Photographs by Meadow Linn

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Trust God, but Tie up Your Camel

“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”

Likely, you’re familiar with this expression. It means that when one thing comes to an end, it’s the beginning of something else. However, in my experience, the window doesn’t necessarily get opened right away or automatically. God does, indeed, open a window, but I’ve found that it usually takes some effort on our part too. We must demonstrate to the Universe that we’re ready for what comes next. There’s a wonderful Sufi saying that sums this up quite well. “Trust God but, you know, tie up your camel.” Trust that a window will open, but also take some action too.

Many years ago, after finishing graduate school, I searched for my first job. Nothing felt right.
The more I looked, the tenser I became. It just wasn’t coming together. Then, somewhat on a whim, I started researching boarding schools. The moment I decided to become a teacher, waves of relief washed over me. Within days (maybe even hours), I had a lead on a job, and shortly after that, I was hired. And, it just so happened it was my dream job! The school, which emphasized community building, was located on an organic farm on the coast of Maine. I couldn’t have found a more perfect place for that time in my life. The job seemingly came to me; however, it wouldn’t have manifested had I not taken the initial steps (tied up my camel, so to speak).

This included:
1.) Deciding I wanted to be a teacher (this may sound obvious, but it’s important to clearly define what you want.)
2.) Taking decisive steps in that direction (this included looking at job openings and contacting someone I knew who worked at a boarding school, who ultimately led me to the job in Maine).

After I’d made these decisive steps forward, the rest seemed to unfold magically. However, the proverbial window only opened after I’d done my part.

I currently find myself in an extremely scary and unbelievably exciting time in my life. God, so to speak, has closed a door…I’m being forced to move from my home. This is my time to spread my wings and fly, but it’s a bit dicey in the meantime as I wait for God to open a window.

I’ve chosen Los Angeles as my landing spot, but the search for a home and a job (to give me some security while I write my next book and continue to grow my Mystic Chef® community) is at times overwhelming. I’ve been trying to tie up my camel while simultaneously trusting it will all work out, but some days this is easier said than done. At times I’ve wanted to give up, especially when there seem to be more closed doors than open windows. My head is filled with doubt… If I’m trusting it will all eventually work out, why do I have to push so hard? My effort seems to be for naught anyway. Can’t I just sit back and wait for a window to open? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that.

A window will open; it always does. But, we really do have to both trust and tie up our camel. It’s easy to do just one or the other, but there’s a magic alchemy that occurs when we do both. 

What doors have closed in your life? Are you waiting for a window to open? It’s important to take steps toward your future; however, if you find that you’re expending all your energy with little to no return, you may not be focusing your energy in the right direction. When moving forward in life, be sure to first get very clear on what you want. Journaling can be really helpful. Once you know what you’re working toward, take steps in that direction. And while you do this, trust that everything will be okay. This can’t just be wishful thinking. You must feel to your core that no matter what happens it will all come right in the end. From this state, magic will begin to unfold. It has for me, and I know it will for you too!

Grain-Free Maple Pumpkin Muffins
Grain-Free, Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Naturally-Sweetened

I struggled with the creation of this recipe. I pulled batch after batch of failed attempts from the oven. What was I doing wrong? No matter how much I tweaked the recipe, I couldn’t get it to cook properly. At one point I thought the oven might even be broken, but after purchasing a new over thermometer, I realized that wasn’t the problem. I wanted to give up. I nearly did. But instead, I changed tactic. Instead of making a traditional muffin with all-purpose gluten-free flour, I decided to make a grain-free muffin instead, which is currently more in alignment with how I eat. The recipe came out perfectly the first time, and it was so easy. There was no struggle. Everything flowed beautifully. Just as with life, sometimes we have to take steps in the direction we want to go, but when a window doesn’t open, instead of giving up, it just means we need to change tactic and trust that eventually it will all come together. These muffins are beyond delicious, and they are so simple to make. Enjoy!

Makes 12 standard-size muffins

5 large eggs
¾ cup maple syrup
½ cup coconut oil
½ cup canned pumpkin
1½ cups raw cashews
2 ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice*
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds

*I usually prefer to measure out my own spice blend rather than using pumpkin pie spice; however, I wanted to keep this recipe as simple as possible. If you don’t have pumpkin pie spice or prefer to measure your own spices, this is a good approximation: 1½ tsp. ground cinnamon, ¼ tsp. cloves, ½ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg (¼ tsp. if not grating yourself), ½ tsp. fresh grated ginger

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a muffin pan with coconut oil and set aside.

