Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Joy In the Doing

"The peace that comes with surrendered action 
turns into a sense of aliveness 
when you actually enjoy 
what you are doing." 

Eckhart Tolle 

I have never enjoyed peeling potatoes, really. I think part of the issue for me, is the timing. If you're making mashed potatoes, it's usually just about the last thing you do when preparing a big meal. The roast is done, the chicken has been fried, the ham is cut... Until later in my life, when I stumbled upon the glorious invention of "make ahead mashed potatoes", this task had always required quick peeling, fast mashing and a well-timed table delivery. Because of this, I had earned the title of "fastest peeler in the house". Which inevitably secured my position as chief potato peeler for all time...and eternity...times infinity...and beyond. Lucky me.

And then I got sick. Lot's of things have changed since my becoming ill. And almost all of them have been for the better.

Four generations.
My great-grandmother was a quiet women, at least when I knew her. The picture to the left was taken about twenty-seven years ago. It's a four generation picture of myself, my mother, her mother and my great-grandmother, Hazel Stanley. I wish I had more memories of my great-grandmother. However, out of the few that I have, one that has remained in my mind over time is that of her peeling potatoes. As you can see in the photo to the left, she was a tiny woman. When she would peel potatoes she would sit at the kitchen table, barely tall enough to rest her elbows on the wood. Knife in hand, newspaper below and a bowl by her side, she slowly peeled each potato with a patience and grace that only today do I understand. Unlike the harried, knuckle shaving manner in which I peeled potatoes, she sat peacefully with an open invitation for conversation.

They say that as we get older, we begin to un-clutter our minds. It is part of our Returning in the great circle of life. The gift that this gives us is space. And when we create space in our minds, we find beauty and joy in the simple things. If we are lucky, we figure this out before we grow old. From what I hear of my great-grandmother, she was one of the lucky ones.

I now sit when I peel potatoes. Fatigue and weakness demand it of me. There is no fighting it, no pressing on, no motherly martyrdom, no rush to the finish line. And just as old ages gifts us with a holy un-cluttering, so does illness. I suppose I could fight it. I'm not really sure for how long. But instead, I have chosen to surrender. The kind of surrender that comes from accepting what this moment requires of me...and doing so willingly. And performing any task in a state of acceptance means you are at peace while you do it.

This past weekend I needed to peel some potatoes for a salad we were bringing to a family dinner. I didn't wait until the last minute to do so, because I know better. If I can't finish the job, I need time to ask for help. So I started early in the day, with a certain mindfulness. In a way, I tried to feel what it was like to be my great-grandmother. I thought about her actions, the shape of her hands, the soft smile on her face. I peeled slowly, looking at my own hands. Feeling the dirt left behind on the skin, smelling the earth - connecting it all in my mind. Circles upon circles, connected as one.

And the next thing I knew... I was no longer peeling potatoes. At least not continuously. 

 I had a lovely conversation with Maggie.

I realized that while I was sitting there, life was happening. Waiting for me to participate. Like the watchful eye of Jake, wondering when I'll notice. Pleased at my acknowledging.

I did finish peeling the potatoes - eventually. To be honest, I completely lost track of time. It's funny, I've always looked at the whole ordeal as a sort of "means to an end". I didn't enjoy the peeling...but I sure did enjoy the potato salad! Isn't that how we spend much of our life? Doing this to get that. Waiting for the meaningful. I'll be happy when... I'll rest when... I'll have a good time when... Tomorrow I'll...When you make what you are doing in this moment the focal point of your life, your ability to take pleasure in what you do - and the quality of your life - increases greatly. You don't have to wait for some other time, for something meaningful to happen to start living - Joy is yours now. And the next thing you know - irritating, stressful, boring tasks become enjoyable.

Eckhart Tolle says that, "when awakened consciousness takes over, you may find that an activity that you have been engaged in for a long time naturally begins to expand into something much bigger when it becomes empowered by consciousness." Well, he's right...

As I held my camera that afternoon, I was slowly drawn outside by the moment. Life indeed, was happening all around me.

...filling my rock garden

...bursting in pots

...creeping along beds

...breaking through soil

...sleeping under my deck.

I'm not suggesting that potato peeling should always include an afternoon photo shoot. Most days we just need to get the job done! I think what I'm trying to say is that by un-cluttering our minds, creating space in our thoughts and finding joy in what we do, we not only enrich our lives, but we have the capacity to enrich the lives of those around us. We become instruments of peace. The 14th century Persian poet Hafiz states most eloquently when he writes, "I am the hole in a flute that the Christ's breath moves through. Listen to the music."

