fast

Yankee takes off at full speed running really fast once I let him off the leash. It can’t be more than a few degrees in the still dark morning and after days of not getting out for our morning walk, I’m not surprised at this expression of pent up energy. He isn’t just loping along like he usually does, he is literally sprinting! It feels significant, watching this 13 year old golden dashing through the frigid air. Love. Heart beating fast at the sight of this elderly dog moving so fast. Not unlike my 80 year old father who still finds joy in skiing so fast in the cold mountain air. And bless Yankee, he keeps up the dash, only stopping for the requisite sniffs at just one of the usual irresistible places of whatever odor is there, and comes to a halt right next to me at the designated spot the leash must go back on. I am simply left with the feeling of fast as we continue the loop back to home. And now I am thinking about ‘expresso’, knowing I am supposed to be writing about this and today is the day, but not understanding at all why, in connection to what? Realizing how often this happens, how there is one thing, like ‘expresso’ that is calling, and how it can feel arbitrary and not at all connected to the space in front of me that wants to be occupied by it. So I conjure up the image of the expresso pot I seem fixated on recently…

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It is a tiny one person pot, the one I would watch Luca, a student tenant/housemate of over a year, make his morning coffee in each day. I remember the day after he arrived from Italy, unpacking this brand new pot from the box it came in, adding a little bit of home I’m sure, to this otherwise uncertain American kitchen. Except that this American kitchen already has an expresso pot!! And one that is in use daily, one that is over 26 years old. A wedding present by architecture graduate school colleagues, it is a solid stainless steel pot made for two, designed by famous Italian architect Aldo Rossi. I love this pot and have adapted my coffee making for all occasions using just this. Luca is now back in Italy but he has left me his beloved little pot along with a nagging curiosity about ‘expresso’. And now I have a collection! smile….

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So as I walk along, what is in my head is that expresso is dense dark rich brew first, so dense in fact, that I must drink it with at least an equal amount of some other hot liquid, usually water, to make my cup of typical ‘american style’ brew. I can feel the silky smooth unique quality of this brew that no other pot can replicate. Expresso also conjures up the image of crowed bars with people knocking back a shot that will result in a promised caffeine rush. This is where my mind is anchored as Yankee and I reach the end of our road and I realize the sky is now completely light, in fact the sun is actually coming up behind us! I don’t understand, we’ve only been out 20 minutes, and in this time it has gone from dawn dark to almost sunlight? It seems too fast. Hmmmm. I register the feeling of this as I peel off the layers of outer clothing and go to consult with my friend Google about the origin and intent of expresso and find this succinct description in the first item that comes up under ‘history of expresso’…

Expresso was invented in 1903 by Luigi Bezzera, the owner of a manufacturing business. Mr. Bezzera longed to find a way to brew coffee much faster. Wasting some time after work one day, he added pressure to the coffee brewing process, reducing brewing time. The machine that he later introduced was termed the “Fast Coffee Machine”, which is where the word “espresso” comes from…espresso means “fast” in Italian! Not only did his machine reduce brewing time, it made a better cup of coffee. The quick brewing time allowed the best qualities of the bean to be extracted, avoiding some of the unfavorable qualities associated with over-extraction. Luigi Bezzera was not at all successful in marketing the machine, and he had no money. Desidero Pavoni bought the rights to the espresso machine patent in 1905 and successfully introduced espresso to the Italian market. Photographs from the turn of the century depict Italian Klosks serving “CAFE ESPRESSO – LA PAVONI”. This was a very common site in Italy. Desidero Pavoni changed the way Italians drink coffee.”

