Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Omily Tarot: A Long (Ta)Road...

I tend to be a pretty disciplined person. I'm capable of setting up and following strict routines to gain or improve skills I want to have. I spend forty-five minutes stretching most nights before bed because I want to have a full split all three ways and put my feet on my head. Even as a little kid, I had impressive self discipline. My parents never had to hide my halloween candy from me because I wanted to make it last. And I did. They finally made me throw it out when we got back around to Halloween the following year.

With an established personality trait like that, you may think I study the tarot with equal regulated fervor. But you'd be wrong! Sure, I binge on tarot books from the library from time to time, and beg the husband to let me try out a new spread on him when I stumble upon one, but I can also go weeks, even months, without touching the cards, and what's really impressive for me, without feeling a lick of guilt for doing so.

The tarot feels different than my other pursuits. It's such a deeply personal, fluid, intuitive practice, I don't feel right forcing it into a regimen. When I want to read or study the tarot, I do, and when I'm not particularly drawn to do so, I don't. Which can definitely make it tricky to write a semi-regular blog post  about it...but here I am, anyway!

I think the lesson I take from all this is that learning the tarot is a highly personal journey. From what I've heard and read about them, courses designed to teach you the tarot are really fun, informative, and eye-opening, and I imagine they're pretty open-ended, to let you learn on your own, too. I don't know if I'll ever offer a group tarot class...maybe if I was getting a lot of specific demand for one...but I enjoy teaching about the tarot one-on-one, in a way that allows the journey to tailor itself to the student, taking one little step at a time.

The temptation is to share all the information at once, like throwing all the presents into a small child's lap on Christmas morning...but just like that scenario, the person is likely to be overwhelmed and retreat from the whole tinsel-wrapped pile, instead of thrilled. None of got the whole tarot story at once. It started with curiosity, a couple cards, our own innate ideas about who these people and what these images were...it might have been years before we realized the tarot as we know it is less than six hundred years old, and didn't come from Egyptians or gypsies (We all know that, right? We're not having the "Santa isn't real" discussion, are we??). Deciding what order to teach what has a lot to do with the individual client and where their initial interests lie, which is the way they would learn on their own, so it's the right way to direct their guided learning.

I think part of the reason that I study the tarot in short bursts is that my brain needs time to assimilate the information I'm taking in. I need to know it on a very deep level for it to impact my abilities as a tarot reader. I think the upshot of all this is, if you feel like it's taking you forever to learn the tarot: to lay off the books when reading for your friends, or to feel confident when explaining the history to a curious acquaintance, just relax! It's supposed to take a long time!

What has your tarot journey looked like? What got you started in the first place, and what were some of the first facts, ideas, or specific cards that you learned? Did you learn anything at the beginning that you found yourself having to un-learn later on? Let's talk about it in the comments!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Aerial Omily: Mind the Gap

I haven't been performing long enough to have a set routine in place, but there are a few constants on the day of: lots of nutritious food, coconut water, and absolutely nothing else planned. This combo serves to ensure I'm satiated, hydrated...and have plenty of time to freak the feck out.

For this latest performance at the Muse, I found myself departing from these constants: I started my day with a pastry and a cappuccino, and moved onto (wholewheat, homemade) blueberry waffles with butter, cream cheese, and maple syrup from there. I spent the afternoon painting birdhouses and decorating jars for a dear friend's wedding, did my makeup in someone else's mirror, and set off just in time to make the tech rehearsal after stopping for a snack along the way. I was hydraded, and satiated, though perhaps not as much as usual, and, I did not have any time to freak the feck out. I didn't even run my piece before the show. I warmed up, went over music cues, touched up my eye liner, and spent the next twenty minutes before show time chatting with the husband and friends and going to the bathroom on three separate occasions (ok, so I was still a little nervous).

Even better, I was second in the lineup. Once the curtain went up, I knew my performance would be over in about fifteen minutes, maybe less. And then the MC announced my act, and out I went, and then the music started, and I was off, except I wasn't off for once! I was ON: gloriously present to the silks I was navigating, the direction I was facing, the audience nearby, the rises and falls of the music. I was able to make decisions moment to moment about how to articulate my feelings as part of my character within the narrative through facial expressions, and movement.

