State of Emergency

Today is Day Three of my vacation. On Day One I picked up a rental car in Chicago and drove to Kentucky. The plan was to spend two nights and one day hanging out with my best friend, who lives there. Maybe we would go to Berea. I was hoping to buy a few inexpensive wooden spoons and suchlike to give as gifts along the way. We would definitely eat delicious food, probably drink some bourbon, talk, laugh. It was going to be great. Then, from there, I planned to drive to Tallahassee for one night before heading to the beach on Sunday morning for a week before finishing the trip with a visit to friends and family in Atlanta.

Well. The best laid plans, as they say. Whatever it is they say, whoever they are. I know I could look it up but I don’t want to. I do not want to be precise. Because really I don’t care what the saying is. I know the point: your plans are going to get fucked up. Life is change. Human lives are tiny and we cannot truly control anything. Except how we are in the world. And even that takes a tremendous amount of work.

I suspect I’m going to be learning this lesson over and over for however long I live. Today, though, felt like a big one, like maybe I moved up a level . Which of course means the challenges will get bigger now. But still. I’ll take it. With gratitude. Because right now, writing this post, I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

When I left Chicago on Thursday the weather was perfect. I knew a storm was coming but wasn’t too worried. Cut to today. This is what the road looked like around 7:15 this morning when I left Richmond, Kentucky, Jan 23 2016my friend’s house. I was behind a giant tractor, which was pushing snow out of the way. I felt good about the trip. So good that I did not check the weather before I left.

Snow bunniesI know it seems crazy. But we’d checked yesterday, thoroughly, in between shoveling their rather long driveway. Speaking of which, that itself held a few lessons: (1) Communicate frustration directly, not sideways, and if you love the person you’re talking to, remember that; (2) shoveling snow is even harder than it looks; and (3) surrender. Ask for help. It will come.

Mine came in the form of a man of few words who was driving a small, green, John Deere tractor. I was standing at the end of the drive, nearfrozen braid the place by the street where I’d gotten stuck earlier that day (we had to go out because my friend had a physical therapy appointment that wound up being cancelled via a note on the door), and I guess I looked pathetic. I know there was snot pouring out of my nose because that’s why I’d stopped, to get a tissue from my pocket. Anyway, there I was when this angel of a man drove up, stopped, and said, in a slow Southern accent, “need a hand?” Yes, I did. So he took over. Cleared the drive. Then stopped again, said, “good enough?” and drove away. It was magical.

Before that incident I was close to tears, frustrated and anxious. Holding on and managing to notice then consciously soften clenching, both physical and emotional. But not in a great place. Afterward, though, I felt all this internal space. I came inside where my friend (she’s the one with the frozen braid) was marveling at our good fortune with the tractor angel, and I practiced yoga for an hour. There was a minor catastrophe during my practice (we’d inadvertently broke the heat by shoveling snow into the furnace vent), but I was blissfully unaware and by the time I emerged it had been resolved. So we ate cheese, hung out for a while, then had an early night after noticing that the driveway still seemed clear. Outlook for travel seemed good.

Ha! I’m nohighway madness near Bereat sure when I’ve been more wrong or felt less competent. At first everything was fine. Sure, there was a little snow on the highway, but it was no worse than the aftermath of a storm in Chicago. I just had to go slower than usual and maybe wouldn’t make it to Tallahassee that night. It was going to be great. Until it wasn’t. This happened somewhere around Berea, just a few miles away from my friend’s house. As I learned when I checked my phone, there was a huge traffic jam on I-75. Some people had been stranded for 12 hours. And me? I drove right into it. In the world’s least suitable car. With less than a half tank of gas. So foolish. The only upside was that I didn’t have time to drop off my dry cleaning before taking off on Thursday, so had a bunch of sweaters in the car. I wrapped them around my legs, Finding humoradded a couple of layers, and waited. I made a few calls, I took pictures, texted friends and family. I tried not to freak out.  At some point, in a text, my dad noted how handy all my mindfulness training must be about now. In another text a very wise friend  suggested that maybe the universe was giving me alone time. Not that this was happening in order to give me alone time, of course, but that I could choose to be miserable or to look at as an opportunity. And that’s when I found my sense of humor. It all became so funny. Scary, yes, and uncertain and far from ideal. But also hilarious. Especially when I decided to get out my crystals and put them in various places throughout the car. I put them in the little compartments in each door, in the console at the front, and on the back seat. I surrounded, bathed myself with this energy of something that I don’t understand or quite believe in.