And there it is. Fast. Somewhere in the space between ‘expresso’ and watching Yankee’s dash this morning I discover the heartfelt knowing of ‘fast’ in a way that teaches me once again, that my heart knows what my mind doesn’t yet. And isn’t this what all creative moments are in the end, fast flashes if insight that need to be caught and honored long enough to find resonance in the mind too? And then, not unlike drinking a cup of expresso, I allow the thrill of this moment to find expression in the body, by concsiously maintaining connection to the heart of the matter…

magic

It’s been a month of sneezing, coughing, and running noses all around me.  And I’ve successfully doused the few symptoms that I feel come on as I negotiate the proliferation of germs so common this time of year.  Elderberry elixir, vitamin C, and copious amounts of warm liquids have served me well so far.  And I’ve literally made three pots of chicken soup since the New Year.  Not just plain o’ll chicken soup, which in itself can be the balm, but the egg lemon chicken soup my grandmother used to make, known as ‘avgolemono’….

The broth for most recent pot is on the stove simmering, 4 cups of chicken broth with about 1/4 cup white jasmine rice (which has been rinsed first) added (or alternatively orzo pasta).  When the rice is done, I add some of the hot broth to the 3 eggs which have been whipped in the blender with the juice of two lemons (this is more lemon juice than normally called for in classic recipes which typically calls for 3-4 tablespoons), but I like my avgolemono really lemony), slowly mixing, to acclimate the eggs and prevent them from curdling in the boiling broth.  When the mixture in the blender is medium hot, I pour it all slowly into the soup pot, stirring the now thick creamy mixture, turn the fire off, cover, and let it sit.  I look around for the bowl I will use today and spot the gorgeous new piece in my collection, the one my mother gave me for Christmas this year….

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It is one of her prize pieces and I’ve loved it since the moment I set eyes on it years ago.  I know it represents something significant for her, not only the achievement of throwing such a fine piece with the thin walls and pleasing shape, but also the unique quality of the glaze.  She knows it carries a kind of magic that can’t be duplicated.  And Mom is pretty organized about her glazes, testing and marking samples of favorite outcomes for future use.  No, there is something extraordinary about this piece and I try to put my finger on it now, what exactly this quality is, what it reminds me of.  And then the answer is there.  Labradorite.  I look into the bottom of his glorious bowl, flashing blue gold light and see labradorite….

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The Book of Stones (by Robert Simmons & Naisha Ahsian) offers that labradorite is the gemstone of magic, and that ‘magic’ refers to the mental and intuitive abilities which include….coincidence control!  ” ‘Coincidence control’  is the practice of increasing the observed degree of synchronicity and serendipity in one’s life.”  Big smile here.  I run upstairs to retrieve the piece I have on my altar.  It is smooth and polished and no matter which way I hold it, I am offered a glimpse of something hidden and revealing itself in a moment, flashes of the green/blue/gold, like the scales of a mermaid I think…

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and then as this thought registers, I am led to the amazing shirt I found months ago, remembering the same thought I had then, that the unique texture and colors of this garment made me feel like I was wearing mermaid skin, or was being reflected in a piece of labradorite…

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and I wear this shirt all the time.  There isn’t a single time I have put it on that I don’t feel wonderful, or that it goes un-noticed, holding me in its soft magic….

My reverie breaks as I realize the soup is ready to ladle up into the bowl.  Add a little pepper and watch it mingle with the froth…

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Layers of magic.  Magic elixir in a magic bowl carrying the energy of awareness of the many layers of knowing and feeling something magical.  And now I can feel the soup working it’s magic too, the lemony creamy warmth going to exactly where it needs to go in my body to negotiate with whatever it is that is making me feel not quite right today.  This soup always makes me feel better.

