Photographs by Meadow Linn

Monday, January 26, 2015

If Someone Tries to Dim Your Sparkle, Shine Even More Brightly

Do you limit yourself out of fear that others will cut you down, criticize you, or be jealous of your success? Do you worry that your friends and family won’t support you if you follow your heart and reach for the stars? Does fear of what-could-happen hinder your growth and expansion?

It’s cozy and comfortable to remain cocooned in the familiar. However, sometimes in order to grow it’s necessary to step beyond the confines of your surroundings and break through self-imposed barriers. This can be scary as hell. Like a baby bird flying free for the first time, once you leave the comfort of the nest, the world is filled with obstacles and potential hazards, but also there’s the opportunity to spread your wings and soar.

Although criticism can feel earth-shattering, it isn’t always a bad thing. Although I know this to be true, my heart and my head are sometimes at odds about this. I’ve been known to crumple into a wet mess of tears upon the slightest hint of denigration. However, I also know that not everyone will agree with me or like what I have to say. If they did, I would be playing it too safe. Criticism can actually be a sign that you’re on the right track. It means you’re casting your net wide and expanding your horizons.

Has anyone ever tried to dim your sparkle? It can be easy to take it personally, and it can even make you want to take cover under a rock and stay there…forever. It hurts to be judged harshly or unfairly. Fear of censure, critique, or reproach can hinder our growth, and it can also keep us from being our authentic selves.

When someone tries to dim your sparkle, shine brighter. Don’t let them win. Recently, I was presented with an occasion to wallow in some harsh things that were said about me. My face flushed and adrenaline coursed through my veins as I read the mean words. At first, I imagined my reputation so deeply tarnished that I’d have to hole away in some far off corner and start anew in a completely new line of work. But, then I realized that if I did that, I would be letting the words have power over me. Instead, wouldn’t it make more sense to turn the criticism into an opportunity to grow even stronger and shine even brighter? My great grandmother used to tell my mom, “When the wind blows the hardest, the tree’s roots go the deepest.”

Do you keep your beliefs, thoughts, or ideas to yourself rather than share them out of fear that others won’t agree? The truth is…the more you share, the more you grow, and the more successful you will be. Even the most inspiring, wise, and amazing teachers, leaders, and visionaries are not without their detractors. However, it can take tough skin to get to the point where it rolls off you. But, if you can use the criticism as fuel to continue forward with even more determination, there’s no limit to what you can achieve.

I’m extremely sensitive, and I can’t guarantee that the next time I’m criticized, it won’t sting with the ferocity of a hornet’s bite. But, I also know that if this didn’t happen from time to time, I’d be playing it too safe. When we try to please everyone, in the end we please no one, and especially not ourselves. 

I love this quote from Elizabeth Edwards: “She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails.” Rather than feeling frustrated that the wind is not going your direction, use the wind to your benefit. Here’s to shining so bright that criticism of any sort bounces off you like rubber. I believe in you!

Shining Bright Lemongrass Beef

I spent two weeks traveling in Vietnam with my family for the holidays. The radiance of the people we encountered in markets, the smiling faces on street corners, and the waving children in riverboats belied the atrocities of just forty years ago. Despite having lost pretty much everything, the people we saw seemed to have not just survived but thrived. It seemed that they have found a way to adjust their sails so the wind could blow them into a bright and joyous future. From what we could see, the past has not dimmed the sparkle of the present; it has only made it more vibrant.

This mouthwatering recipe was inspired by the flavors of Vietnam. It reminds me of the joy, radiance, and resilience that is possible when I let go of fear and embrace the future with wide-open arms.

Firm tofu can be used in place of the beef for a delicious vegetarian alternative.

Serves 4-6

2 lbs. grass-fed flatiron steak, cut into thin strips (ask your butcher to do this for you)

4 stalks lemongrass, trimmed and chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves, rib removed and torn into pieces
3 shallots, peeled
3 cloves garlic
¼ cup coconut sugar
½ tsp. fresh cracked pepper
½ tsp. Himalayan pink salt or French gray salt
2 Tbsp. lime juice (from one lime)
1 Tbsp. fish sauce
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, such as avocado or grapeseed

Use only the bottom 3-4 inches of each lemongrass stalk, which is the most tender. Trim the end as you would a carrot and pull off and discard any outer layers that are too fibrous (You’ll know because they’ll be hard to cut through). Rough chop the lemongrass and put it in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade (Or, you can use a large mortar and pestle). Add the kaffir lime leaves, shallots, and garlic. Sprinkle the coconut sugar, pepper, and salt into the food processor. Process until smooth-ish (You want it to still have a tiny bit of texture.) Add the lime juice, fish sauce, and vegetable oil. Process until fully combined. Massage the marinade into the beef. Cover and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Grilling times will vary depending on the thickness of the meat, but plan on approximately 2-6 minutes per side. Grill until there’s just a hint of pink remaining in the center. Be sure the grill is hot enough to get a nice sear.

