Congo bars, adapted from Terry Walters’ Eat Clean Live Well

Today, as I cooked and then, while I cleaned the kitchen, wrote this blog post, and still now, when I’m getting ready to walk to a friend’stulips house for dinner, it rained. Steady, relentless rain. For hours. It could so easily be depressing. Many days that’s what would happen. I would permit myself to be ruled in a negative way by something completely out of my control. But today, in addition to supporting the Spring’s new growth, I somehow managed to use the rain as fuel to reinforce all the things in my life that seem right: this morning’s an amazingly deep yoga practice with several people I love a lot; preparing to teach my first public group yoga class on Monday; my sweet cat asleep on the couch, still Benalive and reasonably healthy despite being just a few weeks away from turning 17 years old; the coziness of my apartment; a perfect mix of music that included this song, which has been playing in my head ever since I saw Morgan Geer’s Drunken Prayer open for Freakwater this past March and which I don’t own; and being awake to the luxury of this time alone, being in my home, cooking, and appreciating all that I have instead of focusing on what is not. I’m not sure why the rain was uplifting today instead of being depressing, if this is just grace or if it’s the result of a decision I made yesterday to be happy even if it wasn’t coming naturally. Probably both. Whatever the reason, I’ll take it. With so much gratitude for all that I have, including the ability to choose happiness and have it work.

Congo barsI don’t suppose I can compare all of that to these Congo bars. Or maybe I can. They’re quite special. And while I don’t suppose any dessert that tastes this good will ever qualify as being actively healthy, this one comes damn close, especially when compared to other sweets. If you try the recipe, I hope you enjoy it as much as I always do. And, if you have any leftovers, store them in the fridge. It’s best eaten warm but cold is good too.

Congo Bars, adapted from Terry Walters’s Eat Clean Live Well

1/2 t. virgin coconut oil
1 c. teff flour
1 c. almond flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. sea salt
4 oz. natural applesauce (I use the single-serving containers)
1/2 c. maple syrup
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. cashew or sunflower butter
2 t. high-quality vanilla extract
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 c. unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c. dark chocolate, cut into chunks

Preheat the oven to 350; use 1/4 t. coconut oil to grease a square baking dish.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together the applesauce, maple syrup, honey, nut butter, and vanilla in a separate bowl, then add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir to combine. Mix in the nuts and coconut. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, smooth the top, and draw four long trenches across the batter.

Melt the chocolate and remaining 1/4 t. coconut oil in a small pot, either on the stove or in the oven, being careful not to let it burn. Once the chocolate has melted pour it into each of the four trenches. Use a table knife to create a swirl (or, like mine, swirls and a splotch) across the top. Bake for 35 minutes or until a knife in the center comes out clean.

If you can manage to wait, allow the pan to cool for at least a half hour before you dig in. The bars are delicate and likely won’t hold together if they’re too warm. Serve as is or with a dollop of yogurt.

Enjoy!

Chickpea and sweet potato tagine

sweet potato tagineI made this last night, inspired by my most recent meal at Lula Cafe. Lula, which has had some variation of this dish on the menu since it opened, has been my favorite restaurant in Chicago since pretty much then.  Yet, despite the many times I’ve considered skipping over the specials and ordering the tagine, this last visit was the first time I managed it. And, as you can probably guess by this post, it was wonderful. Like all of Lula’s food, it made me feel like I was eating in a way that made everything in my life just a little better. My version is not as good as theirs was. But it’s tasty. And good for you– studies have shown that both ginger and turmeric may decrease inflammation. Because avoiding gluten apparently doesn’t do it all. Life is good but it is not fair. But so it goes. Now. The recipe.