In the order list, place all ingredients EXCEPT the pumpkin seeds into a high-power blender. Start on low power and slowly work up to high. Process on high until the mixture is smooth and well-aerated, about two minutes. You may need to scrape down the sides of the blender a couple times if your blender doesn’t have a tamper.

Divide the batter evenly between prepared cups of muffin pan. Sprinkle the tops with the pumpkin seeds. Bake on the middle rack of the oven until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool on a rack until the pan is cool enough to touch. Remove the muffins from the pan and cool on the rack.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Everything Will Be Okay

I’ve been trying to write this article for a week. After a few paragraphs, I’d decide to scrap what I’d typed, and I’d start over, again and again. Usually my fingers fly over the keys. But not this time. Why couldn’t I get this right? Why wasn’t it working?

When I took some time in nature to be still and listen to the whispers from my soul, I realized I kept butting my head against the wall because I was circumventing the things I most wanted to write about but was afraid to share.

When I realized this article would be posted on Savor the Day’s sixth birthday, I decided to go for it. One of the greatest gifts I’ve received from writing this blog is vulnerability. It’s been through the writing process that I’ve become increasingly comfortable sharing from my heart about my hopes, dreams, and fears. This is not a natural state for me. Throughout my life I’ve played my cards pretty close to my chest. Writing Savor the Day, however, has unlocked the door, and I’ve walked through the gateway into a world where I’m willing to show my proverbial “man behind the curtain.” The Great Oz may seem all-powerful, but it’s the man behind the curtain who is genuine.

Tears are welling up in my eyes as I write this. Six years ago I started this blog because I loved food and writing, and it seemed like something fun to try. I had no idea that the greatest gift I would gain would be so personal.

So, here it is. I’m feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Due to a number of different circumstances, I’m being forced to leap from the comfort of the cocoon I’ve wrapped around myself and navigate yet unchartered territory. I currently have no home (I’m living with my parents while I catch my breath, but their house is on the market, so this is only extremely temporary). And, I’m learning to fly solo as I grow my business. I feel like a log adrift at sea that has completely surrendered to the ocean currents. Someday I will wash ashore, but for the time being I’m bobbing up and down with each swell. In this time of uncertainty, I vacillate between terror and extreme excitement for all that awaits me in the next phase. Some days I’m filled with so much hope I can barely contain it; yet, other days the tears prick at my eyes ready to fall with only the slightest provocation.

I look at my friends who have families and successful careers and wonder what the heck I’ve been doing with my life. How can I be 38 years old and still feel like such a kid?! How can I not own a home, be married, have children, nor know where I’m going in my professional life. I know that’s crazy talk, but sometimes the gremlins sneak in. The truth is…I have an amazing life, but on the teary days, it can be easy to lose sight of this. My path may be more circuitous, but I wouldn’t trade places with any of my friends. Although I worry that my window to have children is becoming increasingly small, I also know that my life is unfolding just as it’s meant to.

For those of you’ve who’ve been following my “where should I move” dilemma for the past year, I’ve finally answered that question! I’m going to move back to Los Angeles. However, that’s all I know. My life feels like a puzzle. Each puzzle piece depends on another. I’m moving there because it’s where my heart is leading me (more on that at a later time), but there’s a lot to figure out before I can make it happen, which is both exciting and daunting. However, time is running out. I’ve been waiting for a long time for the wind to blow me to a safe harbor, but I need to pinpoint my North Star and start rowing myself ashore.

I’m scared shitless about how I’m going to support myself financially through all of this, but I’m pretty sure that once I choose my path, what I need will fall into place. This may mean getting a day job for added security and it may mean putting myself out there in ways that are out of my comfort zone, but I will know what I’m working toward, and that will be the North Star that illuminates my journey.

What are you afraid to share? If you could tell just one person something about you that no one else knows, what would you say? What excites you and scares you? What is your North Star, and where is it taking you? Everything is happening for a reason, which will become clear once the puzzle pieces are each put into place. If you are also going through a time of transition, know this... Everything will be okay!

Grilled Cauliflower “Popcorn”

There is power in simplicity. The more life feels scattered and out of control, find simplicity in the things you can control. This dish is so simple and easy to make. It’s delicious as a snack or as a side. It will convert anyone into a cauliflower lover!

