Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Blog Equivelant of Eating Christmas Cookies for Dinner

Maybe you thought the Christmas Nostalgia Train had driven off into the sunset blowing snowflakes out of its smoke stacks thought wrong! Again I implore you, put aside your discipline, your hunger for purpose, and just share a little joy with me as I recount the festive activities I've been reveling in throughout NYC...promise I'll get back to standard-blogging topics by the 26th, at the latest!

On Monday I laced up my walking shoes and loaded up google on my iphone with a mission: to see every Christmas store window in Manhattan (at least all the ones of consequence) before meeting my husband at his work at 6.

I started at Macy's and wound my way uptown. The Macy's windows are always designed for a younger crowd, and in a fairly traditonal (if you can call commercialized Christmas traditional) bent...but I have to say, those sugar plum steam punk fairy marionettes have my vote for Worth Checking Out!

Next up 5th avenue was Lord and Taylor's...I didn't even know they did windows! These were super-tradition cozy Christmas, with what looked like more realistic, and somehow more creepy, barbie dolls acting out classic Christmas moments: decorating a tree, caroling, ice-skating, baking cookies...Santa shows up in the last one, being harassed by the family dog. What's fun about these simple scenes is that they were inspired by hundreds of children, who were asked to draw a picture to answer the question, "What is Christmas made of?" These awesome crayon-creations frame every window, and for the backdrop to filler windows between the animated scenes. Little kids draw the craziest things!

From there I shot on up to Rockefeller to see the tree and the angels.
And of course to have a look at Saks 5th Avenue's windows. Now, Sak's broke my heart by changing their light display they do on the front of their building. I lived for that techno-hip-hop Carol of the Bells rendition with dancing snowflakes. The new shit...I mean, new delightful piece, features bubbles, and if you want a reason why, you can check out their windows, but it's never really explained. I feel like these windows were designed by Lady Gaga...back when she was on crack. And by that I mean, they don't make any sense, but they are gorgeous, and the one-of-a-kind fashions featured on the mannequins did in fact make me forget every thought I've ever had about non-attachment and wanting to lower my standard of living to conserve resources for those in poverty. I fear I would put a stiletto through the eye of a starving African child for that Alexander McQueen gown. This picture doesn't really do it justice. Go see this dress...oh sweet baby Jesus...deep purple ostrich feather train...
After that scary moment of questioning everything I knew about myself, I (thank God) headed off for a yoga class. Afterward I made my way up to an even more mind-bending exhibit: Barney's! Barney's, God bless them, partnered with Lady Gaga this year for their windows, as well as Gaga's Workshop: a Little Monster's paradise of unique merchandise and awesome sculptures and displays, with 25% of all purchases going to her Born This Way Foundation. That's right, you can do all your Christmas shopping for me in one place!

This may come out of left field for some of you if you don't follow my twitter and read all the tweets of love I send her, but I am deeply infatuated with Gaga and everything she puts out. My fondest dream is to teach her yoga and become best friends...ANYWAY, my point is, I took a ton of pictures of the Gaga windows. Enjoy!
I also took a couple pictures of the amazing stuff inside the workshop, but if you're a Little Monster, you need to go see this for yourself.

So, after that I did take a peak at Bloomingdale's windows, and that other place with the weird name across from FAO Schwartz at the corner of the park...I'm a fan of the funky bird-human taxidermied stuff they do at that place, and Bloomingdale's windows were pretty cute too, featuring classic holiday bags made huge, sparkling, and occasionally opening up to reveal a surreal animated scene.

With eyes still starstruck by Gaga splendour I wandered home...and scored a last-minute pair of tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular (middle of the second mezzanine!). So on Tuesday, after a delicious reiki session from Rebecca (Her businnes, Sapientia Oscen, is linked to on the right; I highly recommend her!!), I made my way back, one final time to Rockefeller Center, to meet my husband for the crown jewel of cheesy/nostalgic Christmas in NYC!
Awesomeness. My husband can't quite understand my fascination with a row of women in sparkly costumes doing high-kicks, but I'm telling you, at least once, you should check it out. If only for the chance to see live camels on the Radio City Stage. Love that Living Nativity Scene! Why not inject a little Jesus into your Christmas celebrations?

And finally, it's Wendesday night. Tomorrow we'll be dragging luggage (well, lugging luggage, I suppose) to the dermatoligist before hot-footing it to LaGuardia to leave this crazy, beautiful town until 2012! Don't panic, it's just until January 2nd, and my crazy family should provide plenty of blogging material.

You've got a couple days left. Leave your blase behind and go enjoy this stuff! Most of it's free; why not make the most of it??

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Joyful Solstice (and Kwanza, too, when the hell is Kwanzaa??) to you and yours.

Live Omily,

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kicking the Holiday Spirit into High Gear

I am so full of the Holiday Spirit, I may just pop in a shower of candy canes, evergreen boughs, Advent Candles, and mangers...

And, I fully cop to being as infatuated with the commercialized, secular Holiday joy as I am with the quiet, the still, the deep...the miracle that happened in that little town of Bethlehem, and what it means for the universe, and for me personally...

This weekend has been full of moments celebrating both, and now as I turn my gaze three states away to "The Heart of it All", I'm ready to get my Christ-Mass on straight through to Epiphany! Fair Warning: this blog post, and the one after it most likely, are going to be happy, fun reports of my festive activities leading up to Christmas. There will likely not be as much reflection as you're used to, but there will be quality writing, and lots of fun pictures! Plug in your Christmas lights, make a mug of cocoa or tea, and dream a little with me...

