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
Preparation:
  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.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Slouching towards Spring

We are slowly inching towards spring. The big snow from the one historic blizzard that made up for all the snow that had not fallen this winter before slowly disappears under the spring rain. The arctic winds still occasionally hold a grip on the landscape and us, but the stores are in full-fledged summer mode: patio furniture, bikinis and flower pots for sale. The spring is dragged out here in Maine, with warm temperatures, the first tulips, and some green in the trees not before May. Until then I am jealous of everyone living South posting pictures from runs in the sunshine, or wearing regular shoes.

The other day I made a Dark Rye  breadmix from King Arthur Flour. I poured the mix into the bowl of a stand mixer with the kneading hook attached, mixed the dry ingredients with the yeast, and added the water and a dash of olive oil, and let the machine do the work. It came together in no time, and I padded down the loaf in a little bread basket to rise. It would only rise when I placed it next to the woodstove oven, where it was cozy warm, not Maine winter kitchen cold. I flipped it on a sheet, and baked for 45min. Rye bread perfection. (The mixes are not expensive and 20% off this week. That made $3.96 for a loaf of rye bread).

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Juggling and vegan meatballs

There is a cat snuggled up to me under the covers. It is her favorite place to snooze in the morning, warm, cozy, and big mama is close, protecting her. She stretches, and has not a worry in the world. A wintertime ritual.

January is almost over, and it was mild this year. We were unprepared. Last year we were told it is an El Nino year, with that, a milder winter on the East coast was expected. This year it was supposed to be normal again, but winter seems even milder than last year. But, what’s really normal these days.

Nevertheless, the month has come and gone, and we are on the verge of February. There is another serious chance for deep snow, freezing temperature and plentiful skiing but the 10 day forecast gives nothing away of a potential winter encore. The semester has started and we are settling into a new rhythm of classes and homework, and juggling more balls. Life feels like swinging on a swing on the weekends, and then get back to juggling some tasks during the work week. Time advances and suddenly we’ll feel ourselves propelled into summer again. Just like that.

I am in love with this beautiful picture of the vegan lentil meatballs. It’s a picture I took myself years ago, and it inspired me to make this dish again. A true vegan classic.

vegan_meatballs

Vegan lentil ‘meat balls’ with marinara

Preparation of lentils:

  • 1/2 cup beluga/French lentils  (they are small and green/black)
  • 1/4 cup red lentils
  • 1/4 cup chickpeas
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 2 garlic cloves

Wash and rinse the lentils and chickpeas, and place in a pot with the water, the bay leaf and garlic. Bring to a boll, and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours  on low (simmer only for 30 min if you soaked the lentils and chickpeas for 12h), or for 25 min in an Instant Pot. There is likely little water left, but if there is then drain it. It should make about 2 1/2 cups of cooked lentils.


Lentil walnut porcini meatballs:

  • 2 cups cooked beluga and red lentils and chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2  medium sweet onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, microplaned
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or dried)
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1 TB red pepper spread I used Trader Joes red pepper eggplant spread) – if you don’t have any, use a pinch of paprika and 1 teaspoon agave nectar
  • 1 oz dried shitake mushrooms, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
  • 1 oz dried porcini mushroom, reconstituted in hot water, drained and chopped
  • 2 TB BBQ sauce
  • 4 TB ground flax seed, 1/4 cup of water (mix to make 2 flax eggs)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4  cup bread crumbs
  • 3 TB finely chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a  large baking sheet with some olive oil so that the meatballs won’t stick. Set aside. 
  2. Prepare the flax eggs by combining the ground flax seeds with hot water, and set aside. The mix will gel.
  3. Add the olive oil to a frying pan and sauté the onions, chopped carrots, minced garlic, thyme and reconstituted mushrooms over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5-7 min.
  4. Add the tomato paste and red pepper paste and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, until all the ingredients are mixed well and the liquid is absorbed.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a food processor, and let cool in the food processor for about 5 min.
  6. Add about 75% of the cooked, and slightly cooled lentils/chickpeas to the vegetables in the food processor, and chop coarsely until all the ingredients are well combined. (It will be quite mushy, that makes the lentil balls even more sticky and hold together).
  7. Add the mixture to a large mixing bowl.
  8. Add the flax egg, regular bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, chopped walnuts, BBQ sauce and the salt to the pureed mix as well as the non-pureed cooked lentil mix. Mix with a spatula until thoroughly incorporated.
  9. Let sit for about 10 min (for the bread crumbs to soak up the liquid and bind the meatballs).
  10. Use a small ice cream scoop and scoop out ping pong ball sized meatballs. Place the lentil balls in the prepared baking sheet, allowing 1/4 inch of space between the balls and in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid.
  11. Bake the meatballs at 400F for 30 minutes, or until the meatballs are firm and cooked through. Allow the meatballs to cool for 5 minutes in the baking dish before serving.

Serve with spaghetti and marinara sauce.