Friday, September 30, 2011

Eating Omily: Easy Lunch, Painless Dinner, and Sticking Up for Anchovies

It's taken some doing to pack everything in my schedule into twenty-four hours, seven days a week, and because I'm crazy, I might have to pack in even more at the end of the month! We'll see.

It's been interesting to see how all the busyness is impacting my Foodnetwork's Healthy Eats' Brown Bag Challenge! The other day, in a panicked fit of rushedness, I took a frozen turkey meat loaf muffin out of the freezer and took that. On top of the meatloaf was spinach, and on top of that was tasty mashed potatoes. Of course, it was a cheat, since I didn't make it myself, but I gave myself half a point for not succumbing to the deli down the street.
Ages ago I promised to share with you a super-delicious, awesome-left-overs, really simply dinner idea that my husband took for lunch the same day I took my awesome chicken salad, so here it is!

I cut a small butternut squash (but any sweet Winter squash would do) in half, and roasted it until very tender, then mashed it into a puree with milk, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Meanwhile my husband boiled up some cheese tortellinis. We tossed the tortellini with the squash puree, and it was just heavenly. Warm, and hearty, and comforting, while providing us with tons of beta carotene! Out of one package of tortellini and one squash, there was enough for two of us for dinner, and for my husband to take the left-overs for lunch the next day.

Also ages ago I said I'd offer dinner suggestions as well as lunch suggestions for those nights that even fighting over which takeout place to call is too much trouble. Let me start by explaining a really simple concept that in this day of pre-packaged foods and massive demands on our time most of us have forgotten:

Anytime you opt out of the inconvenient aspects of cooking, or anything really, the inconvenient or time-consuming parts of the task didn't just disappear: they were outsourced. You can outsource those inconveniences to other people and pay more, but often the environment is paying for your convenience as well, and that sucks. You can buy pre-cut fruit for an easy snack, for example, but someone did chop up that fruit, and the company behind that cut fruit is probably not concerned with supporting your local economy, but with getting the lowest price, so that fruit is almost definitely not local. A better, more honest route, is to outsource that inconvenience to you at an earlier time.

To take an example from a previous post, by roasting a chicken I was going to a fair amount of trouble one night so we could enjoy chicken for lunch with no trouble at all two other days. Taking the time to simmer the carcass from that chicken into chicken stock allows me to have it at the ready in the freezer whenever I want a delicious slow-cooked flavor. I still did all the work, but by choosing when I felt like doing it, it didn't feel like an imposition.

How does this apply to emergency dinners? Simple: next time you're layering up a lasagna, or stirring together an awesome mac and cheese (these are just two examples; any casserole-style dish is great for this), double that shit! It'll mean a little more work, time, and expense right now, but what's easier than popping a dish straight from the freezer into the oven, and then cracking open a beer while you wait? Or wine if you prefer. I can't do that as much as I'd like because my freezer real estate is more precious than Manhattan's, but I do keep a few recipes up my sleeve that I know I have the ingredients for and can throw together in fifteen minutes or so.

Pasta with garlic oil is just such a dish. I always have whole wheat spaghetti, and I always have olive oil and garlic. Usually there are some veggies I can chop up and throw in, in the freezer if not fresh. I also keep a secret stash of anchovies packed in oil in the freezer. And to quote Rachael Ray, "If you think you don't like anchovies you're wrong!" Yes, I know, they're stinky little fish, but chop them up fine and simmer them in olive oil for several minutes, and they dissolve into a red paste and add an irreplaceable salty, nutty depth to the dish. I am begging you to try it at least once!
This is a lie. Anchovies never snore.

So I put the water on to boil, take an anchovy fillet out of the freezer (since they're packed in oil they don't free solid so it's easy to pull out one without thawing the bunch), chop it up and add it to a hot skillet with a generous, don't be stingy people, spare me your fat-is-evil diatribes, amount of olive oil. Once the anchovy has cooked, I turn the heat back and add several cloves of chopped garlic and any other veggies I might be using. Hearty cooking greens like kale are my favourite. I leave the garlic in fairly big pieces; sometimes I just slice it thinly. It helps to keep it from burning, and I like getting bites of garlic in my pasta. You can of course mince it or put it through a garlic press if you'd prefer. Once the garlic is perfect I turn the heat off if the pasta's not quite done. I add the al dente pasta to the hot pan of garlic oil and toss it for a while, adding a splash of (liberally salted after the water boils, but before you add the pasta!) pasta water to help the oil coat all the spaghetti. If there's bread I might make garlic toast, or if there's greens I'll throw together a simple salad.