And yet. I always feel better with crystals around. It’s an admission. Right here. I don’t like a lot of what I consider to be hippy paraphernalia (although I love hippies. Seriously. Just not the look.), and crystals used to be a prop in my store of mockery. Until something changed. In Zion National Park. Which is a story for another day.

Back to today. I’m going on and on and am not quite sure what I’m saying. I suppose just that this happened. I was pretty miserable and scared. Then I decided to trust that everything was going to work out. I gave myself Reiki. I breathed as deeply as I could. I waited. I talked to my best friend on the phone, asking about the weather (because my stupid old phone wouldn’t give me the full report) and I got irritated when she wasn’t telling me what I wanted to hear. But I managed to work within the irritation instead of getting lost in judgment, and state what I needed directly. We had a conversation, clear and direct, in which each of us moved through our individual fear and frustration and came through the other side without a misunderstanding. In the 30 years I’ve known her, this might have been the first time. At least for me. It was cool. And then? At the first opportunity, I got off the highway, even though it wasn’t what I wanted, because I had allowed myself to soften, which allowed me to hear the concern from friends and family and see that it would be foolhardy to go forward. I found a gas station. A man, maybe the man in one of my photographs, backed into me. There was no damage, everything was okay. Except him. He was driving a U-Haul and had been stuck on the road, right there, for 12 hours, then just got off and found gas and was stuck in snow at the gas station and hit me trying to get out. I wound up hugging him. I hope he’s okay. I’m going to send that hope to him, wherever he is.

After my little crash, the men inside the gas station advised me not to enter the lot at the Day’s Inn, that maybe the Hampton would be better. Less of an incline. So I went for the Hampton Inn. Where I did not get stuck in the parking lot and where they had one room.hotel room bed This room.  With a king size bed and a comfy chair and a kitchenette and room for yoga. I’m pretty sure I am the luckiest person ihotel yogan the world. Which has always been true. What’s new is that I’m finally realizing it and not taking it for granted. I feel gratitude. Huge, warm, flowing gratitude. For being safe and warm and deeply, deeply loved. If you’re one of those people who loves me, thank you for that. If you don’t, I thank you, too. Because more and more what I know is that we’re all love. It is the only thing that matters. Yeah, maybe that reality got lost in all the hippy fluff. But John Lennon had it right. So many other artists get it right. And I’m finally getting it.

I decided to write this post because I wound up cooking myself this crazy gruel in the kitchenette, gruelfrom hotel kitchenettefood that I had in the car. I thought it was so funny, yet also practical and kind’ve cool. I wanted to share. The idea came from a good friend who I’ve been teaching Forrest yoga for the past two months–she’d mentioned the other day that you can take just a small amount of oats and make a beverage. So, today, starving and stranded, I remembered her talking about that and decided to give it a shot. I didn’t have a bowl or a spoon, but I had a wide-mouth mason jar I’d used for chocolate milk (raw w/ cacao and honey) that I made for my trip to Kentucky. And I had oats and prunes that I’d brought from home for the beach. So, I decided to boil some water in the microwave, toss in a handful of oats and couple of prunes, shake it up, and let it sit for a while. Voila — gruel! Pretty tasty, actually, and definitely nourishing. Maybe not worthy of a full-on recipe, but good inspiration for a post.

And wow. I had no idea I was going to say all of these things. From gruel (which name reminds me of my youth in Tallahassee, Florida) to crystals and love. Perhaps I will regret this. But I think I’m going to post it anyway, as is. With love. And gratitude. From Kentucky.

