Photographs by Meadow Linn

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grilled Chicken Marinated in Mustard-Thyme Sauce

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

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

Serves 3-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preheat gas grill to medium.

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

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Be Your Own Best Companion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 A Just Do It Breakfast

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

Serves 1

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

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action Steps

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

Simple and Delicious Homemade Almond Milk

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

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

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

Makes about 4½ cups

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Life Doesn’t Always Stick to “the Plan”

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes it’s small things that derail the course of the day, and sometimes it’s major events that forever change our trajectory.

This morning, for instance, I planned to take a shower. Instead, after a very cold attempt, I spent an hour on my hands and knees in my bathrobe trying to light the hot water heater pilot. My intention had been to have a productive day in the office, but the Universe decided to throw me a curveball and test my ability to roll with the punches.

Often it’s our flexibility and willingness to go with the flow that allows for even more magic than we could ever dream. We just have to be willing to open our heart to this possibility, rather than doggedly sticking to “the plan.” While working in my garden last week, I took a photo of a flower, which turned out to be a rather boring picture. However, upon closer inspection, I discovered a small aphid on one of the petals. Although it hadn’t been part of my intended composition, this happy accident actually improved the image.

Sometimes, however, a thwarted plan can be even more challenging to deal with than the event itself. For instance, not being able to shower and having to fiddle with the hot water heater was actually less vexing than not being able to get office work done. This is heightened when you stumble upon something that’s so big that it not only changes the plan, but also necessitates a complete reevaluation of your sense of self and where you’re heading in life.

Big life events that can throw a herculean wrench in “the plan” are things like termination, divorce, and illness. Losing your job may require you to discover who you are separate from your vocation. Ending a union can be one of the worst pains there is, but coming to terms with not having “happily ever after” can sometimes be even harder. And for others, like me, it’s not so much about unexpected endings, but rather it’s about beginnings that never seem to materialize.

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a vision of my life that included a big country kitchen in an old yellow farmhouse filled with children. In third grade when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “a mother.” While I still have a few childbearing years ahead of me, I’ve also hit a point in my life when it’s time to accept the reality that likely my life will not exactly follow the plan I’ve envisioned for so long. I’m not quite ready to let it go, but I know the time is nigh. Whatever comes to fruition won’t necessarily be better or worse, but it certainly will be different.

The seeming holes in our lives oblige us to accept a different version of ourselves and if we do, that’s where magic resides. If we don’t, not living in alignment with who we think we are can be extremely painful. When we release our hold on “the plan,” we begin to see the majesty of the insect on the flower and the other wonders waiting to be discovered. This will result in more enjoyment and less disappointment.

In what ways has your life gone according to plan? In what ways has your life deviated from your expectations?

The first step is accepting what is, even if it’s at odds with how you see yourself. An adjustment or grieving period is completely normal and can even be part of the healing process. Then, be willing to open the door to whatever comes your way. When your heart is open, who knows what magic will unfold!

Pink Grapefruit Margarita

When life doesn’t go according to plan, often the best route is being open to possibility of going in a new direction. However, there can be value in first taking time to mourn the loss. In these moments, sometimes it’s nice to have a fun cocktail in hand!

When testing this recipe, I thought that perhaps it was a tad too sweet, but my neighbor thought that it could be a bit too tart. So, we concluded that our differing views meant that it was just right. Since pink grapefruit is sweeter than lime juice, which is traditionally used in margaritas, the dash of cider vinegar helps to round out the flavors and add another layer of complexity.

Makes 4 small drinks

1½ cups fresh pink grapefruit juice (from 2 grapefruits)
½ cup white tequila
½ cup triple sec
1 Tbsp. raw apple cider vinegar

Himalayan pink salt

Use a zester to make strips of grapefruit peel to float in the drinks. Squeeze the grapefruit juice and then pass through a sieve to remove the pulp. Combine the grapefruit juice, tequila, triple sec, and cider vinegar in a small pitcher. Use the pink salt to rim the glasses. Serve on the rocks. Cheers!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Live Your Life Now!

I had an epiphany last night while I was walking my dog on a cold, rainy evening and gleefully stomping through puddles with my new rain boots.

As I was strolling the streets of downtown Paso Robles and noticing the many new, and very hip, stores and restaurants that have been mushrooming around the town square, I was struck by the awesomeness of my town. Many people would count the days until a weekend getaway here, and I live just blocks from the cute boutiques, wine tasting galore, and amazing restaurants.