This meal is so delicious and satisfying, and the ingredients are always waiting for me in the pantry. I'll throw a few more ideas at you in early October, and I'll specifically talk about useful things to stock your pantry with so cooking dinner regularly is a pleasure instead of a hot mess of last minute trips to the grocery.
Also anchovy fillets actually look like this.

Seriously! You don't know if you like it till you try it!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

LOVE: The Lie

I think most of us have a few bones to pick with the society we've grown up in: consumerism, a consistent phobia of anything that doesn't fit within narrow parameters of 'acceptable' behavior, an educational system that doesn't educate so much as grease us to slide into those narrow parameters with the least amount of fuss possible...those are the top items on my list, anyway.

I think though, that those are all things it's fairly easy for us to recognize as not helpful and disregard if we make an attempt to look at such things objectively. No critically thinking person has ever concluded that buying lots of stuff all the time actually does lead to long-term happiness...right? So, in some ways they're fairly innocuous. Maybe not the education thing...but I'll come back to that another time.

I think the most harmful construct that is built into our sensibilities and our understanding of the world is this: that LOVE will fulfill you, LOVE makes the world go 'round, without LOVE you will always be incomplete...searching...for your true LOVE.

I don't mean love for your fellow human beings, for the beautiful planet we live on and its inhabitants, for yourself, for the divine, for life itself. I think those types of love are pretty much essential to fulfillment, and I also think they bubble up of their own accord if allowed to, and the divine, the universe, life itself will inevitably respond in kind. Which is not to say that you have to agree.

I mean LOVE for one other human being who you are not related to: romantic and/or sexual love.

Which is not to say that romantic and/or sexual love isn't awesome; finding someone you love so much you want to be in a mutually supportive relationship forever and also have sex with is pretty sweet. You're a lucky person. Don't screw it up! is a cruel lie that you MUST find such a relationship to be happy. Humans are relational beings: we go a little nutsy in solitary confinement, for example, but we can do just fine without a romantic relationship, or maybe even without...dare I say it? Sex.

It is a cruel lie made that much more cruel by the fact that it's so easy for an otherwise critically thinking, spiritually minded person to believe. We KNOW because we feel it in our bones, that we NEED love and support from other human beings. We know from experience that it feels good to be romantically involved with someone. What's a more potent drug than infatuation? Those two facts together make the myth that we NEED romantic and/or sexual love very easy to believe without further questioning.

You hear, from time to time, people who enjoy being single, or claim to be having an awesome time now that they're free of their confining relationship, but do you really believe them, or deep down do you feel sort of sad for those poor individuals who are so clearly in denial? I'm sure some of them can tell you, they aren't in denial, and they aren't lying for your sake.

NOT being in a romantic and/or sexual relationship can be awesome. To be honest I'm having a hard time listing reasons as to why because I've been in a monogamous romantic relationship for over six years now...

But, you know, you do what you want when you want to, you talk to who you want when you want to, etc. etc. etc.

More importantly, I think that most of us don't grow very well in romantic relationships. It's more difficult to attend to yourself, to go deep within, to ask the hard questions, when you're caring for another human being in such an intense one-on-one way, pouring so much into nurturing this budding romance, wanting it to grow into an oak tree that can withstand the test of time as quickly as possible. I think that's where most relationships fail to make the leap from happy to permanent: you may love each other very much and are very compatible, but if you don't continue devoting a serious amount of energy and attention to your own self-growth and development, the relationships is going to inevitably fall apart.

My humble advice is to stop spending energy on getting into and maintaining romantic relationships, and instead divert that energy into yourself. Meditate, pray, work out, journal, draw, paint, dance, study philosophy, go to church, lay down in the grass and stare at the sky...find some way to connect to the part of yourself that is infinite: full of possibilities beyond your wildest dreams, still growing, developing, changing. On the way you'll likely run into some dark and scary places: memories you want to forget, personality traits that you're ashamed of. Know that you are big enough to hold those memories and be whole and healthy. Know that you are capable of change, and worth the effort.

Odds are good you won't be as active in the dating scene if you're consistently doing that kind of work...but the people you do date will be people who have something for you: who will teach you something or stretch you beyond your comfort zone. They may not be that LOVE you're hoping for. You may never find that LOVE. But guess what: that idea of needing romantic and/or sexual love to be happy? As previously mentioned in more polite terms, IT'S BULLSHIT!

You CAN be happy and fulfilled as a single person for now, for tomorrow, for a month, for a year, for rest of your life.
That said, odds are good being willing to look within, courageously confronting whatever you find, working hard to become the person you want to be, will attract good people who want the same things into your life. And if you're growing when they find you, and you don't stop growing for them, and they stick around...then you'll have found LOVE truly worth having, LOVE that you would never have found for all your frantic scurrying.

