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.

 

 

Advertisements

Kitchari with cauliflower

I woke this morning to snow. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that Spring has finally come to Chicago. Slowly and cautiously, true, but it’s here. I can tell from the constant birdsong outside my open bedroom window, and the slow greening of ground I saw peeking through the thin veneer of snow when I left home this morning. Thank god. It has been a long winter. I’m tired of wearing snow boots and coats and tights.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually rather enjoy winter, with the slow cooked foods and nesting. Few experiences comfort me as much as being home, all cozy and warm, during a snowstorm. And yet. I also love being able to leave home without having to spend ten minutes gearing up for the outdoors. The feel of air on skin. Skirts.

This transition may seem odd, but when I first heard of kitchari, from a friend out in L.A. who thought I might want to blog about it, the name made me think of skirts. Because there is a similarity of sound. In fact, however, according to Haley Hobson, “Kitchari is a traditional Ayurvedic dish that’s known to assist in detoxing the body and balancing all three doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. Kitchari provides awesome nutrients while cleansing the toxins out of the body. It’s a great way to cleanse the body and soul in a gentle way.” (http://bit.ly/1gqpwce)

Almost a year has passed since my friend first sent the link about kitchari.  At the time, I was completely scattered, still shell shocked from the end of my marriage, only just starting to get used to living alone, and preparing to move. I was a bit of a wreck. And I thought I was fine. Cleansing probably would have been helpful. But it didn’t happen. This year, though, I’m in a completely different space. I’m happy. More grounded than I’ve been since childhood. And slowly beginning to understand that the idea of external stability is a myth, that real stability must come from within.

These days, my life is all about this choice I’ve made to live every minute from a place of love, to dive down into the murky waters of the unknown, kick off, and start swimming. With no destination. Except that of course I’m hoping, expecting, to hit land. To find a shore. To not keep swimming forever. And that’s the thing: this swimming is forever. I will never land. That’s the illusion. My landing is inside, in yoga, the life I make. There’s no external island of safety, where someone else is going to take over, make things alright. It’s all only me. Maybe a partner, one day. But maybe not. And even if there is someone else, I now know that a committed relationship does not create certainty. Nothing is ever forever and certain. Life is fluid. And as scary as that is, it is also okay. I’m learning to be grateful for what I have now. Which is pretty wonderful.

In addition to many incredibly rewarding relationships, my life is wonderful because I have the constants of work, cooking, and yoga. Lots of yoga. Exciting yoga. Especially two weeks from now, when I get to take a workshop with Ana Forrest. (http://bit.ly/1c9ZnMG) I’m looking at it as a trial run for teacher training. So, to that end, I did a little research. I learned that there are all sorts of requirements for teacher training with Ana Forrest. Including dietary restrictions. Like no coffee. WTF?!

kitchari

The thought of no coffee is daunting. I can already feel the headache of withdrawal. Which makes me think I should probably do a trial cleanse before the upcoming workshop. Starting with Kitchari. So I made it today, adapting the recipe that that Hobson shared in the link, above. While I wouldn’t serve it at a dinner party, it’s actually quite tasty. And supremely comforting. Here’s what I did.

4 T. coconut oil
1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
1 T. black mustard seeds
1T. mustard seeds
1 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 T. turmeric
1 heaping t. ground cumin
1/2 t. cardamon
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. coarsely ground black pepper
1 c. dry green mung beans
1 c. brown basmati rice
5 c. water
1″ piece kombu
1 T. pink Himalayan (or kosher) salt, or to taste

1. Rinse the beans, place them in a bowl, and cover with warm water. Set aside to soak.

2. Heat 1 T. coconut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Spread a layer of cauliflower florets in the skillet, leaving room around the pieces, and cook for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until lightly browned. You’ll probably need to cook the cauliflower in two batches. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan if it starts to get too brown.

