Photographs by Meadow Linn

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Change Happens When You’re Ready

Nothing has changed. But. Everything has changed.

Have you ever felt that way, like everything is outwardly the same but inwardly completely different?

I’m exactly where I was one year ago. Last year, at this very same time, I’d planned to spend May and June figuring out my next steps in life. It was to be a time of inner reflection and physical action. Then I got whooping cough, and all my plans were thwarted. 

So, here I am one year later, face-to-face again with an open calendar and time to build the foundation for my future, both professionally and personally. So, pretty much…nothing has changed. Twelve months have passed and I’m doing exactly what I thought I’d be doing a year ago.

But, everything has changed. I’m not the same person I was then. From the outside, my life doesn’t appear to be very different. I’m a few pounds lighter, but for the most part I look like I did last year. I still live in the same house (for the time being at least). I have the same pets, wear the same clothes, and my work is about the same, too. So, what’s different, you ask? I feel different. It’s as simple as that. Something has shifted. There’s more flow. I’m experiencing and exuding even more joy. And, although there’s a lot of uncertainty spiraling around me at the moment, I feel remarkably calm.

Looking back, I realize now that I wasn’t ready twelve months ago to make the decisions I’m going to be making in the coming months. My heart wasn’t ready to open to the possibilities that I’m welcoming into my life right now. There’s a well-known saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” However, I believe this extends to other areas as well. When we’re ready for love, a new job, or a change in direction, they reveal themselves to us and everything seems to flow with ease and joy. 

I still have the same dreams, but now they feel more tangible. For instance, I’ve wanted to write a second book for a while, but it has just been an abstract idea. Now, I actually have a working title and I’m beginning to formulate a plan for how to proceed.

Shifts in my personal life are also beginning to occur. I’ve spent years talking about my desire to get married and have a family. But this vision was something that was separate from me. I wanted it, but I couldn’t feel it. It always seemed somewhat out of reach. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just wasn’t ready. There were things I needed to do and experience first.

I used to spend hours imagining my wedding. The white dress, fairy lights, and dancing under the stars filled my thoughts on long car rides and languid summer days. Every minute detail, from flowers to appetizers, would run through my mind’s eye like a scene from Like Water for Chocolate. The only thing … often the groom was absent from my reveries. My visions were so focused on all the trappings of a wedding that somehow I seemed to have forgotten the essential part.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but one day a few months ago, I realized that I no longer dreamed about my wedding in the same way. Instead, I dreamed about a marriage and the children that would fill my heart. For someone else this might not have been a big deal, but for me this was a huge revelation. Maybe this is simply something that happens when you get older. But, I think it’s actually representative of a more profound shift within me. Sure, I would still love to have a beautiful wedding, but now I see it as the beginning and not the endgame.

I'm a fervent believer in being an active participant in your life. You can’t just sit at home and expect mana to fall from heaven. However, I also believe in not forcing things that aren’t working. Usually, when things are meant to be, they happen with ease. When the tides turn and there’s a shift in the air, you’ll feel it, and you’ll know when you’re ready. Suddenly, your dreams will realize and opportunities will present themselves. 

Life Is Sweet Homemade Fruit Snacks
Mixed Berry Gummies

Life is sweet. When we get mired in the drudgery of everyday tasks or when it feels like life is at a standstill, it can be hard to remember all that is wonderful in this world. However, no matter how tough things are now, eventually they will come right. You may feel like nothing has changed, or maybe you feel like everything has changed. But, as long as you remember that life is sweet, you will eventually find yourself in a place where doors are opening for you and your life is expanding. Just like life, these fruit snacks are simple and sweet. Some days life may feel complicated and overwhelming, but at its core, life is simple. Love as much as you can and experience as much joy as possible.

I spent months experimenting with different ways to make these fruit snacks, but this is the clear winner. I tried using only juice, and I also tried combining the gelatin with pectin and cornstarch. But, the blended fruit gives the best flavor and the best texture. The reason for dividing the mixture is to keep as much of the nutrients in the berries and raw honey intact as possible. However, heating half the mixture helps the gelatin to melt. 

