Photographs by Meadow Linn

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.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Spread Kindness

I heard a knock on my front door this morning and saw a friendly face peeking through the window. It was my mom, bearing a huge smile and a beautiful orchid. She surprised me just to say, “I love you!”

While drinking my morning tea, I’d mentioned to my mom on the phone that I was feeling overwhelmed. I’ve been really excited for all the transition and transformation that seems to be afoot this year, but sometimes the weight of it can get pretty heavy. New ventures can be exciting, but sometimes during the buildup, it can feel a bit like riding a pendulum that swings back and forth between euphoria and despair.

As I sipped my earl grey, worries about money, career, love, and health all seemed to compound. At the very moment that I was feeling the most alone, there was my mom to offer a hug and a simple, “I love you.”

The fact she stopped what she was doing and came to see me made all the difference. Being kind doesn’t have to take a lot of time, energy, or money, but it can change the course of someone’s day (or even life). Sometimes spending two extra minutes on the phone to find out how someone is doing is all it takes. Or, it can be a genuine smile when you pass a stranger on the street or a nod of sympathy when you see a new mother struggling with a screaming baby in public.

Last weekend I got a taco at my favorite takeout place. The family in front of me was twenty-five cents short when their bill was rung up. The cashier plunged her hand into the tip jar and pulled out a quarter. The look of relief on the parents’ faces was palpable. No doubt the missing quarter from the tip jar will be replenished ten-fold as a result of this kind gesture.

Almost always, when we perform a random act of kindness, it boomerangs back to us. What we put out into the world is reflected back like an image in a mirror. However, this only happens when it’s a true act of kindness. Being nice because you believe the Universe will reward you carries a very different energy than spreading joy and love because that’s what’s in your heart.

Last week, completely out of the blue, FedEx pulled up in front of my house. The driver hopped out and handed me a green cardboard box. I couldn’t imagine what it was or whom it was from. As soon as he drove away, I tore into the box and found a vase full of flowers and a note that said: “May your day be bursting with JOY! Watch the flowers bloom as your life continues to bloom! It’s going to be a spectacular year!!!” My friend Aimee, all the way across the country, had no idea that I’d been feeling overwhelmed by the uncertainty of my future; yet, she seemed to know exactly what to say and when to say it.

The flowers I received in the mail
Aimee’s gift of love will come back to her in the most miraculous ways; this I know. When you give genuinely, without strings attached, and you spread kindness, the world suddenly becomes a kinder, more loving, and more generous place.

Just thinking about this act of kindness fills me with warmth and brings tears of joy. The unexpected gift provided love and support at that exact moment I needed it. I realized that if Aimee believes in me, then I have to believe in me too. And, that is powerful. It’s nearly impossible to succeed if your biggest critic lives inside of you.

What can you do today to spread more joy, love, and kindness? What steps can you take to be a better friend, a more sympathetic girl/boyfriend, or a kinder person? Maybe you buy coffee for the person behind you at the drive-thru or maybe you decide to let the guy with only three items in his cart go in front of you at the supermarket. Perhaps you call a relative to say, “I love you,” or maybe you make a delicious meal for your spouse instead of barraging him/her with problems the moment you get home from work. Whatever you can do to be more kind, do it now.

Kindness Cupcakes
(Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free)

One of my favorite pastimes is cooking for friends and family. When I was a schoolteacher I loved leaving homemade treats in the faculty room to brighten the day of my colleagues. Imagine the joy of the woman sitting at the cubicle next to yours if you were to put one of these cupcakes onto her desk with a little note that said, “Have a delicious day!” or the look of delight on the child’s face who comes to your kid’s birthday party who can’t usually eat the cake because he’s gluten intolerant.