On Friday evening we were lucky enough to celebrate two holiday parties with wonderful people, and even better, wonderful cats at our first stop! With cookies, dips, meatballs, and mulled wine in our bellies, we didn't even have time to catch the Visions of Sugar Plums before we drifted off to sleep.

On Saturday my husband and I got our shit together and flew out of the house in an uncharacteristically quick fashion-we had a date with a train that only comes one day a week, for one month a year! We made it to the uptown platform at the 2nd Avenue-Lower East Side station just a few minutes after two. I feared we were too late, until I caught the intoxicating strains of swing music blaring out across the platform. This was no scratchy boombox either: a band with a standing bass, a trombone, a snare drum, a trumpet, tambourines, an old-fashioned microphone being crooned into by an amazing vocalist, and a lively group of period-costumed dancing fools made the passageway impassable! The excitement was contagious as the music went from fast to slow and back again, and the dancers switched in and out with auxiliary performers in the crowd, dipping and swinging till the lady's skirts stood out straight from their bodies.

Then I heard a sound unlike any I had heard before, magnified in the confined space. I turned to the center track, where the V train once started its run, and there it was! The Vintage Train! CIRCA ROUGHLY 1920!!!! Complete with Christmas bows and wreaths on the front and back, it rattled and roared into the station to cheers, and one ecstatic Omily!
The band tried to make itself heard over the commotion, telling the jovial bunch what car to get on if we wanted in on further musical fun, which, of course we did. But it took some doing to cram all of us, and all of those instruments, on to a single car, and the confusion gave us a few minutes to explore a couple cars. Steel fans hung from the ceiling, and the original ads that had graced the trains when they stopped running were all still in place.
Finally the conductor, dressed in the uniform befitting the time period of his train, started yelling, "ALL ABOARD!" We squeezed through the doors between cars, and grabbed a seat, more to put our coats and bags on than anything else, and the train rattled off uptown. The band kept playing, and the dancers even managed to constrain their choreography to support a few swinging couples. Between each station we would pass a point when the lights would flicker out for a few seconds, and the fans over head would cease whirring, not that we could hear that part because, with the joyful attitude on board, just about any change in the train elicited excited cheers from the passengers.

Each time we pulled into a new station we had the pleasure of seeing the confused expressions of the passengers awaiting their normally scheduled M train. No one could hear the announcer telling us what stop we were in, but that wasn't a problem because the band would accompany their instrumental musings to sing the name of the station in time to the music.

The train rolled all the way out into Queens in what felt like record time. At 23rd-Ely Street, the Conductor made his way into our car to personally kick us off while the train turned around to go the other way. The bigger instruments and their musicians were permitted to stay, but we were treated to a parade up the stairs and down onto the next platform by the brass and percussion sections while we waited for the train to come back. The husband and I got off the train on the first stop in Manhattan, since we were on our way to an art exhibit at the Japanese Society at 47th and 2nd. I was so sorry to see the train go, especially as the band had just broken into a beautiful rendition of "White Christmas." The singer's beautiful voice carried into the station until the train's last ribbon-bedecked car disappeared into the tunnel. I heaved a sigh. I felt like I could have ridden the Vintage train up and downtown all day long!
The exhibit proved to be well worth the sacrifice though, and it was a great way to unwind and warm up after our adventures. We ate a Japanese lunch complete with hot sake, and though we had considered doing some Christmas shopping to wrap up the day, decided to just head on home for the night.
Sunday opened with a trip to the coffee shop, and Church, as always. I put together a list of last-minute purchases and to-dos for our own Christmas party that evening, and ran off to the 2:30 Aerial class, the last before a waaaay too long break for the holidays. I picked up six bottles of wine (and a new corkscrew) on the way home, visited three stores on the hunt for baby candy canes, and finally started braising fennel, slicing bread, and mulling wine much closer to Party-Start time than I had envisioned.

The letting go I had practiced when I thought I wouldn't find the candy canes to garnish the Irish coffees stood me in good stead, though, when the guests started to arrive before the fennel was done, and before I had done anything with my crazy hair. We all relaxed into a happy routine of eating, drinking, and merry-(craft)-making. A blizzard of love buried our seven-foot Christmas tree. Truffle, the cat, is doing her part to dig it out, sending drifts of exquisitely cut snow-flakes to every corner of the apartment.
A Charlie Brown Christmas played as we lingered over the last of the mulled wine, and when Linus said, "I can tell you what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown." We all paused to hear the Mystery, the Miracle, perhaps to you the Myth, about a birth that had been prophesied for centuries, about a young girl who did not know man, a star that led kings and shepherds to a dirty, smelly, stable, where the Prince of Peace, God incarnated, lay in the hay, by the side of his exhausted, awed parents.

As we snuggled into bed at last that night, we embarked on a guided meditation that took us into the skies: We were the snowflakes, dancing and cartwheeling with our brethren in the clouds...when the clouds opened up, we tumbled, flew, and glided down over Brooklyn, ever so slowly, finally settling on trees, eye lashes, tails, windowsills, cars, and sidewalks. Cozy and close, knowing we were a part of something so beautiful, and so much greater than ourselves...

Merry Christmas.