1 Tablespoon butter or ghee or coconut oil (I used butter)
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch fresh turmeric, minced (substitute 1 teaspoon or more dried if you can’t find fresh)
1 inch fresh ginger, minced
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
sea salt to taste
4 cups cooked chickpeas with their broth (you can substitute 2 small cans but rinse and use fresh water or broth)
1/4 – 1/2 cup golden raisins, to taste

Heat fat in a sturdy, medium-sized saucepan that has a lid over medium heat. Add onions. Saute for a few minutes, stirring a couple of times, then add everything but the chickpeas and broth. Stir to combine and cook for another few minutes. Add the chickpeas and raisins with enough liquid to just cover the ingredients. Partially cover and simmer for a half hour or so, until the sweet potato is soft and the flavors have melded into something greater than their individual components, sweet and smoky and with hints of something mysterious and far away that you’ve always known but never quite known how to find. Or something like that. Serve over mashed cauliflower, quinoa, or rice, topped with a handful of arugula or some other bitter greens. The greens aren’t essential but they provide a nice balance for the sweetness.

For Students

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. In part that’s because I’ve been working on another project — this one. It’s still a work in progress but gettin much closer to reality. Here’s a page from the website, which you can see in full at chicagoyogacollective.org

Welcome! We’re so glad you’re here. Chicago Yoga Collective operates outside the traditional yoga studio/gym framework, so things work a little differently. Also, things may shift as we…

Source: For Students

Tonglen for Thanksgiving. Also, a ham and links to many recipes.

Early this morning, after starting water for coffee, I put a ham in the oven. For Thanksgiving. Which I’m celebrating this year at home, in Chicago, with a small group of dear, long-time friends.

I have so very much to be grateful for. The group of friends who are coming for Thanksgiving, the core of my urban family. My biological family in Florida. Satisfying, interesting work. Exceptional yoga teachers. Robust health. So much that to list it all would take my entire day, which I need to spend in other ways.

So maybe for now I’ll just focus my gratitude on Slagel Farms hamthis ham. It’s from Slagel Farms. I’m hoping it had a pretty good life. And I’m certain it will be delicious both on its own and then later, when I use the bone for some form of bean soup. This sort’ve ethical (I eat meat with qualms) ham was also affordable, because a friend from yoga invited me to join her and another friend in ordering directly from the farm–we all agreed that 15 dozen eggs divided among the three of us was not crazy. At least not right before Thanksgiving, a holiday that for me is almost entirely centered on cooking a traditional feast that calls for large quantities of eggs.

As I’ve said here before, there is little that makes me happier than cooking for people I love. Therefore yesterday, as I made cornbread for dressing, gluten free pie crusts for pecan pie, and cranberry orange relish, and while I rubbed salt and organic coconut sugar and black pepper into the very expensive organic turkey that another friend and I bought through the food co-op that I hope one day will form here in Chicago, I danced in the kitchen. I felt joy.

Side by side with the joy and gratitude, however, upwelling into unexpected spaces, I also felt, still feel, grief and anxiety.

I feel grief because the man I’m in love with is no longer in my life, because one of my sisters died far too young, and because I’m in the process of releasing so many delusions about who I am, what my life is, how I fit into this world. I feel grief about the state of our world, for all of those who are suffering untold horrors. For the contemptuous ways in which we humans too often treat each other and ourselves. And I feel anxiety over who knows what. The state of the world, yes, but also for some nameless unknown. In my life, anxiety comes in tiny waves that roll relentlessly through my small self, constant stories about this and that, him and her, me, them. It is the background music of my life.

Looking back, I think I’ve always been anxious. Indeed, at my sister’s memorial service earlier this month someone who knew Valerie long ago told me that her (this woman’s) babysitting career ended because of me. Apparently I would not stop crying no matter how she tried to comfort me. I was too young to remember that particular episode, but I have countless childhood memories of curling up with various pets, finding solace from the storm of feelings that I did not know how to handle and that no one around me was equipped to understand or resolve. It was the 70s.

