Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eating Omily: Spring is Coming--Duck!

We're almost home-free, everyone! Kale and tender salad greens are popping up in the Farmer's Markets, and rhubarb will be along soon.  Tender, angelic strawberries (if you think I exaggerate you never waited ten months for the first local strawberries of the year...and you should try it) will pop up for exorbitant prices sometime in May, and the asparagus will be popping up like phalluses with a Spring fetish as early as next month. The growing season tends to be behind the callendar season, since things can't be planted till the soil warms up sufficiently, but you'll be more excited about that come October when delicious summer veggies are still rolling in.

I've had an easy meal-planning week since it's Holy Week: pan-seared duck breast with a red wine-cherry preserves pan sauce, duck fat-fried potatoes, and baked kale, potato-leek soup on Tuesday, slow-cooker beans on Wednesday, pizza tonight, and we'll go out for fish and chips tomorrow night.  What's that?  You want to hear more about the duck?  Oh, well, alright.
 Mmmmm...the skin side of the duck breast is super-fatty.  The fat helps the duck to float, and it insulates him or her against cold waters so he or she stays warm.  You score the fat, by cutting into it first one way, then the other, to make a diamond pattern, the way people do on hams, then you put the duck in a cold, dry pan skin-side down, and turn the heat up to medium.   After maybe fifteen minutes you'll have a lot of duck fat in your pan, and a beautiful caramelized diamond pattern on the skin side.  Don't throw out that fat!  It's amazing for frying potatoes.  They won't stick! Drain and reserve most of the fat, then turn the duck and cook for another five minutes, or more depending on thickness.  Duck isn't like chicken.  You'll want to serve it medium rare, leaning toward rare for optimum taste and texture, so expect it to still be fairly red in the middle.
 I added the fat back to the hot pan and fried potatoes right in it, then scooped them out, and cooked a few sliced cloves of garlic before deglazing the pan  with red wine.  I stirred in a few spoonfuls of home-made cherry preserves, added salt and lots of cracked black pepper, and let the wine and preserves cook down to a glaze before adding some turkey stock. I let the stock reduce too to make a sauce.
The yellow on the kale is frost damage from the snow we've been getting the last few weeks.  It does knock out some nutrients, but not much, and they tend to knock the price down since people shy away from yellow kale.  Old kale will look yellow, too, but it will yellow evenly, slowly turning pale green, then yellow uniformly, instead of the edges going first like this.

If you're fairly comfortable cooking meat in a pan on your stove, then give duck a try! If a chicken breast makes you nervous, hone your skills on less expensive types of meat before you go for duck.   This duck breast, which was enough for the husband and I to share, was $11 and change at the Farmer's Market, which is of course where you should be getting your meat...but I'll allow Whole Foods meat with a yellow or above rating in a pinch. What does duck taste like?  Like delicious, delicious meat. It's hard to explain.  The flavor is mild, though not as mild as chicken, but the texture is decidedly that of steak.  It's awesome.

If Christianity is your thing, I hope you have a beautiful, meaningful Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and a deeply joyful Easter.

~em

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Omily Tarot: Useful Spreads

It's Tarot Time! Last week we talked about reversals, and the fertile ground they provide for delving deeper into your interpretations. This week we'll talk a bit about spreads. Spreads are pre-chosen lay-outs for your cards.  You shuffle your deck, then lay out a set number of cards into a set number of positions with pre-set meanings.  This simplifies the act of interpretation since the cards are already in context, and there's a set order to look at them in, and generally even high lighted positions that you already know will hold cards with extra important information.

In the beginning, I used a spread every time I read the tarot.  Without it, I just felt completely lost.  It felt like reading a book in which the words are in no particular order.  These days I'm a lot more comfortable throwing down a couple cards, and teasing out the rhyme and reason without the hard and fast boundaries a spread provides.  In fact, I like reading without spreads better because I find there's more freedom, and where there's more freedom, I get a clearer message.

That said, there's a time and a place for both methods. I find that when I'm reading for querents who aren't very familiar with the tarot, I use a spread more for them than for me.  The road map a spread provides makes the tarot a lot easier to relate to, and I need my querent to grasp what's going on so he or she can provide feed back and context for the cards.

There can be a temptation sometimes to purposefully keep the querent in the dark, flipping cards and spitting interpretations in as mysterious a way as possible to impress the querent with your clairvoyance.  Fun yes, but ultimately a shitty thing to do.  The guiding principle of tarot ethics is that your querent should leave you feeling more empowered than he or she came in, and having someone play psychic with you, and offer advice without actually relating to your situation is not empowering. Save that parlor trick for your friends who know how a tarot reading is supposed to go, and can sit back and enjoy a good show of prowess without confusing the two.

There are lots of good spreads out there, and when you're trying to choose the right one for a particular reading, the easiest way to narrow it down is to consider how much time you have.  If you're having a clear day, you can easily explain a three card spread in ten or fifteen minutes. That makes these spreads a great choice for parties.  Popular ones include: past, present, future; problem, obstacles, tools for solutions; two options, and what you need to consider before choosing between them...the list goes on.  If you've never made up your own spread before, a three-card spread is an easy place to start.  These spreads are simple because the cards don't generally refer back to each other.