Live Omily,

Friday, December 16, 2011

Eating Omily: More Than You Ever Wanted to Know about Fennel vs. Anise

I don't often write ingredient-focused Eating Omily posts. Usually I wax proseic about the simple beauty of eating what your hunter-gatherer ancestors would have eaten (roughly) if they lived in your area. But, I think this is worth while, because this particular ingredient is so consistently over-looked, and it's just so damn versatile and delicious!

Ever hear of fennel? Perhaps you've seen fennel seed on the spice shelf at the grocery? I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that you haven't seen a fennel label in your produce department because it's almost always mis-labeled anise, which, frankly, I expect is enough to scare any potential eater off. Anise is a different plant entirely from which we get the flavor of licorice. Fennel certainly has some flavor similarities to anise, and in fact both are related to parsley, but they are distinct species.

In fact, there's the plant, fennel, which I'm primarily talking about, the herb, anise, whose seeds we use for licorice flavor, and there's the herb, fennel, whose seeds we ALSO use for a milder licorice flavor. Fennel seeds are fabulous in biscotti, by the way. And then there's STAR anise, you know, those adorable star-shaped pods that are also licoricey. Those come from a tree common to Asia, and aren't related to fennel the veggie, fennel the herb, anise the herb, or parsley! Personally I don't think it was such a good idea to call any and every thing that tastes like licorice anise regardless of genetic relations, but you know, nobody asked me. Now that I've blown your mind with the variety of anise and fennel-related things out there, let me set you straight with some photographic evidence.

This is fennel, the plant that you consume as a vegetable.

This is anise, the plant that you do not eat as a vegetable. It is an herb (or a herb, if you prefer).

These are anise seeds, the part of the anise plant that we use, generally in sweet recipes, or in curries.

This is the herb, fennel, from which we get fennel seeds. This picture should show you the commonality between the veggie, fennel, and the herb, anise.

These are fennel seeds from the herb, not the veggie, fennel. Again, distinctive from, yet similar to, anise seeds from the herb, anise.

This is parsley. Fennel the veggie, fennel the herb, and anise the herb are all related to the herb, parsley.

And this, last one, I promise, is star anise. It's often used in curries, and in spiced or mulled beverages, steeped whole in it's star-shaped pod, and it grows on a tree. It shares NO relation to any of the above plants, just a similar flavor profile. (Except parsley, parsley, though related to all of the above plants, with the exception of star anise, does not taste licoricey. You'll notice however, that both basil and tarragon do have a bit of licorice flavor. Clearly it's a common flavor in the plant kingdom.)

SO, with an introduction, and prestigious lineage, like that, fennel must be something special, right?? I think so. I cooked up a whole bulb of it as the veggie course to our Thanksgiving dinner my first semester in college (that was 2005), when my family came up to cook with me and visit. They had one taste and said no thanks. I ate it all myself. So I guess what I'm saying is, it's a distinctive flavor. There's nothing I can compare it to. In terms of texture and cooking nature it's a bit leeky, but in terms of flavor it's well, a bit licoricey. Intense and crunchy when raw, mild, sweet, and tender when cooked.

This is the fennel I'm talking about, by the way. Have you forgotten? I almost did.
I highly advise you to get out to your Farmer's Market (and don't delay, this is a fall veggie, but not a hearty one that will persist past the first few hard freezes), hack one up, and give it a try! They aren't expensive, and the various parts can be used in various ways.

So, you get the thing home, and now what? It may seem a little complicated to dissect, but it's pretty basic, really. Start by cutting the stalks off of the bulb. These two parts need different cooking methods. If there are any really bruised or sad looking parts on the outside, peel off that outside layer. Otherwise, just give it a wash. I like to slice up the whole bulb into pieces a couple inches long, and maybe a quarter to a half inch thick, cutting off dirty bits from the bottom as I go. Some people will tell you to core the fennel, but I have yet to detect a distinct difference in taste or texture between the core and the rest of the bulb, so I say waste not, want not! The sliced bulb can be tossed with olive oil and roasted with sliced onions, whole peeled garlic cloves, and grated parmesan cheese (yum!) at about 400 for, oh, twenty minutes, half an hour, until tender and a little browned.

It's also great braised with broth or wine and water. You can brown it in the pan with oil or butter first if you like, then add the liquid, just to come maybe half way up the level of the fennel, it won't be much, bring to a simmer, lid it, let it get tender, and then turn the heat up and cook the liquid down to a glaze or syrup. It gets so meltingly tender this way, it's awesome. Some people also like to slice it really thin and toss it into salads. I'm not a fan of licorice, and find that flavor too strong for me in that application, but give it a shot. It's also easy enough to just saute the fennel in some olive oil or butter over medium heat with salt and pepper. It'll retain a bit of crunch this way.

The easiest way to deal with those stalks is to think of them like celery...celery that is far too tough to slather peanutbutter on and eat raw. My go-to way of handling it is to use it as an aromatic in my soup base along with onions. Slice it up into quarter-inch pieces, and toss it into a medium-low heated soup pot with plenty of oil or butter. Let the onions get perfectly tender and sweet (don't worry, the fennel will catch up and it continues to cook in the soup), then add your garlic and herbs, cook a few more minutes, then add your soup liquid, and other ingredients that need time to soften and cook in the broth. It's a milder flavor than celery, but a great companion to the onion.

Those froofy fronds on top are great to add along with any dried herbs to your soups, or as a garnish for salads, soups, appetizers, whatever! They're tender, tasty, and yes, licoricey!