Serves 4

1 head of cauliflower, torn or cut into pieces
¼ cup ghee or olive oil, plus more for drizzling later
artisanal salt, such as Celtic, Himalayan, or smoked alder (my favorite for this dish)

Special equipment:
 Grill topper (this keeps the cauliflower from falling through the grate)*

Preheat gas grill on medium-high. Put the cauliflower in a large bowl and massage it with the ghee or olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, and toss to combine. Grill the cauliflower on the grill topper for approximately 15 minutes (time will vary depending on the size of your florets), turning occasionally. Before serving, drizzle with a bit more ghee or olive oil and add salt to taste.

*This is the grill topper I purchased. This is not an affiliate link. I do not make money if you click here. I'm not endorsing this product. This is just in case you were curious what the heck a "grill topper" is =).


Thursday, October 1, 2015

It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect…Just Begin!

Are you riding the Transition Train? If so, welcome aboard! It seems as though nearly everyone I know is moving, ending a relationship, leaving a job, or embarking on a new venture. Change can be scary, overwhelming, frustrating, exhausting, and even paralyzing. But, it can also be exciting, reinvigorating, and inspiring.

I’ve just spent the past few weeks packing up my entire life, wrapping it in bubble wrap and stuffing it into cardboard boxes. My belongings, everything from lawn furniture to measuring spoons, are wedged into a storage unit. I’ve temporarily moved in with my parents while I contemplate my next steps. Some days I am filled with possibility. On those days the world feels wide and wondrous. However, other days, the world feels foreboding and impenetrable, and it seems as though I’ll never make it through to the other side.

Like an onion, when one is embarking on a new chapter, there are often many layers of fear to peel away. There are so many “what if” questions. What if I don’t find the right home? What if I don’t have enough money? What if I can’t find a new job? What if my business doesn't soar? What if I never find love (or find love again)? What if I regret this decision? What if my kids, husband, wife, friends etc. resent me? Your individual questions will, of course, be different depending on your particular situation, but you get the idea. The challenge with these questions is that they can bring forth so much concern that it becomes difficult to see anything else.

When you’re awash in a sea of unknowns, taking decisive action can often feel impossible. “What ifs” can grip you at every corner. For this reason, sometimes riding the Transition Train can become a permanent state rather than a temporary one. We settle in and we watch the scenery go by rather than hopping off at the next station to embark on a new adventure. Being in transition is akin to a caterpillar in a chrysalis. Transition is a time of incubation, but eventually you’re going to have to break out of the chrysalis if you want to soar. This often means standing up to the “what ifs” and going forth no matter how hard they try to tether you down.

I only brought a couple suitcases of clothes and one small box with me to my parents’ house. As I was unpacking the box of paperwork, a slip of paper fell into my hand. On it was written, “Wherever you are is the perfect place to start, so begin right now.” I don’t remember ever having seen this paper before, and I don’t know where it came from. It seemed to have fallen from the heavens. The exact message I needed to kick my own personal “what ifs” to the curb!

How often have you turned down opportunity because you didn’t feel prepared? And, how many times have you missed out on something great because you didn’t think you could do it perfectly? There is great value in being prepared, knowing your plan, and having a sense of structure and organization in place before proceeding. I’ve dodged many a catastrophe as a result of my methodical approach to my life. However, sometimes this can keep you from acting. It’s possible to focus too much on getting it right instead of getting it done. My mom often says, “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to get done.”

No matter where you are on the Transition Train, whether you’ve just gotten on board or you’ve been riding the rails for a while, do something today that will take you closer to your future. One step is all you need to get the ball rolling. You don’t have to have it all figured out. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You just have to take action, any action. Make that phone call you’ve been putting off. Create a website. Make a Facebook page. Send out your resume. Find a realtor. Join an online dating site. Whatever it is that will get you going, do it now. Once you set your future in motion, doors will begin to open. In no time you’ll hop off the Transition Train, break out of your chrysalis, and embark on a grand new adventure. Here’s to the next chapter! I believe in you!

This was posted on Facebook by Earnest Pugh, but the original author seems to be Unknown.

Artichoke and Roasted Red Pepper Dip

When I was packing boxes, unfortunately, I didn’t eat as well as I would have liked. When I was short on time and long on angst, I found myself grabbing foods that I wouldn’t normally eat. They were quick and easy and didn’t require a lot of thought or effort. But this was exactly when it was essential that I nourish my mind, body, and spirit with healthful, delicious food in order to have the physical, emotional, and mental fortitude for the journey ahead.