 

 

buckwheat zucchini muffins

This recipe is adapted from Erin Scott’s Yummy Supper, a gluten-free cookbook I checked out of the library last week. I haven’t tried any of her other recipes, but this one is great–the muffins are what you want in the morning, sweet but not too sweet, dense and filling but unobtrusively so, leaving you satiated but not full. And, oddly, buckwheat zucchini muffinsthese benefited greatly from being made ahead and frozen. I made them the other day and thought they were just okay. Yet, as I told a friend, while I didn’t think the muffin was the best tasting thing I’d ever eaten, I couldn’t stop eating it. And afterward I felt terrific, happy and full of energy. Nourished with zero crash. But the thawed version I ate yesterday morning, after yoga and before a visit to the Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin (!!), Kettle Moraine, Nordic Trailwas delicious. The flavors somehow deepened and softened, becoming one. I highly recommend. And you will note that this recipe contains no beans. I’ve been thinking about rewriting the “about” section of this blog. Because, really, I might post a lot more often if it wasn’t mostly about beans. Stay tuned for more on that. For now, though, here’s this recipe.

Buckwheat Zucchini Muffins (makes 12)

2/3 cups buckwheat flour
1/2 cup millet flour
3/4 teaspoon coarse seat salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 eggs, at room temperature (use the best eggs you can find and afford — it makes a difference)
1/3 cup honey (again, use good honey, ideally local. Good ingredients make good food.)
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted (sub olive oil if you dislike coconut)
1-2 Tablespoons molasses (optional–I used about a teaspoon because it was all I had)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (again, use high-quality vanilla extract. It’s easy to make your own!)
1-1/4 cups packed grated zucchini, squeezed dry in a towel, paper or kitchen
1/2 cup cacao nibs (original recipe called for walnuts, but I was out)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a muffin tin with coconut or olive oil. You could also use butter. Whisk first six ingredients together. Whisk eggs either in a separate bowl or with the paddle attachment in f a standing mixer. Add honey, maple syrup, oil, molasses if using, and vanilla, until blended. Slowly add the dry ingredients and mix until blended. Add the zucchini and cacao (or walnuts), and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the muffin tin and bake 20-25 minutes. Cool on a rack. Enjoy!

Thistlep.s. This is the flower of a thistle. It made me think about Mark Bittman’s recent op-ed about foraging, and wish I’d taken notes. Or brought a guide. Because I bet there were a lot of edibles out there. Next time. This time, though, while we didn’t forage for wild food, we did stumble upon a remarkably great farm to table restaurant. The Black Sheep in Whitewater, Wisconsin. It was so good! Nourishing and delicious and creative. And every ingredient is Black Sheeplocally sourced, even the flour they use for their gravies and sauces, not to mention desserts. My friend and I split the cherry cobbler. It was delicious. But full of gluten. Yet I did not get sick. Food for thought.

Boston Baked Beans

Once again, it’s been a very long time since my last post. Dreamsofmyfava is languishing. Yet I am thriving. Living. Slowly learning how to be in the world more fully as I am. Which maybe isn’t the same as being the person I wish I was or could be. It’s all very interesting. At least to me. I’ve also been very busy with big projects at work. Indeed, I think maybe all my energy for writing has been directed there. So that I’m now writing this blog post only because on Friday I finally finished the reply brief in a really big case I’ve spent huge amounts of time and energy on in the past year and won’t start work on a new case until Monday. Mental space is crucial.

view from the gazebo at Pete and Anna's cabinBut this post is meant to be about Boston Baked Beans, which I made yesterday. I was inspired by my recent trip to New England. I was there last weekend to visit a dear friend and her husband, who live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We spent a little time in Cambridge, but mostly we were in their family’s cabin in New Hampshire.

The cabin has no electricity or running water. Which maybe sounds terrible. But instead it was lovely. I’d been there once before, for their wedding several years ago. This time was different, though, because it was just the three of us and their dog, surrounded by and immersed in nature. And probably because I am so different now from how I was then.