Makes about 44 fruit snacks
1 cup frozen organic mixed berries*, defrosted
½ cup unsweetened berry juice**
2 Tbsp. mild raw honey (or to taste)
pinch of artisanal salt, such as French gray or Himalayan pink
3 Tbsp. grass-fed gelatin

*I use a blend of strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and raspberries.
**I’ve been using 100% blueberry juice, but you can use whatever suits your taste

Combine the defrosted berries and berry juice in a blender. Process on high until smooth. Pour half the mixture into a liquid measuring cup with a pour spout and pour the remaining half into a small saucepan. Put the saucepan on the stove over medium heat and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, stir the honey and salt into the mixture in the measuring cup. Sprinkle the gelatin over this mixture and stir until fully combined (a fork works best). Once the mixture on the stove reaches a boil, pour it into the measuring cup and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved. Pour into a silicone mold and chill until firm, about two to four hours. (This mixture usually fills about 1¼ of my molds). I find that using a baking sheet helps keep the mold level when transporting it in and out of the fridge. If you don't have a mold, pour the mixture into an 8x8 baking pan lined with wax paper. Once it’s firm you can cut it into squares or make shapes with a mini cookie cutter.

These are the molds I use:
(This is not an affiliate link. I do not make a profit when you click on the link.) 

This is the gelatin I use:

(This is not an affiliate link. I do not make a profit when you click on the link.) 

Monday, April 13, 2015

How to Live the Life of Your Dreams Every Day

Are you living the life of your dreams?

An interviewer recently asked me what had helped me create the life of my dreams. I paused for a minute, not really knowing how to answer. The question presupposed that I’d already reached the summit. In that pregnant pause, I could feel my mind and heart battling it out. Was I really living my dream life?

Just as the air was beginning to thicken with my silence, and I could feel my heartbeat quickening, I realized that I am indeed living the life of my dreams, but not in the way that I had always imagined.

For years I’ve pictured my dream life as something momentous, characterized by marriage, the birth of a child, a huge professional success, or a beautifully renovated yellow farmhouse. Although those dreams still waft around me like the scent of cookies baking in the oven, they have yet to settle in my immediate vicinity. Despite this, I lead a pretty extraordinary life. However, sometimes it’s easy to see only the holes rather than the blessings and good fortune that befall me daily.

It’s easy to think that once you lose weight, have your ideal job, or meet your soulmate that each day will then be filled with bliss, but surprisingly it’s the other way around. If you’re miserable now, there’s a good chance you’ll be miserable in the future, even if you finally get the things you want. But, if you’re joyful now, even if you don’t have the things you want, there’s a high probability that you’ll be joyful in the future.

Living the life of your dreams isn’t about finally reaching the summit or attaining that one massive achievement that makes you feel like you’ve finally succeeded. Living the life of your dreams is a choice you can make each and every day. You can choose to take pleasure in the beauty that surrounds you or you can choose to focus on challenge, lack, and unpleasantness.

Generally, as a society, we tend to be suspicious of people who find great joy in tasks and events that we deem undesirable. We see them as naive, lazy, or lacking in drive; however, if you had a choice between being unhappy but seemingly savvy or delighted by everything you see, which would you choose?

Even if I were living my imagined dream life (husband, children, beautiful farmhouse), unless I took the time to savor each of the little moments and find joy in my daily life, achieving the dream is meaningless. The secret to living the life of your dreams is to find ways to feel—in this very moment—how you would feel if all of your greatest desires were to come true. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take time each day to be grateful for the many blessings that already exist in your life. Also, take time to look deeper. No matter where you are, there is always something beautiful, funny, or awe-inspiring. Sometimes it just takes a shift in perspective. Take the time to see with your heart rather than always with your eyes. When you do this, you’ll begin to see that you’re already living your dream life.