Down to the last spoonful, coincidence control fully activated now as I gaze into the magic of the universe in the bottom the bowl…

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the tree that won’t quit

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the old-fashioned lights on my tree go out.  I know it is a blown fuse in one of the strings, and make an effort to find it, but there are too many ornaments, too much density to disturb to really unearth the problem.  So I enjoy the tree for a few more days as is, still so beautiful even without the lights on.  And then begin the process of removing all the ornaments and packing them away in their boxes.  I have a slow methodical process for taking the ornaments off…handling each one carefully, feeling the energy of each unique contribution one last time before releasing it to its cave for the rest of the year.  I always appreciate the variety…from walnuts simply decorated with glitter made as a young child, to ornate balls decorated with velvet and beads and ribbons made in the basement workshop my mother set up each year when we were kids, to all the ornaments made with my own kids when they were young.  And then all the special gifts, purchases and ‘finds’ over the years,  there is just such a vast variety.  There are many boxes, each different in size and shape, boxes that have held these ornaments for over 25 years now, and I place each special beauty accordingly, knowing exactly which box each one wants to be in.  Filling these boxes is as much a joy as emptying them and it is particularly special this year.  I can’t say why yet, it just is…

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The boxes are now full.  I leave them open one last night, for one last look before putting the covers on and storing them away….

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And wonder if the poignancy I feel in this ritual is because I am doing this before the tree is ready to quit.  Usually the tree is dry and crackly and asking for release by the time I take it down.  The past few years I even snip off a few branches each day to put in the fire, making a ritual of transitioning from the fullness of Christmas to the silent space of deep winter, until what is left is just the trunk, bare and stark like the rest of the trees outside…

But this year’s tree is still soft and supple under my fingers as I remove each ornament.  The green is rich and still oozing its balm.  And the form is just so beautiful, even without lights and ornaments, a kind of simple wholeness that wants to be experienced a little longer.

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I am appreciating all the spaces between branches that still hold the memory of each ornament, and the light that now filters through naturally.

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And each day I sit in my living room with this beautifully unadorned tree until it is light outside, wondering, will today be the day?

not alone

I’ve just let Yankee out for his first sniff of the day and I’m standing in the driveway at this early hour taking in the dawn.  It is a startling image of the crescent moon, all alone up there in the sky like a big beacon in a context where everything else is silhouette against the still dark sky.  I ponder the notion that the moon is ‘alone’ in the sky, how impossible this is really because it is ‘in the sky’ and it is framed by trees and roof lines and the edge of color of the rising sun below, and it is winking at ‘me’ after all, as I stand here gazing into the morning…

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One moment it is perceived as the singularly unique object it is in the sky.  The next moment it feels completely connected to the very things that give it context and definition.  No, the moon is not alone.  It is clearly in relationship to the light of the sun rising to meet it, the dance these two do together whether they want to or not!  Now  I think of all the times I have said in my life, ” I feel so alone,”  “I need to be alone,”  “I want to do this alone,” or “Leave me alone!”  Humbled now at the illusion that I can actually control being alone or not, or can actually think that I am ever completely ‘alone’.  Smile.

It’s been a rocky few months since Ben left for school in October.  I have been riding the roller coaster of empty nesterdom that can be confusing at times, certainly representative of the flow of emotions that comes with any transition.  I like to joke and say, it is me and the animals now, but the fact is, it IS me and the animals and this is no small thing. As I sit here and write with computer on my lap, I look to my left and all three of them are right here with me, I’m not even aware when they arrived and took up their posts, the two cats next to me on the couch, and Yankee at my feet…

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It is not at all common to find them all together like this at the same time and I wonder, do they know what I am writing about then?  Are they trying to tell me something?  The three of them usually maintain a bit of independence from each other, Kush tends to stay close to me in general which keeps Desi at a distance typically, and it is rare that I see the two cats snuggled together like this, modeling a kind of heartfelt companionship that is easy to yearn for…

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And then there is Yankee. He is thirteen now and has spent much of his life alone in this house during the day.  A mellow, quiet, soulful presence, even he gets stir crazy I think, and needs his outside time connecting with the world in some way.  Lately it is just to lay in the snow and feel the wind, and just after I snapped this photo of him through the window yesterday…

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he turns to look at me with his wise eyes,