And then I was in my final position, and the music was fading, and that's it: it was over, and instead of being in a semi-conscious state of pure adrenaline, or mentally kicking myself for one stupid mistake or another, I felt good about it, like I had actually shared, at least to the best of my ability, what I had hoped to share with the audience.

Success!!

I'm still a long way from the aerialist I want to be, but this is absolutely a milestone in my career, and it feels like a resounding answer to all of my doubts. I really can do this. I've taken one big step toward closing the Ira Glass Gap (which you should check out if you aren't familiar with it. If you do any highly skilled activities, you will totally be able to relate).

Of course, now it's back to the drawing  board! I have a little over two weeks to refine my new choreography for my next performance. It will be interesting to try to channel that same sense of presence and character with choreography I've only been working on for a few weeks! I'm excited about it, though: I want to keep challenging myself. I won't have the luxury of eight or nine months to play with and restyle choreography most of the time.

You can watch my latest performance right here (right now!), and see what you think! Do you get an inkling of character or narrative in this piece..?
Just in case the video embedding feature gives you trouble, or if you want to fullscreen it, you can go watch the video here!

Enjoy your flight. ;-)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Sun is out, Your Heart is Light, and Your Yoga is Waiting!

 The sun is out, the piles of snow aren't stable enough to walk on, and it's just too warm for my heavy winter coat! Spring hasn't sprung yet (and won't, for another month, technically; more snow is in the forecast for this coming week, which is fine by me), but I can feel it coiling up nice and tight! My thoughts are turning to those tender, green asparagus spears that will be nosing up through the soil (in more like two or three months, more's the pity!).

I think it's a universal part of the human condition: these first few warmer days of late winter cause a buoyancy in the heart, an urge to move, to dance, to celebrate! Even though we know, all too well, that Winter isn't done quite yet, we all get fooled by this false spring: we can't help it!

I think there's something really beautiful in that. The best things in life are the ones we let ourselves get fooled by over and over: eating too much decadent food, false springs, and of course, the early stages of becoming intoxicated by somebody new!

It might seem counter-intuitive to take your physical activity inside now that the sun's out, but this time of year is a great time to explore your yoga practice. One of the things I find myself saying over and over to the students in my classes is, "Be prepared to surprise yourself!" We get bogged down so easily in telling ourselves how something is going to go before we try it, perhaps to cushion ourselves from the disappointment of failure, but in doing so, we also predispose ourselves to failure! Which sucks!

Why not let the inherent optimism of this special, fickle time of year help you tap into the idea that, yes, maybe you'll do that arm balance/inversion/aerial trick that seems impossible when watching your instructor or another yogi do it.

That beautiful buoyant feeling can help all those tricky poses, as well as your standard planks, down dogs, mountains, and warriors feel more energetic, too. By tapping into the sense of lightness and lift in your upper body, you can find the energy to stay put long enough to put down proper roots and really set up your foundation properly. It's a beautiful thing.

On a day like this, I feel irresistibly drawn to aerial yoga, instead of vinyasa. I feel light, and free, like I want to fly...so why not go for it, with the help of a lovely hammock? If you've been toying with the idea of trying aerial yoga, today might just be the perfect day for it, and I'm subbing a class today at the Loom in Bushwick at 4:30!
 Regardless of whether you're taking the plunge, or sticking with a more grounded practice, today's a great day for graceful flows, challenging vinyasas, and poses that focus on lift-off, especially those with an emphasis on opening up or spreading out: half moon pose, hand stand, dancer's pose, forearm stand, rock star. For the most part, these are fairly advanced shapes. What do you do if they aren't yet on your radar? Well, in case you haven't noticed, those shapes are a lot easier with the help of a hammock! But if you don't have access to one, how about some extra Sun Salutations? Spend some time working with the balancing poses you're familiar with, but that are at the edge of your current capabilities...and of course, be prepared to surprise yourself. ;-D
Live Omily,
~em

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Eating Omily: The Most Important Meal of the Day

The last two weeks have found the husband and I really struggling to get to the grocery store, and it's left us short on a few staples, and the winter storms have kept several farmers away from the market sporatically, so we're also short on meat, cheese, milk, beans, and we just yesterday got caught up on fruits and veggies. Trying to cook and eat healthy dinners each night has been frustrating to say the least, and we've done our fair share of resorting to the forgotten Trader Joe's frozen meals at the back of the freezer and take out. Hopefully we'll be back in the swing of things next week!