Don't hesitate to play around and get creative with fennel: I've heard of fennel-leek soup, and raw fennel marinated in orange juice. I'm sure there's tons of tasty ways to work with it that I haven't heard of yet.

Hope you have a festive, fennel-packed week!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Flying Through Your Days, or, Flying Through Meditation

There's an addictive quality to crossing things off a To-Do List. I have been known to add items that I've accomplished that weren't there originally, just so I can immediately cross them off again. It's truly a rare case though, when a whole To-Do List is successfully completed--too easy to just keep adding things to it ad naseum.

It's all that Stuff of the Utmost Importance, such as Organizing My Sock Drawer (I kid you not, it's item #14 on the list), that get in the way of the things that I know are important: playing with my cat, meditating every day, calling my friends I haven't spoken to in months, working on either one of my books...Somehow or another I manage to procrastinate fantastically while being insanely busy and getting a lot done.

Well, Meditate is item #8 on the list, and there's two Astrixes by it showing that I have done two days this week so far. Yay!

So, prioritizing is important, and sometimes it's really hard. Because, meditating is really important, but so is having clean socks this week, and an un-terriyfing toilet, yes? The argument I hear a lot in response to the protracted whine: "I just don't have tiiiiime to meditate!" is that by meditating, you'll be calmer and more functional, and effectively gain time by being a more productive person in the 23 hours and 40 minutes you aren't meditating.

I'm up to 11 minutes a day so far, with the plan of adding one minute each day till I hit that 20 mark, and we'll see where we go from there. I've also been doing guided meditations, taking my husband along for the ride because the only way he won't giggle is if he's taking it seriously, too. I can't say for sure that I'm more clear-headed and productive yet...but I get an inkling that I just might be, and will be more so as my meditation time increases.

Guided meditations are actually a great way to jump into meditation without all that scary sitting in silence alone with yourself. Ultimately, that's the powerful practice that you're aiming for, but approaching it a little at a time will make you more likely to stick with a practice.

Since the lunar eclipses that have been rocking (alright, shadowing) our world (Yes, I know, the moon, ok??) are all about telling us that it's time to let go and release what we don't need, letting go has been the theme of my two guided meditations thus far.

On Sunday night we went on a journey where we had to climb something reeeaaaally big. My husband climbed a mountain, and I climbed a silk. Along the way, we had to release things that were too heavy to hang out to if we were going to complete our journey.
The climb got harder and harder, but finally, we were at the top! Someone we trusted very much appeared up there and told both of us that it was time to let go of the mountain/silk. We were a loooooooong way up, and there was nothing we could see that would catch us; that was a really scary request. We took a few moments to breath deeply and connect with our faith in the universe, and then we let go. We fell and fell and tumbled through the air, and finally, we were caught, safe and cozy, almost at the bottom!
We gained a whole different perspective from where we were; it was amazing! Our guide on our journey shared with us any wisdom we needed to hear, and then we made our way the rest of the way to the earth, and returned to our bedroom in Brooklyn.

Wild, right?? You don't need a teacher's certification to do this, just a knack for a story-telling, and knowing when to offer details, and when to ask questions, so the meditation feels real, but is open-ended enough for anyone participating to take the journey she or he needs in that moment.

For last night's guided meditation, in honor of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which fell last Thursday, we took an astral journey though time and space, all the way back more than 2,000 years, to ancient Palestine, where Mary was doing her chores, minding her own business, only to be interrupted by an ANGEL! An angel with completely insane, impossible news!
(It was impossible for me to find a picture that coincided with the version that I witnessed last night, but I like this interpretation, because Mary looks scared shitless, which, "Be not afraid!" or not, I'm sure she was!)

We watched Mary let go of the simple, beautiful future she had planned for herself, and courageously embrace the life that would fulfill her role in the Universe. The angel turned to us and shared with us any wisdom that we needed. Then we flew up up up into the sky, around the world, and through the millenia, coming back down over Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery, making our way back to our own building, through the wall, and back into our bodies.

Either of those two scenarios may prove powerful for you right now, or you could take an entirely different journey. It is very helpful to know where and when you're going, and roughly when you'll be heading back before you start though, so you don't get lost or just start meandering through your brain. That's not super-meditationy.

The line between what's real and what's not can get really blurred with exercises like this. Don't worry about it too much. Your body is definitely physically not going anywhere; your imagination is ranging far and wide. Your spirit or soul may be anywhere in between...

Happy Travels!

Live Omily,

P.S. I don't know how many of my readers believe in what, but I found this video so moving and beautiful (though inevitably also a little silly), and I wanted to share it with you.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eating Omily: "Holy Frijoles, Batman! It's The Slow Cooker!"

You know, I could be mistaken, but, I spent the whole month of September blogging about packing lunches and easy dinners, and I don't think I once mentioned that awesome slow cooker of mine! How did I do that??

Well, better late than never! If you don't have a slow cooker, it is definitely something worth adding to your Christmas list! Understand though, that the times a slow cooker will save your ass are the times when you know ahead of time that it's going to be a crazy day and you are NOT going to want to cook. The slow cooker will not help you in the least if you thought you'd have an easy day, but came home exhausted, because it is, well, slow.