If you're working with a client for the first time, the Celtic cross ten card spread is a great one to have in your back pocket. It will tell you a lot about the querent in general, as well as what issues are pressing for the querent.  The celtic cross doesn't offer advice on how to handle a situation, but the way it lays out all the different factors surrounding a situation usually leads to a clear idea of what to do next when discussed with the querent. If not, a simple advice reading via a three-card spread can clarify the question of the next steps the querent should take, and both querent and reader will benefit from the wealth of information laid out in the Celtic cross spread. To lay out this spread, after shuffling, place one card down, then place another on top of it, rotated 90 degrees so its sideways.  Place one card below these two, and one above, then one to the left of these two, and one to the right.  Now do a vertical row of four, from bottom to top, to the right of the cross formation.  Flip them over, look for general patterns, then read them in the order you laid them out. Here's a picture of the Waite-Smith deck laid out in a Celtic Cross spread.  You can interpret it for kicks and giggles. I'll go over it too, and next week I'll talk about my conclusions, so you can compare/contrast. Fun!
There are lots of ways to consider the Celtic cross spread, but here's how I look at it:

Cards 1 and 2 describe your immediate personality or the heart of the situation, and the obstacles you're facing
Card 3 describes how you got there
Card 4 describes the highest good that can come of your situation
Card 5 describes a past event relating to your situation
Card 6 describes a future event relating to your situation (that will occur roughly as far into the future as the past even occurred in the past, assuming the future is not changed)
Card 7 is your hopes and fears about the situation
Card 8 is what your friends, family, and society are telling you to do about your situation
Card 9 is how you view yourself in the situation
Card 10 is the final outcome of the situation, assuming the future is not changed

Another spread I frequently come back to is a seven-card spread designed to answer a yes/no question.  I don't break this one out for querents often, because the last thing a querent usually needs is the suggestion that the tarot can tell them what to do.  For this spread, after your deck is shuffled and/or cut, lay out three cards, put a fourth next, slightly above the first three, then lay out three more.  Turn over all the cards, and count them up.  Uprights are yes, reversals are no, and the slighter higher card, the focus card, is worth two points.  That allows for the reading to come out a tye, in case you aren't supposed to know the answer, of it's too up in the air to predict.  The focus card will give you a basic explanation of why the answer is what it is, and the other six cards will offer further insights into the circumstances leading up to the question on the left, and likely issues between now and when the situation is resolved on the right. When I'm really nervous about something and can't seem to be at my best when dealing with it, I find knowing how it's likely going to come out, and why, to really help me clear my head and start addressing those problems, yes, even when it looks like things won't end up how I want them to.

Do you have a particular spread you come back to again and again? Do you not usually use spreads at all? Which of these is your favorite?

Happy Taroting!
~em

Friday, March 22, 2013

In Case You Didn't Know About Rape Culture, or, Steubenville

I'm going to try to keep this short, because there are already great sources of information to share with you, and anything I could add would turn into a rant very quickly.

The Steubinville trial is over, and the accused were convicted of rape.  We can all be thankful for this all too rare conviction.  Certainly no one would dare suggest a wrongful conviction under the circumstances: the evidence included photos and videos of the atrocity committed shot by the perpetrators.

So there it is.  The evidence is in, and the criminals involved were convicted.  Surely the victim is receiving love and support from an apologetic community, right?  Wrong.  She has been receiving death threats throughout the trial, and now that the trial is complete and her name was released, she's receiving more of them. Surely the community is outraged by the actions of two of their star football players.  Surely there's a backlash against the coach who knew at least a big part of what went on, and only benched them for one game, instead of assisting the investigation.  Nope.  The community is rallying around their 'friends', whose lives have been destroyed by this drunk, 'slutty' girl who 'cried rape.'

It's not just the local community, who can be understood on some small level since they had known the rapists for years, and had always thought of them as fine, upstanding citizens, and these neighbors, friends, and family are victims of rape culture also.  No no, in case you somehow missed it, here's how CNN's reporters responded to their conviction and sentencing (an incredibly lenient sentence, by the way: as little as ONE YEAR in a juvenile detention facility).

Watching them sob, you are reminded that they are humans, and children, not monsters, which only makes this all the more sad. They were victims of rape culture as much as the victim herself, though they were NOT victims of rape, and do not deserve sympathy for receiving the consequences of their actions.  They destroyed their own lives through their wrong choices.  The victim's life was destroyed without her consent.  I'm glad to see them so upset.  They should be.  I can only hope their apologies are genuine, and they're crying out of remorse, and not just because they're being punished.

So, what have we learned?  That rape culture is a real thing: a monster that is alive and well making us question women strong enough to report their rapes, defend people accused of rape, that keeps hospitals from preforming rape kits upon request, that makes policemen question statements, lawyers focus on how sexually active a woman has been in the past, instead of the events in question, that makes reporters sympathize with convicted rapists instead of victims, AND, that makes young men think that because they're otherwise good people, it's ok to put their fingers in the vagina of an unconscious girl, and drive her around from party to party, continuing to rape and abuse her. One woman, a former resident of Steubenville, started looking around twitter when she heard the event had happened, and it's thanks to her diligence that a great deal of evidence was included in the case.  The things these 'promising young men' posted in a public forum about this woman and what they were doing to her are deeply horrifying. You can read about her contribution, and the death threats, and absurd lawsuits she's being threatened with as a result of her work, here.