My friend’s parents built the cabin thirty years ago, and have gradually added a million thoughtful details. Like this handletree handle on the screen door to the gazebo. Or the handwashing station next to the outhouse, which I didn’t photograph. So you’ll have to trust my words to convince you that it somehow managed to be more luxurious than any bathroom I’ve ever visited. An outhouse that smelled of wood and air.

I guess it smells of wood and air because there are trees everywhere and not much else. Except a few large stones, because the area was formed by glaciers.

As for the man-made aspects, another standout, which I again failed to document, was the garden, where one could easily get lost in meditation while ostensibly choosing and picking herbs and leaves for sandwiches, salads, eggs.

The cabin itself seems to have arisen organically, as if it was grown rather than built. Because there are so many considerate touches. Like the candleholders that are placed here and there and everywhere, so that they’re just where you want them, including one with a handle, and others that have been mounted to the wall in the back bedroom where I slept. That bedroom also held a basin so I was able to wash up a little inside just before bed and in the morning.

More extensive wash ups come with swimming outside in “The Pond,” which is apparently the New England word for “lake.” Whatever you called it, this pure body of water is deep and cold and still. Diving in you feel completely alive. And somehow extra clean.

Pone in the morningI think it was the lack of electricity that rendered the world of the cabin so special, so healing. My breath was deeper, like the way it is after yoga before I emerge into the clamor of city during days here in my normal life. Such a contrast from the cabin, where I felt like I could hear everything inside and out, uninterrupted by the noise I’ve become so accustomed to in Chicago. It was amazing. At one point, I even imagined I heard the trees speaking, not in words but with unmistakable meaning. Clear, direct communication.

During this moment when I believed I heard the trees speaking to me, my friend and I were in the gazebo. It had just rained, was raining, with alternating bouts of gusty wind and soft, barely audible patters. I was attuning her to Reiki, level one. (Because I’m a Reiki master now. Which is pretty cool.) I felt a deep sense of connectedness, with the trees and the stones and the rain and the gazebo and also with my friend, her husband, their dog, everything as one. And suddenly the trees were sending this message about how much they cared about my friend’s well being, recognizing her goodness, her beauty, the feeling they had of her belonging there, with the family, in that place. The trees were expressing their support for what we were doing. Which is cool. Because the trees are such a big part of everything there. It view from gazebofelt good to know or at least believe that we had their support and what felt like their love.

Now, writing this, I fear that maybe I sound a little crazy. Or, at best, eccentric. Whimsical. Like my imagination has gone overboard. Which very well may be true. But what I realize now too is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that feeling. Because the feeling, whether objectively true or not, creates an opening. And with that open heart I allow the world to come in. Then, in that opening, I’m able to come out of myself with a deep faith that things are ultimately good.

Which brings me to the recipe. Finally.

Boston Baked BeansFor a long time baked beans were the only kind of beans that I liked, especially the kind that came in a can with heavy, syrupy sweet good sauce and awful chunks of fatty salt pork that I would fish out and cast to the side. As a kid growing up in the South I would doctor cans of Campbells beans by adding dijon mustard, brown sugar, and a little ketchup, then I’d bake them until the sauce was thick and bubbling. I liked to scoop them up with potato chips as a side for burgers.

When I was married my then-husband and I graduated to Bush’s baked beans, which tasted without doctoring similar to those beans of my childhood. I ate them the same way, scooped up with chips. Although he preferred plain Lays to my beloved Ruffles. The consequence of his strong personality and definitive taste combined with my insecurities was that I, too, learned to prefer plain Lays. (Now that I’m divorced I like both. Chips, which are gluten-free, may be my worst vice.)

Nowadays, when I’m trying to avoid anything with refined sugar, I eat almost no processed food. (Except chips. Damn chips.) This means I no longer buy any kind of canned baked beans. But I still love them. So, when we stopped at Calef’s County Store on the way home from the cabin, I was super excited to see these beans.Calef's Beans Then, last Sunday, lying in the guest bed in quiet, quiet Cambridge, I searched my friend’s extensive cookbook collection for baked bean recipes. And I decided on this one, an adaption from Slow Cooker Revolution. It took a really long time and wound up having to finish in the oven. But the flavor is perfect. I recommend.

