I now have the freedom to experiment with ingredients I would never have considered previously. Plus, having my own dietary restrictions has increased my empathy for others facing similar situations. And, the most exciting part is that I’ve discovered new ways of making old favorites that not only taste better than their original counterparts, but also support me in my journey to optimal health and wellness.

Okay, so, pudding is not exactly “health food,” but for those special occasions when you want a little treat, this really hits the spot.

The first time I served this pudding at an event I was catering, it was received with oohs and awes and lots of “Oh. My. Go-ods.” 

There is a secret ingredient that made all the difference...

I held my hands over the bubbling pot and imagined love flowing from my heart, through my hands, and into the pot. And then, à la Chocolat (The novel by Joanne Harris made into a movie with Johnny Depp), I said an incantation that all who ate the pudding would be filled with love. 

Serves 6

¾ cup + 2 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp. arrowroot
¼ tsp. artisanal salt, such as French grey or Himalayan pink
1 13.5 oz. can full-fat coconut milk (I use Natural Value)
1/3 cup brewed strong coffee
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup mild honey, such as clover
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tsp. vanilla

In a medium pot, whisk the cocoa powder, arrowroot, and salt. Slowly whisk in the coconut milk, coffee, and water until full combined. Stir in the honey.

Heat the chocolate mixture on medium heat, stirring frequently, until a gentle boil is reached, approximately 15-20 minutes. While whisking, imagine love flowing from your heart and into the pot. As you stir, say (and mean it):

With this food we dine
Greater love thus does shine,
As I work this magic spell
Into deeper love we dwell,
I invoke the Law of Love
Calling greater light from above

(Incantation from The Mystic Cookbook: The Secret Alchemy of Food, Hay House, 2012, Denise and Meadow Linn, p. 49)

Once a gentle boil is reached, whisk constantly until the pudding begins to thicken, about a minute. It should be approximately the consistency of pancake batter. Remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate chips and vanilla.

Divide evenly among six small dessert dishes. Chill until set, at least 3 hours. Top with fresh raspberries or strawberries. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Blessing in Disguise: How Whooping Cough Kicked My Butt & Brought Me Back to Myself

You’re probably familiar with the expression, “A blessing in disguise.” However, sometimes that blessing is so well disguised that no matter how hard you look, all you can see is the anguish that’s ripping at your heart and shredding you into tiny pieces. This might sound a bit dramatic, but that’s truly how it can feel when you’re mired in a difficult situation. No matter how much people may tell you that you’ll be grateful one day to have had this experience or that it’s preparing you for something greater, sometimes you just can’t see it.

Earlier this year, I went through a really difficult patch. This is the first time I’ve talked about this publicly, but I want to share with you what I learned, and so I’ve decided to write about my experience.

Have you ever been so frustrated by your inability to function and be a party to your own life that you had moments where you found yourself pleading with God for it all to be over? That’s what my journey with whooping cough was like. Although most days during my two-month convalescence were passed contentedly watching Sex and the City and Law and Order SVU marathons, there were other days when quelling my tears of frustration took every ounce of energy I could muster.

The most difficult time wasn’t when I felt the worst, because during those weeks I didn’t have the energy to be emotionally involved in my situation. It wasn’t until I was starting to heal that I was aware of how hard it was to have no income and no social interactions. This is when I began to feel the weight of my circumstances. However, this is also when I realized that there had to be a reason, some sort of blessing in disguise.

The months I spent in bed were during the time period I’d originally set aside to jumpstart my career. But when you barely have the energy to feed yourself, spending time figuring out your Life Plan and implementing it is not exactly top on the to-do list. So, I had to let go. I had to go with the flow and allow my body the time it needed to heal.

I began to see this journey as a chrysalis phase, leading to an eventual metamorphosis. I pictured myself cocooned by my surroundings. And when the time was right, when my energy returned, I would soar like a beautiful butterfly. I fully believed this, and this knowledge helped me through the rough days.

The problem was…when I finally felt better, there were bills to pay, articles to write, e-mails to return, and home repairs to do. Nothing felt different. If anything, life felt ho-hum and tedious because there was so much catching up to do.

How could I have made it through such a trying time and feel no different? What was the point? Of course, germs were the reason I was sick. But, wasn’t there a greater reason, something that made it all worth it? Where was my blessing in disguise? 