How can we raise our children to know that these atrocities are wrong?  That we must not commit them, and we must not stand by and let someone else commit them?  One Billion Rising is holding a panel discussion about this incident and the public's reaction to it in New York City this Tuesday.  You can read more about it, and register to attend here.

Turning our world into a place where everyone can expect to be treated like human beings deserving of respect is going to take every one of us.  We need men as much as women in this fight, because without men willing to give back their privilege (among so many others, the privelege to rape) so that we can be equal, it's going to be a much longer, more uphill battle.

Live Omily,
~em

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Eating Omily: Lentil them Drink Cat!

Fun things are happening in the Land of Meal Planning!  Join us!  We've got lentils!  Um...did I say lentils? I meant cocktails! But hey, vegan friends, we've got lentils, too!

I touched on this last week, but hands-down my favourite part of meal planning is that I'm actually USING the awesome cookbooks that I have.  Since I choose what we're going to have for dinner every night for the upcoming week over the weekend, I can start by looking at whats hanging around in our kitchen, then take a flip through my cookbooks looking for a recipe that features those ingredients.  I make my grocery list based on what staples we're low on (gotta get oregano next week!) and any extras I need for the recipes I picked, and voila!  We're having new, tasty dishes all over the place!

Which brings us back to lentils!  I had green lentils out of a can once, and that was a terrifying experience.  Maybe all canned foods taste more tinny in Italy?  I didn't have the courage to try them again stateside.  We're fans of red lentils, and usually make those with curry-inspired flavors and presentations, but on a whim the other day I bought a bag of green lentils.  I found an easy, and tasty recipe in "Quick Vegetarian Pleasures" (which won the James Beard award for Cookbook of the Year, and is not about eco-friendly vibrators, thank you very much).

This is a great recipe, and you guys will definitely want to try it.  My favourite part was how the rice and lentils cooked TOGETHER in the same pot!  Mind=blown.  You do need another pan, but trust me, it's worth it.

SO, for balsalmic lentils (it needs a better name if you ask me, something like, One Ok Two Pan Complete Meal of Wonder with lentils.  I'll work on that), you need:

1 1/2 cups of green lentils
1/2 cup of brown rice
1/2 tsp. of dried thyme (more or less)
1/2 tsp. of salt (I error on the side of more)
1 bay leaf (it's ok if you don't have it, but they are nice to have around)
some freshly ground pepper
and 5 cups of water

Put all that in a pan, bring it up to a boil, turn it way down so it doesn't boil over, but stays at a 'lively' simmer, and set a timer for 25 minutes.

While that does its thing, thinly slice 1 1/2-2 large onions, 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, and one carrot.  Put the onion and carrot in a big, heavy skillet with a generous amount of olive oil.  Add salt, and let them cook for the entire 25 minutes the lentils are cooking.  Add the garlic during the last five or ten minutes so it doesn't burn.  Keep the heat fairly low so the onions don't stick and burn, but you do want to hear some good simmering sounds.  The onions will slowly release their liquids, shrinking quite a bit, the liquids will evaporate, and THEN, the onions will slowly start to carmelize, turning brown. 

They likely won't get all that brown in twenty-five minutes unless you've got a really big pan.  If you want them REALLY caramelized, then start the onions a good ten or fifteen minutes before you start the lentils.  Keep a close eye on them, and turn them off when they're brown throughout (not brown around the edges, as in starting to burn).  If yours don't seem to be releasing liquid, but just sticking and burning, your heat may be too high, or they may have needed a bit more salt.  Don't panic; add a little water, scrape up the bits stuck to the pan, and knock the heat back a bit.  Caramelizing onions definitely takes some practice, but onions that have been cooked slowly are going to be delicious whether they truly caramelize or not, so don't sweat it.

When the lentils and rice are done, drain them thouroughly, then combine the veggies with the lentils and rice in whichever pan is bigger, with 1 Tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.  Stir it all together, gently so as not to smoosh the lentils, and let it cook for two more minutes.  That's all there is to it!  And it looks like this:
Yum yum yum...lentils have more protein than red meat, and the brown rice make this a complete protein that's also full of fiber, and yes, this one is 100% vegan!  It's really cheap to make, and it makes a ton, so it's a great choice for when you're feeding a crowd (take a close look Mom, John, and Alex!).

But WAIT!  I said COCKTAILS!!  And would I lie to you about something so important?  Definitely not.  I've been going sugar-free (as in no processed white sugar; I'm allowed very small amounts of honey and maple syrup, booze with no added sugar, and very very small, infrequent amounts of organic evaporated cane juice), and that has knocked some of my favourite drinks (old fashioneds, hello!) off the list.  Necessity is the mother of invention, right?  I made up this tasty and lovely drink using my favourite tipple (Irish whiskey), and SNAP, an artisanal ginger liqueur that packs a punch with a proof not far off my whiskey's.

To make two, put four to six orange segments in the bottom of your shaker, and muddle them thoroughly with a wooden spoon.  Then add four shots of Irish whiskey, and two shots of SNAP.  Add ice, then shake it till you can't hold it anymore because the cold hurts your hands.  Pour the drinks into two preferably frosted martini glasses.  I call this snappy citrus treat, "The Ginger Cat Who Ate the Canary".  As is, you can just call it 'the ginger cat'.  For the canary, scoop the muddled orange out of the shaker, and drop it into the glasses.  The bits of orange floating around look like the yellow feathers of a canary.  Cute, right?