Boston Baked Beans

2 oz. diced bacon
1 onion, minced
4-1/2 cups water
1 pound (2-1/2 cups) dried navy beans, soaked overnight
1/4 cup molasses (I used blackstrap but recipe calls for mild)
1/4 cup maple syrup (subbed for brown sugar)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried mustard
1/4 tsp ground cloves
2 Tb cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

If using the oven, preheat to 350. Drain and rinse the beans. Transfer them to the slow cooker insert or a dutch oven. Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until the fat has rendered. Add the onion and cook another five minutes or so, adding the mustard and cloves for the last minute. Add the onion mixture, molasses, maple syrup, and bay leaves to the beans. If using the slow cooker, cook on low for ten hours, or on high for seven hours. If using the oven, cover and cook for a couple of hours. Check occasionally and add water to cover if necessary. When the beans are soft, add a teaspoon or so of coarse sea or kosher salt. Stir and continue cooking until the sauce is thick and bubbling, and the beans are tender but not mushy. I wound up using the oven to finish because the sauce didn’t thicken in the slow cooker. But I will try again. If you try this out, please let me know how it goes. And good luck!

Dryland bean farming and five national parks

Amazing as it is, in Dove Creek, Colorado, the “self-proclaimed Pinto Bean Capital of the Wophoto 9rld,” there are bean farmers who practice “dryland” farming, which means that they don’t use any form of irrigation. Despite the fact that they are farming in the desert. This blows my mind. In a good way.

I stopped in Dove Creek during my whirlwind National Park tour, on the way from Moab, Utah, to Cortez, Colorado. The quote is from a magazine article, The Ballad of the Drylander, which I picked up at the Adobe Milling Company. (http://www.anasazibeans.com/).

The Adobe Mphoto 3illing Company processes and sells beans grown by the very same dryland bean farmers who are featured in the article. I wasn’t able to talk to any farmers. But, from what I gathered in a brief conversation with a couple of people who work at the Adobe Milling Company, the farmers put the bean pods into a silo. The beans then go through some additional process to separate the seeds (edible part of the bean) from the pod. Finally, the beans pass through a chute and are packaged for sale.

From the looks of things, the bulk of Adobe Milling Company’s business is mail order. But they alsphoto 13o have a store. Where they sell many varieties of beans. Also many varieties of hot sauce, which I heard are delicious. But, since I had to fly home, I limited myself to beans. Many beans. Specifically, Anasazi, Colorado River, Mortgage Lifter, Pink Eye, Pinto, and Zuni beans. Of course pinto beans are readily available without being imported from Colorado, but I couldn’t come home from the Pinto Bean Capital of the World without some pinto beans. Right? That would have been crazy. At least if you’re me. No. For me, the only sane move was to bring home as many beans as I could fit in my suitcase. Which turned out to be a lot.

So far, I’ve cooked just one variety, the Colorado River beans. Great as they were, the folks at Adobe Milling Company didn’t have any advice beyond telling me that none of the beans I bought (except the Mortgage Lifters) needed to be soaked prior to cooking. These beans are fresh, you see. But I found some useful information at this site (http://consciouscookery.vpweb.com/Heirloom-Heritage-Beans.html), where I learned that Colorado River beans are also known as “Mayflower” beans. Apparently they’re very good for baked beans. However, I decided to use them for vegetarian chili. (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/02/07/slow-cooker-vegetarian-chili-adapted-from-the-gourmet-vegetarian-slow-cooker-by-lynn-alley/)

I’m delighted to report that the experiment was a total success. Acting on the advice of the woman who sold them to me, I did not soak the smallish beans, yet they held their shape perfectly after 10 hours of slow cooking.