As a young adult I found relief from anxiety in marijuana, which I smoked for years and years. It worked in a way. I was able to function in social settings, I was able to relax and feel normal. Have fun. But I believe that smothering my anxiety with drugs also choked off my ability to grow into the person I wanted to become. Because contrary to everything I learned as a child and young adult, anxiety is not something that needs to be pushed away. It is an invitation.

For the past month or so I’ve been doing an online meditation class through Dharma Ocean. Like Forrest Yoga, the form of meditation taught at Dharma Ocean is an embodiment practice. But meditating is for me much more challenging than yoga. There are no poses. There’s just you, on the cushion.

When I practice yoga I know I’m supposed to be feeling my body. And sometimes I do. But usually, despite continual attempts to stay in my body, I live primarily in my head and mostly in the future. Worrying, planning, thinking. I know that the solution is to practice yoga each morning at home, to meditate. And every day I have the best intentions. Then, most days, I make coffee. I write in my journal. Time passes. I have to go.

This is my life.

It’s happening again now. If it were a regular Thursday I wouldn’t mind too much because I would go to Gwen’s 4 pm class at Yoga Now. But today is a holiday. There is no class. I’m on my own. I want to meditate, I want to practice yoga, to have ceremony for and with myself on this day, to show up and do the things I know I should be doing to be fully alive and able to be my best self. Instead I’m here, in my head, trying to work this out in writing, to share my experience with all of you. Which is important to me. I’m not sure why. Lately I think maybe writing is yet another way in which I distance myself from my feelings, another distraction, another defense mechanism. But, at least right now, I think that’s okay.

Last night, lying in bed, I picked up one of the books on my crowded nightstand.bedside books Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. It is one of the books I have to read and write about in order to reach Level Two certification for yoga teacher training. Like so many of those books, I’ve read it before. And I can’t seem to get it together to do the rather daunting homework. So instead, as with the other books, I pick this one up on occasion, open it at random, and read a few words here and there, usually before bed.

Last night I opened to chapter nineteen: Three Methods for Working with Chaos. The second method is Tonglen, which Pema Chodron describes as follows:

“When anything difficult arises–any kind of conflict, any notion of unworthiness, anything that feels distasteful, embarrassing, or painful–instead of trying to get rid of it, we breathe it in…. When suffering arises, the tonglen instruction is to let the story line go and breathe it in–not just the anger, resentment, or loneliness that we might be feeling, but the identical pain of others who in this very moment are also feeling rage, bitterness, or isolation. We breathe it in for everybody. This poison is not just our personal misfortune, our fault, our blemish, our shame–it’s part of the human condition. It’s our kinship with all living things, the material we need in order to understand what it’s like to stand in another person’s shoes. Instead of pushing it away or running from it, we breathe it in and connect with it fully. We do this with the wish that all of us could be free of suffering. Then we breathe out, sending out a sense of big space, a sense of ventilation or freshness. We do this with the wish that all of us could relax and experience the innermost essence of our mind.”

In reading this I realized that while I might not have made time to meditate or practice yoga, I could easily practice Tonglen throughout the day whenever I felt grief or anxiety. I started right then, in bed. Breathing in the sharp pain of missing people I love who I will not see again in this lifetime. Allowing the feeling to permeate my body. Softening around the feelings, enfolding them with compassion for myself and all the others in the world feeling those same feelings. Exhaling a hope that we might all be free from suffering. That seems a good wish for today, for always.

Today I certainly won’t practice yoga. I doubt I’ll make time for formal meditation. Instead I am going to cook and clean a little in preparation for my guests. Then I’m going to spend time with them. Between now and then, though, I am going to practice Tonglen. I shall be sending out hope that all beings be free from suffering. Including you, whoever and wherever you are. Thank you for reading this. May you be well. May you be at peace. May you be kind to yourself. May you accept yourself as you are. And may you have a Thanksgiving that is happy, whatever happiness means for you. For me, sometimes happiness comes in feeling sadness. It is the happiness that comes from knowing I am alive. I am grateful.