There you have it.  Dinner and drinks.  I'm practically handing you a classy date!  Next week we'll talk home-made mayonaise, along with whatever delicious things I've whipped up since then...word in the fridge is that duck is on the menu!!

Nom!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Omily Tarot: Flip it and Reverse it

This is it, guys.  We're entering a brave new world, in more ways than one.  Spring is coming (Never mind that hail outside!  We will refer to it in the Spanish: el granizo, until it goes away.), your Tarot book is careening toward completion, and I've submitted a short story to a couple literary magazines.  I'll be spending the next few months dying of anxiety and anticipation, and compiling a list of second-string choices to submit it to if (when...) no one bites this time around.

I thought for my first non-interpretation tarot post it would be useful to discuss reversals.  It's a question that comes up a lot when people are new to reading the tarot: "What about when the card's upside down??" 

Well, the first tarot book I ever read, the one that taught me the basics and gave me my start, said that reversed cards in a reading meant that the meaning of the card was reversed: it may mean the opposite thing, or simply a light version of the upright meaning. In the given interpretations in this book, this seemed to amount to happy cards having a fifty percent chance of being sad cards, and sad cards being perhaps less sad, but still crummy.  There were exceptions: a couple cups cards so grand that reversing them only lowered the stakes.

I've since come to really dislike that first book, and this is one fine example of the reason why: it just seemed to make the tarot very negative, far more negative than I find it to be when doing readings without that book chained to my  wrist.  Another example of this is how it explains the suit of swords by saying (paraphrased): 'The Swords are everything bad forever.'  Give me a fecking break!  The swords are associated with the element of air: with words, thoughts, our minds, and the truth.  Those are all really good and important things!

I guess where I'm going with the tangent is that no one source of tarot info is perfect, and if you find that you just don't agree with the source you're working with, go find another one.  You've got to interpret the tarot in a way that feels true and intuitive to you, or you're not going to interpret the tarot well.

So, what do reversals really mean?  Well, they very well could mean the opposite of the upright meaning, or the upright meaning, just less so.  When I lay out a tarot spread, I always take a moment to look at the picture it makes as a whole: are there any interesting relationships between cards?  Reversals are one thing that pops out at me during that first impression, and for starters, that's what reversals do.  They're like putting that card in italics: "Death, the Three of Cups, the Five of Staves..."  See what I mean?

As I continue to evaluate the cards before doing any real interpreting, I notice how the reversal impacts the imagery of the card.  A figure may be reaching pointing toward a particular other card in the reversed position, or a facial expression or interaction may look very different.  If none of those things seem to apply, I go about the reading as normal, and when I get to that card, I point out the emphasis placed on it, and then discuss the interpretation of the card, the shadow side of the card, how a reversal could contradict, or lessen that meaning, and then the querent and I put that information into context and figure out which meaning fits the reading thus far.

That sounds very neat, and tidy, but since most querents know little about the tarot going in, and many think you're going to give them simple cut and dried answers, this conversation usually takes a while to get going.  Lets explore what this could look like with the example above.

Me: So, we've talked about death as a card of letting go, transforming, new beginnings, and the three of cups as a card of joyful celebration.  It can mean a party, or a fun social event, or it could mean that a recent endeavor of yours went really well.
Querent: Right!  My friend's bridal shower.  I planned it all myself, and everyone had a great time!  I don't know what that has to do with the Death card, though.

Me: Right.  This last card might be the puzzle piece we need.  See?  It's upside down.  That's calling our attention to it in a special way.  Let's take a look at it.  What do you see?
Querent: Ha.  A bunch of people fighting!  That's the bridal party!  I've got the bachelorette party all set, and it's going to be a blast, but the rest of the bridesmaids are fighting me tooth and nail.  They just won't listen.  I know our friend will love my ugly dresses party idea.

Me: A lot of people see this card as people fighting, and that's kind of the shadow side of this card, but to me, it looks more like they're trying to build something, but it's not working because they aren't cooperating very well.  Maybe you and your fellow bridesmaids are trying to build a really beautiful experience for the bride, but because you aren't cooperating with each other, you're fighting instead. Since this card is reversed, it may mean the opposite. It might be saying that you can't cooperate with these people, that you just have to go ahead and do things your own way.

Querent: Totally!

Me: On the other hand, the reversal might mean that this wedding is going to be difficult no matter what you do because so many people have to cooperate to make it a success.  Before we know which meaning it is, we have to look at it with the other cards in the reading, right?  What could this card mean when we talk about it along with the message of letting go given to us by the Death card?
Querent: ...

Me: Maybe you need to let go of your urge to plan everything.  You planned one party, and it went really well, but this one won't if everyone's fighting, right?  Maybe it's someone else's turn..?

Querent: Yeah, but the card said I should just go ahead and do it!

Me: That was one possible meaning of that card reversed, but we have to look at the reading as a whole, and how these cards best fit together.  I think the message is, kudos on the shower!   Now take a break and let someone else do all the work.  If everyone feels involved, there will be less strife overall.

Querent: Wow, you're a mystical genius!  I want to pay you extra!