Gravely disappointed, my heart ached. I was lonely, way behind on work, and as of yet, I couldn’t see any type of personal or professional metamorphosis taking place. My voice shaking, I lamented this to my mom while gasping for air between sobs.

My mom reminded me that even after the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it doesn’t immediately fly off to sip a flower’s sweet nectar. Before it spreads its beautiful wings, it first hangs on the branch and waits. The metamorphosis isn’t complete the moment the butterfly breaks through its shell. There’s a waiting period, while it adjusts to its new surroundings and its newfound identity.

Miraculously, from that moment onward, I began to see butterflies in droves, and not always in places where you would expect them.

It’s been about six weeks since I regained my strength. My life hasn’t changed dramatically since my illness; however, once I understood that I needed to be patient, the urgency for transformation was gone and I was able to relax. Once that happened, amazing opportunities began to fall into my lap. I feel more content, sure-footed, and hopeful than I have in a very long time.

Of course, I wish I hadn’t gotten sick, but I am now able to see the blessing in disguise. Had I kept to my plan of vigorously seeking my life plan during the early summer months, I wouldn’t have been in the right frame of mind to open myself to accept the blessings of the Universe. I would have been struggling to attain something, whereas now I feel like I’ve planted some seeds that with gentle care and nurturing will eventually grow strong and vibrant. It will all unfold in due time.

Life throws us curve balls. And although it may not seem like it today, tomorrow, or maybe even a few years from now, eventually you will understand what your challenging experiences taught you and discover the blessing in disguise. Here’s to being patient! Here’s to keeping on keeping on, even when it feels like you’re heading nowhere! Good things are coming your way!

Grilled Chicken Marinated in Mustard-Thyme Sauce

While I was sick I had plenty of time to aimlessly surf the web. I learned a lot! However, the thing that got me the most excited was an article on the ancient mortar and pestle. I immediately ordered a granite one with 3-cup capacity. As soon as I was well enough to prepare food, I began using it to make marinades. Since its arrival in my life, I’ve made some of my very best marinades ever.

The instructions in this recipe are for using a mortar and pestle; however, if you don’t have one, mince the shallots and chop the thyme. Use cracked black pepper in place of the peppercorns.

Serves 3-4

1½ lbs. of boneless skinless organic free-range chicken breasts (2-3 breasts), each one sliced horizontally into 3 thin cutlets

1 lg. (or 2 small) shallots, peeled and rough chopped
¼ tsp. French gray salt, Himalayan pink salt, or other favorite artisanal salt
6 peppercorns
2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, stripped from the stem

1 Tbsp. spicy French Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. olive oil 

In a large mortar combine the shallots, salt, and peppercorns. With the pestle, pound until a paste is formed. Add the thyme. Pound the thyme just enough to release the natural oils, but not so much that it’s pulverized. With a fork, whisk in the mustard, vinegar, and oil.

To create thin cutlets, with a sharp knife slice the chicken breasts horizontally (just as you would cut a cake to make layers). I discovered this trick when I only had two chicken breasts, but four surprise dinner guests. Not only is this a good way to stretch the meat, but also it absorbs more marinade, cooks faster and more evenly, and the leftovers fit perfectly in a sandwich.

Put the chicken in a gallon-sized resealable plastic bag and pour in the marinade. With clean hands, massage the marinade into the chicken. This is a good time to imagine love flowing from your heart, through your hands, and into the chicken. Seal the bag and refrigerate for a couple hours or overnight.

Preheat gas grill to medium.

Grill approximately 4 minutes on one side and 3-4 minutes on the other, though this will depend on the heat of your grill and the thickness of your cutlets.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Be Your Own Best Companion

Sometimes you have to do like Nike says, and JUST DO IT!

When I was in high school in Seattle in the 1990s, through a miraculous set of circumstances, I had an opportunity to go to Portland for the weekend to see The Grateful Dead, and the best part…I could have a private backstage tour and meet the band after the show. I would meet Jerry Garcia!!!

Meeting Jerry Garcia…the Jerry Garcia would not only be an experience I would never forget, but also it would elevate my cool factor among my peers. To be honest, I’m not sure if I was more excited about seeing The Grateful Dead or the imagined social capital such an encounter would create.