Dream Life Soup
with Celery Root and Apple

I love this soup because it’s so easy to make, but carries with it the elegance of a French purée. This blended soup contains three main ingredients: celery root for flavor, potato for texture, and apple for sweetness, which incidentally are three important components of any joyful and well-balanced life. I like to think of the individual ingredients as the small moments we savor each day and the soup as a whole is the dream life that is created as a result. 

Serves 4-6

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. French gray or Himalayan pink salt
2 large celery roots (about 2½ pounds), peeled and cut into chunks
8 cups water
2-3 gold potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into chunks
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

In a soup pot over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil and salt until soft and translucent, about 5-10 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the garlic from browning. Meanwhile, peel and cut the celery root into chunks. (Size doesn't really matter; though, the smaller they are, the faster they’ll cook. Uniform size will be helpful.) Add the celery root to the pot along with the water and increase the heat. Peel and cut the potato and apple. Add them to the pot. Cover. Bring to a boil; then reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook covered until the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes, though this will depend on size. In a blender or with an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Leaping into the Unknown

Are you in a time of transition? Do you know where your next step will take you?

I feel as though I’m on a precipice, about to leap into an abyss of unknowns. However, in my heart I feel calm and relaxed. Although I can’t see what’s ahead of me, and a storm of uncertainty is raging all around me, somehow I know it will all be okay.

When I was a child and I would jump off a log or something that felt equally high and scary, my dad would always be there to catch me. Just as I knew he would break my fall, I know now that no matter what happens, everything will be okay. Sometimes we have to battle the storm and sometimes it blows by like a gentle lamb, but either way, life seems to have a way of working out just as it’s meant to, even if it doesn’t always fit our plan. 

I’ve just recently learned that the home I live in will be put on the market likely next month, so my pets and I will need to find a new place to live soon. I moved to this town nearly six years ago because my parents were here. However, they’re building a house in a remote part of Northern California. I don’t plan to follow them there, but without them here, there’s little tying me to this town. The wind is blowing me in a different direction, but it’s not yet strong enough for me to know which way it’s going.

Where does your path lead?
My parents are already in the process of packing the non-essentials in their current home, the one where I used to envision having my wedding. Cardboard boxes line the hallways, piles of bubble wrap add texture to the carpet, and the scent of fresh paint will soon permeate the air. I have yet to start boxing up my own home, but I know it won’t be long.

Coinciding with this move, the project that I’ve been working on for the past nine months has just come to an end. It fulfilled me in so many ways; however, I’ve been looking forward to the day when I would have time to expand my coaching practice, revamp my website, and start writing my next book. However, now that I suddenly have the ability to do so, I need to decide where to start and then pick up my feet and move in that direction, which is simultaneously exciting and daunting.

I don’t believe that hardship is necessary for growth, but I do know that when it happens and we make it to the other side, it can give us new perspective. The calm that I feel now, despite so many unknowns, is born of my illness last year.

When I had whooping cough and couldn’t work for three months, the minimal amount of energy I had was expended panicking about money and my future. To help me get through, I decided it was a chrysalis phase preparing me for what was to come. However, when I finally emerged, I did not feel like a butterfly. Luckily, my mom reminded me that a butterfly must first dry its wings before taking flight. I now realize that I’ve been drying my wings for the past nine months. When I do finally leap off the precipice, I’ll be ready to soar.

As this chapter is closing, it doesn’t really feel as though another one is opening. Instead, it feels like I’m at the beginning of a new book whose chapters are yet to be written.

From what I gather from numerous conversations, I’m not the only one who is taking a leap of faith into an uncertain future. What is ending in your life right now? And, what is beginning?

It’s fitting that this time of new beginnings should happen just as we step into spring, which is traditionally a time of renewal and rebirth.

I’ve noticed that when I panic about money, love, career, or any of the other main aspects of modern life, I reap nothing but more panic. However, when I’m calm and accepting of whatever comes, I open the doorway to increased possibility. As a suggestion, when panic, overwhelm, and concern begin to flood your being, acknowledge their presence. Then, take a deep breath and tell them to take a hike. Sometimes the journey is difficult, but eventually it will all work out. Your life is unfolding in magical ways, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Here’s to new beginnings and awakening possibility!