I wonder if my great-grandmother new she was enriching my life when she sat quietly in the kitchen peeling her potatoes. Like the seeds that fall in my wildflower garden every autumn, carried gently on the breeze - you never really know when life takes hold. But I am very sure of this -

What is miraculous is what comes through us into this world.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Just One Of Those Days

Some days come much easier than others. That's a pretty generalized statement, I know. But so true, none the less. Some days life just seems to work out in our favor. And then other days...well, we just wonder, what the heck? We attribute it to things like bad weather, getting out on the wrong side of the bed and the infamous "them". You know, "them". Those people. The ones that work for the IRS, the ones that move our stuff, the ones that hide our socks and purposefully find us on the highway when we are in a hurry. Those people.

I write in jest. But for people living  with chronic diseases - those "some days" cannot only be frustrating, but they can be painful, relentless and frightening. Those "some days" come when you least expect them. They come in the middle of your best days, they come at family gatherings, in grocery store isles, in movie theaters, at the gas station, in the car, while getting your hair done, on walks with your children...they come ten minutes after you have just taken a shower, curled your hair and picked out an outfit to have lunch with a friend. In fact, the best way to insure their arrival is to make any sort of a plan at all.

Last Friday I began having one of those days. The first indicator was an increase in neuropathy. Numbness and tingling, shooting pain, unable to balance on one foot, right hand doesn't work 'right'. And then the stiff neck...and then the headache...and then the vision problems...and then the diarrhea...and then the painful joints and muscles...and then the pancreas pain and eventually my heart starts to beat irregularly, sometimes leading to tachycardia. Not a pleasant experience at all.

I managed through the weekend pretty well. That's a Mom thing. Taking care of my family is good for me. It's good for my soul and it's good for my mind. But by last night, things had progressed and after only a couple hours of sleep, we were contemplating a visit to the ER. Have I mentioned how much I despise emergency rooms???

We made it through the night and were at the hospital by 7:00am for an already scheduled appointment, followed by IVIg. I figured if there was anything that needed urgent attention, they would catch it. After a lot of blood work and a couple of phone calls to my doctor's, it was agreed that we could proceed with IVIg. Being that this is also my chemo day... well, it was just one of those days. Except...

This is what I came home to:

A couple of months ago I finally made the decision to have someone come into our home on a weekly basis and help me with cleaning. It was a very difficult decision for me to make. Learning how to give up control take care of myself has been one of the hardest things for me. Little did I know that the women on the other end of that phone call would be such a beautiful person. Within moments of our meeting, I realized what a blessing Roxi is. Simply having her walk in the door, I am filled with the positive energy that emanates from  her. Honest, kind, compassionate and SO easy to talk to, there is never a lack of things to say.

Somewhere in between cleaning houses, spending time with her children and grandchildren, church work, gardening, yard work and taking care of her own family - she prepared this meal for us. And this meal is not just any meal. This meal is a casserole made with fresh organic beef off the farm and tomatoes from her garden, canned pickled beets, home made buns and frozen sweet corn...from her garden, of course, and the most amazing looking home made apple pie I think I have ever seen. WITH apples from her trees!

Mother Teresa has a quote that says, "We cannot do great things on this earth, but we can do small things with great love".

This was an act of great love.

And this day, this "one-of-those-days" kind of days, I am thankful beyond measure.

Oh, and by the way....

It was delicious!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Soup Day

  Pol√©vka den !

 Today was a kitchen day. Feeling better this morning than I have been as of late, I decided that I would get an early start on supper for tonight. If I feel well enough, starting supper in the early afternoon is always a good idea. I am more able to deal with things both mentally and physically, I have more time (since it takes me forever to accomplish a task) plus, it gives my family a break. 
With the rain and colder temperatures, soup sounded like a good idea. And home made ham and potato soup sounded especially good!

 One of the perks of getting an early start on supper...having yummy soup for lunch! This is such a simple recipe, the most difficult part (for me) is just peeling the potatoes. So it can be ready in less than an hour if need be...and you're not me. :-)

 Yep, this is what it looked like right before I scooped up! And no, I did not chop the ham up in nice equally portioned bite-sized pieces. A good short cut for this recipe is to buy a "bag-o-ham" all chopped up and ready to go.

