sweet

I hesitate buying the first bunch of rhubarb this season.  It means making something that requires the addition of sugar, honey or maple syrup.  And it preferably requires a pairing with strawberries, which, smile, I already have in the basket. Okay, I go for it, make the plunge, committed now to making something sweet.

Back home, I’m getting ready to unload my market findings

and notice that the basket is not so predominately green anymore, that the punctuation of red is quite loud amidst the spinach, cucumbers and lettuce, asparagus, tomato and sweet woodruff plants, bok choy, and several kinds of kale.

I think of ‘red’ foods and flowers…all I can seem to think of is the red fruits right now and that ‘berries’ are the spring queens.  I’m thinking I’d like to plant some red roses.  It is that time of year, when the perennial  red magenta peonies and china red poppies begin appearing in the garden alongside the spring purples and yellows, and when the planting the annuals that will yield more ‘red’ happens too…

So, wanting to honor this first significant burst of red, and following in the spirit of Helen Nearing and her “Simple Food for the Good Life”, I decide to simply cook the rhubarb (about 2-1/2 cups diced) in maple syrup (about 3/4 grade B) (btw Helen uses honey) in a saucepan with a tad of water and a cinnamon stick, lid on, fire low, until the rhubarb is soft but pieces are still identifiable as such.  While it is cooking I cut up about a quart’s worth of strawberries into my new favorite bowl.  When the rhubarb is done (it takes just about 10 minutes or so), I let it sit for a moment in the pot to cool, then pour the warm contents over the strawberries and mix.  It is a perfect blend of cooked and raw, fresh and sweetened, delicious and just naturally good.  I suppose if some sort of thickener is added, it would be a perfect pie filling!  However, I eat it warm just the way it is, and a little bit goes a long way. finger licking, spoon licking good.  The sweet is perfectly balanced by the tart and I am transported back to my childhood days of eating one of my favorite candies…when I loved the taste and sensation of  those little discs called ‘sweet tarts’…smile.  Except this is so much better….

The rest goes in the fridge and the discovery the next day is that it is even better cold!

by hand

Saturday at the farmer’s market in town and I eagerly walk through with my basket.  I notice that one of the vendors I have become friendly with over the years has moved the other side and in the center of the market…we catch eyes briefly as I move quickly past and I make a mental note to stop by on my way out….

Larry calls out to me as I approach with my basket now filled.  We exchange greetings and he shares that for some reason I have come to mind this past week and he inquires about how I am doing.  We quickly get into sharing stories of our sons, he also has an older son with special needs named Ben!  He then notices my ‘hand’ of my necklace,

which I have been wearing for almost 20 years now, and as I share the particular meaning this piece has for me, of the sacredness of making things with my hands, he points to his market sign, which is a painting of two hands holding the soil that I’m quite sure is in every pot of growth he is offering here in his stand…beautiful.  And if that isn’t enough of a connection, I mention that I have re-discovered love of working with my hands through quiltmaking, to which he quickly replies…”I make quilts too!”  And he clarifies, “All by hand, even the piecing…”  Smile.  I buy a small pot of sweet woodruff from him to add to the shady part of my kitchen garden, and head home….

Looking now at this garden and considering where to plant the sweet woodruff, I know it is now time to clear some of the lemon balm.  The leaves of these plants have never been so large and abundant and the thought of ‘lemon balm pesto’ returns.   Curious now, I spend some time with Google and discover that someone has already gone down this road.  And though the ingredients are as I expected, it is the method of making the pesto that has me riveted.  For here I am introduced to the Italian tradition of finely chopping all the ingredients by hand!  I never knew this.  Pesto is simply always made in a blender or food processor (or purchase in the jar or container at the store, lol).  Oh, modern cook that I am, now humbled by this stunning revelation, that I might actually take the time to lovingly chop the herbs and garlic and walnuts that will result in the rustic look and feel of being prepared by hand, is simply a wonderful consideration!  So, I set about the task of washing and spinning dry two packed cups of lemon balm leaves, thinly slice three good size garlic cloves, and measure out 1/2 cup of walnuts.  I begin by putting a bit of the garlic on a pile of the leaves, rolling it all up tight and then carefully slicing it all into very thin ribbons.

Then again crosswise.  I continue with the rest until I have a beautiful pile on the board.  Then begin to chop the walnuts, and with each bunch, add some of the herb mixture and just keep chopping until it all becomes one, continuing this process until the walnuts are gone.

The entire mixture gets mixed with about 1-1/2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, and about 5 tablespoons of good quality extra virgin olive oil…

and it is a glorious fragrant mixture!