3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining coconut oil in a medium or large saucepan over medium heat. Add the seeds and heat until they start to pop. Drain the beans. Add the ginger, herbs, beans, and rice to the mustard seeds in coconut oil and cook, stirring, for a minute or two, until the herbs are fragrant. Add the water and kombu. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, add the cauliflower, cover, and cook for approximately 40 minutes. Stir in salt. Serve!

Lentil stew with cabbage and root vegetables

lentil stew with cabbage and root vegetablesThis is an intentional version of the accidental lentil stew I made a while back. (http://bit.ly/19jxNfI)  Or at least, the stew aspect is intentional. The cabbage, parsnips, and carrots are included because they were in the fridge. And because I like them. But I didn’t include onion or celery in this version because I was out of both. So yeah. Maybe this recipe is not so intentional. Yet it isn’t accidental, either. Somewhere in between. Maybe like the rest of my life. In which I try to act intentionally, always, try to make conscious choices. But somehow so often I feel like life just sort’ve happens. It’s challenging to be awake all the time, not go on auto-pilot. Especially when life is busy. Truly, though, as I’ve been reminded lately, every act is a choice, even the default of unthinking habit. Indeed, even not acting. Some acts, or moments of inaction, just require more effort. Intention.

But I digress. Really, the point of this post is the stew. Which is delicious. Also nourishing and affordable and filling and warming on a cold winter day. So you should make it. One note: the vinegar is essential. And, like the other ingredients, quality makes an enormous difference. I like Bragg’s brand the best, but whatever you use, make sure it is real apple cider vinegar, not the kind that is just white vinegar with artificial flavors. Here’s the recipe.

3 c. brown lentils
1 head of savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
2 parsnips, sliced into rounds and/or half rounds, if the top is very thick
1-2 carrots, sliced into rounds and/or half rounds, if the top is very thick
2 cloves garlic, minced
1″ piece of Kombu
3 T. olive oil
6 c. water
1 T. sea salt
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar

Place the lentils, parsnips, carrots, garlic, kombu, and olive oil in the insert of a slow cooker. Stir to combine then add the cabbage. Pour the water over the top, cover, and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours. Turn off the heat, remove the cover, add the salt, and stir to combine. Wait a half hour or so before adding the vinegar, stirring again. You can eat right away but this will taste better if you bring to room temperature and then reheat. Or, better yet, make it a day before you plan to serve. A night in the fridge will give the flavors time to meld. Regardless of whether you eat immediately or the next day, enjoy! I like the stew as is, but it’s also very nice with a couple of slices of cheese toast.

Sauteed chicken thighs over cranberry beans and kale pesto

Ten days back from vacation, and I am still feeling the positive effects. Which is remarkable. Because I returned to a Chicago that lived up to its status as a cold, windy city. It could not be less like Florida. Yet the city has its own beauty. The bare trees that line my street are outlined in snow, slow dancing stick figures clothed in white. Ethereal. They are no less mysterious and wonderful than the  beaches, the pine forests, and the cypress swamps of Tallahassee that I love so deeply. Just different. And colder.

Thankfully I have a warm coat. And a home. Where I enjoy cooking hearty, long-cooked food. Like this  recipe, which  is very similar to my beloved cranberry beans with garlic, sage, and olive oil (http://bit.ly/1bEQWT9), and, like that recipe, is adapted from a recipe in Skye Gyngell’s My Favorite Ingredients.

The chief differences between this version and the original are that I substituted chicken thighs for Gyngell’s squab, and, as in the other cranberry bean recipe I stole from her, cooked the beans in a crock pot. cranberry beans with sage, garlic, and tomato If you make this, use the best, most high-quality chicken you can find. It makes a difference.Oh, and I just realized that I accidentally used twice as much kale as I was supposed to. Happy accident that was facilitated by kale being on sale that day. Next time I will probably use less and will likely try it with frozen beans, as I did for the cranberry beans in tomato-fennel sauce over polenta. (http://bit.ly/1cIRZ9s) This time the beans were mushy and not very pretty. But the flavor was terrific. So good that  as she took her first bite, one of the two friends I was cooking for, a serious foodie,  pretty much melted into flavor ecstasy. Which I totally agreed with. Even if it wasn’t humble.

