the big pan

My father is roasting a turkey in the oven and I am anticipating what we will eat with it.   I want to roast the variety of vegetables on hand and since the oven is not available I decide to use my ‘big pan’ instead.  It is a large 15″ cast iron skillet that I use mostly for making paella or sautéing quick cooking fish all at the same time and as I set in on the stove and cover the bottom with olive oil, I revel in what a great pan this is.  It is the heaviest of cast iron and weighs ‘a ton’.  Visitors to my home inevitably catch a glimpse of this giant pan hanging on my wall and will exclaim, “What a great pan!”  So I am happy to have a reason to pull it down and make use of it tonight….

I chop some potatoes and a few of these amazing organically and locally grown ‘giant’ carrots just found at Whole Foods recently

and begin sautéing them while chopping some broccoli and zucchini.  When the root vegetables are almost soft they are seasoned with salt and peppers (both black & a smidgen of cayenne) and it is time to add the green vegetables.  However, I am remembering that my father doesn’t like broccoli.  So I push the potatoes and carrots to one side of the pan and make room.  The broccoli and zucchini brown quickly, and I add a sprinkle of water to keep them moist and then decide to add some spinach to the pan too.  The al dente green veggies are now pushed to another section of the pan and a space is made for the spinach.

It is a beautiful sight now.  All three types of veggies, root, cruciferous, and green, all cooked and coexisting in the same pan!  And though distinct and separate, the impact of co-mingling is clearly experienced and the occupying of the same space at the same time is visually satisfying.  I am noting that I might have thrown all the vegetables together if not for a reason to separate them.  And am aware now of the value of doing so!  Each wants a different cooking time, a different kind of seasoning, and a different taste, and yet they can still all share the cozy context of the big pan together. It makes for a beautiful pan of contrasts.  And there is a greater range of uniqueness created at the blurred edges where two things mix and share flavors.

When it is time to eat, we dish up right out of the pan, each scooping from a different place for a different combination that serves us…

I’m happy to have found another use for the big pan.  And my mind is now racing with all the possibilities, smile smile

rush hour

I am looking at the new arrangement of post Christmas items on the table here in front of the fire.  Most colorful and most prominently displayed is the game ‘Rush Hour’.  Now I am smiling, thinking how obsessed I have been with this game of late after seeing one of Ben’s friends recently playing it, thinking it might be something Ben would like too.  Every time I have passed the toy store since this thought comes to me, until finally, after Christmas, with leftover gift certificate in my bag, I decide to buy it.  I’ve finally given up the idea that this is for Ben.  No.  The fact is, this is for me.  I love this game.  Always have.  We bought it for Molly years ago but it is long gone after losing too many of the pieces and I remember how enamored I was of this game then too.  A combination of the classic 15 square slide puzzle and 3-D solitaire, the clever design of Rush Hour with the richly colored vehicles and efficiently designed portable square board, appeals to all of my childhood fascinations.  The game comes with a series of ‘set-ups’ of varying degrees of difficulty.  The object of the game is to ‘liberate’ the red car from the traffic jam created on the board and ‘slide’ it off through the one open slot at the edge of the board.  Each piece must slide on the ‘ground’ in it’s track, and cannot be lifted off the board in any way….

It is an exercise in thinking ahead visually and in acknowledging the interdependence between all the pieces. There is always that one moment when I can feel in my body that the solution is imminent, when I can actually  ‘see’ the moves that will open the way for sliding that little red car to freedom.  Oh, joy!   And what a metaphor as well.  Where this game is a mental exercise that stimulates the visual brain synapses in a way similar to playing chess, I realize it also is an emotional exercise that stimulates a range of feelings associated with ‘being stuck’.  And I hate being ‘stuck’.  It is the feeling of being stopped in my tracks that is so clearly evoked in this game.  It is the motivation to get unstuck that is clearly stimulated.  And it is the experience of satisfaction of staying with a process that leads me to becoming unstuck that is the real value of spending time in this activity….