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intense, as if to say, I am out here but I am not alone, and neither are you…

pink

By mid November I am realizing that I need to start a quilt for Ben if it is going to be finished for Christmas.  He’s home for the weekend from school and I casually ask him if he’d like a new quilt for his dorm bed, to which I receive an enthusiastic ‘Yes!”  then comes the most important question, I ask him if he has a favorite color he’d like me to use, and without hesitation he replies, “Pink!  I want pink!”  I am a bit taken aback at my own response. Outwardly I smile of course but inside I am rebelling.  I share with Molly my dilemma and she just laughs, teasing, “since when are colors so gender identified for you Mom?”  Smile.  And so I pause and give some space to the idea that Ben’s quilt will be pink, or at least feel pink.  Before I take him back to school that weekend, I ask him pick out ten pieces of fabric from my stash, with the instruction to pick anything at all.  The selection is all over the map too, not all pink, but many pieces that carry pink energy.  I find some old patchwork blocks made years ago, put them up on my design wall and begin to play,

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and within a week, have a top constructed using Ben’s fabric choices cut into large triangles to fill the spaces between, border added, sandwich assembled with batting and backing, and everything basted together ready for quilting….

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I don’t quite finish the hand quilting for Christmas, but wrap it up and give it to him nonetheless.  He has been watching me stitch for the past few weeks since home for the holidays, and is thrilled to discover I have been making this quilt for him.  I spend the rest of the holiday break to finish it, hours and hours of stitching it all together while feeling the significance of Ben’s presence in the house again, home for the holidays.  It is now the night before he leaves and I still haven’t quite finished the quilting, and will still need to make a binding and sew it on.  This always takes longer than I think but deep down I know I will finish so keep plodding along as we send our last day together watching movies and then stretching our legs by walking into town for his favorite chinese food lunch…

In the meantime, a package of salmon is thawing in the fridge.  I rarely make it for just myself anymore, so I imagine making a special last dinner to share with Ben tonight as I take a break from the quilt.  It has to be quick, I don’t belabor the effort, imagine something creamy, and pull a can of coconut milk out of the cupboard.  I gently wrap the salmon pieces (wild Alaskan sockeye with skin on) in a paper towel to absorb the excess moisture, add about a quarter of the can of coconut milk, a splash of water, a few shakes of dried basil, and the salmon, skin side down and sprinkled with sea salt, to the pan and turn the heat onto medium high…

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I don’t want to overcook the salmon.  Once the liquid is bubbling, I turn the fire down to low and cover the pan, and stand watch, literally.  I can feel anticipation rising.  I feel the quilt calling even as I stand here and it is a kind of impatience, not a bad feeling, just a  ‘don’t think it through too much’, and  ‘just keep moving’ kind of feeling. Still not knowing how this dish will be completed, I open the fridge and see the jar of Thai red curry.  Yes.  Then pull out the bag of organic peas from the freezer.  I test the salmon and when it is just barely cooked all the way through, turn to fire off and let it sit a moment.  Then turn over each piece and scape the skin off, remove from the pan, and set aside.

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I add another quarter of the can of coconut milk and a large heaping teaspoon of the red curry to the liquid in the pan and mix.  Turn up the heat to medium high again, add half the bag of peas, and stir.

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When the peas are done (just a few minutes) add the salmon back to the pan to just warm.  The sauce is very creamy and fragrant now and preparing the plates is fun!  And pink!   hmmmm….

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The salmon is moist and flaky, the taste is rich and perfectly blended, and this meal is a hit!   The fact that this meal is also predominately pink, the rich pink flesh of the salmon floating in the soft pink sauce and complemented by the green of the basil and peas….

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is not a coincidence.  I don’t think so.  I feel the collision then of this endeavor of making the ‘pink’ quilt with making home for family these past three weeks, and the poignancy of this rises up to wash through me.  My heart and hands have been fully occupied for weeks now.  And where my heart will continue to be occupied with tugs and pulls of being home alone again once Ben returns to school, I feel the warmth of knowing that I have sent the best of my loving energy with him in this quilt with every stitch made…

It is hard to resist eating it all tonight, but we agree that the leftovers will be perfect with some pasta for Ben’s last lunch tomorrow before leaving for school, which I can already see…salmon & sauce re-heated with rest of the coconut milk and a half pound of orrechiette mixed in…smile.