Creamy Chicken and Vegetable Curry 
for Grounding and Centering

No matter what’s going on in my life, I always take time for a good meal. It’s what grounds and centers me. Good food nourishes the mind, body, and soul. And, when it’s made with love, it’s like wrapping a warm sweater around your heart. This curry is warm and comforting, the perfect fuel for a leap into the unknown.

Tandoori seasoning is usually used for marinating grilled meats; however, I love it in this dish. And, I love the ease of just adding one spice blend to the pot rather than measuring multiple spices. You can find it in well-stocked groceries, natural food stores, or from a spice retailer. Omit the chicken to make a delicious vegetarian curry.

Serves 4-6

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated
3 three-inch fresh turmeric roots, peeled and grated
1 two-inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tsp. French grey or Himalayan pink salt
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp. tandoori seasoning
½ tsp. cayenne
1 small eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bell pepper (any color you choose), cut into 1-inch squares
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 16-ounce package frozen green beans
2/3 cup raw cashews
½ cup water
1 lb. free-range boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into pieces

Peel the garlic, turmeric, and ginger, and then grate them on a Microplane into a small bowl. Be careful with the turmeric—it stains everything in sight! Grate the ginger last since its fibers have a tendency to clog up the Microplane.

In a 5-quart Dutch oven or other sturdy pot with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, turmeric, ginger, and salt. Stir frequently so the garlic doesn’t burn. Meanwhile, dice the onions and a then add them to the pot along with the salt, tandoori seasoning, and cayenne. Sauté until the onions are soft and translucent, about five to ten minutes.

While the onions soften, cut the eggplant and bell pepper. Add the eggplant, bell pepper, diced tomato, and green beans to the pot, and stir to combine. Cover the pot with a lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the cashews and water in a Vitamix or other powerful blender. Start on low speed and work up to high. Process until smooth, about a minute. Cut the chicken. When the vegetables are soft, add the cashew cream and chicken to the pot and stir to combine. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked and the curry is bubbling, about 15-20 minutes. Serve with basmati rice and mango chutney.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Two Simple Steps for More Powerful Love

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but I learned a few things this year that I want to share.

From start to finish, my Valentine’s Day was magical, not because a man who looked like he stepped out of a magazine suddenly whisked me off on a romantic getaway, nor because I was showered with cards from friends and family near and far. No. It was amazing because I decided to make it amazing.

You might be familiar with the expression, “Unhappiness comes from unfilled expectations.” Hallmark, candy companies, flower merchants, social media, and a whole host of other entities have taught us to expect certain things on this one day and when those expectations aren’t met, it can be easy to let the little gremlins into your head. They wrap their knotty fingers around your heart and tell you you’re not worthy of love and they tickle your eyes with their onion spray to make you feel like you’ll always be alone. When expectations are unfulfilled it’s easy to downward spiral. Each thing in your life that might not live up to your ideal can become magnified in these moments.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s my two-step process for creating a magical Valentine’s Day (or any other day).

My parents circa 1984 (My shirt says, "I love joy.")
1. Change Your Expectations

There are many ways to feel love, be loved, and spread love. Changing your expectations doesn’t mean lowering your standards or giving up on romance. It simply means shifting the way you imagine love should be demonstrated. Romance doesn’t have to happen just on February 14th, and it doesn’t have to be shown with a heart-shaped box of chocolates or a dozen red roses.

My parents have been married for forty years, and they have one of the best relationships I know. Valentine’s Day for them, however, is not a romantic holiday. Neither my mom nor my dad expects anything special for this day; instead they share their love in other ways each and every day. Since my mom works long hours writing and teaching, my dad makes dinner most nights. And even when my mom is on a tight deadline, she always sets aside time in the evenings just for the two of them. 