In the mean time, what on earth am I going to blog about for Eating Omily?? Well, the past four (five?) weeks, I've been getting up extra early to do desk work at Jaya on Saturdays, which has caused me to try something new for breakfast to make sure I'm feeding myself properly, instead of compounding sleep-deprivation overwhelm with hangry overwhelm. Some people call it summer porridge, which prosaic turn of phrase I love, but A.) it's not summer, and B.) that title doesn't really clear up what it is. Other people call it refridgerator oatmeal, which doesn't sound nearly as tasty, but is at least clearer.

I originally learned about it on pinterest, though I looked up a few different version before concocting my own, and the first couple of weeks brought on a little trial and error while I figured out the tastiest version.

Do you need a hearty, satisfying, filling breakfast to get you through a tough morning with zero effort? Um, doesn't everybody? Listen up.

You'll need:

One jar that holds at least twelve ounces. I used by pint-sized canning jars and that works out fine.

2/3 cup of rolled oats (not instant, not quick, not steel cut. Rolled. These are actually the easiest to find. They usually come in a cardboard cylindrical container.)

1/3 cup milk (Farmers' market, pastured, non-homogenized, whole milk, please! I know whole milk sounds scary, but remember: it's not 100% fat; it's 8% fat, and that fat allows you to absorb the fat-soluble nutrients in the milk! Reduced fat dairy is processed within an inch of its life, so it's no longer a whole, nutritious food for you body. Say yes to fat!)

1/3 cup yogurt (same qualifications as milk! I use plain because that's what I like to have around, but if fruit-flavored/sweetened is what you have around, then just adjust your other flavorings accordingly.)

Your favourite oatmeal flavorings. If you aren't sure, my favourite combo has been maple syrup, a generous dose of ground cinnamon, and a handful of golden raisins. Frozen berries, bananas, chopped apples, or just about any other fruits will all work fine as well. Just about anything you'd eat in oatmeal will be fine in here.

The night before your tough morning, put the oatmeal in the jar. Put the milk and yogurt in the jar (I measure them out together in the 2/3 measuring cup, so it all pours out easily.) Add your flavorings. Put the lid on nice and tight, and give it a good, thorough shake. Pop it in your fridge. It's ready to go in the morning!

If you have access to hot water, do a little more yogurt and a little less milk, and carefully add a couple tablespoons of hot water before stirring and eating that morning. It will bring the mixture into the room temperature range, which will wake up the flavors even more.

I tried this recipe with all milk, and trust me: the yogurt works some magic. The bacteria help to break down and soften the oats, and the flavor goes through the roof. Not to mention, of course, those probiotics are super good for you!

I usually am hungry for my next meal within two or three hours of breakfast, but after eating this combo, I'm comfortable satisfied for a solid five hours! Maybe the yogurt helps to make all those whole grain oatmeal calories more accessible to my body...and we already know that cinnamon helps to stabilize your blood sugar, leaving you feeling satisfied and energized a lot longer than if your  blood sugar had spiked and crashed. Who knows! All I know is, it works, and even though I've been eating it for five weeks now, I am nowhere near tired of it. It is awesome.

Think you'll try summer porridge? Know somewhere I can get my hands on local rolled oats, or have you ever heard of trying this recipe with corn meal (which I can get locally)? Let me know in the comments!