Classic slow cooker meals are things like pot roast: one-pot meals based around tough cuts of meat. And that's definitely a delicious avenue worth exploring, but I'll be honest: I never have. That said, don't panic. Add a 2-4 pound roast to your slow cooker along with some coarsely chopped aromatics: onions, carrots, garlic, maybe some potatoes, hardy dried herbs, and water/broth/wine to cover. Put that sucker on low, and go about your day. By dinner time, the connective tissue that made that cut of meat hopeless if prepared like a steak will have melted away, leaving the broth rich, fragrant, and full-bodied, and the meat perfectly, melt-in-your-mouth tender. Awesome.

The thing I use my slow cooker the most though, as in, once a week easy, is beans. I buy dried beans at the Farmer's Market a pound at a time. The night before I want to have beans for dinner, I pour the beans, and three times their quantity of water into the slow cooker, and leave it sit, turned off. The next morning, I add chopped onions, garlic, thyme, oregano, a bay leaf, maybe some allspice, pepper, and plenty of salt, plus some more water if the beans have absorbed enough that they aren't covered by a couple inches.

Disclaimer: a lot of people seem to think it's super-important to rinse the beans really thoroughly the night before, and then after the soaking, to drain them and cook them in fresh water. I live on the edge. I don't rinse, and I cook in my soaking water. I have not died yet, though I did once bite down on a pebble in my lunch. Draw your own conclusions.

Then I just put the lid on, turn the slow cooker on low, (or high, if it's a reeeaaaally long-cooking bean, like the black soy beans from the Farmer's Market. 99% of the time, low will do you, unless you want to eat in much less than six hours.)

Every single time, I come home from a long day out and about, and the most delicious smell greets me as soon as I step into the hallway of my building. Maybe it's because they're fresh Farmer's market beans. Maybe it's because the herbs have had so much time to release their flavors into the cooking liquid. Maybe it's because I don't wash away all that flavorful starch on the outside of the beans. Whatever it, they smell like, at least one-hundred-thousand times more delicious than you think a pot of beans can smell.

I check them for doneness when I come in the door. Usually I can switch them over to 'warm' by then; sometimes I let them go a little longer, or even turn them up to high. I make quinoa, or brown rice, or polenta, or mashed potatoes, to serve them over, and a veggie to go along side; often I just chop up hearty greens and let them cook along with the grain. On particularly rough nights I have been known to convince myself that those cooked-to-the-point-of-disintegration onions and garlic in the beans count as a veggie. This is hands down one of my husband's favourite meals, and one of the few things he will gladly take to work and eat for lunch day after day. Here is a bowl of beans, with kale, served over red quinoa, that we had for dinner the other night.
Om nom. Warm, hearty, delicious, and super-healthy!

And, you'll have a ton of left-overs! Oops, sorry, shouldn't have mentioned those words so close to Thanksgiving...if yours aren't safely being cared for, or sadly already in the garbage, quickly, don't panic! Reread this blog post! Ok. Feel better? Same rules apply to beans. Put no more in the fridge than your household can eat in, oh, a week or so, and freeze the rest in comparatively-sized containers. A note on freezer safety: be cautious freezing in plastics; always make sure it's declared safe for freezing, and always leave enough head space to allow for expansion of the food as it freezes.

So, aside from easy packed lunches, beans are great for: quesadillas, nachos, re-fried bean dips, soups, and just about anywhere else you'd use meat.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Eating Omily: Waste Not...

Woo, ok, so now that we're just two weeks and two days away from Christmas, I'm ready to talk about, Thanksgiving!
Well, not so much the amazing orgy of cooking and face-stuffing that happens the day of, although that's pretty cool, and yes, that's my husband's Thanksgiving plate right there, and not even the important implications of what you're stuffing into your face that day. (Got that for you right here.)

No, I want to talk about that moment when your plate is clean, or at least as clean as its going to get, and you glance up at the table, and with a creeping sense of horror, realize it's still covered in food. Food that, for today anyway, no one is going to eat. Before you can begin to wash a single dish, all that food has to be carefully stored and cataloged. Your mind whirs through your Tupperware it enough? Is there room in the freezer for the turkey carcass??

It may be the tryptophan making you feel so overwhelmed. With a few extra pairs of hands, everything gets squared away in a reasonable amount of time, and by then there just might be room for a slice of pie. Crisis: averted.

Msybe the next moment happens when you open the fridge to get out some milk for your cereal, and are hit in the foot with a giant tub of cranberry sauce. Maybe you think you'll have yourself a turkey sandwich for lunch, only to be faced with the realization that NO ONE can eat enough turkey sandwiches to get through this bird.

Whatever the case, you've probably had this moment: when a fridge full of fully cooked, utterly delicious food suddenly feels like a burden instead of something to be thankful for. Don't panic! There is a way to not let all that nutrition go to waste, and no, it doesn't require bagging it up and handing it out to the homeless, which is not to say that's such a bad idea.

Step one, of course, is to make proper use of your fridge and freezer. Carve all the meat off your bird, put as much as your household will eat in a couple days in the fridge, and put the rest, split up into similar quantities, into the freezer. This allows you to pull out and thaw turkey as you need it, while keeping the rest from going bad. If you have soup as part of your meal (people look forward to my pumpkin soup lunch all year long...split that up and freeze it, too. It's not rocket science, really: only put in your fridge what you can eat before it will go bad. Put the rest in the freezer in a way that doesn't make it impossible to use. Six pounds of left-over turkey frozen all together will take ages to thaw, and unless you've got an army, will never all get eaten before the microbes take the day.