chickpea fig bars with sesame seeds and coconut

Five days from now, at least the now in which I am writing, I will be one day into yoga teacher training with Ana Forrest. !!! I’ve been planning this for more than a year, saving vacation and practicing yoga and trying to learn how to be as comfortable with myself as I can be. Yet now that it’s here I somehow feel surprised. Sort’ve. Another part of me knows that I’m ready. I am ready. Especially now that I finished making these.chickpea fig bars with sesame seeds and coconut Which taste much, much better than they look. And are here, in my freezer, ready to go without any need to plan or prepare or purchase. Healthy, homemade vegetarian food (we aren’t allowed to bring non-vegetarian food into the studio. Oh, and we aren’t allowed to eat garlic or onions. Or drink coffee. Lots of rules.) that will be fine spending a few hours in my bag and will be nourishing and strengthening without being heavy. Or so I hope. Because there’s no way to know now about what life will be like then. Sigh. Hopefully the training will help me get a bit more comfortable with this truth. Which applies to everything, always. Sometimes I like to pretend otherwise. But I know.

Perhaps that is why I so love to cook. Because it is a way to have control in this wold of constant change. Hmmm. Or maybe it’s just that I love food? Probably a combination. I used to love cooking more for other people to eat, as a way to express love. Lately, as I’ve spent most of my time alone, I’m learning that I like cooking for myself too. It feels good to take care of myself. But, again, perhaps it comes down to control. I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it later. For now, here is the recipe for these homemade protein bars, which I first learned of from a friend at yoga, then finally made by adapting a recipe I found here.

Chickpea fig bars with sesame seeds and coconut
–3 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and with as much skin removed as possible
–2 cups dried figs, soaked in water for one hour then drained
–1/2 cup nut butter (I used a mix of almond and sunflower seed, both to finish off a jar and to up the calcium)
–1 snack-sized container of applesauce–about 1/3 cup? (I know. This is not very environmentally responsible. But the full jars kept molding.)
–1 tablespoon high-quality vanilla extract
–pinch of sea salt
–1/4 cup coconut flour
–1/4 cup almond flour
–1/4 cup sesame seeds
–1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the first six ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Mix until thoroughly combined. Add the flours. Mix again, scraping down the sides as necessary. The batter will become very thick–you will probably have to scrape a lot. Add the sesame seeds and coconut. Mix again. You may have to finish by hand with a wooden spoon.

Grease a 13 x 9 baking dish (smaller is also okay) with coconut or olive oil. Press the dough into the pan. Bake for about 20 minutes. Let cool then cut into squares. I  laid the squares out in a rectangular container and stacked, separating the layers with wax paper, then put the container in the freezer. Allegedly they’ll keep in the freezer for two months. I don’t think I’ll have them that long. I will let you know. One day. Because I know that I seem to stay away from my blog longer and longer. But I always come back. Thank you for reading.

Also, here are a few photos from a walk I took this morning along the Chicago River. Note the bee. And doesn’t this tree resemble a person doing a standing split? Sort’ve? Except way more beautiful than the most beautiful person could ever be. Or maybe just different. Still. Quiet. Exactly as it is without needing to be anything else.

Maybe in yoga teacher training I will learn how to be more like a tree. Probably not. But maybe.

bee on flowerfavorite tree

mushrooms on treeyellow flowers

Volunteer Opportunity: Books to Youth in Prison

This is not about beans. But it is very cool. So I’m sharing. If so inspired, please do the same. The more people who knows about these kinds of initiatives, the better.

NIA DISPATCHES

In the next few weeks, we plan to launch a pilot program similar to Chicago Books to Women in Prison.

Chicago Books to Youth in Prison will be a volunteer-led project that collects and distributes books to children in three Illinois Youth Prisons. The project will also invite donors to write letters to incarcerated youth.

by Peter Yahnke by Peter Yahnke

Details of this project are still to be determined. For now, we are seeking potential volunteers who might want to become leadership team members to develop and execute the project.