Unfortunately, I didn’t go. I was unable to find a friend who was able to join me. And, instead of saying, “The Hell with that! I’m going anyway!,” I stayed home and likely listened to “Sugar Magnolia” on a Mix Tape.

My school ID from around the time I would have seen the Grateful Dead
Sadly, there would be no future such opportunity. Jerry Garcia died a few months later and the band broke up.

Throughout my life there have been many times that I’ve stayed home rather than try a new restaurant, attend a local festival, or even go for a hike, simply because I didn’t want to do it alone.

I’ve always been pretty independent. Being an only child means that you spend a lot of time playing alone, but also it means that you grow up self-reliant and comfortable in your own company. So, from a pretty young age, I’ve confidently headed off on a number of adventures on my own, but also I’ve missed out on so many others because my fear of discomfort and loneliness trumped my desire to have a new experience. I love sharing special moments with others; however, I’ve realized that sometimes you just have to do the things you want to do, even if it means not having anyone to share it with.

The page from my scrapbook with photos from Mont Ste. Victoire hike
Sometimes doing things by yourself is awful. A while back I drove an hour to attend a book signing for a new cookbook. When I got there, I discovered that it was a potluck and everyone knew each other. Feeling like all eyes were on the interloper without a dish to share (though they probably weren’t), I made a beeline for the door and drove straight home before the reading even began. However, other times, you can have amazing experiences you would never have had with a companion. For instance, years ago when I was living in the South of France, I decided to hike to the top of La Mont Sainte-Victoire by myself since none of my friends were available. (This is the mountain famously painted by Cézanne). On the trail, I was adopted by a group of French students who were concerned that I was alone. They quickly pulled me into their fold, and at the top of the mountain they offered me a glass of wine and delicious snacks that they’d been carrying in their satchels. They even cajoled me into singing with them in French.

Remembering the abounding possibilities afforded by a “just do it” philosophy, rather than waiting for a friend, boyfriend, or family member to join, lately I’ve been making more of an effort to do the things I want to do, regardless of who’s onboard. I want to experience my life as fully as I can, and this can’t always happen from the living room couch.

As part of this resolve, last week I got myself a last-minute ticket to see the Under the Sun Tour, which included four bands from my high school years. I danced. I sang. And, I smiled a whole heck of a lot. It was such an incredible night. There was something liberating and energizing about doing such a thing on my own.

My selfie from the Under the Sun Festival (Blues Traveler & Sugar Ray)
I’ve learned that sometimes you just have to go for it. You might feel lonely, but also you might have an amazing time.

What in your life have you put off because you didn’t have a companion? What have you missed out on for fear of doing it alone? What’s the worst that could happen if you were to do it by yourself? It might be horrible, but it could also be amazing. You never know what’s around the corner until you take a look.

 A Just Do It Breakfast

When heading off on adventures on your own, it’s valuable to have a healthy and delicious breakfast to set the tone for the day. The greens and tomatoes will make you feel light and free, but the protein in the eggs will give you the necessary sustenance to carry on with strength and determination.

Serves 1

2 tsp. olive oil, divided
½ cup grape tomatoes (the smaller the better)
2 large handfuls of Power Greens (baby spinach, baby chard, and baby kale)
2 free-range or pastured eggs
Fresh cracked pepper and artisanal sea salt (optional)

Warm 1 tsp. of olive oil in a nonstick pan or well-seasoned cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and cook for one of two minutes, until just soft. Add the greens and briefly sauté until wilted. Remove from pan and put on a plate. Add the remaining 1 tsp. of olive oil to the pan and fry the eggs to your liking. Place the egg on top of the greens and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Enjoy with gusto!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

To Settle or Soar: The Story of the Mighty Tiny Colander

From a very young age, I developed a knack for making do. I loved reading The Joy of Cooking and then trying to recreate the delicacies found within its pages. Unfortunately, we seldom had all the ingredients necessary, so I taught myself to manage with whatever I could find. Cooking is much easier now that my pantry is stocked with everything from agar agar to teff flour, but I’m grateful that I learned to cook with what was available, because it taught me creativity and resilience in the kitchen.

Managing to get by with what’s at your fingertips can be a great skill. I’m in awe of Depression era housewives who made cake with tomato soup and created other treats essentially from nothing. Unfortunately, in some cases, making do means that you are settling.