Fulfillment and happiness are never without. You are never without them. Look within.

Live Omily,

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eating Omily: My Lunch Story

It's after midnight...Happy Autumn, you guys!

So my last few posts about Food Network's Health Eats' Brown Bag Challenge have made me feel a little fraudulent because my schedule is such lately that I've been able to enjoy lunch in the comfort of my own home.
(You can read more about the Brown Bag Challenge in my last couple Eating Omily Posts, and of course, on Food Network's Healthy Eats blog, where you can link to lots of other blogs about delicious food!)

I was actually really excited today to get to brown-bag my lunch, and take it with me to work, for realz! What tasty thing did I enjoy today? Why, chicken salad. Do you like chicken salad? If the answer is no, what was the last chicken salad you had? Some anemic bird drowned first in saline in a can, and then in cheap mayonnaise in a bowl with some chopped imported celery? Well of course you didn't like that! The tale of my chicken salad begins further back, and just a bit further away...

There is a lovely farm called Flying Pigs Farm in upstate New York. As the name suggests, they specialize in pork, and oh, that bacon is too much for words! But, they also offer eggs, and consequently, chickens. I bought myself a beautiful little two-pound chicken from their cooler at the Farmer's Market last Friday, and this Monday I was most excited to pull that baby, now thawed, out of the fridge, and stick some garlic cloves and bay leaves up its nether region! Ok, that wasn't the most exciting part until my husband and I started making inappropriate jokes. I also spread olive oil and dried herbs between the skin and the meat all over the breasts, and put a handful of chopped onions and some green beans in the roasting pan. This all went into the oven at 400 degrees for, oh, one hour. Aromatic, herby, moist, golden-crunchy skinned, quintessentially chickeny roast chicken came out. Oh, what a dinner that was! Nom nom nom...

I cleaned the rest of the meat off the carcass while my husband did the dishes, placed the carcass in a baggy along with the roasted veggies we hadn't eaten, and the left over chicken in a tupperware, and relegated them both to the fridge. The next day I simmered that carcass with some peppercorns, a generous palm-full of salt, and some sad, wilty celery from the back of the fridge, and it yielded deep yellow, fragrant, delicious stock that, when refrigerated thickened to a glossy jiggle from all the natural protein-rich gelatin extracted from the bones. Nom!!

So today, Wednesday, I pulled that left-over meat out of the fridge, and mixed some if it up with low-fat organic yogurt, and some of my home-made spiced apple chutney I canned the previous Winter for the easiest, most delectably moist, flavorful, and nutritious chicken salad imaginable. Remember, I didn't have to flavor the chicken, the chicken was already exquisite all by itself; I only had add creamy texture, and that sweet flavor, and texture variance that makes chicken salad chicken salad. I dumped the salad onto the lid of the container, and tossed some chopped salad greens in the creamy dressing in the container, before topping the dressed salad greens with the chicken salad. I could not wait to eat this lunch.
Yes, it was delicious.

The moral of the story? A good bagged lunch is the result of an eating lifestyle that embraces a deep respect for the ingredients themselves: a cooking style that seeks to enhance, instead of being forced to fix, and, and of course, an appreciation for left-overs and the treasures that can be gleaned from them.

Tomorrow...maybe chicken-vegetable soup!


P.S. Next post I'll tell you what my husband had for lunch today! Hint: Winter squash was involved!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Eating Omily: Autumnal Brown-Bag Delights. Second in a series

Oh my, it seems that crisp-Autumn weather is coming to NYC whether we like it or not!

So do we?

Ok, I won't lie, I wouldn't mind just a few more weekends of beach weather...but oh, I can just taste that hot apple cider spiked with brandy and a cinnamon stick...I love all the seasons so much!!

I think today can be the first Fall Eating Omily post of the year! In fact, the first Fall Eating Omily post ever! Yay!!

In honor of Food Network's Healthy Eats' Brown Bag Challenge, I'll offer some tasty Autumn-inspired bring-your-own-lunch options!
Earlier this week, I got a little evangelical about eggs, and why not? They're delicious, nutritious, and even ethically sound, they're affordable! Before ticking off some more great options this week, I want to take minute to discuss the benefits of packing your own lunch for work or school, rather than buying:

The most immediately noticeable dividend, perhaps, is economical. The cheapest lunch you're going to find is probably not going to be less than $5. That's $25 a week; that's $100 a month; $1,200 a year! That's new clothes every month, a weekend trip every few months, or a classy dinner out at an ethically sourced restaurant every couple weeks! Piano lessons if you prefer; drinks with the girls/guys, that new trinket you've been about a professional-quality chef's knife?? The list goes on and on. If you're spending more like $10 to $15 a day on lunch, double or triple that weekly-monthly-yearly total...and try not to have a stroke! Aren't there things you'd rather be spending your money on?