Now I am thinking about all the actual traffic jams I have been part of.  And there it is.  It is the realization that it is something I am actually part of.  It is not just ‘happening’ to me.  My reactions and responses are integral to the solution and the process of it changing, and inextricably linked to the responses of everyone else involved.  Unlike this game, I cannot control all the moves that will get me to that unstuck place.  I can move from one lane to another perhaps to move a little faster, but in the end, I am still getting to the same place, just like everyone else, it is just a matter of time and most importantly, of awareness.  A humbling realization.  I realize that where I may not be able to control my physical moves, I can indeed control my mental and emotional moves.  Clever game this Rush Hour,  for tapping into where the fun can be in any situation….!

making mittens

I am in one of my favorite shops in town gathering up the Christmas spirit and ideas for gifts.  I see a rack of mittens, clearly handcrafted from what look to be old sweaters. Clever, I think. And then comes the thought of, “I can do this!”  With the seed of a challenge now planted, I spend the next week letting in germinate.  Consider first what I have in my drawers that I am done with, anything with holes or worn thin.  I am enamored with the idea of making something sustainable and special and practical.  I wonder about a pattern, what the process is, and finally turn to my friend Google and type in “making mittens from old sweaters”.  And of course there is a wealth of information out there.  I find many references to ‘the’ pattern, apparently around for eons, that looks like this….

 

Which is a complete mystery to me.  The challenge is growing!  I begin to experiment with polar fleece first, knowing that this is the material I will use for the lining of each mitten.  I test size and shape and like a puzzle, determine the actual method for finally fitting and sewing these pieces together.  It becomes clear very quickly that not only is this a fast and easy method for making beautiful mittens, but the creative combinations and variations on this theme are endless.  The image growing in my mind is of a simple warm soft and pliable mitten for both men and women alike, something to reach for on the coldest of winter days when heading out for a spell.

So, during the next week I make many visits to the local hospice shop thrift store and find an armload of cheap used wool (or mostly wool) sweaters of varying knits and designs.  I add to this my old beautiful knit wool jacket, (worn lovingly for at leat 20 years and now riddled with too many visible holes) and wash them all in hot water, then hot dryer, to felt the wool.   Cut them up into usable pieces and then the fun begins.  My entire sewing area, typically dedicated to quilting, is now devoted to this endeavor and within a week, I have made 10 pairs of gorgeous mittens.

It all happens so fast. The simplicity of each mitten feels good and I notice that even still, I keep thinking of ways I could or should embellish or add stitching, in effect, making them more complicated and taking more time.  I have to keep reminding myself that it is okay for something so wonderful to be so easy and feel so good!!  I finally realize that the ‘gift’ of making these mittens is in the joy and the restraint, in the economy and the richness….

Each pair has a person attached to it, an energy that I have been feeling and connecting with in the process of making.  I feel the certain symmetry of my hands making something for the hands of my loved ones, an energetic heart to heart connection through design and color and texture and softness and warmth!  Needless to say, I will be making more mittens, smile smile….

restoring order

It is the week after Christmas.  Fire in the fireplace, kids asleep, guests gone home.  I am puttering around the house, clearing surfaces, putting things away, restoring order.  I love this feeling of something being familiar but new at the same time.  The subtleties of the changes that have resulted from the holidays are small but significant, as if the energy of the past week has moved through the house and left a discernible imprint of happy and yummy everywhere. The satisfaction of this experience lives in the anticipation now of another whole week moving towards New Years, of being able to really live in this magic of what has actually changed and yet has brought something new into my life….