That’s when I had my epiphany.

This town is cool. It doesn’t need to change. I need to change. A couple years ago, I started biding my time. My parents decided to look for property in Northern California and without many friends here, I figured that whenever they moved, I would most likely follow suit. I didn’t have a plan of where or when I’d go, but I was pretty certain that I could only find the life of my dreams elsewhere.

Puddles to gleefully stomp through
However, as I was walking in the dark and admiring the twinkling lights in the trees and hearing the drip, drip, drip of rain, I realized that I need to make a change. But, not necessarily the kind of change that I’d been intending. Perhaps I’ll head to a bigger city when my parents move to the new home they’re building, but that is yet to be determined. However, right now, I have a choice: I can continue down this path that puts all my focus and attention on “when,” or I can make a greater effort to live fully and joyously in the present.

I live in a constant state of “when.” When I move/fall in love/get married/have children/excel in my career, then I’ll start exercising, spend increased time outdoors, lose weight, make more money, travel more, have dinner parties, spend time with friends... The list goes on and on. The thing is…I live right now. “When” is in the future. Plus, it’s uncertain whether any of the “when” things will come to fruition, so doesn’t it make more sense to give more attention to the present? For instance, I could decide right now to be more active instead of waiting for something miraculous to happen in the future that will inspire me to exercise regularly, and I could decide right now to make more time for fun rather than wait for life to somehow be better in the future.

Although I’ve spent a good portion of my life waiting for the future, I’m learning the importance of spending more time savoring the precious moments of each and every day, even the ones that seem boring, frustrating, or painful. I’ve wasted so much time waiting for “my life to turn out.” The truth is…it’s happening right now.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Downtown Paso Robles
The mother of a good friend that I've known since the 7th Grade died suddenly and unexpectedly a month ago. Two weeks before that, she’d been hiking and playing with her grandkids. We never know what could happen. 

It can feel morbid to live life in constant worry that it could end at any time. So, I invite you instead to simply spend as much time cherishing each day as much as you possibly can. I'm going to make a greater effort to do this as well.

I’m going to extricate myself from my computer more often, wander the streets of my sweet town on sunny afternoons, and make an effort to meet more people. 

Here's to loving more, living more, and laughing more!!!

Ridiculously Easy No-Flour Peanut Butter Cookies
(Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Grain-Free, Naturally Sweetened)
One of the reasons I love cooking is that it requires full attention. When I get distracted and start thinking too much about other things, that’s usually when I overcook or sometimes even burn my dinner. When I’m developing a new recipe I become so focused that the past and future seem to fade away, and there’s nothing but the present. A few days ago I stepped into my kitchen with the intention of creating a delicious peanut butter cookie without any flour. Hours later I emerged, triumphant. There’s something really satisfying about being so in the moment.

These cookies have a texture similar to shortbread or pecan sandies, which I love. However, if you’d like them chewier, add another egg. They’re especially tasty with a cold glass of milk (or dairy-free alternative) or a steaming cup of tea or coffee.

Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup natural peanut butter (I used a creamy salted variety)
½ cup + 1 Tbsp. coconut sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the peanut butter and coconut sugar and beat on medium to medium-high until light and airy, about 2-3 minutes (Start the mixer on low and slowly increase the speed). Scrape down the sides as necessary. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until fully combined.

The dough will be a bit crumbly, so press firmly as you roll the dough into balls the size of plump cherries. Spread them out evenly between the two baking sheets. Use a fork to gently press the balls into flat disks. Bake until the edges are golden, about 10 minutes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Inhale the Good & Exhale What’s Out of Alignment

Do you look at your bright green lawn and see the solitary dandelion? Do you focus on the few gray hairs on your head amidst thousands of robust dark ones? Have you ever received a flurry of glowing compliments but instead fixated on the single criticism? For some reason, it seems to be human nature to give our attention to the one thing out of alignment rather than all the beauty, magic, and love that surround us daily.

When I received my first set of faculty evaluation forms when I was a new high school French teacher at a boarding school, I escaped to my room and sobbed. In most of the evaluations the students raved about the class. However, hidden amongst the kind words, there were a few critiques. One student said it was her favorite French class ever, but I couldn’t absorb the praise because I was focused on the few minor things that felt like a condemnation of my hard work.