Brown rice flour tends to have a gritty texture in baked goods; however, I recently learned that if you mix it with liquid and cook it first, the final product is much smoother. What a revelation! This recipe calls for melted coconut oil because the measurements are more consistent. It can easily be melted in a small pan on low heat. Likely, there will be more frosting than you’ll need. It will keep up to a week in the fridge, in an airtight container. To use, warm it in a double-boiler or in a bowl over barely simmering water. Use it as a dip for strawberries…Yum!

Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

Vanilla Cupcakes
1 cup canned coconut milk (from 13.5 oz can, reserve the rest for the frosting)
1 cup brown rice flour
¼ cup potato starch (not flour)
2 Tbsp. tapioca flour
½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. xanthan gum
½ tsp. salt
2 large eggs
½ cup sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350ºF and position rack in center of oven. Line a cupcake pan with cupcake liners. Set aside.

Combine the brown rice flour and coconut milk in a small pan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until a smooth porridge is formed and the brown rice flour is no longer gritty. Cool slightly.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the potato starch, tapioca flour, baking soda, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar and vanilla. Add the cooled porridge mixture and melted coconut oil. Whisk until smooth. Mix in the lemon juice. Add the blend of starches, and mix to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  

Bake 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack until the pan can be touched safely. Remove cupcakes from the pan and cool to room temperature before frosting them.

Ganache frosting
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 Tbsp. melted coconut oil
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup coconut milk (use what’s left of the 13.5 oz. can)

Combine the chocolate chips and coconut oil in a double boiler (or small heatproof bowl) over barely simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the coconut milk and vanilla.

To frost the cupcakes: You can either dip them in the warm ganache with a bit of a twirling motion. Or, cool the ganache until it has the texture of frosting and spread it with a small spatula or butter knife.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Mindfulness on the Mountain

The sky overhead was black, but the stars were beginning to fade. Soon the sun would rise and shed her pink light over the rugged landscape. The boulders on Mt. Kuchumaa would glow golden, and perhaps a morning mist would reveal itself in the valley between the mountain I was about to climb and the great Mt. Kuchumaa.

As I swallowed my last sip of black tea, the leader of our group hike announced that it was departure time. Like horses at the racetrack when the gates open, the hikers in my group hit the trail with a jolt. It was barely daybreak, but they were already swiftly moving, chatting, and increasing their gait at a rapid pace.

Having just rolled out of bed, I was still having difficulty focusing my eyes, let alone taking deep enough breaths to fill my lungs with oxygen. I huffed and puffed as the burn began to grow in my thighs. Already overheating, I stopped to remove my fleece shirt. By this time, the swiftly moving hikers were already far ahead and the slower few passed me as I tugged my shirt over my head.

A few years ago this would have concerned me greatly. I had a thing about always hiking in the front. I was like a trail horse that had to lead the pack. 

I’ve been going to Rancho La Puerta off and on for a number of years. It’s a health and fitness spa in Baja with an emphasis on holistic wellness. Last month I had the good fortune of spending a week as a guest chef at their cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta.

Days at the Ranch (as it’s fondly called) begin with early morning hikes. When I can drag myself out of bed before dawn, the mountain hikes are one of my favorite activities. Years ago, when I first started visiting the Ranch I would race up the mountain, always in front. The faster the people behind me hiked, the faster I would go. I privileged being in front over everything else. I subconsciously feared others would judge me if I dallied, so as I forged my way up the mountain, I rarely saw the beauty surrounding me. It took a number of years and a number of hikes before I realized no one would judge me if I walked more slowly. And even if they did, what would it matter?

I’m not as fit as I used to be, so it’s much more difficult for me to be at the front now anyway; however, I’ve also learned a valuable lesson about slowing down. It’s not always necessary to race to the end, though there are times for that. There can be great value in being more mindful and reveling in the journey.

So, on that dark morning at Rancho La Puerta last month, instead of sprinting to the finish line, I got to breathe in my surroundings, feel the morning air on my cheek, and see the colors of the sunrise. For a while I hiked alone, which offered me an opportunity to think, which is something I don’t always make time for in my daily life. And when I met up with another hiker, we ended up having a delightful conversation about mindfulness, which seemed to be a nod from the Universe.