When we’re hungry most of us reach for something nearby, so the more you keep tasty and healthful options at your fingertips, the more likely you are to eat them. As a suggestion, carve out 20 minutes from your busy day and wash and cut your favorite vegetables and make the following scrumptious dip. The vegetables will keep in the fridge for a few days, so do the work once and eat fresh vegetables throughout the week. Place them so they are the first thing you see when you open the refrigerator door. It may sound crazy, but simply having cut vegetables (as opposed to uncut) in the fridge will make you more likely to eat them.

The walnuts in the dip add protein so you’ll stay full longer, and the vegetables will make you feel light and fit so you can move forward into your future strong, vital, and joyful.

Makes about 2 cups

½ cup raw walnuts
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 12-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained
¼ tsp. French gray (Celtic) or Himalayan pink salt

Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender in the order listed. Process on medium-high until smooth or until you reach your preferred consistency. Enjoy with cut vegetables.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Things Fall Apart So They Can Fall into Place

There would be no spring without winter. In the cold darkness when everything is dormant, the barren snow-covered fields and denuded trees may look lifeless, but in fact, under the surface they are making way for spring’s renewal. In this continuous cycle, death and rebirth ebb and flow like the ocean tide. What may appear to be the end is actually the beginning. When the land lays fallow, it rests and replenishes itself. The decaying leaves nourish the soil, making way for the resurgence of life that will sprout into being as the days grow longer.

Often in life when things seem to be falling apart, they are actually falling into place. When you’re in the middle of tragedy, catastrophe, turmoil, or change it can often be impossible to see how endings can give rise to beginnings, but that’s exactly what happens. Although forest fires can be very destructive—especially those that are caused by human negligence and those that happen near homes—in nature fire is necessary to the cycle of life. The jack pine, for instance, can only sprout after its seeds have been exposed to the intense heat of the fire.

Perhaps you’re currently being pushed to your limits, your own personal fire. But, what if this “fire” that you’re experiencing is the catalyst that will catapult you into the next phase of your life? Like the jack pine, it’s possible that this time of hardship is the very thing necessary to break you out of your shell and allow you to sprout and flourish into your full majesty. Like the phoenix that rises from the ashes, you will grow even more into whom you are meant to be as a result of weathering the storm.

I’m currently weathering a storm of sorts…

My Grandpa Linn in his Navy days
On August 20th my grandfather passed away suddenly after a short illness. Just a few months ago he was a strong and vital 88-year-old who did his own roof repairs. It happened so fast that I’m still having difficulty grasping that he’s really gone. But, I’m grateful that I got to see him one final time. I was able to show him photos from my recent road trip to the Canadian Rockies (he loved road trips!) and ask him about some of the crafts he’d made over the years. I brushed his hair, which is something I would have never been able to do before his illness, as he was not a particularly touchy feely kind of guy. But, the action felt sweet, and something I will always remember.

At the same time my grandfather was declining, the house I live in sold. (As I type this I’m surrounded by bubble wrap and moving boxes.) I have just one week to put everything in storage, as I do not yet know where I’m moving. Like my grandfather’s passing, this also happened very quickly. While I look for a new place to live, my dog, cats, chickens and I will be moving in with my parents until their house, which is also on the market, sells. I usually have a plan, which makes this all the more frightening, but also oddly liberating.

Additionally, while I’ve been growing my Mystic Chef® community, I’ve been working for my mom, which has provided a stable income, but it’s time for me to fully step out on my own, which is exciting but also scary. There will be nothing to fall back on other than my own creativity and resourcefulness.

The things that have helped to create my identity, my home and my work, are being stripped away. However, what I’m left with will be the building blocks for the future that I will create.

Although some days my pulse quickens under the weight of it all, I also know that this is part of the cycle of life. Though it may feel like everything is falling apart, it’s also coming together in miraculous ways. I am scared, but I’m also immensely excited. I feel like the jack pine torched by fire on the brink of sprouting.

If you’re going through a hard time or if it feels as though everything is falling apart, know that this is part of the process. You will make it to the other side, and you will be at the beginning of something new and magnificent.

The Future Is Bright Sauce
Raw Heirloom Tomato Sauce

My grandfather first introduced me to the joys of growing vegetables. As I approach the final days in my home, harvesting juicy tomatoes in my garden is bittersweet. It may be a long time before I’ll be able to have such a bountiful garden again. Wanting to savor this season’s harvest, I’ve been making this raw pasta sauce all week. To me, it’s the epitome of late summer.