Step two: get creative! Turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce are great, sure, and everyone enjoy reheating a plate of the whole feast complete with gravy once or twice, but if it starts to feel like the same food everyday, no one is going to eat it. My favourite suggestions:

My Grandma's recipe for potato pancakes: lots of butter melted in the pan, and left over mashed potatoes patted into patties. Medium heat so you get a good sizzle, and really get in there and scrape up the pancake with your spatula so the golden crunchy goodness stays with your breakfast and not with the pan. These are the perfect fancy-schmancy feeling substitute to hashbrowns with your bacon and eggs. Nom!

My recipe for turkey soup: this uses up a lot of turkey fast, and can be made in a big batch and frozen in it's own right. I like it especially because there's always a box of chicken stock hanging around my fridge post-Thanksgiving, and this is the only thing I can think of to do with it. Just do the Master Soup Recipe: lots of onions in lots of fat, add some celery or carrots if you've got it, and plenty of salt. After several minutes, add some dried spices, cook a little longer, and then add the broth or water. I stir in lots of chopped kale at this point, and a generous splash of white wine. When it's all coming together and tasting like soup, stir in the shredded turkey just to heat through.

Double-whammy Left-Over Meal: put a scoop of stuffing (or mashed potatoes) in a bowl, and ladle hot soup over it. No need for bread or crackers!

I am a huge fan of my home-made cranberry sauce. It packs a tart punch, and a beautiful citrusy accent. As much as I like it though, I can only eat so much a day, and I always make too much. My favourite solution? You've got to try this: a few spoonfuls of cranberry sauce stirred together with a shot of whiskey. Add ice, and top off with seltzer. The perfect holiday nightcap, complete with whole cranberry garnishes!

You can also throw your turkey into a quesadilla, nachos, pasta, breakfast scramble, frittata, pot pie, stir-fry, casserole, etc. etc. etc.

And how about that sad bag of bones and connective tissues you've carved the meat off of? Garbage, right? No!! I know you haven't spirit enough to embark on this journey on Turkey Day; bag that carcass and freeze it for now. When you have a free afternoon, through it in a big pot with a onion, a few garlic cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves, and lots of salt, bring it to a boil, then knock it back to a simmer and let it go for several hours until you have warm, yellow, delicious stock with a pleasant, silky body. Now, you may throw away the carcass. You can use up the stock right away for a huge pot of soup if you like; generally I fill containers in the fridge with it, and then rotate it all through my icecube trays till I have a gallon bag or two of stock-cubes all ready for my use in the freezer. Ten stock cubes=one cup of stock.

Sorry guys, I failed at taking pictures of the deliciousness that's been going on in my house post-Thanksgiving. But to make up for it, here are some pictures of my husband man-handling the turkey pre-roasting, and my cat attempting to steal Christmas presents!

Live Omily,

Got your own left-over magic? Please share! I've still got cranberry sauce and stuffing to contend with...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Edgy Catholicism-The External Light and the Internal Darkness

I feel like I ought to write a Thanksgiving Post, what with it being such an awesome and meaningful holiday, revolving around one of my favourite topics...but I don't think I can make myself move that far backward now that there's a Christmas Tree in my living room! I'll share a little of my Thanksgiving feast in the next 'Eating Omily' post.
If you were raised around Catholicism, you'll know that this time of year is called Advent. It's a time of preparation, like Lent is before Easter, but it's also distinct from Lent. You may recall that Lent is a season of repentance, of realigning your lifestyle so it's a better reflection of the Divine.

Advent is a season of joyful anticipation: the focus isn't on the great sacrifice that Jesus made for us, but on the simple miracle that he was born on earth at all, of a virgin no less! For me, it's a time of simple, child-like awe. I get swept back up into all the old magic every the Advent candles, decorating the tree, choosing presents...I try to spare some time, too, to think about other celebrations that fall around the Solstice. All the ones that I can think of center around ideas and symbols of Light: Christ as the light of the world: the light of the flames kept burning by miraculous oil, the sunlight we will see a bit more of each day after the 21st, the light of our families around surprise the human consciousness would be a little preoccupied with light this time of year!

It's easy to forget about the darkness outside with our 24/7 electric lighting possibilities. We can sit in a dark room and stare at our 21st century glowing idol: the smart phone! A little creepy, and really not healthy. Our body responds to changes in light patterns all the time; our internal clock is based on sunlight exposure. You'll likely notice a different in your energy level and quality of sleep if you take a moment to open all your blinds and let the sun in first thing when you wake up, and keep the lights on the dim side after the sun sets, or at least for a couple hours before bed. That means no screen time! (To be fair, as strong a proponent of that rule as I am, I definitely have been known to break it in an effort to get the next blog post out...)

So in honor of child-like awe and wonder, Christmas, the Incarnation, and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception this Thursday, I want to share with you this incredible image of the Virgin Mary I saw at an art show in Bushwick the other day:
Wow! I was just floored. Do I mean offended? Well, when I first saw it, I just froze. And I knew...thanks to years of conditioning...that I should be offended by such an image. I mean, definitely, there's an air of the shocking, of irreverence, about it. But, the thing is, according to church doctrine, this depiction is 100% accurate: Mary channeled her sexuality in a way that allowed her to deliver the Ultimate Gift of Love to the Universe out of her Vagina! How empowering, and beautiful is that??