Another important benefit is, nutrition. Odds are good that sandwich you're eating isn't on whole-grain bread, and who knows where those anemic tomatoes on your salad came from?? You want better for yourself. You deserve good food for your body, and the only way to be sure you're getting it is if you are the one choosing the ingredients. Make yourself a delicious sandwich with all your favourite ingredients, wrap it up tight and chill over night, letting the flavors mingle. Pop it in a brown bag or a lunch box and go enjoy the fresh, Autumnal air on a park bench!

Of course, even if you can be confident your bought-lunch choices are good for you body, you can't be so sure they're good for the planet. Do you suppose that corner deli is obtaining its meat from small, responsible family-farms? Really think iceberg lettuce grows in Jersey in January? We all bury our heads in the sand from time to time, and pretend we can assume restaurants share our concern for the earth and its inhabitants, but we can't afford to be that naive on a daily basis. You know if that turkey came from the Farmer's Market if that's where you bought it! You know steamed kale is the Autumn-Winter sandwich green of choice!

These important benefits combine to provide another, and perhaps the best of all: pride in yourself that comes from knowing you're doing whats right for you and for others.

So...what's good in Fall? Thanksgiving doesn't fall this time of year for nothing! Ever put sliced apples on a sandwich? Baby, don't waste another second! Get your bread from the stands at the Farmer's Market, and you'll never go back! How about a warm salad, starting with roasted butternut squash? Add mushrooms, some of those red peppers you've been roasting and freezing this month, a hearty splash of balsamic vinegar...yum! Why not give a raw kale salad a try? Knead it through your hands with an acid (how about some apple cider?) to soften it, then add some crunchy toasted nuts, a handful of pickled onions, maybe some roasted garlic, or chopped apples, oh how perfect does that sound??

Don't forget wild rice salad: so easy to make a big batch ahead, and of course, as the weather gets colder, and our thoughts turn to hearty stews and heavy cassaroles, keep in mind these are awesome things to take to lunch! Heat up your soup and take it in a thermos, or just take it cold and microwave it on location, if you have that option. It's so easy to do double-batches of soups and casseroles for later, not only as a good lunch option, but a great weapon in your arsenal if you're devoted to not giving in to the idol of take-out.

I would love to hear about your go-to packed lunches! What tricks to you have for keeping the process clean, simple, and pleasant instead of stressful? Not just foods of course, but methods and tools. If you haven't already taken the pledge to brown-bag your lunch for the month of September, why not jump in now? If it's going well in the next two weeks, keep it up right into October! You'll never look back.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eating Omily: Convenient Food for Consciencious People. Or: There's Eggs on My Blog! First in a Series.

One of the best parts of eating local and seasonal foods bought from the people who grew or produced them is that cooking and eating in your own kitchen (and dining room, if you happen to be so lucky) becomes a daily source of pleasure and pride, instead of an additional source of stress and frustration. That said, we all have days when the last thing we want to think about is turning on the stove, or doing some dicing work. Me too, I promise!

Another time that a homemade meal can seem like more trouble than it's worth, if you work a typical work day, is lunch. It's not so hard to get up five minutes earlier than usual to make oatmeal, or throw together a breakfast burrito to munch on the train, but having to make TWO meals when you're only half awake?? Please. I hear this all the time from my husband. (See? We're human!!)

So the easy way out is, of course, a restaurant of some kind or caliber. Eating out is awesome; you get to pick whatever you want, and they bring it and put it in front of you. Then, they take the plate away again. Maybe you get soup or salad, or something deep-fried before your main dish even comes! Maybe they talk you into the molten chocolate cake for dessert!! Of course, if this is the lunch-situation, you're more likely eating a more simple meal, but the ease and convenience remains the same.

Ok, so this is one of those times where I'm going to have to rain on your parade: eating out isn't so good for the locavore. There are restaurants that source their ingredients ethically and sustainably, but they're concentrated in urban areas, where they can gather enough customers willing to pay a little extra as necessary, and you'd be really lucky to be near one that caters to the half-hour lunch crowd! It's a lot easier to ignore the social implications of your meal when you only see it for the edible stage of its existence, but the fact is, unless specifically noted, your burger is from a factory-farmed cow, your omelet is from chickens kept in battery cages, and you don't even want to contemplate the atrocities the bacon on that BLT went through! Of course, going veg at restaurants is an option, but you're still contributing your hard-earned money to the economy of suffering, and, do you suppose that veggie plate came from around here? Ha. If you haven't been around long enough to know what's wrong with apples from New Zealand, mangos from Chili, or broccoli from California, go back and read this post.