 Bread is always a favorite at our house with home made soup. Home made bread would be outstanding...but I must admit, I don't have THAT much energy. Frozen bread does the trick JUST fine!

 Rising to the occasion!
Kind of.

 Oh, if you could smell my house now!!
There is nothing like the wafting aroma of baking bread. 

 And for dessert...Too Much Chocolate Cake! This is a super easy recipe using a devil's food cake mix. Super easy, and SUPER good!

 Another perk to starting supper early...I'm the ONLY one home to lick the bowl!!
A little lick.

 In the oven she goes!
(I had to snap fast for fear I would melt my lens!!)

I get so nervous about the "flip". And this one makes you wait over an hour before said flipping!

 Ahhhh....warm chocolatey wonderfulness. I'm thinking the vanilla ice cream that Dave bought at the store last night will make a fine addition to this yummy dessert. And by the way, dear, thank you for buying groceries last night...again. You are amazing.

Can you say, "carbohydrates"? too!

I am so thankful for the days when I get to "be a mom". When this ridiculous disease loosens it's grasp ever so briefly in order that I might enjoy the things I hold so dear. 
Today was one of those days.

Theresa’s Potato Soup
  • 6 cups peeled and diced potatoes – I like big chunks.
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1-2  cups and diced cooked ham
  • 5 cups water (should be just over the top of potatoes)
  • 4  tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3-4 cups milk
  1. Combine the potatoes, celery, onion, ham and water in a big pot. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken bouillon, salt and pepper.
  2. In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour with a fork, and cook, stirring constantly until thick, about 1 minute. Slowly stir in milk as not to allow lumps to form until all of the milk has been added. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until thick, 4 to 5 minutes. I usually end up with a huge sauce pan full of thick white sauce. I think the white sauce makes the recipe.
  3. Stir the milk mixture into the pot, and cook soup until heated through. Serve immediately. Or, you can make ahead and turn off burner and just let it sit on the back of the stove until you are ready to heat and eat. I like to make mine in the morning and let it sit all day. Soaks in the goodness.
** I am a terrible recipe writer – so this is my best guess at a “pinch of this and a pinch of that”! Like I tell my girls…just do what seems right!

Too Much Chocolate Cake
From (one of my favorites)
  • 1 (18.25 ounce) package devil's food cake mix
  • 1 (5.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs and water. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into a well greased 12 cup bundt pan.
  3. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until top is springy to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool cake thoroughly in pan at least an hour and a half before inverting onto a plate If desired, dust the cake with powdered sugar or make up a nice chocolate glaze. This time I just warmed up some chocolate chips in the nuke and added some butter and cream. Stir, and drizzle. 

Jenni the cat.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April Snow = Baking

Theresa's Yummy Toffee Bars

  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter 
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided   (1 1/2 cup and 1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (I like pecans with this recipe)
  • 1 (14 ounce)  can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 (8 ounce) package toffee baking bits, divided   (4oz, 2oz, 2oz)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat 9x13-inch baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In large bowl, stir together flour and sugar. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg; mix well. Mixture will be dry and crumbly.
  3. Stir in 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips and nuts. Reserve 1 1/2 cups mixture for topping. Press remaining crumb mixture onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake 10 minutes.
  4. Pour condensed milk evenly over partially baked crust. Sprinkle 4oz toffee bits over layer pan. Then sprinkle reserved crumb mixture and remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips over top.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Sprinkle with remaining 2oz of  toffee bits. Cool completely. Cut into bars. Store covered. Yum!

Today is one of those days that I have to work really hard at. To make a long story short, getting off track with my IVIg threw my body into a mild, but relentless, FLARE. Ugh. Combine that with the lovely April snow and I'm working especially hard at keeping things in line both physically AND mentally! I've mentioned this before, but sometimes the best thing for me to do physically, if I'm not "down for the count", is to plan small "accomplish-able tasks". Yesterday was Tupperware, today is a pan of delicious bars! It's kind of like PT and OT all wrapped up into one!
And for my mental exercise of the day, a quote from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

A person can make himself happy or miserable, regardless of what is happening 'outside', just by changing the contents of consciousness. We all know individuals who can transform hopeless situations into challenges to be overcome just through the force of their personalities. This ability to persevere despite obstacles and setbacks is the quality people most admire in others, and justly so; it is probably the most important trait not only for succeeding in life, but for enjoying it as well. To develop this trait one must find ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts.It is best not to expect that shortcuts will do the trick."