To honor the authenticity of the bowl’s contents, I break open the box of imported (from Italy of course)  farro (whole  no GMO emmer wheat) tagliatelle I found at a specialty store recently.  I add some asparagus and frozen artichoke heart quarters to the almost finished cooking pasta.  Then prepare an egg omelette to slice as garnish.   The hot pasta and vegetables get mixed with the pesto and arranged in a bowl with the egg.

Big Yum!  The quality of the pesto is like I’ve never had before…every flavor seems a little bigger, with a little more character.  It reminds me of the difference between stitches made on a sewing machine and stitches made by hand. Not unlike the stitches made by hand where the gaps in between are always a little more visible and filled with care,  the visible gaps between each chopped bit of this pesto made by hand also hold the imprint of time and love….

the yoga of eating

It is the third morning this week that I prepare the bowl of watermelon for breakfast.

Hmmmm…a loaded sentence!  Third as in three, ‘my’ number, and the one I vibrate most succinctly with as I endeavor to express what is ‘there’, feels significant.  Prepare, of working in the moment co-existing with anticipation.  The bowl, ah, my new favorite bowl, one my mother almost reluctantly gave up to me my last visit home, not because she doesn’t freely give of everything she makes in her beloved pottery studio, but because she hadn’t considered yet that I would love this bowl of muted sagey green, not at all something I am typically drawn to, and it took her a few moments to really see that I was mesmerized by the perfect size (8″ diameter) and the simple circular markings around the outside that give it a pleasingly unique texture, and, that I wasn’t going to let it go, smile. Watermelon…so excited about this first crop of the season, a beautiful medium size seedless melon selected from the large bin of fresh melons outside of Trader Joes, a melon that is giving me days of perfectly ripe and perfectly sweet.  Breakfast is the meal that I move most slowly into each day, usually fruit of some sort, it is a naturally sweet beginning to my day and always leaves me feeling just energized enough for morning practices.

I think about the book I am currently reading called ‘The Yoga of Eating’ by Charles Eisenstein.  It is wonderfully simple book of short accessible chapters that lay out the foundation for ‘nourishing the natural self’ without diets and dogma.  I find that I am smiling through most of this book, resonating with the truth of what is shared here, knowing that even in the preparation of this simple breakfast of watermelon, I am entering into a sacred space, eating silently because I am my own company this morning, and choosing to focus on this most intimate pleasure of eating.  And then just before I put the book down I read this, “Remember also that while the pleasure of eating is a great gift, it is certainly not the ultimate joy in life.  Nor is perfect health the highest goal.  The Yoga of eating may conflict, to some degree, with other spiritual values.  For instance I would not try to impose silence on our young children at our family meals.  Nor do I insist on eating only the foods my body truly desires when we share food as a family.  Family harmony requires compromise sometimes, a gentle yielding love.  the body is strong and the world generous.  Both can accommodate error after error as they patiently await the time of healing.”  Humbled now, not taking for granted this opportunity right now to engage with the yoga of eating only the food my body truly desires, I decide this shall be my practice today…

I have cut up a full quarter of the melon into bite size chunks that just fill the bowl.

With almost ritualistic slow motion, I put a piece in my mouth.  Enjoy the burst of cold and sweet.  Chew a few times and swallow.  Then another piece.  Same slow motion.  Totally engaged.  Really pretty incredible! And I realize I really can’t ‘do’ anything else while I am eating this melon.  Savoring each and every juicy bite.  It will take a while.  I notice that I actually feel full after just a dozen pieces or so and that the feeling of fullness passes quickly, the lightness of the fruit absorbing quickly.  I notice where my thoughts go while I am waiting to take the next piece, meditation between rounds of watermelon, letting thoughts go and then focusing again on the sensations and anticipation of eating the next piece.  And so on….

I finally finish and the bowl is empty.  And now I get to appreciate the empty bowl too, as if the beauty of it is more alive and present after its engagement with the watermelon than before.