Eager as I am to start cooking the rest of the beans, it may be a while before I get around to it. Between work, trying to settle into my new apartment, finalizing the upcoming program on prison reform, and trying to generate material with my improv ensemble, I haven’t had any creative inspiration for beans lately. And I’m trying to be okay with that. Trying to trust that it will come when the time is right. Breathe.

The funny thing is that most of the time I know everything will work out as it should. Yet, there are those moments when I fall back into old patterns, fretting and fuming, spinning myself into a mass of anxiety and nerves, so worried about what I’m not doing that I can’t do anything.

For example, pretty much every day since I returned from my vacation I intended to write this post. I wanted to write about Dove Creek, and dryland farming. But I also wanted to write about what a wonderful time I had on vacation, spending time with my best friend and seeing what I believe may be the most beautiful part of our country. Now that I’ve gotten the first bit down, I’ll tell you about the rest of the trip, even though it isn’t about beans. Because I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t want to hear about a trip to five national parks. They’re stunning.

Mesa Arch, CanyonlandsWe started at Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah. (http://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm) This is one of Beth’s photos, of (and through) Mesa Arch.

The next day, we went to Arches National Park (http://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm), where Beth and I embarked on our first real hike of the trip, a three-mile walk to Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch 2The hike wasn’t difficult, but it was hot–91 degrees! So worth it, though.  And we befriended a very nice man, a retired professor from Germany. He was in excellent physical condition. Nonetheless, the fact that we kept pace with him is probably telling.

After the hike to Delicate, we drove to Colorado, for the visit to Bean Country and to visit Mesa Verde National Park. (http://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htmCliff Palace Here’s a shot of the largest of the cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace. Apparently the ancestral Puebloans built and then abandoned this city within three generations. There’s plenty of speculation about why they left (probably drought, although Beth and I hypothesized that it was just too damn cold down there), but no one really knows. It’s a  great mystery. Cliff Palace 1

While we didn’t get to spend as much time in Mesa Verde as I would have liked, this may have been my favorite of the parks we visited. Our original goal was to spend some time in the park that afternoon and then return in the morning. Unfortunately, however, the park closes at 5. So we didn’t get to see as much as we’d hoped. But I will go back to Mesa Verde one day when I have more time. It is a special place.

The next stop, and the place we spent the most time, was Zion National Park. (http://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm) This is Beth’s favorite place, which she was eager to share with me. And I can see why. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

Angel's LandingThe plan for our first full day in Zion was to hike Angel’s Landing, which Beth and her husband climbed earlier this year. Here’s a shot she got on this trip. Gorgeous. Yes? And terrifying. After reading about the hike in one of their guidebooks, I was nervous. “Not recommended for those afraid of heights,” the book said. It sounded scary. But I’m not afraid of heights. Not really. And I didn’t want to miss out on something so spectacular. So we went.

If possible, the reality was even more remarkably awe-inspiring than the photos. Yet, sadly, my anxiety was justified. As it turns out, I am afraid of heights. At least this kind. In the beginning I was fine. Beth going up to Angel's LandingBut when we reached this point, I was literally shaking, with sweaty hands. It was awful. Truly. Can you imagine trying to hold onto a metal chain with sweaty hands, trying to stay grounded while your entire body is trembling? I’m absolutely certain that if I’d known what it would feel like, I wouldn’t have gone. Not that it’s over, though, Ichains‘m so, so glad that I did.

At one point, when we reached the first plateau after the chains, I wanted to turn back. Or at least part of me did. We stopped and sat down while I worked it out. It is perhaps an understatement to say that Beth isn’t always the most patient person in the world. At that moment, though, mid-way through this climb, when it mattered, she waited patiently, without judgment, emanating unconditional love and support, while I worked through my terror.

At first I was just breathing. Then, next thing you know, I was sobbing. Fear manifested as tears. This lasted maybe 5 full minutes. After which I was still afraid but ready to go on. view from the top of Angel's Landing

Here’s a view from the top, where I sat next to this very brave tree and peered over the edge. I still can’t quite believe how beautiful it is. That said, to me, the accomplishment was not getting to the top in order to take this photo.