This has never happened, and in real life I would have had to invest a lot more effort in turning my querent's attention away from the potential message of beating everyone over the head with her ugly dress stave.  This made up reading was more fun.  ANYWAY, I hope I've taught you something about reversals:

There's no straight answer on how to handle them, and that can make for a sticky part of your reading.  Allow extra time to discuss these cards.  If you're reading for yourself, notice how you may WANT the reversal to mean one thing (like my querent), but the OTHER CARDS suggest a less convenient alternative.  Put your ego aside, and listen to what the cards are telling you.  That's why you laid them out, right?

Happy Taroting! Enjoy el granizo!
~em

Friday, March 15, 2013

Changing Space

So, the season is changing.  I saw crocuses blooming on my way home from yoga class today!  Change is all around us: taxes get higher, the milk on my counter curdles and separates so I can pour it into a cloth get cultured whey and cream cheese, my little kitten who could once curl up in the corner of the window sill can now reach her front paws up to the edge of the dining table, and backbends, once painful, scary journeys into the unknown, now feel so natural I'm having to retrain myself to pull ribs in and tuck my tail all over again.
As evidenced above, some changes are good, and some are bad.  If you aren't using raw milk and don't want to make your own cream cheese, soured milk is just spoiled milk.  If the money's being used to fund another questionable conflict, higher taxes are pretty crummy, too.

And of course, your body is changing and shifting every day, sometimes for the better, e.i. complete strangers exclaiming over my bendy back, and for the worse, e.i. after stretching my straddle super deeply in class last night, I had to modify all lunging shapes today to give my cranky hips a break.

One of the fun things about yoga is that you learn, slowly but surely, to stop saying things like, "Oh, my body's just super-tight." or, "I can never do straight-leg inverts!" or, "Understand trigonometry?  Ha!" Or whatever it may be that you or your body doesn't seem able to do.

Sammi, one of the teachers at Jaya was talking to a new teacher trainee the other day, and she shared this great piece of dialogue with her: "Is there anyone in this room who can't do this pose?  NO!  You just haven't done it yet!"

The thing is, if you keep telling yourself you can't do something, you'll never give yourself the space necessary to grow enough to be able to do it: it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yoga offers the beautiful lesson that you don't know: You don't know what tomorrow will bring, good or bad.  You don't know how a yoga pose will feel, or if you'll be able to stand on one leg, or if your hands will go all the way to the ground when you do one side versus the other, let alone when you try again the next day or week!  You work at being constantly open to possibilities, and accepting whatever the status of your Tree Pose, your back bend, your job application, or your relationship.
Since our brains are used to telling us stories on repeat about what will happen in five minutes, tomorrow, next week, next year...this can be a scary state of mind at first, and hence a challenging one to cultivate, but when you manage it, it doesn't feel scary, unsure, unprepared, or any of thing things you would think that it might.  It feels like beautiful freedom, and on the day that you surprise yourself by feeling your toes tickling the top of your head, or just managing to stay standing on one foot for three breaths, you'll feel amazing.

Spring is a time we all feel a bit more at home, a bit more naturally open and joyful, so it's the perfect time to try to cultivate this mindset.  The next time you approach a task that has given you lots of trouble in the past, instead of anticipating, and getting all angsty, about how tough it's going to be again, remind yourself that you don't actually know how it will go this time.  Maybe this time it will be extra tough, and maybe this time it will be really easy.  Give your mind and body space to surprise you...then accept whatever happens with love and grace.

Live Omily,
~em

Monday, March 11, 2013

Eating Omily: Getting it Raw

Last week I got my hands on some sweet, sweet contraband: no, not that exciting.

Less exciting still.

It was milk, guys.  Pure, unadulterated milk, straight from the udders of a grass-fed Jersey cow (the breed, not the state).  How straight from the udders?  It didn't meet a pasteurizer, or a homogenizer along the way.  And actually, raw milk is legal in New York state so it wasn't really contraband.
 The debate's raging all around us: is dairy good for us?  Is it bad?  Some say it's a perfect food, and point to how well baby mammals grow on it as proof.  Others say that's just the point: each species makes the perfect food for ITS babies, so sharing milk between species, and among all age groups is not what nature intended, and the consequences are rampant.  They talk about the prevalence of lactose intolerance, increases in phlegm, calcium being leached from bones...
And then there's a splinter group that says, YES, milk is one of nature's perfect foods!  It's great for grown-ups, and better still for growing kids!  But, there's a catch.  The high heat of industrial pasteurizing (according to them) denatures milk's proteins, making them indigestible, and maybe even actively bad for you.  Homogenization, a process in which the milk is squeezed at high pressure through a screen so fine the butterfat molecules are forced to be so tiny that they can't link up to each other again, keeps the milk from separating in your fridge (Horror of horrors!  Can you imagine having to shake your milk???), and, you guessed it, these teeny tiny fat molecules are tricky for your body to work with, too.

It is a universally acknowledged fact that paseurization destroys vitamins A, and other fat-soluble vitamins and minerals in milk.  Proponents of pasteurization say that we can get those vitamins from other sources, and milk doesn't have that much of them anyway.  But here's the kicker: THEIR milk doesn't have that much of them.  MINE does, because my cow eats fresh grass every damn day of her life (well, she probably eats hay when there's several feet of snow on the ground, but you get the idea). 