It appears I have come back full circle to where I began.  And yet I can also feel how the beauty of me is more alive too after this morning practice of the yoga of eating….

the middle space

It is the end of the day and I need to make something quick for dinner, something that can be prepared and waiting for me and Ben to eat after getting him from swim practice and before my departure to an evening meeting.  I pull out the last of the pesto.  It’s not a lot, but it will certainly flavor my other findings, the one small zucchini, the half bunch of broccolini, the handful of sliced mushrooms, and the leek.  I open one cupboard to see what sort of grain can be used.  Not inspired by the half box of pasta shells, nor the bags of couscous and rice, I then go to open the other cupboard and what stares out at me prominently is the box of red quinoa that Molly had brought home from school.  It has been sitting on the table in her room all week while she was packing, like a visual reminder of the very place that she would soon be nourishing herself from.  And so I smile now, imagining her bringing this box down at some point in the past day and putting it here in this cupboard for me to find.  And the smile grows as I fixate on the brand name on the box…’Wegmans’.  Wegmans is the name of the supermarket that originated in Rochester NY where I grew up, to become a national model for the big SUPER store/market.  It evokes everything about my roots and tradition and growing up with family in Rochester.  How perfect then. Quinoa from Wegmans; as if to remind of where I am in exactly this moment, a mother thinking about her daughter on her way to her solo adventure in Peru where this very grain originates and is grown, packaged and offered with family tradition that provides the necessary energy for growth and change…

I put the quinoa in a pot to cook while I am sautéing the vegetables, first the chopped leeks and mushrooms until soft and fragrant then adding the chopped squash and broccolini.  I find about a third of a can of coconut milk in the fridge and add it to the vegetables, then the rest of the pesto, about 1/4 cups worth or so.  Then toss in a handful of walnuts.  Now everything is swimming in the most delicious looking and smelling pesto creme sauce….

When it is time to eat, I warm the mixture and add some quinoa and dinner is done.

It is really good.  Molly would really love this.  My mom (and maybe my dad, smile)would really love this.  Ben is really loving this.  And I feel myself right inside the middle space of my own experience, the ‘inbetween space’ I have written about before, feeling literally where I am as a fifty-four year old woman with adult children and adult parents. Feeling the generational timeline and where I am in it.  It is a strong line, reinforced with so much love and invested time together, with shared traditions such as ‘going to Wegmans’ punctuating both stability and fluidity, and creating reverberations that are able to be felt all the way through in a healthy nourishing way…

It’s 10:20 and Molly is arriving in Cusco just about now, smile…..

yard happenings

It’s like stuff comes up overnight.  I blink and the garden is full and lush and flowering already.  The lawn is full of little blue and yellow flowers and there is so much green! I’ve cut the lawn a few times, but this is when I mow around the clumps of wildflowers, including my favorite buttercups, that want to be seen just a little longer…

 

And when I moved into this house thirteen years ago, the ‘garden’ was just a lawn I dug up a little of each year, planted, and tried out different combinations of flowers and vegetables until finally the garden began to have a voice of its own.  Mostly perennial now, there is still one small spot that I clear of weeds for some sort of annual offering each year, otherwise my service to this garden consists of weeding and dividing and simply enjoying watching where new shoots of things appear each year…

And last but not least there is the back, for the most part untamed and wild, that looks out into my neighbors mini forest that is their back yard.  And right now, the edges are defined with thick rows of wild flox that seem to soar up out the sea of green,

And where I have tried my hand at a variety of vegetables, I have not had much luck.  The combination of insects, animals and chemically imbalanced soil have all contributed to lackluster yields and so for the past few years I have just relied on my beloved farmers market share to provide me with fresh organic local produce.  However, the itch has come back this year, and I decide to keep the effort small and close to ‘home’…

I buy a few 6 packs of parsley, basil, chard, and spinach and plant them in pots with fresh organic potting soil and arrange them in the greenery right outside my kitchen window.

It is a wonderful solution.  I can easily water them each day and monitor their progress consistently from the most frequented room in the house, smile.  And I can replace spent with new plants as needed.  Just with the making of these few pots, I am already imagining another large pot filled with pole supported green beans, and a pot of cherry tomatoes, maybe even a lone squash or cucumber plant.  I realize I don’t need a lot.  Just enough to have a fresh picked offering each day right from my very own kitchen garden!

I am already eyeing the basil.  No coincidence of course that I have a freshly made container of pesto in the fridge that I have been using for a week of roasted potatoes & asparagus in various combinations.  The potato chunks are tossed lightly in olive oil and roasted until almost done in a 450 degree oven and then add the freshly cleaned asparagus, which needs just a few minutes to cook, and then simply toss with the pesto.  A few days later, same thing with roasted red AND white potatoes & asparagus, then the next day with those leftovers added to brown rice and chopped broccolini, and so on….