Serving suggestion: Toss steamed rice or rice noodles with sliced raw vegetables and fresh herbs (such as basil, mint, cilantro, green onions, and dill), and dress with a dressing made up of equal parts lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, and warm water. Place the beef on top.

With each bite, know that your sparkle is luminous!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Are Angels Protecting You?

Sometimes faith gets tested in unexpected ways.

Angels in front. Angels behind. Angels above. Angels below. Angels to the right. Angels to the left.

Ever since I can remember, my mom has surrounded our car with angels. I vaguely remember her repeating her angel mantra (angels in front, behind, etc.) when I was a little girl, but it became a daily practice once I turned sixteen and got my driver’s license. I used to roll my eyes and groan, but over the years it has become as second nature to me as fastening my seatbelt. Actually, it’s become so ingrained that even when I’m in an airplane I can’t help but imagine the jet being lifted by angel wings. And, over the years, we’ve been well protected.

So, you can imagine my dismay last month when I heard a loud crunch as a woman drove her car into the back end of my Subaru in a grocery store parking lot. Luckily, neither of us was hurt, only my sweet car, which had to get a completely new bumper. After examining the damage and swapping insurance information, I got back in my car and took a deep breath. How could the angels have let me down? I thought they were supposed to protect me…and my car. Why weren’t you in front, behind, above, below, to the right, and to the left?!!! I wanted to shout.

But then I had an idea. Maybe they were protecting me after all. I wasn’t hurt and neither was the other woman. The event would prove to be expensive, but the damage wasn’t serious. I started to wonder if the gouged bumper was a small price to pay. Maybe the angels were actually surrounding my car, and they had a greater plan in mind. What if they had detained me in the parking lot for a reason? Perhaps there would have been a pile up on the freeway. Or, maybe deer on the twisty canyon road and I would have had to swerve to avoid. Sure, it was likely just an unfortunate fender bender. But, since I would never know the myriad of possible outcomes had I left the grocery store earlier, later, or had I not shopped at all, instead of blaming the angels for not protecting me, why not thank them for keeping me safe. I could choose to be angry or I could choose to be grateful. Gratitude feels a lot better than anger, so I decided to choose to believe that the angels were protecting me and accept that I would never know the full story.

Sometimes, as the expression goes, “shit happens,” for apparently no good reason at all. Though, when we believe that everything happens for a reason, it can change our outlook, not just on tragedies, but also on daily annoyances. A few months ago I got caught in a traffic jam and had to sit at a standstill, with no possibility of exiting the freeway, for an hour and half. Boredom, fatigue, and hunger blew through the car like an unwelcome arctic wind. I’d just flown across the country, rented a car, and was only two hours into my four-hour drive to Asheville. It was dark. I didn’t know where I was. And, I just wanted a warm meal and a soft bed. However, I subdued my irritation by telling myself that everything happens for a reason. I would likely never learn why, but believing that there was a reason made the delay feel more like an adventure rather than a roadblock to my destination. And, who’s to say that the angels didn’t put me in that traffic jam to shield me from something or simply to give me an opportunity to ponder the nature of their greater plan?

Often in life you have to take things on faith. It’s up to you to choose the story that brings you the most joy, solace, and peace. At times maybe that means blaming the angels for misfortune or accepting that sometimes bad things happen, but other times maybe that means deciding that whatever has befallen you is part of a greater design. Since you may never know the reason, choose the path that makes you feel the most uplifted.

Coconut Angel Pudding

If angels ate human food, this is what I would imagine them eating. Although I don’t eat a lot of desserts, sometimes I want a little sweet treat, and this hits the spot.

Serves 4

1 13.5 ounce can of coconut milk (not light)
1¼ cup water
1/3 cup evaporated cane juice/organic sugar*
1/8 tsp. artisanal salt, such as Himalayan pink or French grey
3 Tbsp. arrowroot powder
2 tsp. vanilla

2 bananas, sliced
shredded coconut

*You can also use coconut sugar, though it will change the flavor of the pudding.

In a medium pot, combine the coconut milk, water, evaporated cane juice/organic sugar, salt, and arrowroot powder. Heat the chocolate mixture on medium heat, stirring frequently, until a gentle boil is reached, approximately 15-20 minutes. While whisking, imagine your love and gratitude for the angels flowing from your heart and into the pot. As you stir, say (and mean it):

I am protected
I am loved
I am guided
Thank you

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 vanilla.
Divide between 4 dessert cups, or pour into one large bowl. Chill until set, about four hours.

To serve, top each serving with half a sliced banana and sprinkle with shredded coconut.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Do you have regrets? Are there things in your life you wish you’d done differently?