Finding a restaurant that doesn't make you a hypocrite with every bite takes some research, and a willingness to ask specific questions of the staff. It may require traveling to a neighborhood less conveniently located than you would like. These things make it a poor solution to the tired, the stressed, the rushed, and the nine-to-five, eater. But...fear not! Over the next week or two's 'Eating Omily' posts, I'll be offering Convenience Foods for Locavores! Fast Food for People with Hearts Who Also Want to Keep Those Hearts Healthy! Ok, the first title may work a little better...

Without further ado, today I'll be focusing on those pesky work-day lunches, in honor of Food Network Health Eats' Brown Bag Challenge. Follow the link to join yourself: the challenge is to pack your lunch every workday in September!

Your protein partner in lunch-time crime doesn't have to be peanutbutter, although I love me some ants-on-a-log, or a peanutbutter and sliced grape or sliced apple sandwich! Allow me to introduce you to the nutritious, the delicious, the round, the environmentally sound, the EGG!
It never was just for breakfast you guys, wake up! Of course, I'm talking about eggs from a farm where the hens are pastured every day, weather permitting. Those eggs have significant levels of omega-3's, those oh-so-good for you fats, and significantly lower levels of saturated fats, than those of their tortured sisters. Most doctors will say that an egg a day is a healthy source of protein that won't interfere with healthy cholesterol levels, but of course, defer to your doctor if you're unsure.

One awesome lunch you can prepare at the same time as your breakfast, one that I eat for lunch pretty frequently, is a simple scramble. Start with a small non-stick pan, add some chopped veggies (Chop them the night before!), and let them sweat out and get delicious. Add more salt that you'd want for just the veggies, since you won't be salting the egg separately. When they're all ready, crack an egg in and stir, stir, stir! When the egg looks almost as cooked as you want it, turn off the heat, and add a sprinkle of cheese, continuing to stir in the hot pan. Of course, you'll have to keep this chilled until lunchtime if spoilage is a concern, but it tastes just as good at room temp, and if you've got a microwave, you can reheat it! I like to wrap my scrambles in the amazing hand-made corn tortillas I get from my farmer's market. Wholewheat bread would be a tasty substrate as well, or, you can stir in some pre-cooked rice along with the cheese, to keep packing lunch even simpler! You can make this the night before entirely, unless you're the type to then leave it sitting sadly in your fridge!
I already took a bite, 'cause it smelled so good!

As delicious at this idea is, I would be sadly remiss if I failed to mention an Egg-inspired lunch even simpler: Hard-boiled eggs! If you think you don't like hard-boiled eggs because they smell and taste like those sulphur-based stinkbombs you were once traumatically trapped in the bandroom with because your band leader was a sadistic lady who painted on her eyebrows...oh, sorry, that last bit's just me, you've never had a properly cooked hard-boiled egg. Any time you see darkening, typically green, around the outside of the yolk, you know that egg was over-cooked.

This. Is the definitive way to cook a hard-boiled egg perfect and delicious every time:

Put the egg, or eggs, in a pan. Cover them with cold water. Put a lid on the pan. Turn the heat on high. As soon as the water begins to boil, turn the heat off. Wait at least several minutes. The eggs are perfectly cooked, complete with 360-degrees of glowing yellowness. Peeling them is not so easy, but peeling a cold egg is significantly easier than peeling a hot one, and also, if you can get your fingers underneath the membrane between the shell and the egg, and peel that off instead of flicking off the hard outer shell bit by bit, you'll have much more successful, and remove far less divets from the egg itself.

You can make a week's worth of eggs at once, and just keep them in your fridge, ready to go! They're delicious as is with a little salt, but with a little more time you can make egg salads, or sandwiches with sliced hard-boiled eggs as the protein.

As mentioned in another post, left-ovo (sorry!) fritatta also makes a great lunch!

Cheesy puns are a sure sign I should quit while I'm ahead...go boil some eggs, and in a couple days I'll be back with more awesome lunch-options, as well as quick, painless family-dinner ideas!