It’s as if I am sending the pesto energy right outside to the new growth that will offer more of the same soon. And as I notice that the green leaves of all the various plants blended together, with only the reddish brown of the containers distinguishing what is added new and what is already there, it is interesting how much the shape of the basil looks like that of the lemon balm plant growing right next to it, and then I wonder…

….lemon balm pesto?……hmmmm….

crunchy….granola

I wake up early to make granola for Molly this morning, something she specifically requested before going to bed last night.  I have adapted a recipe given to me by my friend Colleen, and this morning’s batch is particularly good…mix 2 cups old-fashioned oats with 1 cup Kashi brand whole grain nuggets (or grape nuts) and 1/2 cup sliced almonds.  Line a baking sheet (with sides) with parchment paper and pour the mixture out in an even layer.  Sprinkle lightly with canola or grapeseed oil and mix with hands to just touch with a hint of oil and bake in 300 degree oven for 20 minutes, stirring once.  Then mix 1/2 cup (grade B) maple syrup with 1/4 oil (same as used on oats) and 1/4 brown sugar in a small saucepan and warm until just heated through.  Stir in 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla,  3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.  Add 1 cup organic brown rice crisps (version of rice crispies) and 1/2 cup ground flax seed to oat mixture, drizzle with syrup mixture, combine well and spread in even layer on parchment paper. Bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.  Cool on rack.  Break into pieces and add sprinkle with 1/2 cup raisins, cranberries and/or apricots.

I now think of when someone refers to a more ‘down to earth’ approach to something, the expression ‘crunchy’ is used….as shorthand for ‘crunchy granola’.  It is an expression born out of the hippie movement of the 60’s and 70’s.  And eating granola continues to be a kind of euphemism for getting back to a natural way, to be more in sync with the natural cycles and rhythms of the earth, and cultures that live within these rhythms in a sustainable way.  Now the image of Molly in 7th grade comes to me, long flowing hair and playing guitar as she stands in front of her class singing Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ with all her heart and soul.  It was the first glimpse of the ‘crunchy granola’ that lives in her.   I have watched how she has visited this place in herself over the years and how now, as a budding anthropologist specializing in ‘ethnomusicology’, she dives into the natural rhythms of culture as they are expressed through music.

She leaves for Cusco, Peru to participate in an internship of her own design in just five days.  To me she IS the epitome of crunchy granola and I couldn’t be more proud.  As part of her work, she will be blogging and sharing her discoveries and travels along the way and she made her first posts last night…http://chicaycharango.wordpress.com/  and I smile as I note that the apple indeed does not fall far from the tree as she introduces the vision she is moving toward through the sharing of food!  I love watching how she, along with so many of her generation, has made moving to the natural rhythms her way, not in reaction to or in rebellion of, but just simply because it’s her way….and so I dedicate this morning’s offering of crunchy granola to Molly and her vision, and her heartfelt dedication to sharing her vision with the world….

tree of life

Basket on arm, I head into one of my favorite places to be on a Saturday morning from May to November.  I am thrilled to be going to my first farmer’s market of the season!  With a newly purchased share at one of the local organic farms, I immediately go to see what they’ve brought today.  It is the time of year where the plants are more predominant that the actual food harvested, but oh, cucumbers and lettuces and kale are in abundance and the strawberries so beautiful that they almost don’t seem real…

As I am leaving the market I pass another favorite stand that always has fresh garlic and sure enough, there it is!  I select just one large bulb, complete with leaves and roots, and notice a certain symmetry and order to this single piece and when I get home, immediately prop it up in a way to take in the full effect…

What comes to me as I gaze at this beauty is “tree of life” .  I am thinking of the Sephiroth of the Judaic practice of the Kabbalah, where the tree of life is a symbolic sacred structure created to describe the path to God.  I look for an image to confirm my memory and find this…

and at the very bottom of the tree is Malkuth, where I imagine the actual bulb of the garlic plant might be.  Malkuth represents the physical world we live in and the power to express one’s thoughts and emotions to others.  As I read this I see another picture that perfectly captures what I am feeling.  It is an image that exaggerates the line of the ground plane and I think yes, this is where the ‘physical world’ is felt and experienced here on earth.  I see the garlic bulb sitting just under this ground plane. And in this what comes to me is that the heart of the garlic, the bulb, IS the symbolic ‘voice’ of Mother Earth….!

I imagine that this voice finds its support through the deep roots down into the earth. And that this voice then in turn supports the tree with its substantial beautiful show of green leaves that reach out to touch the order radiating from the sun for inspiration.  And the voice then lives and loves in a space between light and dark and expresses the full range of color and taste and form and pleasure.

What a fun way to consider the bounty of Mother Earth; and how what is grown and eaten in this space actually embodies the sacredness of being ‘a voice’ for HER….What a wonderful way to move into Mother’s Day!!!  Smile….