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It is the next morning, and I am sewing on the binding that will take at least two to three hours to blind stitch into place.

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The thick pink thread I use for the quilting is now also calling to me, as if reminding me that I’m still  ‘in the pink’ and all is well…

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I settle into my spot on the couch and go to work while Ben and I watch re-runs of ‘Friends’ together and laugh out loud, conscious at how these last few hours of stitching are also being infused with the balm of healing laughter.  Finally, it is done! Just in time.  Ben is upstairs packing and I fold up the quilt to get ready to go….

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He’s excited about being back to school and indulges me one last photo for the road…

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and as I drive away I search for and find the glow of pink deep inside to remember and return home with…

Link

It’s late morning and I’ve decided to make a fritatta for lunch with just the most basic ingredients…onions, potatoes, and eggs.  The decision is accompanied by the odd thought that I am to use the smaller 10″ omelette skillet and fill it completely.  It is a very clear directive!  Not sure of the significance, I go about thinly slicing two large onions, a red one and a yellow one, cover the bottom of the pan with olive oil and turn the heat onto medium high.  The onions just about fill the pan, a perfect fit for this first step of slowly carmelizing onions.

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Turning attention to the waiting bowl of potatoes

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I wonder if it will be too many for the pan once the onions cook down, trust it will be just right and begin to make thin slices of each.  The pan is now about half full of beautifully carmelized onions which I sprinkle with some salt, and then layer the potatoes on top.

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Another perfect fit!  Hmmmm. I now consider the short time it will take for the potatoes to become soft and settle in the pan, add a tad of water to the pan, and cover.  After about five minutes take the cover off, gently mix the onions and potatoes in the pan, and let whatever liquid has released from the potatoes evaporate.

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Meanwhile, have mentally calculated that about six large beaten eggs will be just about right to fill all the spaces in between.  Pour the eggs into the pan,

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turn the heat up to high and cook for just a minute to ‘set’ the mixture, then place the pan in a 375 degree oven to finish cooking…

While the frittata is baking I consider, with anticipation, the final result.  And realize I am imagining what the form of it will be fully baked, and most importantly, wondering, will it fill the pan? Smile.  What will it look like?  Will it look good?  Wow.  Such a contrast to how my anticipation usually manifests in thinly veiled enthusiasm for the smells and tastes of what is being made.  Which reminds me of the delicate balance between what something looks like and what it actually feels like, that perhaps what it IS can be found in the space between the two?

Now I am remembering trying on clothes during a rare shopping trip last weekend.  I’m not a good clothes shopper on my own.  I think I know what I like but have found that I do much better with a guide bringing me things to try, and am grateful for my dear friend Mindy playing the part of shopping muse with me.  At the end of the day I come home with bagfuls of things that I know I will wear all the time, things I will not hesitate to pull out of the drawer or closet to put on because of their perfect fit.  I don’t think I picked out any of these things initially.  Everything I tried on that I picked myself seemed wrong, didn’t look or feel the way I know a perfect fit can feel.  And most everything Mindy brought to me did!   I feel resistance to each thing she shows me, then have to consciously move through it to get to the place of accepting it and trying it on and discovering perfect fit after perfect fit.  I am relishing the feeling of Ahhhhh, wow, this feels good…I feel good….’I’ look good….and I had no idea!!  Smile.

