Photographs by Meadow Linn

Thursday, October 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artichoke and Roasted Red Pepper Dip

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

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

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

Makes about 2 cups

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

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

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Things Fall Apart So They Can Fall into Place

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

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

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

I’m currently weathering a storm of sorts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future Is Bright Sauce
Raw Heirloom Tomato Sauce

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

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

Serves 4-6

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Being Right: What’s It Worth to You?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mango Shrimp Cakes with Avocado Aioli

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

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

Makes 12 small fritters

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

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

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

Avocado Aioli

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

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

How Much Courage Does It Take to Live Your Dreams?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 20 large squares

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Being Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juneau at sunset

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

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

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

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

Serves 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chocolate “Buttercream” Frosting

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

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

Monday, June 8, 2015

Getting What You Need, Not Always What You Want

What in your life is exactly as you planned? What is completely different?

Exactly 15 years ago, I graduated from college. Never in a million years would that 22 year-old have imagined my present life. She would’ve fallen out of her chair laughing if you’d told her she’d be missing the 15-year reunion because she’d be speaking about spirituality on a conference-at-sea in Alaska. There’s no way! That pearl-wearing, Camus-reading girl would’ve thought you were making it up.

Like most teens, I’d made a big point of going in a different direction from my parents. The idea that I’d end up doing similar work to my mom would’ve seemed completely outlandish. And if you’d told me I’d be making arrangements for someone to take care of my chickens while I was away, rather than my husband and children, I’d have really been floored. What?! Thirty seven and still single?! Chickens? 
My animal family

It’s rare that we end up doing what we think we’ll do. Each step puts us on a slightly different trajectory. And, as we get older, we grow and change, and our priorities change as we become increasingly more ourselves. Many years ago I had a boyfriend who dreamed of taking up residence on a tropical beach where he could fish all day. At the time, that sounded horrible to me. I was in strive, strive, strive mode. But, now…well, that sounds pretty nice. Things change.

Every once in a while we may encounter someone who’s known since they were little exactly who and what they wanted to be, and they’ve followed that path into adulthood without deviating. However, most of us, for better or worse, end up somewhere very different from where we set out to go. A good friend of mine from college decided to be a stay-at-home mom after completing her medical residency. Someone else I know planned to travel the world and never get married, but she fell in love and built a life in her hometown, and she loves it. Neither of these women would have guessed that this would be their life, and they couldn’t have planned for this turn of events, but it has worked out.

Although my current life is different from what I imagined when I graduated college, I’ve had some extraordinary experiences that I couldn’t have even dreamed of back then. I thought I was destined for a high-powered and/or academic career, but the reason that didn’t come to fruition is that it wouldn’t have been the right path for me. Though I used to like to think of myself as a type A personality, I’m not really that way. Being creative and savoring life’s pleasures is much more my style, but it took me a while to find my way back home.

A keynote on the secret alchemy of food... I would've never imagined
As much as I want to get married and have a family, I also know that if I’d met and married a man years ago, it wouldn’t have been the right time. I was still figuring out who I am and where I’m going. And if I’d had children when I wanted, likely I wouldn’t have taken the risks (like quitting my job) that have played an integral role in bringing me to myself. So, in the words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.” I didn’t get what I thought I wanted when I left college 15 years ago, but I got exactly what I needed. And for that, I am truly grateful.

When in your life did you get what you needed instead of what you wanted? In what ways has this shaped who you are? Although it can feel antithetical to moving forward, as often as you can, take time to be grateful for all the missed turns in your life, because they may have actually been keeping you on your true path. It’s easy to feel regret. Gratitude can be much harder, but the things we regret are often the things that helped shape us and make us who we are today.

Great Life Grain-Free Granola

There have been a number of times in my life when my health has given me what I needed and not what I wanted. Although often frustrating or even devastating, the end result has always been for the better. Getting diagnosed with gluten and casein intolerance nearly five years ago was a huge blow, but it’s been a blessing in many ways. Not only do I feel stronger and more vital, but also I’ve become more sensitive to other’s dietary needs. A friend, who’s in the process of figuring out what foods work best for her body, recently introduced me to grain-free granola. I thought, I can make that! And so after a number of test-batches, here it is. The only problem…I can’t stop eating it. It’s pretty decadent. It makes a wonderful breakfast with fresh blueberries and homemade almond milk (or yogurt, milk, or other milk alternative), but also it’s rich enough to be eaten like a cookie or granola bar. Enjoy!

Notes: Do not use store-bought flax meal. You will get more nutrients from grinding your own. Plus, pre-ground flax can go rancid quickly.

Makes 6-8 servings

3 Tbsp. flax seeds
½ cup raw walnuts
½ cup raw pecans
¼ cup raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup sliced raw almonds
¾ cup almond meal
¼ cup shredded coconut (unsweetened)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch salt
¼ cup coconut oil
1/3 cup honey
2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup dried cranberries (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300ºF

Put the flax seeds in the bowl of a food processor and process until they are a fine meal (flour), about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the food processor and put in a large bowl (The bowl should be large enough for all of the granola ingredients as you will eventually mix everything together in it). Put the walnuts and pecans in the food processor and pulse to chop the nuts into pea-size pieces. Remove and add to the bowl with the flax meal. Put the sunflower and pumpkin seeds in the food processor and pulse to chop into small pieces. Remove and add to the bowl with the nuts and flax. Add the sliced almonds, coconut, cinnamon, and salt to the bowl and stir to combine. Wipe out the food processor and fill it with the coconut oil, honey, and vanilla. Process until creamy and syrupy, about a minute. Pour into the bowl with the nuts and seeds and stir until fully combined. Spread the mixture evenly onto a large baking sheet and bake until golden brown, approximately 25 minutes. Halfway through, use a metal spatula to turn the granola so it browns evenly. Do not stir. Instead, flip it like a pancake. This will help keep the clusters together. After approximately 25 minutes, remove from the oven and cool on the pan. It will become crisper and firmer as it cools so don’t despair if it seems a bit soft when you remove it from the oven. Once cool, toss with the cranberries (if using), and store in an air-tight container.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Why Giving from the Heart Can Be So Scary

What kind things do you think but don’t say? How would your life be different if you expressed your love, desire, and gratitude more often to those closest to you? What do you keep to yourself because it feels too scary to share?