This is best made with heirloom tomatoes (the more colorful the better!); however, you can also use conventional tomatoes. The first time I saw someone peel a tomato I was about nine years old. Before slicing my grandpa’s homegrown tomatoes, my grandma always peeled them. To me, it seemed like an awful lot of work, and to this day I rarely peel tomatoes. For this recipe, however, I make an exception because the skins of heirloom tomatoes tend to be thick. If your heirlooms are ripe (but not squishy), the peel should come off pretty easily with a paring knife.

Serves 4-6

3 lbs. (about 4-5 large) heirloom tomatoes, peeled and diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
artisanal salt, to taste (Himalayan pink, Celtic, or fleur de sel are all good choices)
1-2 Tbsp. aged balsamic (optional)
½ cup kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half (optional)
1 cup love
3 pinches of excitement

Peel the tomatoes. Dice them and put them in a large bowl. Pour off the liquid*. Mix in the minced garlic, olive oil, and salt. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and olives (if using). With intention, drizzle love over the entire bowl, and stir in hopes and dreams. Add three pinches of excitement for the future and blend until fully combined.

Don’t worry if the sauce seems liquidy (heirloom tomatoes expel a lot of water). The hot pasta will absorb some of the liquid. Let sit for approximately 30 minutes to allow the flavors to marry. This is a good time to start making the pasta.

Toss the sauce with 1 pound hot pasta (I use a brown rice/quinoa spaghetti, and I do not rinse it).

*Tomato water is a delicious and healthful tonic. Save the liquid you pour off and enjoy it on ice (or use it as a base for a light and refreshing virgin bloody mary).

Monday, July 27, 2015

Being Right: What’s It Worth to You?

How important is it to you to be right? Have you ever experienced that whoosh of adrenaline when your thoughts, feelings, or predictions are proven correct? I was right. You were wrong. I have devoted a great deal of energy in hot pursuit of these seemingly magical words. In these moments of righteous indignation, I hold my head up high, puff out my chest, and feel immense pride.

Being right can feel pretty darn good, but what is the cost of privileging it above all else? What do we miss out on experiencing? What do we give up in order to have this feeling? What avoidable circumstances do we create to make sure that our thoughts are justified? How much joy and harmony do we trade for this smug feeling?

There are times in life to hold steadfast, but often there’s more to be gained by letting go. When a need to be right is strong enough, we can even create circumstances to prove our point, which may not be worth it in the end. This happened to me when I was a teenager.

My mom was unable to pick me up from an event, so she arranged for a taxi to drive me home. I protested with all my might. “Please, please, please pick me up!! Can’t so-and-so come get me? Please don’t make me take a taxi.” (I wasn’t keen on an expensive ride with a stranger.) “What about a bus? Can I take a bus home, Mom? Please!” I probably even petitioned to walk, but that was out of the question since it was miles away, and I was just thirteen years old. My mom assured me it would be fine. She made advanced arrangements with the taxi company.

When it was time for my taxi ride, I waited…and waited. I stood on the curb, twiddling my thumbs and mumbling to myself about how I wished a friend was coming to get me. Finally, the taxi arrived. He was late because he’d been at traffic court. Traffic court! As he zoomed through the parking lot, he told me he wasn’t feeling well. He’d been out late the night before…drinking. He was hungover! As he pressed the gas pedal to make it through a yellow light before it turned red, he asked me where I went to school.

I had a scholarship to a prestigious school, and many people had preconceived notions about the kind of students who attended. So, quietly, I said, “I go to Lakeside.” The-hungover-man-fresh-out-of-traffic-court-who-was-careening-down-the-road said, in his most condescending, disgusted voice, “Oh, you go to Lakeside? What do Mommy and Daddy do?” In my head I was screaming at the top of my lungs. I was right about the taxi!!! I couldn’t wait to tell my mom that I was right and she was wrong.

Although the taxi ride was miserable, there was part of me that was really glad. This way I knew that I’d been right. Had it been easy or maybe even fun, I wouldn’t have been able to feel so righteous, and boy was that a good feeling.

So, I was right. But, was it worth it?