Do you yearn for your life to be more joyous, more fun, or perhaps a bit easier, but feel like there’s nothing you can do but make do with your lot? Accepting what is can lead to overall satisfaction because you’re content with what you have. Other times, however, it can prevent you from spreading your wings and exploring beyond your immediate purview.

Sometimes we settle for big things, like a difficult relationship or an unfulfilling job, but often it’s a number of little things that add up. In my case, it’s one very little thing that opened my eyes to how easy life improvement can be. We can choose to accept the way things are and be very content but if they’re not working for us, we can also choose to make a change.

A number of years ago I was cooking for a large retreat. The colander I was using was too small for the massive amounts of pasta I was draining. One of the workshop participants commented on this and asked why I didn’t have a larger colander. A simple answer would have sufficed; however, I found myself giving her a long explanation of why I had that particular colander. The sink was too small. It wasn’t possible to purchase a larger colander without having a membership to a restaurant supply. Etc. I had a long list. I truly believed these reasons. So, I continued to struggle with an overflow of steamed broccoli and quinoa that cascaded over the rim of the colander.

My dad overheard this conversation and decided to look for colanders online. Within minutes, he’d found one that was big enough to handle my needs but not so large that it wouldn’t fit in the sink. And, it wasn’t expensive and he didn’t need special paperwork to purchase from a restaurant supply. Within days, it was on the doorstep and ready to be used. The fix was so easy. I spent more time coming up with excuses for my small colander than it took to remedy the situation. A colander, obviously, doesn’t compare to a difficult situation in the workplace or a challenging relationship, but it serves as a reminder to me that sometimes what we think is hard is actually simple, once we release our hold on the way we think things are or how we think they have to be.

My high school math teacher would say this when we would get stuck.
Whenever I find myself making do or feeling trapped in a situation, I remember the colander. Taking control of your life need not take a lot of time or energy, but the rewards can be huge. Often the hardest part is admitting to yourself that you need to make a change. Stepping beyond what’s comfortable and rocking the boat can be scary, but you might just find a whole world that you never dreamed possible. I know it sounds silly, but I really believed I was stuck with the small colander. It never occurred to me that I could change this circumstance.

Once you take the decision to change your course, the rest will follow. Not in the case of the colander, of course, but with bigger life decisions, sometimes it gets worse before it gets better. But simply making that step and deciding that you don’t want to just make do, can alter the course of your life and make way for brilliant, shimmering new opportunities to come your way.

Action Steps

Do you ever settle? Do you find yourself simply making do? What stories do you tell yourself to explain why things are a certain way? Are these stories true? What steps can you take today to make a change? Maybe it’s something as simple as googling “large colander,” or maybe it’s something larger…something in your relationship, career, or family. It’s not necessary to leap all at once, but there can be value in knowing that the options are available when you choose to fly.

Simple and Delicious Homemade Almond Milk

Eating healthy and delicious food is one area of my life in which I have never settled or made do. I’m constantly striving for the most delicious combinations and the most healthful and joyous ways to enjoy my meals.

Since my body doesn’t handle dairy well, and I’ve recently discovered that carrageenan—an additive in many non-dairy milks—was wrecking havoc on my digestive system, I’ve started making my own almond milk. I've been making it off-and-on for years, but now that I'm in the habit of doing it every week, I've discovered that it’s really easy. Plus, it tastes so good!

You can make nut milk with just nuts and water; however, the dates and salt help to mimic the slightly sweet and salty flavor of dairy milk.

Makes about 4½ cups

1 cup almonds, soaked overnight
4 cups filtered water
1-4 dates, pit removed (if they’re hard, soak them with the almonds)
1 pinch of salt (preferably Himalayan or other artisanal sea salt)

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blitz until smooth, 1-3 minutes. If you’re using a Vitamix, run the machine until the milk starts to get slightly warm. This seems to add creaminess. Strain* and enjoy!

* You can purchase a “nut milk” bag online for about $10. I use a bag designed for making jelly. Although I've never tried, I’ve heard people say they’ve had luck with multiple layers of fine-weave cheesecloth or clean nylon stockings. Pour the mixture through the bag in batches and squeeze to extract the milk.

** The leftover nut pulp can be used as a body scrub. However, I usually feed it to my chickens. I’ve also heard that you can use it to make raw “crackers” in a food dehydrator, but I haven't tried this. Or, of course, you can compost it.