P.S. We had a delicious wild rice salad tonight, and from just a cup of wild rice, and a handful of chopped veggies, raisins, and nuts, we had dinner for two with enough leftover for lunch tomorrow! Did I mention how economical packing your lunch is?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Inter-faith Beams of Light

I can't help but feel a disconnect from the events of 9/11, when I hear my friends talk about being grateful for not being called into work that day; how a meeting elsewhere saved their lives. I was a fourteen-year-old kid just a couple of weeks into high school in my Spanish I class when word got around to Mansfield, Ohio that there had been a terrible accident: a plane had collided with a building in New York City. How sad; how tragic! How could such a thing happen? It was another few hours before the truth trickled down: it hadn't been an accident. We stayed for the school day, the tv's all tuned to the news, absorbing something a world away, that we knew still impacted us all. It was another four years or more before I knew anyone who lost someone in the attacks, and another few years before I knew that I knew such a person. I didn't cry that day; I cried much later.

Now, ten years later, we still beam light into the sky, symbolizing the soul of those towers that could not be destroyed, and at my church the local firefighters came in their dress uniforms. The children sang a song, and we applauded their sacrifice (the firefighters; not the children...), but more than honoring memories of the fallen, more even than counting our blessings, we prayed for peace, and confronted Jesus' most difficult demand: forgiveness.

Do you believe in synchronicity? The significance of two things coinciding? I've heard it called a 'God-thing', serendipity, a sign or omen; my best friend Emily and I coined the term, 'bread crumb' for these moments: something dropped by our creator, leading us home. Ten years after the attacks, these were the readings read in every Catholic church across the nation, the world, on this day. I copy/pasted them because it's hard to link to a particular day's readings, versus 'today's' readings.

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor's injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High's covenant, and overlook faults.

-Book of Sirach 27:30-28:7

Brothers and sisters:
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

-Book of Romans 14:709

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
"Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?"
Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.'
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
'Pay back what you owe.'
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?'
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."

Gospel according to Matthew 18:21-35

The readings for the Catholic service run in a 3-year cycle. So every third year, on that week of the liturgical year, these exact same readings come up. How synchronistic that they pop on the 10th anniversary of 9/11: God's way of giving us some time to mourn our losses and heal our wounds before reminding us of the most difficult task before us. More difficult perhaps than running into a burning building: forgiving those who took so much from us.

No matter how many mistakes we make and people we hurt, the Universe wants only the best for us, and gives us only good things. This is as true, and perhaps as hard to believe, of those who lost loved ones, as it is true of those responsible for acts of cruelty no matter how great, small, or personally relevant. Didn't we all re-learn what's important that day? Didn't we all learn later just how strong we are? And didn't the conflicts we're still embroiled in abroad bring to a head a lot of questions about America's place in the world, and in what cases wars are worth sacrificing our dollars and our people to? I don't mean to sound cavalier. Those things may seem ridiculous when compared to losing a sibling, a spouse, a parent, even a friendly acquaintance, but they are valuable things nonetheless. I can't help but believe, in the same way that I believe my family loves me no matter what, that everything happens for a reason, and that no one dies before their mission is complete and it's their time to go Home, whatever that might mean to them. We might not be ready for them to go, but cultivating acceptance is the only way for us to recover from the loss and move forward.

I think in many ways contemplating the task ahead is the best, the most sensible, the most meaningful, way to memorialize this day: Commemorating our culture as one of life by living, and one of love by forgiving, being strong enough to hold onto those things instead of hate and anger in the face of senseless cruelty.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali offer, among other things, these guidelines for finding happiness and moving toward enlightenment. They're called "the four locks, and the four keys." They are:

1. Practice kindness toward those who are happy
2. Practice compassion toward those who are sorrowful
3. Practice joy in the face of virtue
4. Practice equanimity in the face of vice
(It's worth noting that the 4 keys are to be applied to the 4 locks whenever they are encountered, in strangers, those we know, and perhaps most of all, ourselves)

They're all four more difficult than they may first appear, but most relevant to this moment is the last one: not condoning vice or injustice, but rejecting righteous anger just as much. Anger hurts the angry first and foremost. Even though it can lead to positive outcomes, anger is not necessary to motivate one to right injustices. We can recognize injustice for what it is, and work to right it, working hard in the process not to hurt others along the way. That's a lot easier to do with a cool, level head than in a state of seething anger.

It's a lot to think about, but I think, in between remembering, today (and everyday) is a space for that. My condolences to us all for our loss, but more so, my hope, my joy, and my prayers.

Live Omily,

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Exploring New Spaces and New Skin

I often feel like the incredibly fortunate pawn of an unusual force-more than benevolent, this one's a softy. Each new life stage and one-up seems to fall into my lap with just the slightest effort from me.