Letting go of my need to be the lead trail horse was not easy; sometimes I still find myself worrying that others will think less of me, but when I see how enriched my life can be when I take time to go more slowly and savor what’s around me, I know I’m on the right path.

Do you ever find yourself pushing so hard to reach a destination that you miss the journey? What do you do because you fear the judgments of others? What steps can you take to bring more mindfulness into your life?

Fresh Spring Rolls for Mindfulness

Nothing says, “spring isn’t too far away” quite like spring rolls! This is one of the recipes I taught in my cooking classes at La Cocina Que Canta, and they were a huge hit. Not only are they delicious, but also they’re fun to make. There is something meditative about rolling them. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Cucumbers, micro greens, pea shoots, bean sprouts, red bell pepper are all tasty additions. Flavored tofu can be used in place of the shrimp. As you work with each ingredient, take time to really see it. How does it look, smell, feel, sound, and taste?

Makes 8-10

Spring Rolls:

8-10 rice wrappers
½ lb. large shrimp, poached
4 oz. thin rice vermicelli
½ lb. carrots, peeled and grated (2 cups)
1 sm. head of romaine lettuce, ribs removed and cut into 4 in. pieces
a handful of fresh mint leaves
a handful of cilantro

Peanut Sauce:
Makes ½ cup

3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 Tbsp. gluten-free tamari
1 tsp. Sriracha
1 Tbsp. water

To make the peanut sauce:
In a small bowl combine the garlic, peanut butter, and sugar using a fork. Slowly mix in the liquid ingredients until completely combined. Set aside.

To make the spring rolls:
Bring a medium-sized pot (3 qt.) of salted water to a gentle boil. Poach the shrimp in the boiling water just until they turn pink, 1 to 3 minutes. Scoop the shrimp out with a slotted spoon. Transfer them to a colander and rinse with cold water. To save on time and cleanup, I like to combine tasks. So, although it might not be the most elegant cooking method, you can cook the rice noodles in the same water you used for the shrimp. Cook the noodles in the boiling water, 3 to 4 minutes (or according to the directions on the package) until just soft. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Slice the shrimp in half lengthwise. Grate the carrots, wash and cut the lettuce, and assemble the herbs. I find that putting the fillings in small bowls and lining the counter with them assembly-line style is helpful when rolling the spring rolls.

Lightly oil a baking sheet. You won’t be baking these spring rolls, but it’s a good place to put them as you make them. The oil will keep them from sticking.

Fill a pie plate with cool water and dip a rice paper wrapper into it. It should only take a few seconds to soften. Aim for about half-hydrated. If it’s too soft, the wrapper will become very sticky and will be hard to work with. If it’s not soft enough, you won’t be able to fold and roll.

Carefully lay the softened rice paper wrapper on a plate. Place 2 to 4 shrimp halves—depending on their size—cut side down in the center of the rice paper wrapper. Top with the lettuce, carrots, noodles, and herbs. If the noodles become too sticky to work with, just run a little bit of cold water over them. Like a burrito, fold in the two sides and then, starting with the side facing you, fold the rice paper wrapper over the top of the filling and roll away from you. This may take a bit of practice, but you’ll get it after one or two. Soak the next wrapper, and continue.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Out with the Old, In with the New

I feel like there’s a big shift about to take place.

It reminds me of that brief moment, after a long drought, before the rain comes, when the sky changes color, the wind stops, and there’s heaviness in the air. The storm that’s brewing is hardly outwardly perceptible; yet, you can feel the impending explosion. Then, suddenly, the clouds open up and sheets of water begin to fall. And you know that the land will forever be changed.

This month feels like such a moment. In my own way, I feel like the storm head, growing and building, and when I release, I will find myself at the debut of something exciting and wondrous. I feel this sense of change acutely in my own life; however, from my conversations with friends, it sounds as though there are many others who also feel these rumblings.