Standing in front of the oven now waiting to pull the pan out I consider how searching for the perfect fit can be a metaphor for moving through this space between resistance and acceptance. And perhaps a metaphor for the feeling between the truth inside, the heart’s desire, and the necessity of the image the mind creates for this on the outside.  I consider how quickly I can fill up this space between inside and outside with ideas and how necessary it is to do this in order to complete the image.  Metaphors abound.   My favorite is that of standing in the space of a threshold of an empty room and deciding whether to walk through or not. And that ‘the image’ in my mind is actually what I must leave behind me in order to occupy the place in my heart that feels the joy.  And this space of the threshold is actually fluid, there is nothing fixed, because I know the moment I pull the pan out of the oven the anticipation will become anchored in something new that is created by the alchemy of the cooked eggs and potatoes and onions.   The frittata is done…

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And as many times as I have made this dish, I am never prepared for the jolt of joy felt from the transformation I see in the pan, the puffed airy surface gently enfolding and revealing edges of potato and onion, the entire surface sizzling and bubbling….

And of course, there is nothing like the first cut, removing the first piece,

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and getting a first taste of the truth that resides within…

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question everything

I read, “Question everything!  Leave no stone unturned, no assumption unexamined, no form of denial left intact.”  It is from the latest offering of spiritual teacher Adyashanti, a small publication that arrives as a gift from him just before Christmas called “The Way of Liberation:  A Practical Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.”  Hmmmm.  Of course it is only just a guide and this is the whole point, to question even his own words on this page in this moment.  And I am transported back to NYC, 1978, I am 20 years old and beginning my year of studies at The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies with architect and teacher Peter Eisenman, and he has just told us quite clearly and emphatically that by the end of the year we would be left questioning everything!  I can feel the rumble of excitement in my belly even now, of not really intellectually knowing that this would be not be a road to ‘knowing’, just the visceral intuitive knowing that I was on a road to the experience of seeking truth by questioning everything….

I realize that this is the rumble I feel when I walk into the kitchen to prepare a meal, every time I begin a new project, anticipate a new quilt, consider what I will be teaching, or who I will be meeting in a client.  I never know what will be there for me to find or for me to consider. The ‘what if?’ of the moment is always there and it has the same significance no matter what the context.

What if I combine the leftover cooked sweet potatoes from Christmas eve dinner with the leftover brown rice from two nights ago?  What if I mash the potato, add the rice and an egg, form patties, and fry them in some olive oil? Now an image forms.  Add some salt and cayenne pepper to the mix.  Preheat the pan and put the patties in and stand there to keep watch, imagining the crunchy exterior forming now, careful, don’t want them to burn, turn them in the pan just in time, oh dear, are they burned?  No.  Just a little darker than I imagined….

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While ‘they’, precious that they are now, continue to slowly brown on the other side, fire on low, I prepare the head of fresh broccoli, cut it into small pieces that will cook in just moments in a pan with equal splashes of water, olive oil, tamari and lemon juice for steaming until just crisp done.

At this point, it doesn’t feel like there are any more questions, the stream of ‘what if’s’ have combined to form a clear process that results in a plate arranged with two patties with the broccoli heaped across the middle and sprinkled with sesame seeds….

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It is delicious.  Simple and satisfying!!  The small amount of potato – rice mix left if the bowl is formed into one last patty for the pan.  It is no longer a question or a mystery as to how long it will take to brown evenly, and this one last patty is seemingly perfect, so what is left to question here if I were to make it again?  Only everything!!  Is it an organic potato?  what kind of sweet potato?  where was it grown?  what kind of brown rice, short grain or long grain? where does the olive oil come from, does it matter?  what kind of pan is used, would it make a difference if it was a non-stick pan instead of the stainless steel one I used?  is it sea salt or regular salt with iodine?  does any of this really make a difference?  why even bother with this process?  why not just combine the leftovers in a bowl and heat in the microwave?  why?

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What I have come to know, as I ‘know’ with everything I share here, is that I will never make this dish exactly the same way again.  I know that I have loved making it.  And I know that even the best recipe that has been used over and over again is just an illusion at best, that the recipe is simply a guide to experience, in awareness, a moment of unique ingredients, unique atmosphere, and energy from unique hands that have prepared.  What I have come to ‘know’ is that questioning everything creates the space and the process for leading us to a unique taste, a unique form of nourishment, and a unique moment of experience no matter what the endeavor may be…