This recipe is also nice in that it’s gluten-free, affordable, nourishing, and, while not the most simple dish ever, quick enough to make for a week-night dinner. Here’s the recipe, which will serve six. Or, if folks are really big eaters, three.

6 chicken thighs, bone-in
olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cranberry Beans
2-1/2 cups dried cranberry beans
1 (12-oz) can whole tomatoes, chopped
1 small bunch of sage
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
1 dried red chili pepper
1 1″ piece Kombu (for digestion–check out this recipe for a fuller explanation (http://bit.ly/1cIRZ9))
1/4 cup olive oil

Kale and kale pesto
4 pounds Tuscan Kale (or less if you wish)
3 T extra virgin olive oil
4 T unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 good-quality canned anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
1 dried red chili pepper
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. To cook the beans, pick over to remove any that are discolored or broken, rinse, and place in the insert of a slow cooker. Add the tomatoes, sage, garlic, olive oil, and kombu. Crumble the chili pepper over the top then pour cold filtered water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Cover and cook on low for 8 – 10 hours. When tender, salt generously and allow to cool in the cooking liquid while you prepare the chicken and kale.

2. For the chicken, wash if you like (despite the warnings about spreading bacteria all over your kitchen, I still wash my chicken) and pat dry with paper towels. Trim the fat, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set aside while you prepare the chicken. The short time at room temperature will season the chicken and make it cook a bit faster. (Note that this is my completely untrained opinion. Also note that so far as I know, my food has never poisoned anyone. That said, if you’re concerned, please keep the chicken in the fridge. You’re better off avoiding anxiety.)

3. For the kale, bring a large pan of well-salted water to a boil. (When I think ahead, as I did this time, I fill the pot with tap water in the morning and let it sit all day. My theory is that this will allow the chlorine to slowly rise out of the water instead of all at once. I do this because of some talk I heard a million years ago while visiting a friend in Bolinas, CA. I don’t know if it’s true. But it made sense at the time. So I do this as one of my small ways to ameliorate guilt about being a human and living a modern life here on earth.) Wash the kale leaves and strip them off the stalk. I do this by holding the end of the stalk with one hand, while grabbing on with the other and sliding it down the stalk. When the water is boiling, transfer the kale to the water and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain and dress the leaves with the olive oil while they’re still warm.

kale pesto3. To make the pesto, transfer half the kale to the bowl of a food processor. Or, if you decided to go for 2 pounds of kale, transfer all of the kale to the food processor. Add the butter, garlic, anchovy fillets, and chili. Process until smooth, using a spatula as necessary to push down the sides. Season to taste with salt and a little pepper.

4. Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid if you like (I like to freeze and use it as a substitute for broth) and discarding the garlic, sage, and kombu. Place the beans in the cooking pot and stir in the pesto. Add the whole kale as well if you decided to go for the full amount. Cover and set aside.

5. Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. When hot, place the chicken thighs in the skillet, skin side down. Saute for 7-10 minutes, until the skin is crispy and brown. Turn and saute for another 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and let the thighs sit, covered, for about 10 minutes. Cut into the thickest part of the largest thigh to make sure they’re cooked. (I didn’t do this. My thighs weren’t all the way cooked. It is a testament to the graciousness of my two friends, and probably the past year of intensive yoga, therapy, and over-the-top fixation on good self-care, that I did not freak out even a little bit. We cooked them longer. It was fine. But if possible, I’d like to spare you–and your guests–that experience.)

chicken with cranberry beans and kale pestoTo serve, spoon about a cup and a half of the bean kale mixture into a shallow bowl or a plate with a decent lip, and top with a chicken thigh. We also had an arugula salad and fennel. Originally I planned on two thighs apiece. But we were all completely full with just one thigh. Beans are hearty! If you try this, I hope you enjoy. And that you are doing everything you can to take care of yourself during the holiday season. xo