Nom nom nom...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Omily Tarot: The Birthday Edition of Real Life Readings

My Birthday is tomorrow! Yay!!! They're calling for another foot of snow tonight! YAAAAY!!!!! I'm a snow bunny from way back: the more the merrier! But of course, there are many people out there who aren't as into wintry weather as I am, and I've gotten a few voices of concern regarding my birthday plans to meet at a bar in Green Point for fun and frivolity. As far as I'm concerned, if the trains are running, there's no reason not to be there, but I'm not inclined to take it personally if some of my guests decide to sit this one out in favor of cozy hibernation...but I do want a fair number of the people I love to be there, and I don't want to make my friends miserable just so I can celebrate on my actual birthday instead of a little later...which may require me to reschedule if things are really as bad as they apparently could be.

This has got me in a bit of a tizzy, because making the actual anniversary of my birth special is important to me, and I don't have much time to put a back-up plan in place...I already told my husband he could wait to get me a cake till next week, since we won't be home on my birthday to enjoy it anyway.

This is exactly the kind of problem where, lacking the clarity necessary to access my inner wisdom directly, I turn to the tarot. Just for funnies, I selected a website at random that chooses a three card past, present, future spread for me, instead of shuffling and laying out my own deck. (This may, or may not also have to do with my having left my tarot deck at home when I walked out the door to do some desk work at the yoga studio, but let's not get into that.)

I was pleasantly surprised at how clear, and cohesive this reading turned out to be. It gave me the World, for the past, the Three of Coins for the present, and the Seven of Coins for the future. The question I asked was, "What should I do for my birthday tomorrow if the weather forces me to cancel my party?" but no big surprise: the reading is focusing on the attitude and energy I should cultivate to make my special day the best it can be.

The World is the last card numerically speaking in the Major Arcana: it's a card of completion, unification, and celebration. Considering how worried I was getting early this week about finding the right location for this party, I concluded that this card is referring to yesterday, when the husband and I dropped into Beloved in Green Point on a reconnaissance mission, and were thrilled with what we found. It seemed like things were coming together, and I could relax! (I'm having a terrible time finding a World card image that will download on this computer, so I'm just leaving it for now. Don't hesitate to give it a google if you can't picture it.)

The Three of Coins as the present is about being pleased with a job well done, and of course, as a three, about that moment where plans go from theoretical to reality. I officially set the location on the Facebook event page, and I felt really good about that decision...and then I got a message from a friend warning she wouldn't make it out if the weather was too bad...and then I got another! Oops. Maybe I took that concrete action too soon? Maybe I should have double-checked the weather? "But look!" I protested. "Look how great this bar is! And it's RIGHT NEXT TO A TRAIN STATION! Surely anyone could make it to that!" Well, except, it can be pretty complicated to make a transfer to the G train, and the G train is not known for it's frequent service. Should I have had more compassion for my friends and rescheduled? Was it selfish of me to declare PARTY ON? It just seems to me that we can't know how much snow is going to get dumped on us till tomorrow, and I think I can trust my friends to check the Facebook page for updates if they have any doubts about the viability of the invitation in the face of a really good snowstorm.
The final card, the future, is the Seven of Coins, and it's one of those cards where you only have to look at the picture to get an idea of what's going on. The figure on it is so emotive. This is a card about beginning to see the fruits of your labors...and feeling a little disappointed in them, a little discouraged, a little inclined to give up. In this reading, the card was described as a 'warning against perfectionism', which I can always use on my birthday, because I want it to be fun, and meaningful, and memorable, and EASY. And of course, it being my birthday doesn't exempt me from the laws of the universe: not everything is going to go my way all the time, especially when I'm not interested in putting much effort in. I can get glum about having a smaller turn out than expected, or about having to reschedule, or I can make the best of an intimate time with some of my best friends, or a chance to just chill at home with the husband. Maybe we'll make brownies and watch old Disney movies!
If I can remember that the day is special BECAUSE it's my birthday, instead of everyone having to put their lives on hold to MAKE my birthday special, I'll be on the right track, and sure to enjoy myself. Who knows? Maybe the disappointment depicted in the Seven of Coins is in the measly quantity of snow we end up getting, and the party really will be on! If the snow is heavier and not as many people come, the bar will probably be close to empty, and we'll be able to stage a full take over of the big-enough-to-dance-in back room, and make some music as well as cocktail requests! I wouldn't miss that for the world.