It occurs to me though, that each easy-out had directly followed a traumatic shove straight out of a comfy nest. So, maybe hyper-benevolence is in the eye of the beholder.

It's hard to grow when you're comfortable. Or maybe the cause and effect are backward-like a snake getting itchy in too-tight skin, or the rosebud getting desperate to burst open. If you're comfortable you aren't growing. Which isn't to say that putting sandpaper in your bra is going to automatically mean dramatic epiphanies. Although there was, and still is, a whole school of thought revolving around physical discomfort, bodily mortification, leading to heightened spiritual states, I think I pray better in my comfy jeans...and meditate better in less.

I think the difference between feeling like the universe is a harsh teacher, inclined to put you on the rack to force the issue of growth, and feeling unreasonably lucky at the way new opportunities drop out of the sky has more to do with what end of the equation you're focusing on. If you believe that the end of one thing automatically means the beginning of the next, and physics does seem to back that up, then why stare back at the shut door? You might miss your next stop on the cosmic train.

But isn't this the same old question: Who's more realistic, an optimist or a pessimist? Moot point if you ask me. I'm concerned with who's happier and more successful, particularly in terms of what matters most, in the long term. Does anyone really think gloom and doom win that race?

Those moments of free fall, of wriggling out of your skin with it all wrinkled up around your face so you can't see the beautiful new one emerging, that's the scary time. What kid doesn't remember the horror of feeling trapped in a shirt? Those are the times that I reach for my tarot deck.

In that light, it may seem like a security blanket, and it is, if you can equate squinting desperately in pea soup fog to try to figure out where you're going to a security blanket. Because that's what it's about: wanting to know where I'm going next as soon as possible! And accepting that the universe doesn't always want me to know is part of the territory. The tarot is like a metaphysical GPS: a map and a phrase book all-in-one to the sometimes-skeevy neighborhood that is my subconscious. And like any good guide, a lot of the advice applies to any place. Except instead of warning me to carry my money in my front pocket and be aware of my surroundings, the message is always, think positive, trust the Universe.

People who make use of the tarot rarely concern themselves with what makes it work. What do you think makes it work? Evil voodoo spirits? I'm pretty sure I'm the one shuffling the cards, laying them out, and then feeling my way around a vast array of symbolic, archetypal connections, synthesizing dozens of interpretive approaches, most of which don't speak simple English, down to a few choice sentences about what would best behoove me at the moment. What I'm getting at is, if there's any magic in these beautiful decks of cards, I'm it. And I'm not at all hesitant to say that there is magic. In the cards, in me, in the ocean, in the sunset, in a heavy cleansing rain or a dry, crisp afternoon.

We all know more than we know that we know, which may be why we get so hung up on pretending to know things that we don't know. Or perhaps we do know those things, and on some level we know that we know, so even though we can't get to that knowing, we insist that we know, because we know that we do. The tarot is the key to the back door of your mind, and though coming in through the dark cellar is a sure way to trip over some long-forgotten memorabilia and scare yourself silly with odd sounds and shadows, you're ultimately a lot more likely to find what you seek there then in the well-lit, better-curated rooms of your mind that have been carefully trained since the age of five to fit and function in the well-greased niche society has for it.

I'm pro-tarot, pro-crystals, pro-Reiki, pro-dream interpretation, pro-anything that helps you know who you are better, because ultimately the search for who you really are will lead you to the divine. We of Judeo-Christian descent, belief-wise, say this is because we are made in God[dess]'s image. Those of a Hindu/traditional yogi/Buddhist bent will say it is because we ARE God, because ultimately reality is all One, all Divine. Take your pick. Isn't it all the same?

With that said, I'll pick one card from my goddess tarot deck (I'll do Waite-Smith next time), offer my interpretations, and leave the question open-ended. What do these images say to you? Don't blame me if you end up further down the rabbit hole than you intended! And don't worry; you'll have a guide.

And here she is! The lovely Nine of Coins, or Pentacles, if you prefer.
The nine of coins is traditionally a card of prosperity and success: if your goals aren't already accomplished, they are well on their way there, and any obstacles that have arisen, or may arise, are, or will be, well in hand. In that spirit, another traditional meaning associated with this card is a well-earned vacation or other deserved recreation. The woman in the card has worked hard to bring her crop of coins to fruition, and now the branches behind her are heavy with fruit. She lays a casual hand on one, perhaps plucking it for her own enjoyment, and perhaps merely testing it for ripeness: if not today, soon. Her gaze is lifted to the white bird descending to her hand. She is not concerned with her earthly garden anymore. She has put in all the hard work necessary, and now she can turn her gaze to higher, more pleasant, or perhaps as the white color suggests, more pure pursuits, instead of the tawdry day-to-day affairs of getting by.