Oh Mihaly, you make it sound so simple! I think I'll go eat one of those bars...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Cookies

Today I baked. Not because I wanted to, but because I needed to. Why I needed to, continues to reveal itself. My initial reason was because I am not feeling well. Odd, you may be thinking. But for me, feeling sick is a daily thing. The severity may change, but not feeling well remains fairly constant. On days like today, it's important for me to just get up and move. This not only keeps my spirits up, but it actually works as a sort of physical therapy. Moving muscles and joints that would rather stiffen up and make my day miserable. Today, stirring a bowl of cookie dough was a pretty good workout. But as I moved through the exercise of the day, it became more and more apparent there was a deeper lesson to be learned.

I estimate I have been baking cookies for about 30 years. Somewhere along the way I memorized all the favorites and could bake a batch of cookies from scratch without a recipe in sight. In fact, I pride myself in this mastering of the culinary in quite a few regards. Just ask my family! "This is SO good! You'll have to give me the recipe!" I might hear. Only to retort with the utmost humility, "Oh, thank you! But I just threw a few things together, so I don't have a recipe." (no pretension there!)

The truth of the matter is, it's been a long time since I have actually baked what I would consider a "good" cookie. I remember when the girls were little, cookies came off the rack like there was no tomorrow. Now, it seems, I'm throwing stale cookies away with half eaten cake. I could probably convince myself that I have an extremely health conscious family and they are displaying amazing feats of will power. But the disappearance of 24 cans of pop in one day leads me elsewhere. Honestly, they just don't taste like they used to.

So, in the quietness of my own kitchen, I did what needed to be done. I searched the internet and found a five star recipe for Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. No more assumptions. No more throwing ingredients together in my own time saving manner. No more "a little of this and a little of  that"! I followed the recipe like my life depended on it. Carefully lining up all ingredients prior to execution. Using only universally approved instruments of measure,  I sliced off the top of the flour so perfectly it would have made any home economics teacher weep. It was definitely an exercise in self-control.

Because I was attempting to bake these cookies mindfully, I made it a point to work slowly. Paying attention to things like where the recipe came from, what the flour felt like, what instruments I needed, how fortunate I was to have such a beautiful kitchen to work in... As I looked at each ingredient, at each tool, at each bowl; as I thought about the floor that I stood on, the heat the radiated from my stove, the lights that shone above my work station....I could not help but to think of the interconnectedness of it all. And before I knew it, I was lost, swept away with thoughts of people, of lives, of stories. The farmer and his family, that planted the fields, harvested the crop, sold the grain. Their lives. What did they have for breakfast? What sacrifices did they make? Did the farmer's daughter lay in bed one night, tears in her eyes because during harvest she missed her father so? And what is the story of the stock boy who placed the bag of flour on the shelf? Or the assembly line worker that put the rubber piece on the end of my spatula, or the fingers that sewed the edges so perfectly on the towel that I wiped my hands on? Stories upon stories, lives upon lives. The number is infinite. You can take a simple spoon and trace it's genealogy back to the beginning of  time!

We are not just connected, we are one in the same. There is no me without the farmer. There is no me without the stock boy, without the ground that I place my feet on or the sun that shines on my head. It's as simple as that. It's as simple as the days when I would look into the play room of my children and say, "If you don't get along, it's not going to work."  To think that anything is MY-ne is like thinking that you can breath without air or survive without water. At a distance we may convince ourselves so. The fact that one and a half acres of rain forest is lost every second doesn't really seem wreck my day. But believe me, we are only seven degrees away from losing the air we breath.

Really, why do we attach ourselves so passionately to the idea of "my" anything? MY toy. My car, My house. My life. My, my, my. It only creates pain and suffering, this personal ownership and attachment to things. To borrow an example from an article I recently read, look at it this way. Imagine yourself in a conversation with a group of people and you hear stories of someone's watch being stolen, someone's car breaking down en route to an important meeting. Maybe someone's spouse cheated on him or her. As sad as these stories are, you may still enjoy your evening with friends. Now imagine this: My watch was stolen. My car broke down. My spouse cheated on me. It takes on a whole new meaning when the story becomes MY-ne.

By letting go of the misleading assumption that we somehow exist in this world for and by our own self, not only teaches us the interdependence of everything and everyone in this world, but it transforms life into experience that is both meaning-full and peace-filled. A life less suffered, a life more beautiful.
And maybe, even maybe... one with better tasting cookies!