Have you ever tried a tarot reading website? Would you feel like you could give one any credence? Tell me in the comments!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Aerial Omily: Something More

Have you bought your tickets for this month's MuseIam show at the Muse, featuring yours truly? It's next Sunday, February 16th at 8:00pm. Get all the details here! You save $5 a ticket when you buy them in advance. You're welcome.

With a performance barely a week away, you can imagine what I've been busy with at open workouts for the past month! Uh...running the piece once and then writing new choreo? Maaaaaybe..

The truth is, this piece has been in progress since, oh, March of 2013, and my body and mind are both a little tired of it. It's had two incarnations so far, and I'm inclined to think third time's the charm. I'm stronger, more flexible, and more skilled, so the technical aspects of the piece are much better than in previous performances, the choreo has been revamped here and there, with help from Nicki Miller (the master mind behind much of the technical improvement as well), and for this last performance, we've been focused on that nebulous something an aerial performance requires to keep your attention, and get to your heart, especially an aerial performance among lots of other aerial performances...Stage Presence! As opposed to auto-pilot, death grip, complete tricks one, two, and three and get the hell out of here lack of presence! Which is where I spent a solid year or two's worth of performances! Which is ok. You've just got to get yourself out there enough for the vulnerability of sharing your (he)art with an audience to not be so utterly terrifying as to turn you into metaphorical (and almost literal) stone.

I'm not past the terror yet, but I'm at a place where with a healthy dose of yoga philosophy, it's manageable. I'm not sure where this quote comes from, but it's a potent one: "It's ok to have butterflies in your stomach. You just want to get them flying in formation." You get nervous about something when that something is important to you. I don't ever want to be so blase about performing on the silks that I can do it in my sleep. But I can sit with that nervousness, instead of pushing it away, or associating it with an amateur status. I can let that extra energy inform my character, and fuel my performance, instead of building resistance around it, and judging myself for it.

So that's one goal for this performance: to actually be mentally present for the whole thing, to have memories of performing (what a novel thought!).

A related goal is to remember that there is an audience there, that there is a whole room there. There are beautiful, poetic moments that happen when it's just me and the fabric, and maybe a song guiding the rhythm of my journey around the silks...but contrary to my assumptions, that's not actually all that beguiling to watch. My inner rapture doesn't show on my face.

So the third related goal is to emote, to express something, to share at least a little of the narrative of my piece with the audience.

It's not enough to be strong, flexible, and know a lot of vocabulary on an aerial apparatus, just like it's not enough to be an incredible cook if you want to own a restaurant, or star in a cooking show. There are parallel, but separate skill sets you need to acquire. Better start now.

So, how well will I do? Well, I feel really good about what's happening when I rehearse, but you'll just have to come see the show and find out for yourself!!

See you this Sunday! Doors open at 7:30!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Meditate on This

As you already know if you read my most recent Tarot post (or if you've been a loyal fan for a year or more...) it's Meditation Month! I've written many blog posts about meditation already, and if you're getting started with a meditation practice, I definitely recommend clicking the 'meditation' tag on the right to check those out. But meditation is an inexhaustible topic, so today's blog post will also be about meditation!

Specifically, I want to share some of the ideas about meditation that have been coming up in my classes lately. If you teach yoga (or likely if you teach at all) you know the sensation of saying something totally off the cuff to your class, and playing it cool, but inside your head you're going, "Whoa...where did that come from?? I wish someone had said that to me years ago!" And, you know, maybe they did, but you weren't ready to receive that wisdom until now...or maybe it's just another example of the collective unconscious: our pooled wisdom as a collection of beings inhabiting the universe...who knows!

Anyway, I always like to start my classes with some stealth meditation. We're seated comfortably, eyes closed, and I direct the student's attention to their bodies and/or minds. Frequently, I invite them to observe their minds, try to see what stories their minds are telling them. This is a really useful technique for me, but it occurred to me the other day that if you know nothing about meditation already and you try to do this, you're likely going to miss the forest for the trees:

"My brain's not telling me any stories right now. What does that even mean? This is really dumb. When are we going to start moving? We've been sitting here forever, and my back hurts, and I won't be able to do any yoga by the time we stop sitting here!"