In addition, pasteurization destroys the active enzymes and good bacteria in milk.  These enzymes actually exist to help break down and digest the big, complex proteins, including the ones that a lot of people don't tolerate so well in milk, and probiotics keep things happy and moving in your digestive track, and are good for your immune system, too.

Now, we started pasteurizing milk on a massive scale for a reason: salmonella, listeria, E coli: these are real bugs, and they can make us very sick, and in very very rare cases, even kill.  So is it worth taking a chance on?  Well, a healthy adult has a pretty low chance of experiencing a serious case of any of these.  Let me explain something: E Coli doesn't occur in milk naturally.  Never, never, never.  It doesn't come out of the udders.  E Coli lives in all mammal's large intestines, so we shed a lot of it in our shit, and so do cows.  So, if a cow's poop gets on its udder, and the udder isn't cleaned/disinfected before the cow is milked, and some E coli is still alive in that poop, and it's in just the right place and manages to get into the milk, THEN, there's E coli in your milk.  Hmmm...doesn't seem all that likely, does it?

AND, here's something else: you've probably consumed E coli before.   Yep.  But, your stomach acids destroyed it, so you never knew.  Why is the FDA and the CDC so freaked out about you drinking raw milk that just maybe might possible contain it then?  Well, cows fed industrial diets of grains have a much lower PH in their stomachs and intestines than cows that eat grass.  Some E Coli mutate, and are able to live in that higher acid environment, and those guys reproduce, recolonizing the digestive track with acid-tolerating bad bugs.  You consume those guys, and they will laugh at your stomach acid, and proceed to make you very sick.  Since those industrial cows also get loads and loads of antibiotics, odds are pretty good your case of E Coli will be resistant to your first line of defense antibiotics, and now you are in a whole world of trouble...but you are still very very likely to survive if you were a healthy adult when you contracted the disease.

The bottom line?  Grass fed cows are entirely different animals than industrially farmed cows, and they harbor different strains of bacteria.  The milk that comes from them is entirely different, too.  You're still taking a calculated risk, but the odds are stacked way in your favor.
At my house, we've pretty much decided that if we're using the milk in a hot preparation, it's worth taking twenty seconds to let it simmer to make sure all the baddies are dead, but when we're splashing it on our oatmeal straight out of the fridge, or whipping up a strawberry cream smoothie (You haven't lived.  You just haven't lived),  we'll take our chances, along with those tasty enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics.

If you're interested in raw milk, do your research first, and it definitely wouldn't hurt to talk to your doctor, who may give you the CDC/FDA line, or she or he may be willing to discuss your personal level of risk.  Consider carefully before offering it to children, pets, the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system, and make sure anyone you offer it to knows what it is, and understands the risks.  You can look up the laws in your state regarding raw milk.  In a few, it's for sale in grocery stores, but I don't recommend getting it there, due to the risks that come along with industrially farmed foods.  In most states, it's legal for you to go to the farm and buy it from the farmer, but in some, you can't even do that.  Whether you're willing to live on the wrong side of the law to be in the raw is up to you.

But how does it taste??  After tolerating skim milk all my life (I've hated milk since I could profess an oppinion on the subject), I expected to be pretty grossed out by whole, raw milk that I had to shake the butter back into before I poured it.  It was definitely creamier than skim, but the flavor was decidedly less...milky.  A subtle grassy, smokiness took its place.  It tastes incredible.  I love simmering it with freshly grated ginger, and then stirring in maple syrup and a big spoonful of cocoa for a creamy, warming treat.  I love splashing some into my soups for an extra hit of protein, and velvety mouth feel...and I love whipping it up in my blender with frozen strawberries and a little vanilla extract.

I don't know if I believe the claims about curing allergies and eczema, but raw milk is here to stay in our house...and if it DOES cure my allergies and eczema, I'll be sure to let you know.  I can't wait to make cheese with this stuff!

MoooooooooO

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Omily Tarot: The King of Coins

Your Tarot book is really taking shape over here, and I edit furiously between classes at the yoga studio.  I can't wait to get it out there, but it will be a few more weeks of knocking things into shape, formatting, and gathering illustrations.


Believe it or not (I had to go back and check, myself!) we're onto the fourth and final King!  The FINAL card in the Minor Arcanum!  Wow!  Did this series of posts fly by, or what??  Maybe that was just me.  Next week check back in for new ways to explore the tarot, and different kinds of previews into the book.  I'm saving the Major Arcanum for book, but don't worry; you can do some awesome readings with the information you already have on hand!  Expect exciting changes to the Minor Arcanum interpretations, too.  It will be interesting to see if the updated versions ring more true for you, or if some of the trimmed fat was something that really opened up that card for you.  I'd love to hear about it!