I'm applying these things to mean that I've done a fine job explaining what the tarot is, and defending it from the more common attacks made against it without alienating or judging anyone in the process. I don't assume that everyone is convinced; but everyone who was ready to be convinced is. I can safely turn to the more fun job of exploring the cards, just like we're doing now! I can also end this post soon and give myself some well-earned recreation and sleep! The card may also be referring to the fact that I've got that old skin all but sloughed off, and though things may look uncertain, I can relax. The Universe will do the rest of the work, bringing the fruit I worked so hard to grow to full, sweet ripeness. The time has come to turn again to my spiritual development.

Yay for me! You can have all sorts of fun figuring how those traditional meanings apply to your life, but don't neglect the most powerful interpretation method of all: forget everything I said, and just look at the card. What strikes you about it? A color? Single tiny detail? What about the girl and the bird? How are they feeling? What are they thinking? Take your time. Have a conversation with these characters. Fully explore without reservation any possibility. That is when your subconscious speaks.

Let me know how it goes!

Live Omily,

Friday, September 2, 2011

Eating Omily: Why God[dess] Made Zucchini

It has been quite a week. My career has moved into a place of major transition, which is both exhilarating, and frightening, but has left me with a lot of time for cooking and preserving!

I got three ears of corn dried and put up with the rest. Corn needs to be boiled for a few minutes to get it tender before drying; I tried steaming it, and because the cell walls of the kernels don't get broken down as thoroughly, it takes forever for the moisture to escape: eight hours or more of drying!! Once it's boiled for three to five minutes, let it cool, then cut the kernels off the cob. Spread them out on a sheet pan, and put them in a 170-degree oven to dry. It'll take between two and six hours, depending on how humid your house is. Use a wooden spoon to prop open the oven door, so the moisture can escape, and keep at it till the corn is shrively and brittle. It'll rattle around on the pan pretty distinctively when you shake it.
Let it cool on the pan, then transfer it to an air-tight container. The next day, check on the container. If there's moisture condensing on the insides of it, pour the corn back onto a pan and dry it some more. This batch is borderline; I would have left it another hour, except I really wanted to go to bed. The moisture was able to redistribute with the more thoroughly dried corn in the container, so it was ok. You can add oven-dried corn to casseroles and soups. Just like dried tomatoes, dried corn tastes super-sweet and rich, and as it absorbs liquid from what you put it in, it will release starch, acting as a thickener. You can also re-hydrate the corn in some boiling water before you use it, or make a big pot of warm, sweet corn chowder...with bacon! Mmmm...

The night before last, I commenced round three of my epic quest to learn to like beets. I boiled them in the water I boiled the corn in, got them peeled, topped, and tailed, and put them in the fridge. We had the beets sliced and layered with goat cheese (made fresh from the Farmer's Market; you have not lived till you've tasted this stuff!), and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It tasted pretty good...mostly because the earthy sweetness of the beets was overpowered by the goat cheese and balsamic. Ah well. I'll have to crack open a jar of my pickled beets with cumin and cloves and see if I like those.

With that dinner, I felt like some bread was necessary, but instead of serving the whole-grain health loaf I bought at the Farmer's Market, I looked up a zucchini bread recipe! What an easy way to use up the squash super-abundance! Especially when you have a husband to do the grating for you. Even adding half again to the amount of zucchini the recipe called for, we only managed to use about half a dirigible-sized zucchini. I think that stuff magically reproduces as you try to eat it. The recipe made almost two-dozen deliciously moist muffins, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and with a handful of walnuts thrown in for crunch. They're perfect with breakfast!

With a zucchini bread recipe, the batter should seem impossibly dry before you fold in the zucchini, because it will release so much moisture. If you go our route and make muffins instead of a loaf, cut your baking time in half, and check the muffins a few minutes before that to see how they're coming along. I am often fooled by muffins because they puff up so beautifully in the first ten minutes or so, and I'm so paranoid of burning them I want to pull them out right away. This will result in a collapsed and sad muffin!! They have to set through to the center! It's not like cookies where they're pretty awesome if you only cook them long enough for the dough to heat through to the center.

I put some beans onto soak the night before last, too, black soy beans from the Farmer's Market. They looked really beautiful to me, like caviar, or polished onyx beads...consider this photo a prime example of my unusual relationship with food: I think it's fandom.

I think the next preserving project is to grate zucchini and summer squash, and freeze it in appropriate amounts for zucchini bread...