I am thinking about the assortment of holiday related items in the refrigerator, what is unused in the quart of half and half, the container of turkey pieces, and the two extra packages of mushrooms not used in the making of the ritual ‘Turkey Tetrazzini’.  I can’t remember exactly when this practice started.  The recipe comes from my mother and the ritual and tradition of making this for Christmas Eve supper is something that I have carried to each one of my homes over the past 20 years.  It is the ultimate of comfort eating that combines every food group except ‘green’, a casserole of creamy rich spaghetti and turkey with a distinctive and flavorful sauce.  The recipe given for 5-6 servings is always at least doubled, if not tripled each time to accommodate the full holiday house.  It is a process I have internalized now, the making of the sauce with 4 tablespoons of butter and 1/3 cup flour in a double boiler, adding 2 cups turkey or chicken broth and whisking until thickened, to which 1 cup of half and half & 2 tablespoons of dry sherry is added.  Meanwhile in separate pots, about a cup of chopped onions, 1/2 cup slivered almonds,  and 1/2 lb. of sliced mushrooms are sautéed in a tablespoon of butter, and 1/2 lb. of spaghetti is being cooked al dente in boiling salted water.  When everything is done, half the sauce is added to the spaghetti & sautéed onion mixture, and the other half is combined with 2 cups of bite size pieces of cooked turkey.  The spaghetti mixture is put into a casserole, a ‘hole’ made in the middle, into which the turkey mixture is poured.  It is all covered with a layer of grated parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of paprika and baked uncovered in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes until bubbling.  And if made in advance, best to add the sauce to the spaghetti just before baking to insure the creamy texture we all love!

So, I am now thinking about how truly decadent this dish is for me…so many things I typically don’t eat or combine in my day to day diet.  And I remember still how absolutely delicious and satisfying it is to share this meal every year, what a rare treat it is.  So now in the spirit of this still lingering in my refrigerator, I endeavor to make ‘it’ again.  Except this time, I use the leftover brown rice instead of the pasta, and a pan of sautéed vegetables added to the onion, mushroom almond mixture instead of the turkey, pour it all into a casserole and bake as usual.  Really good!!  And with all the same creamy happiness as the original.  I realize this is yet another form of ‘restoring order’ today, of enjoying the feel and taste of something familiar and new at the same time….

this is love

I make the fire this morning while still in the calm and peace of having just dreamt about angels.  It is the wee hours of Christmas eve, and I relish this quiet time to myself before my father and the kids get up, before the animals need attention, before the exciting and happy bustle of the day begins.  I decide to check my e-mail before settling in and my heart skips a beat as I see a single familiar name in the inbox ‘from’ column, characteristically without subject line or lead in, and I know it is from him.  I open it to find a Christmas greeting, simple, straightforward, and signed off with just the single name that has such an impact on me, no ‘love’ or ‘blessings’ or even ‘warmly’ preceding, just his name.  It has been many months since our last final communication with each other, and I reminisce about how exactly a year ago today we were engaged, committed to making a life together, and working our way into what marriage might look like.  As I revisit the hurt and disappointment and resolve that none of this came to pass, I realize I am also simultaneously revisiting the many things about this man I still appreciate and admire.  Then I flop back to remembering the things that are so difficult about him and his behavior, while still simultaneously feeling the love.  It becomes clear that for every ‘good point’ I can think of, there is a corresponding ‘counter point’.   But the point is, there are plenty of ‘good’ points and I feel my heart open as I think of this.  And then I feel my heart sieze as I think of all the ‘counter’ points, of all the difficulties and challenges that resulted from two people not being ready for the same things at the same time, and my heart still stays open.  It is an overwhelming feeling though, letting this full spectrum of feeling just be and I let this be enough to give to him this year, this feeling of  acceptance and the sincere desire for him to be happy.   I realize this is love….

I get up and go into the kitchen.  Today is the day I traditionally make the kurebies, the crescent shaped almond cookies flavored with anisette and covered in powdery white sugar.  I make these every Christmas eve for my father, in honor of his mother my Albanian grandmother who made these cookies every Christmas that I can remember with her.  The recipe I use is was written down during a phone conversation with my father’s older sister Mona, which includes ‘a demi-tasse saucer of sugar’, and a demi-tasse cup of anisette or brandy.  This recipe  feels as old as time, and I follow it faithfully each year to produce the same perfect cookies each time.