The accomplishment was the fact that I kept going, that I overcBeth going down from Angel's Landingame my fear and kept going. One step at a time. Because I knew that if I turned back, I would regret it. Always. And because Beth was there, believing that I would be okay. So we finished.

My reward was that contrary to my fears, the way down was much easier. It doesn’t look it, though, does it? Just seeing the photo right now makes me a little nervous

The next day, our last full day, was pure pleasure. We hiked The Narrowsthe Narrows, a slot canyon where you hike in the river. It’s hard, as you are walking on boulders through fast-running, ice-cold water.

Beth in the narrows 2But it’s quite remarkably beautiful. And so much fun!!! At least, as long as you have the right gear. Some people were hiking in shorts and tennis shoes. But we rented boots, pants, sticks, and a drypack from Zion Adventure Company. (http://www.zionadventures.com/zion-narrows/). The boots and pants made lifemore hoodoos at Bryce comfortable. And the stick is essential. On the final day of our trip, as we headed home, we  drove to Bryce Canyon. It was cold and kind’ve rainy. So we didn’t do any hiking. Instead, it was a classic American tour of observation points. You can see a lot of hoodoos from the side of the road!! They’re amazing. As was everything. I still can’t quite believe this stuff exists, that you can simply get in your car and drive to these places, that we humans got it together enough to preserve such wonder for ourselves and future generations. It restores my faith in us, at least temporarily. Indeed, being immersed in such splendor makes me almost believe in the notion of God. At the same time, though, I find myself even less tolerant of the notion of religion. With all of this to worship, what need have we of churches?

This morning, back in Chicago, when I was lying in my bed, I finally felt ready to write this post. It was raining. Which sparked a connection between my life right now and the idea of dryland farming. Because yesterday I finally planted some seeds in my garden plot. (http://www.petersongarden.org/) Now, because it’s raining, while I may go by the garden today, I don’t have to. Nature is watering for me. Unlike the farmers in Dove Creek, I am not dependent upon the rain for my water. At least not in the same immediate sense. But I feel the connection. It is good.

Vegan cassoulet from 29 Palms Inn

This past weekend I finally visited southern California, a place I’ve avoided for a very long time. Initially, when the first of many friends moved to L.A., I didn’t want to visit. Because I was certain I would hate it. Then, when I broke down and planned a trip, things didn’t work out because of the Rodney King riots, which resulted in LAX being closed the day I was to arrive.

Joshua TreeOver the years, as more and more friends moved out west, I have spent time in Northern California, which I love, and Seattle, a place I would eventually like to call home. Yet my affection for these other west coast cities, livable places full of air and space and nature, somehow only hardened my conviction that L.A. was not for me.

Eventually, that belief became part of my identity. I was a person who disliked L.A. Until recently, during my reevaluation of, well, everything. At some point in the last few months I realized that my beliefs about L.A. were based on nonsense, a vestige of old, unhealthy patterns. I’ve never been there. I don’t know what I think. There are people I love in L.A. It’s sunny. There are gorgeous beaches. Matador Beach, MalibuAnd the food is supposed to be great. So I booked a ticket. And I’m posting after spending a long weekend there. I didn’t fall in love with the city. But I liked it just fine. And the nature that surrounds the city is amazing. I will definitely return.

Although my first trip was pretty quick, I managed to pack a whole lot in. On the first day, I went to Matador Beach, in Malibu. I would say that the beauty is indescribable. Except I have photos. So you can see for yourself. Matador Beach, Malibu 2Stunning, right? The photos don’t catch the sound, though, which was mesmerizing. Unlike the Gulf of Mexico, a soft background noise that lulls you, gently invites you to come into the water, this sound took over from the outside, strong and assertive, crawling inside my mind, body, until I was empty of everything except the rythmic beat. I laid on the sand for an hour or so, absorbed by sound of ocean hitting rock, over and over, taking over thought and leaving room only for being. There was no need for me to go anywhere or do anything. It was like a gong bath. But more visceral.

