Saturday, May 27, 2017

There must be summer somewhere

It’s the Memorial day weekend, a usual jump off into summer, even here in Maine, but not this year. It seems like a flash back to winter, with a gray sky and chilly temperatures. The snow came late this winter, the winter cleared out at the end of April, and it seems like no surprise that summer is also taking its time.

I linger at home, and read. There is nothing this weekend that would be pulling me to a coastal town. Instead I watch the 3rd season of Bloodline with its wonderful Florida Keys beach scenery. With all the twist and turns only question remains: will they get away with it?

For all the BBQs that are rained out, and the campers wrapped in a down blankets in their beach chairs, drinking hot tea and eating charcoaled marshmallows, there must be sun somewhere this weekend.

Monday, May 15, 2017

180 degree turn

The weather is gray, and still rainy. It had let up for the graduating students and family photos. It still feels like winter, interrupted by the odd sunny, warm day. But it is about to change.

Every year when the parameters change, from school year to summer break, my whole outlook also makes a 180 turn. If you are a parent, imagine yourself on a 2-week kid-free, adults only cruise. Or imagine, you won the lottery. Or you are a kid in the candy store with a credit card. Typically, I would do the obvious. Say ‘yeeha!’ and jump right in, savor it to the last drop. But it’s not the best attitude. It often makes me nervous and dart around, from one cool place to the next and buy all kinds of things I don’t need. I make many memories, but I find no peace.

This year, I try a different strategy. My self talk is the following: “This is summer.” “All is possible.” “But, what is right for me, personally? what do I personally prefer, today?” This narrows down the frantic running around with the objective to experience as much as possible and a good dose of FOMO to a few selective, personal choices. There is a lot of stuff that seems attractive and cool, but it is not really the right thing, for me, right now. I would not be sorry if I missed out on it. Because, you can’t miss out on things, you don’t really want. Your friends might want them, your neighbor, your kids, your spouse, your mom. But not you. So, what’s right for you?

I already feel more relaxed and content. This seems more doable. No big plans necessary to make sure to maximize my summer. What I really want, each summer, is to just sit put on a chaise longue in my garden, and read and forget the world. Maybe, this year, I will.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The weekend

The only plan today was to sleep in and do nothing of particular importance. To take a day off from all responsibility to life, and instead just read a book. I am run down from work and too many things going on, too little sleep and crouching towards the weekend. The plan is to start out the day with a hot bath, coffee and then put on some stretchy lululemon and move on to the couch, with a cat delighted that her mom can be cozied up to for an entire day. No need for cuddles, just hanging out, stretching out, purring. Being. Cats have this down pat.

I came across this article this morning, fittingly. “Who killed the weekend?”, an account of why there is a tendency to just stuff too many things in the weekend, when maybe all we need is to not do anything particular at all.

It rains today. Even more reason to hang out on the couch and not miss a thing.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Giant White Beans with Tomato Sauce in Instant Pot

From one weekend to the next, suddenly all lawns are green. The trees are just cusping with reddish fur, but it won’t be long until they spread their wings and connect with a pea green canopy. My blogging has recently come to a standstill when I had problems with Open Live Writer; it just would not update to the blog and I was getting tired of figuring out for the x-th time. Writing directly to Blogger was not appealing. There was also too much going on at work. Now the end of the school year is near, my house plants are on the deck and summer in Maine can’t be far. 

Last Black Friday, I went in on the deal with the Instant Pot. Over the last month, I’ve use it to make a killer tomato sauce, and it only takes 20 minutes and it tastes like it has been slow-cooking for hours. My current favorite is a combination of a large can of fire roasted tomatoes, a small can of tomato paste, a bay leaf, some fresh rosemary, sautéed onions and garlic, a 1/2 teaspoon of bouillon and a cup of Giant White Beans (I got mine on Amazon, they are imported from Greece). I set it to manual and cook it for 35 minutes, and let it release steam on its own, so it cooks at least a half hour longer. The giant white beans have just the perfect bite with the juicy, garlicky sauce. Definitely a staple recipe.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Eat, Pray, Love

This week I came across this article. It talks about being ok with a 'mediocre' life. About giving up the endless, noisy, loud pursuit for some ideal life that we believe will make us permanently happy, like Paradise island. Like some Disney movie. However, it can take us decades to realize that it is an ideal only, that it does not really exist. That it is fiction. A dream, a destination, where we believe we can arrive at and be permanently happy. It's like more this permanent carrot on the stick. Santa Claus for grown-ups.

But for a while, we do believe it. Social media, media, books, movies, society seem to reinforce it: others get there, look at their houses, bodies, glamorous lives, cute kids and hunky husbands, I want this, too! Yes, social media seems to reinforce it, but in the end, it is me who chooses to believe it, to reinforce my own beliefs and 'dreams'. So, I keep chasing, set new goals, and desire new experiences.

It can take a very long time to debunk the myth. Because first we have to 'get there'. Then we can figure out, well, it's not what I thought what it would be. Often, the happiness we do feel is more one of relief when we cross the finish line. The relief of being done with a potentially exhausting, painful experience, but we rewrite the feeling as "accomplishment", we say "hey, I did this!". Relief can feel almost like joy.