For the meditation novices, that, ladies and gentlemen, is a prime example of the kinds of stories I'm telling my students to try to observe. Notice how it draws a conclusion with little evidence, makes a value judgement, dismisses the current experience, projects into the future, and just for bonus points, draws a conclusion about stuff that has not even happened yet!

Is it clear how this story is not particularly helpful? More importantly perhaps, is it clear that it is just that: a story? It is not reality. Reality is that you're sitting. You can hear small noises coming from the office. You're experiencing mild physical sensations in your back. Even translating those experiences into words in the English language is placing a barrier between you and the experience (which is fine, in fact essential in this case, since you aren't actually experiencing them at all...).

As I started to recognize the stories we tell ourselves as barriers to our direct experience, I realized that asking my students to observe those barriers, was more likely to point them in the right direction than to ask them to observe stories. The idea of trying to experience your reality directly, with nothing (or as little as possible) between you and that experience seems easier to grasp, even if it may not be any easier to do.

That's the other thing: meditation is hard. That's why we have to practice it so much. No one is magically good at meditation. It's a skill we work hard to acquire. More accurately, meditation is the practice. The skill we are trying to acquire is concentration: the ability to focus our attention and energy on a single point for as long as we choose. Just take a moment, sit back, and engage the story-telling feature of your mind (it's useful sometimes; we don't want to disable it, just control it!). Consider how your life might be different if you could direct your mental and spiritual resources exactly where you want them, for as long as you want them there. There's a word for that, you know.

Are you familiar with the concept of 'flow state'?

You can watch this video about it.

If you haven't got twenty minutes right now, you can skim this wikipedia article.

You have experience the flow state at some point in your life. Hopefully, you still do regularly! The average adult can only enter flow state when taking part in specific activities that he or she enjoys very much, and that he or she is very proficient at. By practicing meditation, by working on our concentration skills, we give ourselves the precious, precious gift of being able to access flow state much more often, during a much broader range of activities. How amazing would it be to be able to choose to enter this blissful mental space of single-mindedness?

A key thing to keep in mind, if you're a fan of multi-tasking, is that meditation does not take your ability to scatter your attention and energy among many different thing away. It just gives you the choice to not do that. You should also keep in mind that technically, your brain is not capable of multi-tasking, only of switching back and forth between several tasks in very short periods of time, and that science tells us that when the brain is doing this, it does not work efficiently, and we tend to experience physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.

The act of practicing meditation reduces stress and anxiety, and actually rewires the brain for less stress, and a stronger immune system. Here's an article detailing those benefits, among others. It's an incredible thing, and it only takes twenty minutes a day to reap all the benefits. What have you got to lose? Trust me, you'll gain way more than twenty minutes in usable time due to your increased productivity.

I've been participating in Sharon Salzberg's 28-Day Meditation Challenge for three years now, and as a participant, I've received two of her books about meditation: Real Happiness, and Real Happiness at Work. I whole-heartedly recommend them if you want a guide to help you get started practicing meditation, and applying what you're practicing. They come with meditation exercises, and the first one especially gets you off on the right foot with a four-week program that eases you into the daily twenty-minute practice to help you establish the meditation habit.

 Convinced? It can take a long time to start meditating, I know. I felt intimidated by meditation for years, and I'm still working on hardwiring that twenty-minute daily practice! Small steps count; don't feel like there's no point in doing five minutes of meditation a day. It will make a difference. I really encourage you to take advantage of Meditation Month to give a daily twenty-minute practice a try. You'll never regret it!

Live Omily,
~em

Monday, February 3, 2014

Eating Omily: The Perfect End to a Snowy Day...

I just can't relate to people who whine about snowy weather. Such scrooges! it's beautiful outside, and inside, it's the perfect time for BAKING!!!  Yay!!!  I'm sitting here typing away with a hearty helping of apple-rhubarb crisp at my elbow...mmmmm...nothing like butter, sugar, and flower, flavored with cinamon, baked on top of luscious fruit, and you know it wouldn't taste nearly as good if I hadn't gone tromping all over the city today, hanging my socks over the radiator at every stop! Thank goodness for the shoe-free yoga teacher/aerialist lifestyle...maybe that's why people are cranky! They haven't been able to properly thaw out their feet, and dry out their footwear throughout the day! Hmm...I may have just cracked the code...well, they should still bake themselves something scrumptious.