The things I regret aren’t the major decisions, but instead they are small moments. These seemingly insignificant events are poignant because I let fear dictate my actions rather than following my heart.

When we make choices based on fear, we limit ourselves and create a narrow—though supposedly safe—environment in which to reside. Pushing boundaries can be extremely scary as there’s a chance of failure, rejection, hurt, and a host of other potentially undesirable feelings; yet, the rewards can be great. When we feel fear and do it anyway, we expand our horizons and open the door to increased joy, love, and fun.

Although you might not know it upon meeting me, I’m quite shy. Over the years I’ve learned to break through my protective shell, but sometimes the little girl who hid under her mother’s skirt creeps back. My inability to speak up for myself has at times prevented me from experiencing my life to the fullest and has sadly left me with some regrets.

When I was in 11th Grade I spent the spring semester at a boarding school in Vermont. Some of the Jewish students organized a Passover Seder. Since I wasn’t Jewish, I didn’t sign up to join them. However, as the big day approached and recipes for Bubbie’s special brisket were being sent from home and students were arguing over the best type of kugel, I noticed that some of the non-Jewish students had signed up to take part in the dinner. But, I was still too shy to add my name to the list. By the day of the Seder, every student in the school, with the exception of three, had signed up. But, by that time the sign up sheet had been taken down. With every ounce of my being I wanted to be there, and I was mortified that my friends would think I didn’t want to celebrate Passover with them; yet, I was too shy to say anything. Even as I write this, twenty years hence, my heart still hurts.

In retrospect I see that not speaking up was far more painful than it would have been to say what I really wanted. But, unfortunately, sometimes we can’t see clearly when we let fear be our guiding light.

A few months ago, I was presented with an opportunity to choose joy over fear, but I nearly chickened out. I was cooking for a retreat, and a woman from Australia mentioned she was going to go to Disneyland after the workshop. The day she planned to go coincided with my birthday, which seemed especially serendipitous since throughout the previous month I’d felt an inexplicable urge to celebrate at Disneyland, but I preferred to go with a companion and didn’t think I’d be able to find anyone to join me.

Despite this seemingly amazing coincidence, I didn’t immediately say, “Hey, I’d love to go with you if you’d like to have company” because the shy girl in me wondered… What if she wanted to go alone? What if she didn’t want to hang out with me? What if she would feel obligated to say, “yes”? But then I remembered the Seder and how I’d spent two decades lamenting giving in to fear. So, I gathered my courage, held my breath, and asked. We ended up spending two amazing days at Disneyland, and it was some of the most fun I’ve had in a very long time. And, in the process I made a lifelong friend.

Feeling the fear but doing it anyway can be scary as hell, but when you speak up for yourself and ask for what you want, miracles can and will abound. Expanding your horizons need not be grandiose; it can be made up of seemingly small moments. A chick doesn’t break out of its shell all at once. It can take up to 24 hours of tapping and pecking before the egg breaks open and the chick is born into the world.

A chick hatching
When in your life have you let fear be your guiding light? When have you been too shy to speak up and ask for what you want? What has prevented you from standing up for yourself? The next time an opportunity arises to choose joy over fear, take the step toward joy. Your palms may sweat and your pulse may race, but you’ll never know what awaits you until you try.

Persimmon Courage Cookies
gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free

Although the Cowardly Lion has innate courage that he just doesn’t realize, the special elixir (a medal in the movie) from the Great Oz suddenly makes him able to do the things he didn’t think possible. Like the Cowardly Lion, you are courageous. You have the ability to push your boundaries and expand your horizons. Within you is the capacity to feel the fear and do it anyway. Yet, sometimes it can be helpful to have a bit of encouragement. When you make these cookies with the intention that they will help you overcome perceived obstacles and be able to speak up and ask for what you want, so it will be. With each bite, courage will fill you.

This recipe is based on my Great Grammie D’s persimmon cookie recipe, though she probably wouldn’t recognize it since I made a number of changes and substitutions to make these cookies gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free. Don’t tell the rest of my family, but I think I prefer this version.

Persimmon Curd
Makes about 2 dozen

6 medjool dates, soaked
1 cup hachiya persimmon pulp*
½ cup coconut oil
1¼ cup almond meal
½ cup coconut flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cloves
½ tsp. nutmeg
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup raisins

*If your persimmons are still a few days from being ripe (squishy and nearly translucent), you can expedite ripening by putting the whole fruit in the freezer overnight. When the fruit defrosts, it will be soft enough to use.

Preheat the oven to 325ºF.

Soak the dates in warm water until soft. This will take an hour or two. Scoop pulp from your persimmons until you have one cup. When the dates are soft, remove the skin (if you can) and the pit. Put the dates, persimmon, and coconut oil in a blender. Process on high until smooth. (This creates a delicious Persimmon Curd that can be spread on toast or pancakes.)