But something goes wrong this year.  I’m not sure exactly why.  Everything seems to be as usual, the dough rolling perfectly into the crescent shapes that my father and I make standing side by side, as we do every year.  I take the first trayful out of the oven and they look and smell exactly like they always do.  I wait a few minutes and roll them in the first coating of powdered sugar and then as I always do at this point, break one in half for the first taste.  And to my dismay, I see it isn’t quite ‘finished’ inside, a little doughy, not the characteristic ‘crumble’ I expect.   Was it then because I leave the partially completed batter in the bowl too long before finishing it?  Is it because I don’t use the full 7-8 cups of flour?  Is it because I don’t actually toast the almonds myself this year, but use pre-roasted ones instead?

So I put them all back in the oven, sugar and all.  Turn the oven temperature down and hope for the best.  Eventually, after a very long time, the cookies are completely browned on the outside and just almost done on the inside and I decide to finally take them out.  Roll them in the first coat of sugar again.  And then again once more just before storing them away in a tin.  They actually taste good, surprise surprise, and I know no one but me and my father will know better.  And I think, I am now feeling not unlike I was feeling earlier in the morning!  I have had an expectation and have been disappointed in the outcome.  I stay with the disappointment and simultaneously stay open to the joy that making these cookies inspires in me.  I am able to accept what they have now become.  I realize this is love…

solstice star

It is 6:00 on this solstice morning and very dark outside.  These are the days of not getting up with the sun, but getting up with the moon.  And the cats are racing around the house in play mode making a ruckus, calling my attention to the quality of being ‘awake’ in a space that still feels like ‘dreaming’.   And my dreams have been clear and insistent the past few nights.  Sitting in the dark space of the morning like this extends the feeling of the thinning veil between sleeping dreaming and waking dreaming just a little further.  Time stops.  I sit with the colored lights of the Christmas tree and revel in the magic of this time…..

I’m not one for a lot of outside decorations, and the one ritual I do have is to make a ring of light around a large lilac bush outside my kitchen window each year.  I have noticed over the years that you can see this ring of light from far away down the street and it takes on a different form depending on which direction you are coming from and the angle of viewing.  On my morning walks it is a beacon in the night calling me home.  And from inside looking out it is my constant star, always there for me to feel and see.

This morning I look outside and see that my solstice star today is a butterfly!!  And it is affirming for me to know that even in the hibernating dark that there is movement and growth and transformation…

So today I honor the solstice by leaving this light ‘on’.  It will stay on continuously now through the holidays and well into the New Year…..Happy Solstice Everyone!

everyday chocolate

I am heading toward the drawer where I keep my stash of dark chocolate. It is the huge ‘one pounder’ bar that I get at Trader Joes for $5.00. Really. It is such a bargain. Dark Belgium 72% chocolate that comes scored into little thick squares that I break off two at a time. Really delicious chocolate, and creamier that you might expect. There is always some in the house and I always keep it ‘hidden’ in a large flat plastic container in the top drawer of the sideboard in the kitchen. As I open the drawer I finally realize that I actually eat this chocolate every day, it is an everyday thing, and that I never miss a day. I can even get the same chocolate in packages of three small bars, which I keep on hand for travel and long days away from home. I think it kind of snuck up on me, this realization that I eat chocolate as nourishment. It is truly as much a necessary and important part of my nourishment each day as anything else….

I think of all the years that I have thought of chocolate as an indulgence, as something ‘sweet’ and forbidden and supposedly not good for me. Smile. And I still feel that way about the varieties with more sugar than actual cocoa. No, it is the purer forms of dark chocolate that I am now acknowledging as nutritional necessary. Just google about dark chocolate. There are whole blogs and websites devoted to it. More information that you could ever want about the actual health benefits of dark chocolate. The extent of antioxidants have been researched and documented, as well as the benefits to the cardiovascular system that are presented as truth. Cocoa actually can aid in the lowering of blood pressure and improved blood flow to the heart! And so on….(a great reference and fun place to read about all this is at allchocolate.com.)

I decide it is time for my habit of eating chocolate every day to come out of the closet. It is time to own it and celebrate it! There is a small glass jar sitting on top of the sideboard, empty. I break up the large bar into my standard two square servings and fill the jar….

….and resolve to now keep it visible and readily accessible. I will start small. After all, this is a small jar and a small step in the direction of dissolving an old belief and integrating the feeling of truth…