feast for the eyes

It is the morning of the autumn equinox and I am gazing through a beautiful piece of opal to the single flame of the candle beyond as I prepare for my morning meditation. And what I see is the sun! No matter which way I hold the opal, roughly cube shaped with sides equally unequal, the image is always the same, of a light filled circle edged in orange. So beautiful! It is early and a little cloudy and I’m not sure if the actual sun has risen yet and so this image in front of me becomes the beginning of this equinox for me, the day when the light of day equals the dark of night…

It is also farmer’s market day!! I haven’t been in weeks as I have been away visiting with my parents. As I sit gazing at this opal sun, I am reminded of the sunrise I see every day while there in the beautiful Bristol Hills on the west side of Canandaigua Lake in NY state. Their home faces exactly due east, and every morning is a feast for the eyes, first the horizon becoming lighter and lighter, then whatever clouds might be in the sky becoming pink underneath, then an electric line of what looks like lightning hovering at the crest between light and dark, and then in the blink of an eye it is there, the sun, rising slowly and steadily and in a moment the sky is filled with the bursting color of the new day….

And the day progresses and the sun is now ready to set. The show at sunset does not disappoint, and even though I can’t actually see the sun going down behind the horizon now behind me, the evidence of its presence is clear, another colorful feast for the eyes in progress…

and noting how clearly the contents of the sky at each end of the day become the ingredients of this feast that glows with the sun. So, I head off to the market feeling the imprint of the energy of this sun and fill my basket with the fresh things that also carry the imprint of this sun. And when I get home with my bounty decide I will make a big pot of homemade vegetable broth! In the pot goes the last of the carrots in the bin, an onion and a few yukon gold potatoes, the top of the gigantic bunch of fresh celery and leeks I just came home with, a fresh corn cob (after cutting off the fresh corn to use in the soup I will make later), all just covered with filtered water and set on the stove to boil…

After it comes to a boil, the brew simmers for about an hour and a half. I add many liberal squeezes of Braggs liquid aminos and some salt. Turn off the fire and let it cool for a bit. Then strain it all into another pot, reserve the potatoes (after removing the skin) and about half the carrots and run them through the food processor with some of the broth. This thickened mixture is added back into the clear broth and mixed in until dissolved. Add seasonings to taste. It is a light clear and subtle brew, just flavorful, but wanting something more. I put half of the broth in a container for the freezer and contemplate the soup I will make with what remains in the pot. When it is time, I decide to simply chop up what is ‘there’ and add it to the pot, resisting the urge to methodically saute one vegetable at a time as I typically do when I am making ‘the’ vegetable soup I typically make. No, tonight I quickly chop up an onion, some celery, some fresh multi-colored carrots from the market, more potatoes and toss them all into the pot at the same time with the reserved corn, about 3/4 can of garbanzo beans leftover in the fridge and about 3/4 cup of brown rice, set the fire to high to bring it all to a boil, and slice the head of fresh Russian kale from the morning market buy into ribbons. After the soup boils, it is set on the back burner to simmer on low. After about an hour I add some ground fennel and saffron and salt with the kale, stir, turn the fire off, and let it all sit quietly to integrate. The result is quite delicious, just subtle enough for the light of the fresh vegetables to shine through, just deep enough for the energy of the day, from sunrise to sunset, to find home…

It’s now the morning after the equinox. Bright blue sky and sunshine. I stop in my tracks as I walk past a window and see a streak of orange highlighted in the dark green, seeing the first kiss of the sun how imprinted in the leaves of the majestic trees in my front yard, the light and the dark clearly co-mingling to create the feast yet to come as we enter into this next season…

mindfully cheerful

I’m sitting in my little home office trying to work and negotiating a pretty big anger boiling inside me. I know that when it’s ‘inside’ like this that it’s not good for anyone; not good for everyone around me because I am like a walking time bomb…and certainly not good for me because of how the destructive force of this energy turns inward and can wreak havoc on my body. At the moment I am focused on the negative aspects of this inward turned energy and the chronic inflammation in my joints that I can no longer ignore. Feeling the depth of this inflammation in my joints, especially in my hips and knees, has been bringing me to tears. Hmmmm. And then smile. So many clear and obvious messages and yet at this moment sitting in my office I am blind and deaf to all of them. The figure of a man leaning out a window and yelling in anger to the world floats insistently into my vision and the word ‘network’ comes to me. Another smile. Yes, I am now remembering the scene from this epic movie….what is it that man is actually saying? who is he? So I ask Google about the movie ‘Network’ and there it is, right at the top of the list, the famous quote of the character Howard Beale as he shouts to the world, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!!”