Sometimes being right feels more important than harmony and joy. I read my parents the riot act when I got home, but what did that accomplish? Did I subconsciously go out of my way to create an experience that would justify my aversion to taking the taxi? On one hand, I was an innocent child thrust into an uncomfortable situation, but on the other hand, I was completely complicit in the experience. With each misstep the taxi driver took, the more I was filled with satisfaction. Had I been less determined to prove my mom wrong, I may have actually found the ride humorous. And who’s to say I didn’t manifest the experience. How would it have been different if I’d had a different mindset from the outset? What if I’d decided to make a point of having an amazing experience? Often what we put our intention on comes to fruition. If I’d decided that having a great taxi ride was more important to me than proving to my mom that a taxi was a bad idea, then likely that would have come to pass.

What is your intention for today? Will today be filled with joy, fun, and harmony, or will you choose to be right at the expense of everything else?

Mango Shrimp Cakes with Avocado Aioli

There’s a difference between wanting to be right so badly that you forsake everything else and knowing something to be true (intuition), even if you can’t quite say why or how you know. Much of my cooking is based on intuition. I get an image (or flavor) in my mind, and I can’t let it go until I bring it to fruition. That was certainly true for this dish. I’ve never eaten aioli made with avocado and mango, but somehow I knew that it was going to be delicious…and guess what?! I was right (hehehe)! This particular combination of vegetables, mango, and shrimp mixed into a cake was also new to me, but I could feel my cooking fairies urging me along.

My mom (who is not at all biased) says this dish is the very best thing she’s ever eaten. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Makes 12 small fritters

¼ cup minced yellow onion
1/3 cup minced celery (from 2 stalks)
1/3 cup minced red bell pepper (from about ½ pepper)
1/3 cup minced mango (from about ½ fresh mango or use frozen*)
¼ tsp. chili flakes (optional)
1 tsp. artisanal salt (such as Himalayan or Celtic)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice (from ½ lemon)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 lb. wild sustainable shrimp/prawns, diced
1 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs (made from 4 pieces of bread)*
avocado oil for frying (or other high-heat oil)

*Dry out four pieces of gluten-free bread (use white bread or one that does not have a strong flavor) in an oven at 200 degrees. Break into chunks and then blitz in a food processor fitted with chopping blade to create the crumbs.

In a large bowl, combine the onion, celery, bell pepper, mango, and chili flakes. Stir in the salt, lemon juice, and olive oil. Add the egg and stir to combine. Mix in the shrimp. Fold in the breadcrumbs. Roll the mixture into balls, approximately the size of a plum and gently press to form a “cake.” Panfry over medium to medium-high heat, approximately 3-5 minutes per side.

Avocado Aioli

2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. lemon juice (from ½ lemon)
1 Tbsp. minced mango
1 avocado, peel and pit removed
¼ tsp. artisanal salt (such as Himalayan or Celtic)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade (same one you use to make the bread crumbs). Process until the aioli is smooth and unctuous. Mmm!

Monday, July 13, 2015

How Much Courage Does It Take to Live Your Dreams?

Recently I asked my Facebook community when in their life they’d been the most courageous. I was delighted and overwhelmed by the response this question elicited. What was surprising to me was that with the exception of just a few who wrote about physical feats, most people described pushing through emotional challenges, such as walking away from bad relationships, letting go of people and places, or jumping into the unknown to follow one’s heart. For many, it seems, this is far scarier and more rewarding than any other act of bravery.

A couple people turned the question around and asked me when I’d been the most courageous. As it turns out, I’m much better at asking questions than I am at answering them, which is probably a skill I cultivated as a schoolteacher. I was stumped. When had I been the most courageous? 

A number of possible responses danced in my head, but I couldn’t pinpoint a time when I’d truly put everything on the line. I began to make a mental checklist of some of the times in my life when my actions could be considered courageous. When I was 13, I went on my first Vision Quest and spent 24 hours alone in the woods. In 11th grade I left my friends and family in Seattle and headed to Vermont in the middle of winter to spend a semester living on a farm. And, at the age of 31, although I’d spent years and lots of money to attain academic degrees, I quit my teaching job with no plan other than wanting to follow my passion for cooking. That same year I started this blog, where for the first time in my life I began to share my thoughts and feelings openly.

Could one of these events be my most courageous? Hmm… It left me pondering. Leaving my teaching job was scary, but I knew that I had enough savings to get by at least for a little while. And, although I was nervous that I wouldn’t fit in at the farm school in Vermont, I was also extremely excited for this unique experience. 