The King of Coins

             "The King of Coins faces forward, but glances down toward his armored leg, propped up on a carven bore.  The queen was at home in the midst of nature, but the king, in his high stone tower, seems to think he’s above it.  Fruits, flowers, and vines surround him, and cover his opulent robes.  He has learned how to use nature for his own purposes.  His practical, earthy nature is tempered by an appreciation for the finer things in life.  He has no worries about money.  He knows how to get it, and how to spend it, effectively.   The page feels a reverence for the practical matters of life; the knight jumps in and gets his hands dirty; the queen is confident simply existing in the universe, knowing what she needs will come to her; the king makes every effort to maintain the wealth and abundance he’s earned.
            If this King shows up in your reading, and you’re not all that financially secure, it might be pointing you in the direction of someone whose financial advice you can trust.  It might be suggesting that you can be the King of Coins if you’ll put your mind to it.  There will be tough decisions and sacrifices along the way, but if you want to control your wealth instead of the other way around, it can be done.
            Money aside, the king of coins may be suggesting there are areas of your life where you feel totally in control and at ease.  Well, bravo to you, but most of us struggle with that kind of success!  It might be wise to crack those eyes open, and take a look around to confirm things are as rosy and under your thumb as you think they are.  Your situation may be struggling to move forward under your firm hand.   Now may be the time to be the king, but contrariwise, it may instead be time to be the page.  Back off, and leave room to learn."

Do you have questions or confusions you'd like to see addressed?  Let me know, and I'll try to unravel them in future tarot posts!  On a side note, today is International Women's Day!  It's a great day as a woman to celebrate and treat yourself special, but it's also a great day to remember that women all over the world, including in America, still suffer from inequality, and far greater risks of violence.  Explore what you can do to move us toward true equality.   Getting informed is step one!  Men can do these things too, for the women that they love: www.vday.org is a great place to start!

Live Omily,
~em

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Getting Springy

Spring is coming!  It doesn't seem like it today in my neck of the woods, but if you were out and about yesterday, you couldn't miss smelling it.  Instantly recognizable, but impossible to describe: it hits you so far back in the nose, it's almost in your throat, almost more of a feeling than a smell. I can almost taste the rhubarb and asparagus that are on their way. Before I know it we'll be back to the hot, sticky over-abundance of full Summer in a temperate zone.
Now is the time of year to start researching CSAs!  If you wait for the eggplants and tomatoes to start rolling in, you'll be out of luck.  Many CSAs ask their members to pay for their produce in advance before the growing season.  This ensures that the produce the farmer is working so hard to grow won't go to waste, and it also gives the farmer the capital he or she needs to get equipment, hire help, and get those seeds into the ground and growing at this crucial time of year.  Do some research: odds are there's a CSA near you.  If there are farmers near you, but no CSAs, contact them directly and ask if they would consider starting one.  Tell them you want whatever they can grow, straight from their fields, and you want your dollars to go directly to them.  It's pretty safe to say they'll take you up on it, and you will never look back!

Of course, not all of us have the money in advance to buy into a CSA.  Don't hesitate to ask politely about possible paying in installments.  If it's a big CSA, and most subscribers to pay in advance, they may be able and willing to help you out.  If not, don't despair!  Get to your farmer's market for a weekly fix, and start saving right now for next year's subscription.  You'll save money in the long run by paying up front, so it's worth the trouble.  There's one CSA at the Union Square Farmer's Market that doesn't require you to pay up front at all!  Give them your name, and show up every week with $20 for an incredibly bounty that will force you to learn how to preserve. Central Valley Farm grows all the good stuff, and has deals with nearby farms to treat you to infusions of fruit, too!  They also offer eggs, yogurt, butter, and a variety of cheeses for prices that rival your grocery store, assuming your grocery store offers artisinal small-batch yogurt, cheese, and pastured eggs.

Aside from getting set for produce, how can you make the most of this time of year?  Well, we're transitioning from the season of the kidneys to the season of the liver.  This can leave you feeling agitated, stirred up, ill-tempered.  A strenuous yoga practice with lots of twist will release this pent up energy, and help your body and mind transition more smoothly.  You can try this challenging twist we played with today in Stacey's class at Jaya. Don't worry; the leg you're holding onto doesn't have to be straight!
 As the days warm up, take advantage of a backyard or park for some outdoor yoga!  It's a great way to start practicing on your own outside of class.  Nature is full of inspiration, and you'll likely find the next pose flows easily as you breathe and observe the world around you.

Have fun, and don't stress if we get a little more snow before Winter calls it a season.  Enjoy every moment!

Live Omily,
~em

Monday, March 4, 2013

Eating Omily: Simply Delectable

For most of us, our most comforting foods tend to be heavy, rich, rib-sticking, and not necessarily the most nutritious choices possible: chicken pot pie, macaroni and cheese, French onion soup, big, warm, sweet cinnamon rolls...mmm, I wouldn't turn down any of those any day!

Another thing those dishes and their ilk (lasagna...barbecued pulled pork...home-made gnocchi with pesto...) have in common is that they tend to be a fair amount of trouble to make.  Any one of those dishes is actually pretty manageable with a little know-how and confidence, but you aren't going to tackle any one of them late on a week night, no matter how rough of a day you've had.

One of my favourite comfort foods is, however, both nutritiously sound, and absurdly simple to make.  It's so simple in fact, you hardly ever see it on a restaurant menu.  If you want it, you really have to make it yourself: I'm speaking, of course, of the mildly sweet, hearty and satisfying potato and leek soup.

Because I made it on Friday, and because it's handsdown one of my favourites, and because you absolutely must have it in your arsenal, and because it's still Winter for two and a half more weeks, I'm sharing my recipe with you!

Although, to be fair, it's so simple you can hardly call it a recipe.