Unfortunately, the only dark spot of the entire weekend followed directly after that marvelous experience. When we left the beach, planning to head home and then go out, my friend Maria and I got caught up in the fabled L.A. traffic. It’s so, so much worse than I imagined. Because at the time I had not yet seen Chris Burden’s Metropolis II. (http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/metropolis-ii) Metropolis IIArt does indeed reflect life. Within the first ten minutes of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, all of my pride at newly acquired ability to breathe through anger and irritation was shown up as nothing but veneer.  I managed to stay calm, did not become moody or difficult. But it took tremendous effort, leaving me with nothing much left to give. That meant we wound up staying home Saturday night instead of heading out to the bbq we’d been invited to. I wanted to go. I just didn’t want to drive. Or have to make an effort with people I didn’t know. It was sad. And, Maria assured me, completely typical. This was L.A.

On the upside, the earlyMaria 2 night at home made it super easy to get up the next day. The plan was to go to yoga and then to another friend’s house for a bbq. I was both excited and nervous. Excited because I’d never been to one of Maria’s classes. (http://www.yogaworks.com/en/Locations/California%20-%20South/Los%20Angeles/LarchmontVillage-CFY.aspx?tab=teachers&staff_id={FB54B179-3A37-484E-A64C-B90400C00383}) Nervous because I’ve never practiced Ashtanga. She assured me there was nothing to be nervous about, though. Which turned out to be true.

In addition to being a great friend, Maria (pictured left, in Joshua Tree) is a wonderful teacher, calm and thoughtful, pushing each of us to make the effort, to give everything without getting lost in struggle. This is an image of her that we shot in Joshua Tree. So gorgeous! I still am not a convert. The rigor and discipline of Ashtanga don’t draw me in. But I admire it. And I am no longer afraid.

After class, we made a quick stop at Whole Foods in Pasadena, where I nerded out on the bulk section of heirloom beans. Then we headed to East L.A. for another friend’s bbq. What followed was about 30 hours of pure joy with people I absolutely love.

First, we spent a few hours at the hostess’s awesome house, eating, drinking, laughing, and listening to music.Me and David It was perfect. My joy is apparent in this photo. Yes? But, at some point, we disbanded that part of the day. It was time to leave for Joshua Tree. The drive was delightful, full of more laughing and talking and reveling in friend love. The four of us hadn’t been together in 12 years, so there was a whole lot of catching up to do. Before I knew it we arrived at our hotel, the 29 Palms Inn (http://www.29palmsinn.com/). We checked in and then headed to the restaurant for dinner. I’d heard mixed reviews, so wasn’t sure what to expect. But I was hoping for the best. After all, they had their own farm. How bad could it be?

desert cassouletCassoulet isn’t something one typically associates with the desert. Or Southern California. But in addition to white beans, the menu promised garlic, greens, and tomatoes from the garden. Which sounded great after the bison burger and various forms of carbohydrates and dairy I’d eaten for lunch. When I overheard the table next to us ask for the recipe, I knew it was for me. And I was not disappointed. This reimagined version of cassoulet was fresh, vibrant, and deeply satisfying. So I, too, asked for the recipe. Here’s what the chef told me to do.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Saute garlic and shallots. Add fresh greens, whatever is in season (the chef used Swiss chard), halved cherry tomatoes, basil, oregano, marjoram, and a healthy amount of salt. Saute, stirring, for a few minutes, until everything is carmelized. Then add cooked white beans and about two cups of white wine. Cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Serve with toasted bread.

Because I have not yet had a chance to try this recipe, I’m not sure what to tell you about the amounts. And I probably won’t for a little while. Because I just found out that I have to find an apartment, pack up the condo where I’ve lived for the past ten years, and move, all in the next two weeks. Which will not permit much time for cooking or, probably, blogging. But I look forward to trying this cassoulet soon, once I’m settled in my new place, what and wherever that is. If you get around to it before I do, please let me know!