Anyway, I'm not going to write about making a crisp because for heaven's sake, all you need is fruit, flour, butter, sugar, cinnamon, and a pastry blender! I just know you can manage it without me. :-)

I actually want to write about one of my all-time favourite Winter-season savory recipes: chilaquiles! I had never heard of these before stumbling upon the recipe in a "Fast Vegetarian Recipes" cook book I picked up from a free box in a yoga studio years ago, but I knew right away I wanted to try them: "these are basically Mexican lasagna: layers of tortillas, tomatoes, beans, cheese, and sour cream." Um...yes, please! I break these out a couple times a month as long as our quarts of tomatoes hold out. The leftovers only get better and better as they sit, not that they get to sit long!

For these, you'll need:

A baking pan, roughly 11x17"

1-28 oz can of tomatoes, whole, crushed, diced, whatever. If you canned your own tomatoes in quart jars, those are what I use. They work out to about 28 oz when you account  for the head space you left in the jar.

1-16 oz can of beans (or better yet, beans you made yourself in the slow cooker!)

A couple garlic cloves

1 onion, or half an onion...whatever you have will be fine.

2 cups (about half a pound) mild, shredded cheese. Relax, and use what you have. Don't panic if you don't have quite that much.
I used a couple different left-over ends of cheeses in our fridge, all grated and tossed together. There's my empty quart jar; the sauce is bubbling away!

1 cup sour cream. Theoretically you could skip this ingredient, but why would you?? And don't buy the reduced fat stuff. The texture's all wrong, and I wouldn't trust it in the oven. Plus it's probably got creepy ingredients in it.

8 (give or take) taco-sized tortillas. If these are a bit dried out (or a lot dried out), don't worry! Cut the whole stack of tortillas in half.

Preheat your oven to around 400 degrees, and put a very big skillet or sauce pan over medium-low heat with butter in it to preheat. Dice your onion, and slice your garlic. Get the onion going first, then when it's most of the way translucent and delicious, add the garlic. After a couple more minutes, add the tomatoes, crushing them up into small pieces if they aren't already, and the beans with their liquid. Add salt, pepper, and whatever else you fancy, bring the mixture to a boil, then let it boil gently for ten minutes.
The boiling step is important, because it reduces down the tomato juices, and activates the starches in the bean liquid, giving the sauce a head start thickening. Don't worry if it doesn't seem thick to you; it will be fine.

Now, these layering directions are going to sound impossible. Just trust me. Layer it up exactly as I say, bake it, let it sit a bit, and it will come out perfectly every time!

Pour half the sauce into the bottom of the baking dish.

Top the sauce with half the tortilla halves. You don't have to cover all the sauce with tortilla; you're just providing a kind of scaffolding. I do two tortillas on one long side of the plan, flat side against the side of the pan, then one tortilla at each end, flat side facing the pan, then one tortilla half with it's flat side against the other long side of the pan, and one more oriented the same way in the center of the pan. There's a bit of overlap with that last one, and there are uncovered areas in between the others, which is fine.

Top the tortillas with half the cheese, and half the sour cream. Don't try to spread the sour cream. Just blob it on.

Do the last layer of tortillas, starting with the opposite side you did last time, then pour on the rest of the sauce, then do the rest of the cheese, and the rest of the sour cream.
Slide that bad boy into your preheated oven, and give it about half an hour. Stop by frequently to enjoy the smell.  Mmmmm...
Oh man, so good!!! I'm going to have to make this for dinner this week. No question. Let it sit and cool a bit before you attack it, and prepare to be amazed. There won't be any sauce on the bottom. I know. I don't get it, either. Obviously the tortillas absorb some sauce, but...seriously? Half the sauce? And the beans and tomato chunks just magically move up through that bottom tortilla layer, too? No idea. It's black magic. Tasty, tasty black magic...