The following is an example of a seemingly insignificant moment that I’ve never forgotten because I chose to be guarded rather than vulnerable. When I was in 11th Grade, a friend and I set off on a late afternoon stroll through some pastures in Vermont. There was a golden hue as the spring day was slowly turning to night, and I remember looking at my friend and thinking how beautiful she looked. However, instead of sharing from my heart and telling her what I saw, I bit my tongue and said nothing. How strange to be too shy to extend a compliment, but this happens more frequently than you might think.

Telling someone what we think about them, even the nice things (especially the nice things) can make us feel really vulnerable. It exposes us. And, there’s the potential for rejection or ridicule. What if my friend had thought I was weird or what if she’d turned down my compliment by saying something like, “No, I’m not.” That would have hurt, or at the very least it would have diminished my gift. So, to protect myself, I kept my thoughts to myself.

But, what if I’d pushed through my timidity and my comment was welcomed with a smile? It may have made her day, or maybe even had a deeper, more lasting effect. And, it would have made me feel really good, too. Giving is a powerful act.

It’s quite common to clam up in romantic relationships too. What does your partner do that makes your life easier, more fun, or simply makes you feel good? Do you tell him/her? How often? Although it may sometimes feel contrary to what your mind is telling you to do, giving heartfelt compliments and expressing gratitude is essential to creating connection and intimacy. We may think that these things don’t need to be said, that the other person knows how we feel, but often they have no idea. And, even when they do know, it’s usually nice to hear it anyway.

This is kind of how it feels to be totally vulnerable
Before a recent date, I’d spent a long time getting dressed and styling my hair. One of the first things the man did was compliment my dress. It was amazing to see how something as simple as “I really like your dress” can relieve tension and bring about such feelings of joy. He recognized that I’d put effort into getting ready.

There’s a funny scene in an Adam Sandler movie in which Nicole Kidman’s character and her husband, played by Dave Matthews, tell each other everything they like about each other every time they separate or reunite. It’s funny because it’s annoying. I admit…if we spent all of our time complimenting each other it could get tedious. However, one heartfelt compliment that’s received with a generous “thank you” can be meaningful for both people.

So why is it that it can be such a challenge to share these thoughts? Here’s why: Seldom do we give a birthday present and the recipient says they don’t like it. Even if they abhor it, it’s usually received with some form of gratitude. However, we seem to have no problem rejecting a compliment, which is a gift of spirit. Sometimes we deflect compliments because they either overwhelm or embarrass us, or because we think that somehow it’s more polite; however, there’s grace in receiving. When someone says “thank you,” it honors the giver. What if I’d made a snide comment when my date complimented my dress? I might be thinking that I’m being humble, but really what I’m doing is insulting him.

Giving compliments from my heart can make me feel very vulnerable. My pulse quickens and my palms get sweaty, especially when I feel the stakes are high. Saying to a friend, “Hey, I like your purse” is no big deal. But, saying to a man I’m dating, “When you do x,y, or z, it makes me feel taken care of/cherished/appreciated” can feel really scary because it reveals something deeper. However, as you may remember from an article I wrote a few weeks ago, I’m on a vulnerability quest, and letting people know more often what they mean to me is part of that journey.

Would you like to join me? Let’s make a pact to compliment or express gratitude to at least three people this week, not just for the sake of a compliment but because it’s something meaningful we want to share from the heart.

Samantha’s Garlicky Grilled Green Beans

Although this recipe serves four, I can eat it all in one sitting. I love these beans that much! I first had them at my friend, Samantha’s, house last month (she’s the founder of the awesome Raddish Kids cooking club). I immediately purchased a grill topper so I could make the beans at home. It was easy to say to Samantha, “Wow, these are so good!” However, what I didn’t say is…“I really appreciate how you put so much thought into creating delicious and healthy gluten-free and dairy-free meals when I come to visit. It makes me feel loved and cared for.” This is the kind of expression of gratitude that we often leave unsaid, but it can be the most meaningful. It can feel harder to say, but that’s exactly why we need to say it.

You can purchase a grill topper for about $20. However, if you don’t have one, I’ve had good luck replicating this recipe on the stove with a hot cast iron pan; you just have move the beans around in the pan a lot so the garlic doesn’t burn too much. For some reason the charred garlic from the grill tastes really good (even though I usually dislike toasted garlic of any kind), but on the stove it seems to be more bitter. 

Serves 4

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

1 lb. green beans, trimmed
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
1½ Tbsp. olive oil
fresh cracked black pepper and artisanal salt (such as Himalayan pink or French gray)

Heat a gas/propane grill with grill topper to medium heat. Meanwhile in a large bowl toss the green beans with the crushed garlic and olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and mix to combine. Spread evenly on the grill topper and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Be sure to turn the beans frequently to ensure an even char. 

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

Recipe for Mustard-Thyme Marinated Grilled Chicken pictured here