It’s easy to do this with relationships too. I pretty much get along with everyone; however, a number of years ago I had a falling out with a friend. Unfortunately, the whole thing was based on miscommunication. We’ve more or less lost touch, but every so often my mind wanders to him and the pain pricks my heart. In these moments I lose sight of the wonderful relationships in my life and instead fixate on the hurt. 

I’ve come to learn that there are times to fight for friendships and work through whatever challenges exist, but also there are times to walk away. Otherwise, the disharmony can become like the solitary dandelion in the manicured lawn. It can be the only thing we see. Why spend time and energy on something that brings hurt when there is so much joy and love to be sought elsewhere? Even though it can be hard, we can choose to focus on love rather than hurt and on compliments rather than critiques. We can choose to surround ourselves with people who love and support us and make us the best version of ourselves, or we can concentrate on the relationships that bring us down. It’s our choice

Sometimes it still hurts when I think about the friendship that slipped through my fingers, but then I fill my heart with gratitude for the wonderful people with whom I share mutual love and respect, and my heart swells beyond measure. 

Occasionally it might feel impossible to tear your eyes away from the dandelion in the lawn. In these cases, rather than ignoring it or using positive thinking to wish it away, try changing the meaning you assign to it. Rather than viewing the dandelion as a pesky weed, the bright yellow flower can be like a ray of sunlight on a gloomy day. Perhaps the person criticizing you is only doing it because she’s intimidated by your majesty. And maybe the gray hairs on your head each represent a fantastic adventure you’ve had during your full life.

Have you ever admired a stunning sunset only to hear the person next to you grumble that it’s caused by pollution? Which person would you rather be: the person who sees beauty everywhere or the person who focuses on what’s wrong? It’s not always easy to shrug off criticism; however, why should we let one negative comment or experience take precedence over piles of positive, love-filled ones? When you can, absorb the things that lift you up and allow the things that bring you down to roll off you like water on a duck’s back.

When I get mired in the negative or painful, I take a deep breath and say to myself: “Inhale the good; exhale what’s out of alignment.” Somehow it seems to work as a reminder that I have the power to change my focus.

Mystic Miso Soup

When my heart hurts or when I’m under the weather, I crave miso soup. To me it feels like the physical representation of “Inhale the good; exhale what’s out of alignment.” With each bite, I feel my cells responding to all its goodness and releasing all that no longer serves me.

What I love about making miso soup is that there isn’t one right way to do it. In the tradition of Japanese farmhouse kitchens, I love filling my miso soup with lots of vegetables. This recipe uses shitake mushrooms and spinach, but you can use whatever you have on hand, such as carrots, wakame seaweed, or Asian greens. Use this recipe as a guide. As you get the feel for how to make the soup, use your intuition to know how much kombu and bonito flakes are necessary and how much miso paste to add. Taste as you go. There are many different kinds of miso paste and each one has its own distinct flavor and saltiness. I recommend starting with a small spoonful and then adding more until it suits your palate. 

Serves 6-8

16 cups (1 gallon) water
1 - 5” x 5” piece of kombu (dried kelp)
¾ cup bonito flakes (toasted dried tuna skin)
8 fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced (remove woody stem prior to slicing)
1 bunch spinach, stems removed
½ cup miso paste (or to taste)
1 Tbsp. tamari (or to taste)
8 oz. tofu, cut into small cubes
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced

Cut the kombu with kitchen scissors. Bring the water and kombu to a boil. Gently boil for about 20 minutes. Add the bonito flakes and simmer for another 10-20 minutes. Strain the broth through a sieve into another pot. (Be sure to add heaps of love at every stage of the cooking process.) Add the spinach and mushrooms. Simmer until the mushrooms are soft, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat (miso is a fermented food and should never be boiled since this will kill the beneficial bacteria). Put the miso paste in a small bowl and mix with some broth to make a slurry. Add the slurry to the pot and stir to combine. Stir in the tamari. You can either add the tofu directly to the pot or you can divide it among the bowls and pour the soup over it. Garnish with the sliced scallions.

Note: Kombu and bonito flakes are available at Asian markets, many natural foods stores, and Amazon or other online retailers. Miso paste can be found in the refrigerator section of Asian markets and natural food stores. 


Friday, March 7, 2014

Start at the Beginning

When teaching the children to sing in The Sound of Music, Maria sings, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. When read you begin with ABC. When you sing you begin with Do-Re-Mi.”