Ingredients:

Potatoes
Leeks

Yep, that's it.  Ok, so there's also olive oil or butter, salt, pepper, and water, and I like to garnish each bowl with butter, but seriously, that's it.   It may be tempting to toss in a few carrots, some fresh thyme, whatever you have around, but I really encourage you to try it with only these few ingredients the first time.  When you get good ingredients, and prepare them simply, the flavors shine through in a really special way.  When you make it again, feel free to alter it as you see fit.

Slice your leeks, about one and a half big ones, into rounds, and agitate them in a big bowl of cold water so all the grit trapped in the layers falls away.  Fish them out of the bowl, then dump the dirty water down the sink.

Heat olive oil in a medium-sized soup pot (feel free to double the batch and use a great big pot), and add the sliced leeks.  Salt, stir, and let them go.  While they get a head start, slice the potatoes, about a pound and a half or so (you want roughly equal quantities of each veggie), into roughly bite-sized pieces.  Add the potatoes, add a generous shake of salt, and stir again.  Give the potatoes a moment to make friends with the leeks, then add about two quarts of water.  Add another generous shake of salt.  You don't want to go overboard, but you do want to season all the water you just added.  Stir, cover, and crank up the heat.  If you just let it boil away, it will be ready in about ten or fifteen minutes.  If you keep it at the simmer, it will likely need a little more time.  Let the potatoes get very tender.

This next step is optional, but for me, it's so good it's worth dirtying an extra dish.  Use a ladle to transfer as much of the hot soup as will safely fit into a blender or food proccessor.  Make sure the lid is vented so the steam can escape, or pressure will build up, and you could have a hot soup explosion!  Pulse to coarsely purree.  I don't worry about pureeing all of the soup necessarily.  It takes another bowl to purree in batches, and if I can get half or more of the soup into the blender at once, I'm willing to leave the rest as is.  I was making it for guests I may take the time to puree the whole batch to up the fancy factor.  Of course, if you're one of those lucky dogs with a stick blender, you have no excuse!  Puree away!

Stir the pureed soup back into the bowl, and serve hot, with little pats of butter on top, and an extra sprinkle of sea salt.  It really doesn't need anything else, and trust me, it doesn't get any better than this.

I get my leeks and potatoes at the Farmer's Market (of course), and the leeks are sweet and floral, and the potatoes I choose, German butterballs, are the perfect middleground between starchy and waxy, and have a floral buttery aroma you will not believe.  If you can get your hands on them, do.

We're smack in potato and leek season!  Why not have this for dinner?  Go for it, and let me know if you're as thrilled with it as I am!
Nom!

Are we still meal planning?  You bet!  And by the way, if you want to give it a go, or just keep an eye on my meal planning exploits to give you a better idea of how it works and if it would work for you, you can make an account on www.saymmm.com, and friend me to check out my plans, shopping lists, and (very scant since I mostly cook intuitively, or from a select few cookbooks) recipes! My username is 'omily'.  Just search, and add!  Need more temptation?  Here's a few delicious dinners I made last week, both in twenty minutes or less from Farmer's Market ingredients!
Mushroom-leek flatbread pizzas courtesy of Cook Yourself Sexy by Candice Kumai.  I toasted up whole wheat tortillas in the oven, instead of rolling out and grilling pizza dough, to make these even faster and healthier!

Chicago-style hotdogs from the Farmer's Market on whole wheat buns, with home-made pickled veggies, and home-made garlic mayonnaise!  We burnt the buns a bit toasting them, but they were still amazing!  Remind me to share my mayonnaise recipe with you guys!

Enjoy!

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Omily Tarot: The King of Swords

It's official!  Every single tarot card has been interpreted, and I've worked out the overview for the whole book.  I still have a lot of editing to do, and some appendices and introductions to write, and I may tuck in more fun surprises for you guys...but the book is really on its way!

Today we're going to talk about the King of Swords...and then there's only one week left!  But don't worry.  You'll still be getting three posts a week, and I'll be sure to keep your tarot appetities whetted until my book's available.

The King of Swords
"The King of Swords faces directly forward, unafraid to confront what may come.  It may be easier to be that brave with a sword in your hand, but it’s more than that.  As the masculine side of the most highly developed level of the element of air, the King looks the truth in the face, whether it’s what he wants to hear or not.  The cherub on his crown suggests his third eye is open and alert, too.  His truth comes from within as well as without.  His queen kept her sword upright, a shrine to the ultimate truth, but the king’s is tilted an angle.  As well as knowing and preserving the truth, the king must apply it and act on it, and that means accepting that there are many truths, and different ones fit different circumstances.
The king is the parent who is confident in the decision to treat two children differently instead of ‘fairly.’  Though he applies the law with a holistic awareness of the situation, he’s not one to be lenient toward crimes of passion.
If you are the king of swords in a reading, consider if you’re being overly harsh, or too much of a stickler.  Contrariwise, maybe a healthy dose of firm application of the rules is exactly what’s in order.  If the king of swords represents someone close to you, be aware that it wouldn’t be too hard for you to offend this person, and if you did, he or she might not be quick to forgive and forget.  The king of swords may represent a situation in which even if the rules seem unfair, they are what they are, and you’ve got to work with them.  This may seem frustratingly rigid, but having clear rules you can learn and apply can make things much simpler."

Do you ever feel caught between sticking to exactly what you said, and making an exception?  That's a place of tension the king knows all too well, and he's found a way to embrace it and be comfortable there.  Can you?

~em