In the bowl of a standing mixer combine the almond meal, coconut flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Add the persimmon curd and eggs and blend on medium-low until fully combined. By hand stir in the walnuts, coconut, and raisins.

Use a soupspoon to scoop balls of dough the size of a ping-pong ball. Roll the dough in your palms and then gently flatten on the baking sheet into a round disc. These cookies will not spread much in the oven, so form them to your liking before baking them. Bake approximately 18 minutes, or until golden. Remove and cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Letting Go

Are you satisfied with your life the way it is?

For all intents and purposes I have a pretty awesome life, but I’ve spent many years feeling dissatisfied. Much of my thirties have been whiled away yearning to be married with children. This has left me with what has, at times, felt like an un-fillable hole…until now.

I have not yet met the man I will marry and I do not yet see children in my foreseeable future. Yet, something has shifted. I have changed my outlook. I’m finally willing to let go. Releasing my dream doesn’t mean I’m giving up, it just means that I’m making a conscious decision to see where life takes me. Rather than focus on lack, I’m seeing potential. There is so much in my life for which I’m grateful. And, right now I’m filled with such enthusiasm for the new projects and ventures I want to tackle that I feel complete.

Letting go can take days, months, sometimes even years. It requires a complete overhaul in thinking and a shift in perspective. Letting go isn’t something you can force. If there’s something you’ve been yearning for but haven’t yet been able to manifest or release. You’ll know when the time is right to let it go, if that’s the best course of action for you to take. And once you soften your grip, you’ll likely feel lighter and freer.

Let it go! Let it go! Let it go!
For me, getting to this place has been quite a journey. The transformation that I now feel started last spring when I was in bed for two months with whooping cough. When I eventually awakened from this chrysalis and began to spread my wings, I became filled with renewed vigor and excitement for what lay ahead. Job opportunities began flooding in and my creativity started to flow like a rushing river. This alone, however, may not have been enough to loosen my grip on this particular dream. There was something else that played an important role in bringing me to where I am today.

During a conversation with a friend who has chosen not to have children, I had an epiphany. I can choose to be single, rather than feeling like it’s happening to me. There are actually a lot of perks to living on my own. And, when I look over my life, so much of what I’ve been able to do, see, and become is not in spite of being single, it’s because of it. This doesn’t preclude becoming a wife and mother sometime in the future, but it does help me gain perspective on the many blessings in my life. Rather than lamenting my status as childless, I’m going to welcome the fact that I am, for the moment, childfree. Just four tiny letters, but the feeling between the two is vastly different.

Try this affirmation. The more you say it, the more you'll feel it.
I feel such optimism and enthusiasm for what the New Year will bring. I plan to start writing my next book, make headway on some big projects I’m cooking up, and perhaps even move to a new city. With all these ideas percolating and all this gratitude for the experiences I’ve had, there’s little room to feel that my life is lacking in any way.

Getting married and having children would be a dream come true, but I have released this to the Universe and am looking forward to what life portends whether or not this comes to fruition.

What are you yearning for? A relationship? A baby? A new home? A promotion? Expansion of your business? Increased abundance? You might not be ready to do so today, tomorrow, or even next month, but when the time is right, consider letting it go. Put it into the hands of God/Creator/Universe/Spirit (whatever you call the Divine), and see where the journey takes you.

Persimmon Curd for Letting Go

In cooking, just as in life, sometimes we have to let go. Last night I was a busy bee testing gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, and sugar-free variations of my great grandmother’s persimmon cookies. Midway through, I made a surprising discovery. When I pureed the persimmon pulp with dates and coconut oil, the result was a luscious, creamy curd. I’d been so set on making the cookies that I nearly didn’t take the time to recognize the deliciousness of this new creation. It would have been easy to soldier on toward my original goal, but instead I decided to let go of creating the “perfect” cookie recipe in a timely fashion, and instead I welcomed this unplanned taste sensation. I’m so glad that I did. Once you try it, you’ll want more!

Makes about 2 cups

6 medjool dates, soaked in warm water until soft
1 cup hachiya persimmon pulp*
½ cup coconut oil

*If your persimmons are still a few days from being ripe (squishy and nearly translucent), you can expedite ripening by putting the whole fruit in the freezer overnight. When the fruit defrosts, it will be soft enough to use.

Soak the dates in warm water until soft. This will take an hour or two. Scoop pulp from your persimmons until you have one cup. When the dates are soft, remove the skin (if you can) and the pit. Put the dates, persimmon, and coconut oil in a blender. Process on high until a smooth curd-like texture is reached. Enjoy on toast, pancakes, or anywhere else you might eat curd. Mmm!!!


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!