2. Create Your Own Joy

If you’re in a relationship and Valentine’s Day is important to you, tell your partner. Unless you let him/her know that you might like to receive flowers or go out for an elegant meal, he/she may not know. Or, if Valentine’s Day just isn’t your partner’s thing, rather than hoping that one day this will change, and then resenting him/her when it doesn’t, instead create the romance you desire for yourself. This is also a great thing to do if you’re single, like I am.

My Valentine's Day flowers
Treat yourself to a special day. This can be done on Valentine’s Day, but you might also consider doing it at other times as well. When you cherish yourself this creates a ripple effect, and there will be increased magic in all areas of your life.

A great way to feel love is to spread love. The more love you share, the more you will feel. However, in order to do this effectively, it’s important to do so without expectations of how, when, or if the love you send out into the world will be returned. Do it simply because it makes you feel good to sprinkle love, not because you’re subconsciously hoping it will boomerang back to you. I’ve tried that, and it only leads to more gremlins. 

On Valentine’s Day I bought myself a beautiful bouquet of tuberose and orange and yellow spray roses. Their perfume filled my entire house and every time I looked at them, I was filled with such joy. For dinner, I made myself steamed lobster claws with aioli, and I opened a bottle of French wine I’d been saving. And, of course, I finished off the evening with a bit of chocolate. It was a beautiful day from start to finish because I made it that way.

You are the most important person you’ll spend your entire life with. Treat yourself with love and kindness. Fill your home with flowers, draw yourself a warm bath, and make candlelit dinners. Rather than lamenting unfulfilled expectations, change your expectations or find ways to meet your expectations on your own. Here’s to abounding love!

Love Spell Brownies
(Gluten and Dairy Free)

To feel immense love for yourself and your life, make this decadent special treat with the intention that love is flowing to you, through you, and from you.

Makes 16 brownies

2/3 cup coconut oil
1¼ cup sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 eggs
1 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour*
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

*My favorite is a blend of brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and potato starch.

Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Prepare a 9x9 inch pan by lining it with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine the coconut oil, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt in a 3 qt. pot and place over medium heat. (A double-boiler is a better option if you’re a multi-tasker; however, I prefer the ease of having just one pot to wash. But, it does mean that you’ll need to be attentive.) Stir frequently until the coconut oil is melted and the mixture is smooth. It will be quite hot. Turn off the heat and set aside until just warm.

While stirring, fill the pot with love. I like to imagine my heart as a red, pulsating light that expands with each turn of my wrist. I picture the shimmering light flowing from my heart and swirling into the pot. You may even want to visualize those who eat the brownies being filled with love and joy while experiencing increased magic in their lives.

When the mixture is warm—not hot—stir in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time and stir vigorously with the intention that the brownies are filled with the energy of love-filled new beginnings. When the batter is thick and shiny, mix in the flour and stir until very well blended. Mix in the chocolate chips and walnuts (if using). Pour into the prepared pan and spread it evenly into all the corners. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a bit of moist batter, about 25 minutes.

Cool completely on a rack before removing from the pan and cutting into squares.

Friday, January 30, 2015

How to Experience Increased Joy and Wonder

Do you feel lonely at times and wish you could share special moments? Have you ever remarked on the beauty of a rainbow, only to discover there’s no one there to hear your gasps of delight? Do you sometimes get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the day that you forget to notice little glimmers of magic, and do you sometimes feel too overwhelmed and stressed to appreciate the simple joys of being alive?

In December I was supposed to fly to Vietnam with my parents, but due to some airline mishaps, I ended up getting separated from them and had to make the approximately 36-hour journey by myself. Since I’d been expecting to travel with my parents, and my dad had made all the arrangements, I hadn’t paid much attention to the ins-and-outs of getting to our destination. Despite having flown on my own numerous times, I was feeling surprisingly daunted by the idea of a seven-hour layover in the middle of the night alone in Saigon and having to navigate a sea of people in an unknown land to purchase a flight to Da Nang.