Before you can read Shakespeare, you have to first learn the alphabet. And, before you can sing, you must first learn the notes. However, sometimes I find myself trying to jump ahead to King Lear before taking the time to first read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

Demonstrating how to make GF/DF clafoutis
Starting with the basics is vital to nearly every endeavor. You wouldn’t expect a newborn to ski like Julia Mancuso or a puppy to sit and stay without being trained, so why is it that we often expect ourselves to instantly be skilled at something we’ve never tried? Do you ever feel as though you have to come out of the gates running when you start something new? Did you know that Colonel Sanders endured 1,000 rejections before finally finding a restaurant interested in his fried chicken recipe?

I’ve been really excited to create videos to demonstrate how to make the recipes found on Savor the Day and show some of my favorite culinary tricks, including Mystic Chef® techniques for infusing joy and intention into everything you eat. In my mind’s eye, I can already see the videos taking shape. Just the thought of explaining how I stir love into a pot of soup or how to extract the most juice from a lime, gets me giddy with anticipation.

However, once I began to read online reviews of wireless microphones, lighting systems, and tripods, my head began to spin. So, instead I watched YouTube videos that explained the tricks of the trade. However, rather than feeling inspired, overwhelm crept in, and I began to feel heaviness building in my chest. Dollar signs danced in my head and worries that I wouldn’t be able to make good videos without a crew pirouetted in and out of my vision. Feeling discouraged, I wanted to give up.

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Although I have a tendency to want to strive for the Coliseum, I’m learning that sometimes you have to start with a rustic shack and slowly build your way up. Wanting everything to be just right can be paralyzing, but when you realize that sometimes you just have to start, you can liberate yourself from the tyranny of perfection. You can only grow and change if there’s something to grow and change. If you give up before you start, you miss an opportunity to potentially soar.

Thank goodness the engineers "got it right" when they built this plane!
There are times in your life when it’s important to wait until your wares are perfected. For instance, before getting into an airplane, I want to be pretty darn sure the engineers got it right. However, in many cases, there’s greater power in going for it, rather than waiting until you have the top of the line microphone or the fancy lights that make you look good. There can be value in planting the seeds and watching how they grow and where they take you.

What dream or idea have you given up on because it felt overwhelming? If you’ve been discouraged from a project that’s close to your heart because you felt like you lacked the necessary money, time, or materials, you might consider revisiting it. But this time, try starting at the beginning. What could you do with only a small investment of time or money to take steps toward realizing your dream, idea, or project?

Winter Slaw

When I first started writing recipes for Savor the Day, I believed I needed to reinvent the wheel. I thought people would only be interested if I created complex and completely new dishes. When the recipes required too many steps or were utter failures, I’d want to give up. But then I realized…I could share the food I love. In a sense, this was my way of “starting at the beginning.”

Winter Slaw is my current favorite salad. I’ve been eating it about three times a week since I first created it. You can buy these vegetables pre-cut in a bag at Trader Joe’s, but if you have the time, I recommend slicing them yourself. They will be fresher and more nutrient-rich. Slice extra vegetables, and keep them in the fridge for quick and delicious salads and stir-fries all week. As an alternative to Winter Slaw, omit the Parmesan, cranberries, and nuts, and dress with a sesame-ginger vinaigrette for a delicious Asian slaw. Or, stir-fry the vegetables in a bit of coconut oil, tamari, and lemon juice for a quick weeknight stir-fry.

Serves 6-8

6 large or 12 small Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
3 large broccoli stems, peeled and grated
¼ small purple cabbage, very thinly sliced (the thinner the better, or else it can be a bit "spicy")
¼ small green cabbage, very thinly sliced
1 small or ½ large bunch of curly-leafed kale, stem removed and leaves cut into bite-sized pieces
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup raw pecan or walnut halves
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
extra virgin olive oil
good-quality aged balsamic vinegar (I like the one from Trader Joe’s.)
salt and pepper

I prefer to slice the vegetables by hand. I think it looks prettier, and it’s a great way to focus your love and intention into the food.  However, a food processor can be a handy tool in slicing some of these vegetables. Use either a box grater or a food processor fitted with a grating disc for the broccoli stems.

Combine the Brussels sprouts, grated broccoli, green and purple cabbage, and kale in a large salad bowl. Toss with the cranberries, pecans (or walnuts), and Parmesan cheese. Dress with olive oil and balsamic and add salt and cracked black pepper to taste.