But the feeling is short lived and soon, when the party has cleared and the confetti has been swept, and the rush is over, everything feels just like before. It can even feel worse as Andie Mitchell describes vividly in her memoir "It was me all along": she felt as unhappy if not more after she lost over hundred pounds. She was even more depressed than before because her carrot was gone.

We can get addicted to this feeling, of setting a goal, busying ourselves to achieve it, and give ourselves a high five. We can easily spend 20-30 years chasing various things, age appropriate, that we think will make us happy, only to wake up to the realization "but it is never enough, I constantly need to repeat it or find a new destination."

It reminds me of this scene in the movie "Eat, pray, love", when Julia Roberts sits in an Italian hairdresser shop, and two Italian men discuss the cultural differences between Americans and Italians. They assess that Americans worship work and chasing dreams, maybe, the American Dream, while Italians worship living. That Italians feel entitled to a 'break', and copiously enjoy the Dolce Far Niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. Or better, the sweetness of not accomplishing, needing or chasing anything.

Wise words. This brings me back to the original blog post. Of the woman who says "But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted? Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?"

"What if I never really amount to anything when I grow up—beyond mom and sister and wife?"

"What if I don’t want to write a cookbook or build a six figure business or speak before thousands? But I write because I have something to say and I invest in a small community of women I care about and encourage them to love and care for themselves well."

"What if I just accept this mediocre body of mine that is neither big nor small? Just in between. And I embrace that I have no desire to work for rock hard abs or 18% body fat. And I make peace with it and decide that when I lie on my deathbed I will never regret having just been me. Take me or leave me."

"What if I am not cut out for the frantic pace of this society and cannot even begin to keep up? And see so many others with what appears to be boundless energy and stamina but know that I need tons of solitude and calm, an abundance of rest, and swaths of unscheduled time in order to be healthy. Body, spirit, soul healthy. Am I enough?"

I believe that yes, she is enough, that her life is enough. My own life is enough, the here and now, the today, the who I am, my own life. Because, that is all there is, all there ever will be for me. All that really matters. And that all happiness is contained in it. But also, that it is normal and human to experience bumps in the road. That is just part of the human experience.

However, there are way too many images around today. We start comparing, and our life seems to come up 'short'. We don't explain to ourselves of how these images (or today reality tv) are created. We subconsciously react to the flawless face of Khloe Kardashian (and don't see that all Kardashian sit in hair and makeup for hours for a shoot). We see their vast houses, groomed gardens, large pools shot in a panoramic view  (and don't see they spend plenty of disposal income on cleaning personnel, and gardeners to set this up for a shoot). We see perfectly plated dishes (and don't realize it is done by a professional food stylist). This is fake, this is not everyday life, this is a movie set. Still, we might assume that our lives should be similarly 'perfect'. If not, we must be doing something wrong. Depending on our psychological make-up, we might feel defeated, or blame someone, or hate on the things we see or scurry like a rabbit to recreate it.

So, yes, it seems we can't really keep up. But keeping up with what, exactly? A movie set?

We don't get to see smelly diapers, although there are plenty of young children, or sleepless nights and bags under the eyes, or dirty clothes piles, or even an interaction with a house cleaner. It is all carefully edited out. There is not a lot of reality in this reality tv. Or instagram feed. 
 In the end, we only have one thing: our own life, and it is enough, it likely is enough, if we stop comparing it with movie sets, carefully groomed blogs or instagram feeds. If we stop making "wish lists", because wish lists make us focus on what is not there, instead of the things we have. 

If we just tap into the fullness of our own lives, right here, right now, right in front of us.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Simple Red Lentil Soup with Kale

The wind was howling around the house. The snow was racing sideways in front of my window. First in one direction, and then, almost immediately, back in the other. A late season hurricane that affected much of the East coast the past days, made me take refuge at home. "Late season" because at this point I am ready for spring and not for more snow, but this preference is purely personal.

So, it was time for a warm, smooth, spicy and filling soup. I whipped up another batch of this red lentil soup that needs little preparation and cooks fast. A few Indian spices add a unique character, and the late-stage added kale rounds it out.

I had to search for my notes again for this soup recipe so I am putting it in the place where I most likely find it again, my own blog. Note, that I write this down with as much detail as I can for myself; feel free to use other ingredients (e.g. regular olive oil or grapeseed oil, etc.)

Red Lentil Soup with Kale

(makes 3 larger servings)
  • 1 cup dry red lentils
  • 4-5 cups of water (or broth)
  • 1 teaspoon blood orange olive oil (or plain olive oil, or grapeseed oil)
  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 inch-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into tiny dices
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
  • 0.5 teaspoon turmeric
  • 0.5 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1-2 tiny hot dry (pequin) chilies (depending on taste) (or tiny bit of cayenne)
  • 1-2 teaspoon vegetable bouillon powder (if using water)
  • 2 handfuls of kale, torn up
  1. In a non-stick pot,  heat the olive oil, add the onion and raw ginger. Once the onion is sauteed and see-through, add the garlic and saute the mix for another minute.
  2. Add the lentils, water, and the spices. Close the lid, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer with closed lid for 30min.
  3. Use an immersion blender, and puree the hot soup (or let cool down, and use a blender, but no hot soup in the blender)
  4. Put the soup back on the stove, add the bouillon and the kale.
  5. Heat soup again, and let the kale wilt down to preferred consistency (still crunchy or buttery soft).
  6. Serve.