My husband sees in the image a depiction of Mary as an exhibitionist, turning the viewer into a Virgin Voyeur of sorts...hmmmm...well, we are pretty obsessed with Mary's sexuality as Catholic Christians. Her sacrifice is a big deal. Instead of sharing her sacred gift of sexuality with one special person in marriage, which it was totally her privilege to do, she made a choice out of her total free will to instead devote her sexuality to all of us by letting God use it in a different way. I wonder if the artist behind this image is a believer, or not. I wonder if the artist had in mind the tradition of checking the sheets from the wedding bed the morning after for blood, as proof that the union was consummated, and that the bride was a virgin.

I wonder what Mary herself thinks of such an image...and does anyone have anything to say about her being depicted as a pale-skinned blue-eyed WHITE GIRL?? Mary herself set that precedent, though: in each of her apparitions, she has appeared not as she historically would have, but as a member of the race of people she was appearing too, to emphasize that she is all our mother.

I miss, achingly so at times, something I wasn't alive for: the Age of the Goddess, when vaginas were worshiped because, good Lord, babies came out of them!! We laugh at peni(ses?), but vaginas are more censored, more denigrated, more, well, feared it seems like. They are the Unknown, the Negative Space out of which comes new, that sounds like the perfect metaphor for God[dess] to me! That's it...I'm buying one of those vagina-molding kits and making an image of my own baby-maker for my altar! And if that scares you...ask yourself why.

Lily supplied my new catchphrase: I AM Edgy Catholicism.

Live Omily,

P.S. So can we dialogue about this image? I'm dying to hear other people's views on it...I'm also dying to get this drawing for Christmas...anyone? Anyone..?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eating Omily: OMB-Buddha Chocolate

So, I'm a major fan of chocolate. The giant 72% dark bar at Trader Joe's has a spot on my 'grocery essentials' list. If a cookie doesn't have chocolate in it, I'm not only uninterested, I'm offended by its existence. (Unless maybe it's super-dark, chewy gingerbread...) I go to Max Brenner's by Union Square every chance I get. I make hot cocoa from scratch on rainy nights. A enjoy a square of chocolate with my healthy breakfast. I will fight you to be the first in line for a fudgey chocolate cake. I. Love. Chocolate.

So, when raw organic chocolate bars went up for sale at my favorite yoga studio, chocolate made by excellent yogis and excellent people who I have the pleasure of knowing, I couldn't wait to get my hands on a bar.

While waiting for the L train, with shaking hands I tore the (beautiful, might I add) wrapper off a Crystal Salt bar, and took a bite. I know why it's called Buddha chocolate: instant transcendence. The chocolate was soft under my teeth, and began melting immediately, leaving a lightly cool sensation. The flavor was rich, dark, and just...sweet...enough thanks to organic, humane honey. And the sea salt crystals? The perfect foil. This was unlike any chocolate I've ever tasted. If you've had raw chocolate, you may wonder if that's a compliment, but trust me, it is! Buddha chocolate blows every other raw chocolate I've ever had out of the water.
Next I tried a superfood bar: the classic formula with added sources of potent nutrients, such as blue algea, and bee pollen. I could definitely taste those anti-oxident sources, but the chocolate was still rich and delicious, and knowing I was giving my body things that it needed into the bargain made it an especially feel-good flavor. If you want more bang for your buck by giving more love to your body, go superfood!
P.S. Yes, seriously, I could not wait until I got home and took pictures of these yummies to tear them open and take a taste. That good.

I also got to try a Buddha cup, which, good Lord, I'm not sure this is legal: classic Buddha chocolate. Filled with home-made, raw almond butter...amazingly delicious. The texture collision of melting chocolate with thick, rich almond butter was powerful magic, and I felt good knowing I was getting a burst of protein, vitamin e, and good-for-me fats to fuel my afternoon. Added bonus: I felt extra-entitled to eat the whole thing in one sitting.
This is another beautiful incidence in which the right thing to do is the most delicious: Buddha chocolate is handmade right here in Brooklyn by beautiful people doing the right things for the environment and their home. Even if you don't call the NYC area home, ordering chocolate from their website is a great way to choose not to outsource the costs of moving food around the planet, but to take it on yourself. This would be such an amazing Christmas (Birthday? Hanukkah? Etc.??) gift for the chocolate-lovers in your life. Check out Buddha Chocolate's website for more info about their products, places to buy these bars, or to get some of this stuff into your mailbox! They also have a very fun blog, and offer yoga! (Chocolate yoga? Mind=blown.)

Our Puritan roots in this country often lead us to believe that doing the right thing means sacrificing, that indulging is always bad, that there is a price to pay. That last bit may be true: in this case it's $7 a bar. You'll want to take advantage of that bargain. Buddha chocolate is good for the planet, good for the local economy, good for your body, and yes, over-the-top indulgent for your taste buds! Can I get a high five?

Live Omily!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Our Simon: November 16th 1993-November 13th 2011

I swore up and down that if I died in high school I would come back and haunt the pants off of anybody who made me a myspace tribute page. Such bullshit!! Everyone pretending they knew and liked the kid in question before their tragic passing...not for me, thanks.