The current dispute we are involved in on Ben’s behalf with our local school district concerning appropriate next steps is the reason on the surface of this anger. It is a big issue and it is consuming me. Sitting here in this moment I am feeling not just the frustration and fear that comes up around supporting Ben in our own little world here, but also the full depth of all the implications of why it is this way as related to our current socio-economic and political climate in this country at this time. In this moment, I finally make the connection between the inflammation I am feeling and the anger, and then between the anger and a culture that seemingly holds no value for Ben as a social being in the same way as the majority of persons in this country. No coincidence I suppose with this election coming up that the polarity is so glaring, so in my face, so personal. After years of not letting in and engaging with the ‘politics’ that surround me, I can no longer ignore how clearly and completely I have to now engage as an advocate for my son. I am clearly stuck now in the mental gymnastics of yadayadayada. Then the moment is shattered by the most amazingly loud screechy sound. It comes with a rhythm and a force that suggests something big and close. After a few minutes it is still going with great vigor and I finally get up to investigate. I finally can trace the sound to the tiny chipmunk sitting in a determined way right in the center of my porch, facing out and clearly, deliberately, saying something important, and it feels like Howard Beale to me, insistent and frustrated and mad….

The next day I am back in my office, still consumed and still searching for a way to shift my anger. I think to call a colleague in town who has been in the same position, someone I have always looked up to and respected for her unfailing diplomacy and leadership in town politics and committee work over the years. She offers the support I need and when I ask how she has dealt with her own anger over the years she shares with me two expressions that have become mantras for her….to be ‘mindfully cheerful’ and ‘infinitely stubborn’ in her manner of dealing with all conflict. I hang up the phone and feel the relief in this approach, know it is in me to adopt this way of relating to the world, know that I can now let go of this anger without expressing it in a destructive way. And in that moment I hear the loud screechy voice again. Amazing!! I look out the front door and sitting there, smack dab in the middle of the top step on my porch in exactly the same spot, is the chipmunk, facing out and making the same unbelievable noise. I watch for a few minutes, even open the door a little and this little creature is undaunted, just keeps on with whatever it is he/she is trying to communicate to the world beyond the front yard….

But now I have to wonder…is it really anger that this distinct voice is expressing? Or is it something else? Something cheerful perhaps. Something prophetic. Something necessary. Considering how this one single voice is going to make a difference by just being mindfully cheerful and infinitely stubborn in its delivery….

completely new

Ben and I are riding around the empty parking lot of the school down the road.  It is a beautiful weekend day and this is part of our ritual ‘ride around the block’ that we do on the weekend when the school parking lots and roads are empty.  We ride round and round the looping pavement and I am thinking, wow, been here before, sooooo many times, same place, same circuit, same ride, same feeling and then realize it is actually a completely new experience, in this moment, at the same time….

I am immediately transported back to yoga class last week, when, during a routine warm up exercise that I have done a thousand times, my teacher Patty clearly and convincingly shares that “you have absolutely NEVER done this before” and then invites us to consider where our mind gets caught in the thinking that we have….!   I do realize how easy it is to get caught in the thinking that I am not free to open to this awareness, of all the ways I create distractions and diversions to being in this awareness of something being completely new no matter what.  And then I come back now to me and Ben, and the joy of riding round and round in a circle as we have done a thousand times, and yet with each glance and each revolution of the bicycle wheels, also noting the invitation to feel the exhilaration of the breeze and the sun and the brightness of the sky in that particular moment brushing past us….

The next day I am standing at my kitchen window and looking up at the sky like I have done a thousand times.  Riveted right now by the feeling of newness and wonder in what I see…

It is simply clouds in the sky, but there is something about where they are low in the sky at the edge of the earth with blue sky above (as if they are literally connected to the earth now and not really ‘in’ the sky), the density of the formation, and the quality of light that is emerging from behind that makes is feel like I am experiencing something completely new.  And then walking home the other day, stopping to gaze at the sky once again, the clouds eerily familiar in the location, density, and quality of light coming from behind once again.

And what I acknowledge is the feeling of something familiar and completely new at the same time and the infinite layers of context that allow us to rest in this awareness. I recognize that experiencing something completely new is not about knowing the history but about feeling where the sensation of experience lives in me and the ability to follow where that sensation takes me!

Writing this blog post is often a result of following where I go (smile) and today is no exception.  And in doing so today I laugh as I find photos I have completely forgotten about in the very same folder I have placed these new photos of the clouds…!