Come to our initial meeting on February 3 at 6 pm at Civil Lab 114 N. Aberdeen for a preliminary discussion, to learn more and to contribute your ideas.

Please RSVP to confirm attendance by Saturday January 31st to niapoetry@gmail.com.

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Vegetable stock from ends and trimmings

Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. So long that I’m not sure what to say. Except — hello! And I’m sorry for the lengthy silence. I think all of my creative energy has been absorbed into researching and writing an opening brief for the crazy case I’ve been working on since July. Which still isn’t quite finished. But almost.

So. Here I am. Without anything nearly as elaborate as my last post. But perhaps something much more useful: Vegetable stock made almost entirely from the scraps leftover from making other food. Which is something I’ve thought about a million times. But I never seriously considered it until I read Peter Servold’s Paleo By Season. Which is not to say that I’ve suddenly signed onto the paleo diet. I have not. The paleo diet is, in fact, almost antithetical to my preferred way of eating because it prohibits beans and grains, both of which I very much enjoy. But even though I don’t subscribe to the plan, I like to read paleo cookbooks because everything is gluten-free. I always get great ideas.

Like this veggie stock, which, as Servold  notes, is a perfect way to make use of scraps instead of throwing them away. He gave me a blueprint and confidence that I can make something delicious out of scraps. So I finally decided to give it a try.  Because winter is coming. My garden is closed. I won’t be able to use the compost pile for a while. Plus, like I said, I’ve always wanted to try making stock out of ends and trimmings.

Servold’s version (which he includes not as a standalone entry but in a side-bar with a recipe for Marinara sauce), consists of peelings from 5 carrots, some yellow onion, parsley, and water. The version I made today used almost all of the leftoveer bits from the vegetables I used in my most recent variation of lentil stew with cabbage and root vegetables, which I put together one morning last week before work. In addition to 3 carrots and 2 parsnips, I added a couple of turnips and used a shallot instead of garlic. (Although this post isn’t supposed to be about the lentil stew, I feel compelled to note that my latest batch turned out really well, perhaps the best ever, with the turnips adding a slightly bitter note to cut the sweetness of the carrots and parsnips.)

Because I was thinking about making vegetable stock when I made the stew,  I put everything except the cabbage , which I didn’t think would be good for a stock, into a container in the fridge, thinking I would make stock later. Then of course I forgot. Because all week I’ve been completely absorbed in my work. Which has been good. I forgot how much I like that feeling of complete engagement with a big piece of writing. At times it is overwhelming. But then you get to the end. And there is this wonderful sense of emptiness combined with satisfaction. Ahhhhh. Mental space and a feeling of accomplishment. One day, if I ever manage to make meditation a regular part of my life, perhaps that sense of spaciousness will be commonplace. And perhaps I won’t need an external sense of accomplishment. For now, though, both are something to celebrate.

Especially now. It is Sunday and I have no big case to think about, no oral argument to prepare for, really nothing much going on . A day off.scrap stock Which of course I knew would include cooking. But what? After coffee, I looked in the fridge. Noticed the container of scraps from the lentil stew. Remembered my plan to make stock. Checked to make sure everything was still fresh, then threw it into a pot with half a small onion, a sprig of parsley, and 8 cups of fresh water. I brought it just to boil, then covered part way and simmered for about an veggie stockhour. Then I strained and let it cool. The end result is exactly one quart of fairly light, fragrant, not overly sweet veggie stock. Which is not only delicious but also environmentally responsible and practically free. If you decide to try it, I’d encourage you to use whatever you have with an eye to some balance between sweet and savory and probably steering clear of cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. The ratio I used was about 4 cups of vegetables (3 cups ends and trimmings plus parsley and half an onion) to 8 cups of water. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out and what you do with it! I think I’m going to make some soup. First, though, I’m going to take a walk. Say hi to some trees. Breathe some air. Enjoy mental space. Have a great day!