On the other hand, I am universally moved to tears by tribute videos/websites/posts/etc. for pets who have passed away, whether in an untimely manner, or not. I wish very very much that I did not have the honor of adding to that tear-jerking parade, but I do. This is for Simon, our pure-bred Siamese cat.
I'm sure most people will say they love their pets of whatever species, and that their animal is special, but everyone who met Simon was impressed with his intense stare, and obvious intelligence...that, and his distinctive voice. The sympathy card had messages from the doctor of internal medicine who saw Simon through his last days, as well as his cardiologist, who had been keeping an eye on his ticker for a year and a half:

"I know that Simon was a very special part of your life for the past 18 years, and will be missed greatly. He had a unique personality and will be missed by everyone at FAVS. My thoughts are with you."

"Simon was well known around here for his good-natured (loud!) meows & and for beating the odds for so long. I know he was a wonderful friend & companion to you - you truly have all my sympathy for your loss."

We took Simon to the clinic around 2 a.m. on October 30th, because he had thrown up blood and was lethargic. Because of Simon's heart arhythmia, we were limited in terms of diagnostic and treatment methods, but the best his doctors could discern, Simon had a kindey infection, and a GI bleed that wasn't able to clot because of the meds he was on to keep him from throwing a blood clot and suffering a heart attack or stroke. Simon needed fluids immediatly to flush out his kidneys, and protectants to try to stop the bleed and heal the ulcer, and later, a blood transfusion. We were warned that his prognosis was uncertain. We visited him everyday. We spent hours holding him, talking to him, encouraging him to eat, telling him to please be strong and try his best to get better. The news was up and down for a few days, but by Monday he appeared to be stabilizing. The blood transfusion appeared to be holding steady. The doctors released Simon home to us, along with antibiotics, and stomach protectants, and a daily instead of every-other-daily fluid regimen.

We were so happy to have Simon home with us! I had been praying Rosaries for him daily, blessing him with holy relics, enlisting friends and family to pray, send reiki energy, and everything else I could think of. Trouble was, even though Simon had eaten alright his last day in the hospital, he didn't seem to want to eat for us. I tried everything to tempt him, but it wasn't working. I talked to his doctor about it at his one-week check-up. The check-up went really well: Simon's kidneys were back to normal, and his red blood cell count had climbed a few points! We felt like Simon was at least close to being out of the woods. The doctor prescribed an appetite stimulant, to try to get Simon over the hump and back into his normal eating behavior...the medicine in question was a human anti-depressent that affects appetite by affecting serotonin levels. It made Simon feel a little funny, and he didn't hesitate to let us know with his infamous voice. The medicine didn't seem to be doing much for his appetite though, so we tried him on a different one, this one a human anti-hystimene that worked in a similar way. This one didn't seem to be doing much either, and I was getting worried that Simon wasn't going to keep getting better if he wouldn't eat, so even though the doctor had said we could take him back in ten days, we made an appointment for only a week later.

Simon was sleeping in his new favorite spot near the table when we went to bed the night before the appointment. I awakened after the sun had risen in a panic because he had never come to join us in bed. I found him laying down in the hallway, and carried him in to sleep with us until we woke up. He purred and snuggled up between us. He got up and walked over my face three or four times, as was his custom, stepping on my hair, and generally interfering with my sleep. I was so happy to have him near us, acting like his old self.

Later that day we bundled him into his carrier and took him on the shuttle bus and the train back to the vet. We thought it would just be another check up, that maybe we'd try a different appetite stimulant. If I had had any idea what was about to happen, I would have held Simon in my arms the whole way.

Our doctor took Simon downstairs to weight him, take his temperature and draw some blood. He and Simon came back up 20 minutes later, and I knew right away something was very wrong. Simon's body temperature was too low; he was dehydrated; his blood pressure had crashed; his kidney levels were twice as high as they had been when we brought him in the first time: he was dying. We could try fluids and a blood transfusion again, but his elevated potassium suggested his kidneys were shutting down, and anything we did would only prolong the inevitable, and his discomfort. I looked into Simon's eyes and begged him to tell me he wanted to fight, that we could get through this together. He purred, and rubbed his face on my hand, but I could see it now, that he was tired, and weak. That maybe he didn't want to fight anymore. I remembered all our years together, the countless times I had soaked his fur with my adolescent tears, and he had stayed by my side anyway, purring. He had always been there for me. Even though it was the worst thing I would ever do in my life, I knew that I had to do it. We had to let Simon go. I would never have had the strength to make that decision without my husband, gently explaining, and coaxing, being patient with tears and confused accusations. We cried together, helplessly. We hadn't wanted it to end this way. We thought that if it came to this, the doctor would come to us, that Simon would die warm in his bed with the people who loved him.

We spent the next day together, mostly wandering around Prospect Park, reminding ourselves that there was still such a thing as beauty, as life. And we cried. I had feared that since Simon was such a part of our marriage, losing him would put a rift between us, but in that moment of indescribable pain, we found each other and held on tight. I know we will only be closer for having gone through this experience together. We will always remember everything that Simon taught us:

Patience, non-attachement, mindfulness, but most of all, love. He will always be in our hearts. At night, I can feel him close by. I can almost feel the weight of him settling against my spine. I know that he's free now and at peace, with no pain or fear, but I know that he misses us, too, and until we can all be together again, he'll keep an eye on us. He truly was an incredible cat. And as I told him that night, just before the end, I will have other pets, and I'll bond with them and love them dearly, but I'll never stop loving Simon. He will never be replaced in my heart. I am so grateful to him for the beautiful years we shared. I can't help but wish there could have been many more, but I could do no less than respect his final wish: to go home, and wait for me there.

We love you, Simon.