I remember now, sitting in the parking lot where I see these particular clouds, feeling the same sensation in my body, the power contained in an impending storm, awe of the dark living in the light and the light coming through the dark.  And then following this sensation to where I am now to the completely new perspective of how the power of the ‘storm in the sky’ is now absolutely and literally connected to Mother Earth as if they are one and the same, that it’s all the same source after all, and then following the sensation to the calm that comes in allowing myself to simply be a witness to something so much bigger than me, completely unknown, completely new, while feeling so clearly where this lives in me too….

eating andean

Home now two weeks and I am noticing how consistently I am putting potatoes in everything!  LOL. My usual brown rice ‘bowl’ of sautéed veggies now contains chunks of fresh pan roasted potatoes as well…

If this isn’t the most obvious indication of my integration of a Peruvian way of eating, I don’t know what is!  I’ve always loved potatoes but have developed a prudence to including them in my diet. I understand that combining this particular starchy vegetable with proteins and other kinds of starchy foods is not recommended for optimal digestion, and I am continually experimenting with ways to include fresh potatoes with meals that can respect this fact…

However, there is no avoiding it in Peru.  Potatoes seem to be served with everything and anything.  And after a few days I simply surrender, settling in to enjoying all the myriad ways I get to consume them each day. There are the pan roasted potatoes that come with the fresh ‘salmon’ trout (that I have also discovered is the only fresh fish available at this time).  And in this particular restaurant these potatoes actually occupy the center of the plate, and it is the fish, cleverly skewered around fresh zucchini, that is placed as if a garnish around the edge of the plate!

I have many meals featuring this wonderful trout, and no matter how it is served, such as in this delicious ceviche style salad, the potatoes are there, several varieties in fact, some sliced and some diced, and marinated along with the just cooked fish…

Here is one of my favorite combinations of the trout and potatoes,  an ‘andean salad’ that is described in the menu as “native potatoes, green beans, paris cheese in cubes, white, red and black quinoa grains, fava beans, golden slices of salmon trout, yellow pepper vinaigrette of citrus and mint…

….where the potatoes are simply boiled and sliced whole into thick meaty slabs, the integrity and freshness wholly present in this form.

And then at the smaller local restaurants, the trout always comes with both potatoes AND rice too!

There are 3800 – 4000 varieties of potatoes in Peru.  I easily see dozens of them at the huge local outdoor market we go to for the express purpose of Molly learning how to say many of these varieties in Quechua…and here she is with her prize bagful of ‘qhompis’ potatoes after quite a conversation with a local vendor about the different choices…

…which we then cook in a variety of ways for the next few days in her little apartment kitchen along with lots of the other fresh produce bought that day…

What’s in the pot?  Quinoa soup with potatoes of course!!

When we arrive at the christening on the last day of my visit, we are immediately served a huge bowl of chicken soup that has two different kinds of whole potatoes, a large piece of fresh yucca, and a large chicken piece, all floating in a rich broth with rice and fresh herbs.  It is daunting to consider at first, all this food in one dish and despite whatever glimmer of doubt I have about eating all this, I watch how the elderly woman across from me easily and confidently works her way around the contents of this soup, eating the vegetables first, slowly and with focused intent, and then the flavorful broth, and then finally the chicken right down to the bone.  I follow along, Molly translating for me what each piece is as the women across the table educate me in spanish as to the names of the potatoes and how fresh the yucca is, and every bite is savored!  Later I realize that the ease in polishing off this bowl of soup is contained both in the slow sensuous way it is eaten (as much with fingers as with a spoon) AND the sequence in which it is eaten, starchy vegetables first, grains second, and meat last, following a classic and time held theory of food combining that is compared to a ‘digestive highway’ and eating meals starting with the easiest to digest first followed by the more complex to avoid a ‘food traffic’ jam.  i.e., begin with water or fruit juice, then soups that are not cream based, then green leafy non-starchy vegetables, then starches and starchy vegetables, then proteins.  And I realize hours after eating this soup (even the chicken that I typically don’t eat), this way, that I feel great!

I just finish steaming some fresh string beans of the season, both yellow and green, and have boiled some of the fresh yukon gold potatoes, slice some gorgeous little orange sweet peppers, halve some plump ruby red cherry tomatoes, and clean and crisp romaine and red leaf lettuce, all found at the farmer’s market a few days ago.  Remembering the beautiful andean salad  that remains still as a highlight of my culinary experience in Peru, I peel and slice the whole cooked potatoes and arrange them on top of the layered lettuce, beans and peppers and tomatoes (w/ a little sliced turkey for meat eating Ben) in the two bowls that will be lunch for us today…

We each add our own dressing and carry our bowls out to the porch and enjoy a leisurely time of eating this meal together, one bite at a time…