Will you give this a try this week? Will you source some of the ingredients from your Farmer's Market? If you can't get them all there, the rest should be in your neighborhood bodega! The leftovers are perfect to bring for lunch: delicious at room temperature, or reheated.

Nom nom nom...

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Omily Tarot: Meditation Techniques to to Meet Your Cards

Hooray, it's February! That means it's time for the Meditation Challenge! Will you jump on board this year? If you want guidance, Sharon Salzberg's book, Real Happiness is an excellent place to begin, since it features a gradual introduction to a daily meditation practice over the course of four weeks (and how long is February everybody??). But you don't have to buy a book to reap the benefits of a meditation practice. All you have to do is sit down! So, give it a shot. Five minutes today. Or two, if five feels intimidating. Then, do it again the next day. Add a minute or a few minutes when you're ready. And then do it again. And again. And again. Even when you don't feel like you're getting anything out of it. Especially when you don't feel like you're getting anything out of it.

In honor of the month where I focus on the greatest spiritual practice there is, the focus of today's tarot post will be how to meditate on your Major Arcana cards to dive under the surface of fortune-telling interpretations, and get into the nitty gritty of what they mean for your life and personal growth.

Ready? Get out your cards, and sit down!

Tarot readers and scholars talk a lot about 'meditating' on the cards to derive more meaning from them, or to let their wisdom speak in your life, but all too frequently they don't get into what 'meditating' on a card looks like. This is partially because it can look like a lot of things. Here are a few of those different things. Give a few a try and see what works for you, and if you have your own methods, share them in the comments!

1. Put it on your altar. Many tarot enthusiasts are the kind of people who have an altar at home, which is the perfect place to put a card that's feeling sticky, interesting, intimidating, or otherwise worth spending some time on. These people may have a daily ritual of spending time in front of their altar, and they may devote some of that time to contemplating, or just thinking about, what that card means to them. Sometimes this is done in a free form, stream of consciousness way, and sometimes this is done in the context of the previous day or the day ahead, or other spiritual aspects of the reader's life. All useful practices.

2. Look at it. This is similar to the altar practice, but for those of us who don't have an altar. Put the card down where you can comfortable keep your eyes on it without strain, or crunching your neck. Try to look at it like you've never seen it before. What aspects of the imagery do you notice? Do certain colors pop out? Do you notice details you've never noticed before? What associations do you have with those things?

3. Let it write to you. I love this exercise! You write as yourself with your dominant hand, and you write as a character or aspect of the card with your non dominant hand. I know it sounds either kooky or creepy, but trust me: you will get some stunning insights with this method!

4. Draw/Paint it. Get out your arts and crafts supplies, kids! It's an interesting meditation exercise all by itself to copy to the best of your ability the tarot card you're interested in, but you can also try re-interpreting the imagery of the card in your own artistic style, or visually reinterpreting the message you're getting from the card.

5. Collage it. This is obviously related to the suggestion above, but I find looking for similar images in existing sources and putting together my own visual interpretation of the card lights up different pathways in my brain and leads to fresh insights.

6. Time travel in your card's world. OMG, so fun! Look at the image of your card. Think of it like a photograph someone took. What was happening before this photo was taken? What will happen afterward? You can take this really far; it's an amazingly insightful exercise.

7. Dream about it. Easier said than done, but learning how to direct your dreams and lucid dream is a skill worth working on. Meditate via one or more of the other methods before bed. Look at your card in bed until you start to drift off. Try to keep your thoughts on it. Keep trying! You'll be amazed at what comes up when one day it works!

8. Remember it. This is a sneaky psychological one, and I love it! Look at your card, then put it away. The next day, without looking at it again, draw/paint/collage it, or describe it in writing. Then, compare what you came up with with the actual card. This will tell you at a glance what about the card is sticking out to you.

Think you'll try any of these techniques? Will you go for some good old fashioned seated meditation this month? Tell me about it in the comments! You can follow my blog on Sharon Salzberg's website for the whole month of February, and meditate along with us!