On January 1st, the first day of the New Year, we had a New Moon. This is the first time in 19 years that this has happened. Traditionally, the new moon is a time for staring anew.

New Year. New Moon. New beginnings.

This particular New Moon was in Capricorn, which I’ve heard is a great energy for letting go of the things that don’t serve you and opening the door to renewal and rebirth. This is also supposed to be a good time to cut ties from the past (if necessary), release negative patterns or habits, and initiate new projects.

I didn’t know any of this as the previous year drew to a close; however, I could feel something afoot. Like a butterfly that waits in its chrysalis before spreading its wings, it feels as though this month is a time of gestation for the new beginnings that await us in the New Year.

Out of the blue, the day before New Year’s Eve, I received a call from an ex-boyfriend. Although it’s been eight years since we were together, I think somewhere deep within, we may have both been holding a very small spark of hope that one day we’d resolve our differences and make it work. As I hadn’t heard from him in ages, the timing of the call was uncanny. Whether he was aware of it or not, he gave me an amazing gift. I finally feel free.

I was shocked when I discovered that there was a teeny bit of my heart subconsciously pining for what could have been. It was a joy to talk to him, and I’m grateful we were able to reconnect. However, his well-timed arrival into my life at this time of new beginnings has allowed me an opportunity to exorcise the past, so that I may move forward into my future with increased strength, awareness, and openness to whatever may come. My heart is open.

In addition to this ex-boyfriend popping into my life, since the New Year, friends, acquaintances, and colleagues from the past keep showing up in assorted manner. I’ve been receiving e-mails from former colleagues I haven’t heard from in a long time, and posts on Facebook from friends I lost touch with years ago keep arriving in my feed. Additionally, I’ve been having the most intense and detailed dreams about people from my past. My dreams have been filled with friends that at one point were the center of my world, but over time we’ve grown apart or lost touch as our lives took us in different directions. I’ve really been enjoying all of these reunions in the nighttime hours. However, I don’t think it’s just by chance that they’re happening now. It feels as though the Universe is energetically tying up loose ends.

I’m welcoming my future with open arms. I have a strong feeling that this will be the year that I fall in love. I feel it in the air.

Do you feel the energy of new beginnings in this New Year? What steps are you taking to release and renew? If you don’t know where to start, clear out your closet or that drawer in your kitchen that seems to be a catch-all for the items you don’t know where else to put. Or, consider getting in touch with people from your past to either reconnect or cut ties. Here’s to moving into the New Year with grace and ease. 

And, as I’ve been saying to myself all month, “Bring it on, Future!”

 New You Braised Vegetables

As part of this clearing out process, I decided to empty my refrigerator. The happy result was the creation of this recipe that has quickly become my new winter favorite. It’s both healthy and delicious—a perfect combo for the New Year. I love the balance of the tart vinegar with the sweet beets and apple. How often do you eat the broccoli florets and then pitch the stems? I always feel so sad to throw away such good food. But, it turns out that this is a great way to use them.

I like the aesthetics of having all the vegetables slices be about the same size and shape, approximately ½” wide and 2” long. Plus, it ensures more even cooking. But you can experiment to see what works best for you. 

Serves 4

½ green cabbage, sliced
2 lg. red beets, peeled and sliced
3 broccoli stalks, peeled and sliced (make sure you get all the peel off)
1 apple (fuji, gala, or similar), peeled, cored, and sliced
1 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
salt, to taste

Place everything in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tightly fitting lid. Start on low and gradually increase the heat to medium once the vegetables begin to release their natural juices. Since there is very little liquid in this recipe, it’s important to keep an eye on the pot and stir occasionally. However, do so quickly to keep as much steam contained in the pot, as this is important to the cooking. Cook until the vegetables are soft and flavorful, about 2 hours.