I have a feeling that one of the reasons I’ve suddenly become fascinated by the notion of courage is that I’m pretty sure the next phase of my life is going to be amazing, but it’s going to take a lot of faith and strength to get there. These previous courageous acts were building blocks to prepare me for this very moment.

My most courageous act is yet to come. Next month the owners are putting of my home up for sale. For the past six years I’ve been working alongside my mom, but it’s time that I step out on my own. So, in the coming months I’m going to be moving to a yet undetermined location while simultaneously learning how to grow and flourish professionally as a solo entrepreneur.

While I know that my future will unfold in magical ways, and it will be just as it’s meant to be, I’m also freaking out quite a bit too. But, isn’t that what courage is all about? Tackling the things we know we need to do, even when it makes us sweat and our heart pound. We do this because we know that the pain of not doing it would be far worse.

When in your life have you been courageous? What was the result of stepping out of your comfort zone? How has your life changed as a result? What kind of courage will it take for you to realize your dreams? What will you need to do to bring your future into focus? What can you do today, no matter how small, to take that first step toward the tomorrow of your dreams?

Coconut Fudgy Oat Squares
(Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Naturally Sweetened)

All of the food at The Mountain School, the farm school in Vermont I attended in 11th Grade, was delicious and nourishing. However, Marilyn’s (the head cook) Fudgy Oat Squares were legendary. Twenty years later, I can still remember their ooey gooey decadence. I’ve done my best to do them justice while making them gluten-free and dairy-free. And, I added some shredded coconut…just for fun.

This recipe makes a lot! Share them with friends and family (or freeze for later). Enjoy!

Makes 20 large squares

1 13.5-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
¼ cup honey
1½ cups coconut sugar
1 cup coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly
4 eggs at room-temperature
1½ tsp. vanilla
2 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour*
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
3 cups gluten-free old-fashioned rolled oats
1 12-ounce bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. salt
1 cup chopped walnuts and/or pecans

*The blend I use contains brown rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 15½ x 10 inch baking pan.

In a small pan over medium-high heat, bring the coconut milk to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and whisk in the honey. Simmer for 40 minutes until slightly thickened, whisking occasionally. (You’re making sweetened condensed coconut milk.)

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the coconut sugar, coconut oil, eggs, and vanilla. In a smaller bowl, mix the flour, shredded coconut, baking soda, and salt together. Pour the flour into the sugar mixture and stir to combine. Mix in the oats. Press 2/3 of the oat mixture into the bottom of the pan. If the mixture is too sticky, use damp fingers. The remaining l/3 of the oat mixture will be used to top the bars.

When the coconut milk and honey are finished simmering, remove from the heat and mix in the chocolate chips until fully combined. Stir in the vanilla and salt. Add the nuts and stir to combine. Spread the chocolate over the oat mixture in the pan. Drop the reserved oat mixture in small chunks onto the chocolate. Bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Cool completely before attempting to cut. Once the pan is cool enough to handle, you may want to refrigerate it for a few hours to get the fudge to set faster. Cut into squares and enjoy with childlike delight! 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Being Present

Recently I was a presenter at a seminar-at-sea on an Alaska cruise. While our ship traveled along the Inside Passage, past evergreen cliffs and snow-covered peaks, I spent a lot of time pondering the natural world and the importance of solitude. In my class I taught about taking time to be still and spending time in nature on a personal retreat. This type of retreat is often called a “quest” or “solo.”

Although a cruise ship with its casino, multiple bars, and jewelry stores doesn’t necessarily lend itself naturally to being a venue for a traditional quest, by taking time to breathe in the sea spray and allowing my heart and mind to relax, I feel as though I experienced a quest of sorts. While on the ship, I spent as much time as possible looking out to sea, walking the decks, and allowing the ocean breeze to tousle my hair, which opened my mind to new awareness and soothed the creases in my soul.

My mom photographing an eagle
One sunny afternoon, while standing on one of the lower decks, I calmed my mind to the point that the only thing I was thinking about was the vast expanse of water that filled my vision. Right then, a pod of dolphins appeared. Although they were likely chasing some fish, to me it appeared as though they were dancing. As I turned to see if others were also taking in this beautiful sight, I was surprised to discover that the man to the right of me, taking a deep drag on his cigarette, was caught up in his thoughts and didn’t seem to notice the dolphins. To the left of me, a couple emerged from inside the ship with a camera in hand. I assumed they’d seen the dolphins and had come out to take a photo; however, they proceeded to take a selfie with the ship’s deck as their background.