When I mentioned my anxiety to my friend, Kyla, she suggested I imagine a small version of her keeping me company and pointing out all the cool and wondrous things along the way. My shoulders began to relax and my breath deepened as I realized that this solo journey could actually be a lot of fun. Kyla has a keen ability to see the best in each situation and find magic everywhere she looks. For instance, one time at Disneyland, she even managed to make getting trapped on a ride for an hour feel like a blessing. So, I knew that with her voice in my head I was in for a joyous adventure.

Just before embarking on the first leg of the journey, I put a small heart-shaped rose quartz crystal in my pocket and decided to call it “Mini-Kyla.” I liked the idea of having a physical object to represent my imagined companion.

Every time boredom, fatigue, or loneliness set in, there was Mini-Kyla in my pocket remarking (in my imagination) on the friendliness of the cabin crew, the array of food options in the Hong Kong airport, and the thoughtfulness of the United pilot who gently woke me so I wouldn’t miss my flight from Hong Kong to Saigon.

One of the beautiful sights I enjoyed in Vietnam
What started simply as a way to find pleasure in a long overseas flight has become a wonderful new habit. The rose quartz (Mini-Kyla) is now in my pocket every day. If I’m in a bit of an uncomfortable situation, I gently touch the outside of my jeans pocket, and I feel its love and support. And, if I’m watching a particularly glorious sunset, somehow it feels as though it’s also sharing in my joy. But, most importantly, having the stone in my pocket reminds me to enjoy and appreciate simply being alive. It’s so easy to get caught up in work or family commitments and forget to cherish the beauty of our breath and the rhythm of our beating heart. So, some days I will stop halfway through composing an e-mail or pause while washing the dishes and ask, “What would Mini-Kyla appreciate about this very moment?” Even though Mini-Kyla is just a small stone buried in my pocket, this exercise makes me take time to feel increased gratitude and harvest even more joy.

When Kyla suggested I picture her keeping me company during the flight, she likely had no idea that Mini-Kyla would end up taking on a life of its own, but I’m so grateful to have the comfort of the stone in my pocket and the daily reminder to create moments each day that fill me with wonder and awe.

What do you want to be reminded of daily? Just like tying a string around your finger or writing a note on the palm of your hand, Mini-Kyla prompts action. If you had a small object in your pocket, what would be its purpose? What gifts would you gain from its presence? What would you call it? “Mini-Kyla” is the name that has stuck with me, but I suggest you choose a name that resonates with you, though you can, of course, also call yours “Mini-Kyla,” if you desire. You don’t have to call the object anything, but for me… giving it a name has brought it to life. Here’s to savoring each and every day!

Mini Kyla

Sweet and Sour Beet Soup

When I was making a pot of this the other day, from the depths of my pocket, I could practically hear Mini-Kyla squealing in delight at the magenta color. Not only is this soup a delicious balance of sweet (from the beets) and sour (from the vinegar), but also it’s stunning to look at. I also love how it’s a metaphor for the harmonious balance of the sweet and sour aspects of life, just in the way that Mini-Kyla reminds us to see joy and wonder even when it seems there’s none to be found.

To make this soup heartier, use chicken broth in place of the water and add a pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

Serves 4-6

1 small onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. Himalayan pink or French gray salt
½ tsp. coarse ground pepper
1 lb. beets (3-4 small), trimmed, peeled, and grated
½ green cabbage, thinly sliced into short strips
¼ cup dried dill
10 cups water
2/3 cup white or apple cider vinegar

In a 6 qt. pot over medium heat, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil, salt, and pepper, until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, peel and grate the beets with a food processor or with a box grater. Add the beets to the pot. Slice the cabbage (you can also use the food processor, but I prefer to do it by hand). Add the cabbage and dill to the pot, and stir to combine. Add the water and vinegar. Increase to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil. Then, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for an hour, or until the beets and cabbage are tender and the flavors have melded. Add salt and pepper, to taste.

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 coconute 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.