What I found remarkable wasn’t that the others didn’t seem to see the dolphins. Instead, what was noteworthy was that it made me realize how much magic surrounds us daily that we do not see because we’re focused on other things. It’s only when we’re fully present that our eyes soften, our heart opens, and we take in our surroundings. Seeing the frolicking dolphins reminded me of one of my favorite lines in St. Exupéry’s Little Prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

A calving glacier
In that moment, my heart was open and my mind was free to have this experience. It wasn’t that the dolphins were only there for me to see, or that I have a special ability to see what others do not. It was simply that in that moment, I was taking the time to look. It made me wonder how much majesty I’ve missed out on in my life when I’ve been myopically focused on a project or when my brain is too full to be fully present.

Have you ever gone for a walk with a toddler and taken the time to see the world through their eyes? Life goes at a much slower pace (a single block could take an hour). But, what did you see during that walk? What did you smell? Taste? Touch? Feel?

Life is so delicious. But, unfortunately, often in our frenetic modern world, we forget to take time to quiet our mind enough to savor our lives. It need not take a lot of time. Sometimes just a few minutes in nature doing absolutely nothing is all you need to quiet your mind, release stress, and maybe even see something you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. It’s not necessary to go on a quest or be on a cruise ship in Alaska to have meaningful experiences. All it takes is being present. Magic is everywhere.

Juneau at sunset

Decadent Dark Chocolate Cake with Chocolate “Buttercream” Frosting
Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Grain-Free, and Honey-Sweetened

Spending time alone in nature can help quiet the mind and soothe the soul. However, taking time to be fully present when you eat can be another powerful way to practice mindfulness. And, when you savor your food, you begin to savor your life even more fully. Have you ever reached for a second handful of M&Ms, for example, because you were so distracted when you ate the first handful that you didn’t really taste them? So often we down our food while thinking about a million other things. But when you take time to engage all your senses and relish each bite, you’ll actually enjoy your food more and, believe it or not, you’ll likely end up eating less. This chocolate cake is a perfect food for practicing being present. Take deep breathes. Notice how it smells, how it feels on your tongue, and how the different flavors intermingle.

Although I try not to have favorite recipes (they’re all my babies!), this cake is currently my newest favorite. I love how easy it is since everything gets thrown into the blender. I love how rich and decadent it is. And, I love that it uses cashews instead of flour! I’m really proud of this creation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Store the frosted cake on the counter. If refrigerated it will become a little less moist.

Serves 10

10 oz. high-quality dark chocolate (I use 72%), melted and cooled slightly
¼ cup strong brewed coffee, room temperature*
5 large eggs
¾ cup mild honey
½ cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (also called palm shortening)**
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup raw cashews
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda

*If the coffee is hot, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs.
** I use Spectrum Organic. Make sure you get a brand that has an “orangutan-friendly” label. Most palm oil comes from Asia where orangutan habitat is rapidly being destroyed. Spectrum Organic, however, gets theirs from Colombia from small, sustainable farms.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan. Place the pan on a piece of parchment paper and trace around the circumference with a pencil. Cut the parchment paper to the size of the pan. Grease the pan with vegetable shortening, both the bottom and the sides. Line the bottom of the pan with the parchment paper and then grease the top of the parchment paper.

Chop the chocolate and place it in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally. Once the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Place all the remaining ingredients into a high-power blender in the order listed. Start on low power and slowly work up to high. Process on high until the mixture is smooth and well-aerated, about two minutes. Add the melted chocolate and process for another minute or so, until completely mixed. You may need to scrape down the sides of the blender a couple times if your blender doesn’t have a tamper.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake on the middle rack until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 25 minutes. If the outside appears to be cooking faster than the inside, reduce the heat to 325ºF. Cool on a rack until the pan is cool enough to touch. Remove the cake from the pan and cool completely before frosting.

Chocolate “Buttercream” Frosting

¾ cup non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (also called palm shortening)*
2 tsp. vanilla
½ cup + 1 Tbsp. mild honey
1 Tbsp. strong brewed coffee
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Whisk the vegetable shortening in a standing mixer on medium-high until soft (either the paddle or whisk attachment will work). Add the vanilla, honey, and coffee and mix on medium-low until fully combined. Add the cocoa powder and whisk on medium-low (or whatever speed will keep the cocoa from flying out of the bowl and all over you) until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.