How to make *Magical* Meals

Have you ever noticed that certain places are just… magical?

Butterfly enjoying bee balm.

These places are deep in the mountains where moss grows beneath bare feet and majestic grandfather trees invite an upward gaze. Something about being among ancient trees and the smell of the spongy forest floor makes us feel alive.

My friend, Mariah’s, Asheville, NC outdoor kitchen at dusk.

The connection to our surroundings can be transmuted into the foods we prepare with love. Nuances of a magical place, local whimsical ingredients, and the feelings of hope and contentment that place gives us can be incorporated into our recipes. It reminds me of a story I once heard about a Latina Abuela. (I don’t remember where I originally heard or read this story, so forgive my lack of reference.)

Abuela would make the family fresh tortillas every day, humming as she did so. One day a salesman came to the door offering to sell Abuela a tortilla-maker. Abuela kindly refused, but the salesman was persistent: “It will save you so much time. You won’t have to spend all day rolling and cooking. The tortilla-maker does it all!” Finally, Abuela explained herself to the salesman, “I cannot use your tortilla-maker. You see, it is actually my love which nourishes my family. The tortillas are simply the vehicle to get my love into them.”

In Perfect Health, Deepak Chopra claims that foods which are not necessarily good for us can become more nourishing if we think positive thoughts about the foods and are grateful for the nourishment. Such an interesting concept!

Mindfulness and place are powerful tools we can use to imbue our meals with magic and love. “Am I inspired by my  surroundings? Do they appeal to my eyes, ears, nose, intuition, or spiritual sense?” asks Jim Merkel in Radical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth. With this sentiment, I’d like to share a recipe I made quite a while ago: Carrot Cake Cupcakes.

Sprinkled with magic ~ tart wineberries and bee balm petals from the patch the butterfly is enjoying above.

I made them at a very special place in rural Tennessee while doing a food fermentation apprenticeship there in 2010. Everything about the setting and people I met was ultra-inspirational to me and pivotal in my life. The people, accepting and kind, the place, a foresty cabin in the Smoky Mountains; these are some of my most treasured memories.

In fact, unhappy at my recent job, I looked into my past to find where I was most interested, happy, hopeful and engaged, and the time I spent in Tennessee shone like a full moon in a black night sky. “Follow your bliss, go where you body and soul want you to go. The key is to identify the things that make you not just excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. Having discovered them, stick with them, found your life on them, for therein lies your destiny,” advises Joseph Campbell. Remembering all of the delicious foods we created in the mountains (tempeh, bubbly red bud mead, wild weeds pesto) and the satisfaction and peace I garnered from living among the plants is what led me to decide to leave the city and to begin wwoofing.

By having an open agendum and mind and feeling my way through this adventure, I hope to be better able to follow my bliss and intuition. I hope to be able to recognize the magic, follow it, and saturate the nourishment I create for those I love and those I meet with it.

Photo Credit: Simon Dale “The Hobbit House”

How can you make your setting more conducive to cultivating magic in your foods? My suggestions are below.

  1. De-clutter, give away unnecessary things, or start with a clean slate if need be.
  2. Plant a garden with native flowers to attract local butterflies, birds and bees. Flowers, especially edible ones, are a very magical garnish.
  3. Spend more time at home making your place somewhere you want to be and less time at work, however you can accomplish that. Mix well with time in Nature, whether that be Central Park or Redwood National Forest.
  4. Play music that brings you to that special state of illumination.
  5. Use more herbs and spices in your recipes; grow them yourself. Smells are powerful; let them ignite the magic in your recipes.
  6. If you know of a magical place, take an inspiration vacation and reinvent your home when you return.
  7. Or,  move to that place that has always spoken to your soul.
  8. Spend quality time with your muses.
  9. Create and produce more than you consume.
  10. Or, if you are like me, you may not be exactly sure what the ideal setting is for you. Pay attention to what makes your soul sing; try keeping a journal of these gifts. Living as a nomad for a time will give you a chance to experience many different climates and communities. After a short time, if we are paying attention, we’ll be able hone our unique ideal habitats.
  11. Do not let fear stop you from living out what you love: “Too many of us sit on the sidelines of fear and doubt, unable to contribute to a world in need of our brilliance.” – Chris Guillebeau

Fairy princess, signing off.

Vegan Gluten-Free Banana Walnut Coconut Pancakes

These vegan gluten-free banana walnut coconut pancakes are DELISH!

Start with homegrown bananas…

Mix buckwheaties and oats in the blender to make a gluten-free flour. Add bananas, hand-crushed walnuts, non-sweetened shredded coconut, coconut oil, molasses, vanilla, and enough water to achieve batter consistency.

Pan fry in coconut oil. I found it helpful to make smaller sized pancakes with this recipe. Whenever I make pancakes, I remember making them as a kid for my family (from Bisquick, no less) and my mom scolding me because I pressed them flat with the spatula. “I like my pancakes fluffy,” she chastised. Well Mom, unfortunately, with this recipe, you must squish. It was difficult to get the middle cooked through without the outsides getting burned no matter how low the heat. So squish away!

They turned out marvelous: nutty and sweet and stuck together well. I topped them with more walnuts, coconut and a little syrup.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

New Life

Since the first day after I left my job, I have truly felt like I am beginning a new life. Reflecting on my metamorphosis, I’ve realized so much change is happening all at once: I quit my 8-to-5, I’ve moved out-of-state, my lifestyle has transitioned from a static home to a more nomadic existence, I’m going from a decent paycheck to sweat equity, long hours indoors give way to time spent in Nature, and, most importantly, I am finally beginning to pursue my passion rather than biding my time. There are so many amazing changes!

Before I left Richmond, I reread most of Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. I am by no means as breakneck as the protagonist in that book, but many of the idealistic sentiments expressed in the book make my soul sing…

By then Chris was long gone. Five weeks earlier he’d loaded all his belongings into his little car, and headed west without an itinerary. The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything. He had spent the previous four years, as he saw it, preparing to fulfill an absurd and onerous duty: to graduate from college. At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.

Driving west out of Atlanta, he intended to invent an utterly new life for himself, one in which he would be free to wallow in unfiltered experience. To symbolize the complete severance from his previous life, he even adopted a new name. No longer would answer to Chris McCandless; he was now Alexander Supertramp, master of his own destiny.  -Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

Naming my life’s theme for this year “Getting Dirty” emphasizes my need to “wallow in unfiltered experience” and reunite with “the raw throb of existence.” Eschewing material excess has helped me to begin to reinvent myself, to show physically what is important, and I can’t wait to see how I change as I progress on my journey.

All of my belongings before packing up for Florida + bike + Arthur & Wednesday.

These types of sweeping change happen periodically in my life, whether it be unconsciously self-driven or opportunistic collisions of cosmic events. It is as if I find a cozy place to learn and watch and grow, and then, all of a sudden, I must act on what I have absorbed; I can no longer sit still and live as I did before. “There are times in life to be thoughtful and cautious. Then there are times when the only way to learn is to jump in and ‘go for it,’ take the mistakes as the lesson, call for help when you need it, look in books when you can,” as Shannon Hayes describes this urge.

These bouts of change must have something to do with my need to live in alignment with my values. Maybe I am one of “the ones who [doesn’t] have the option of camouflaging [my] individuality: [I’m] just uncontrollably [myself].” (Sasha Cagen, Quirkyalone) In my opinion, while needed for a fulfilling life, living in radical alignment with my beliefs and passions is most definitely the harder path.

The process of maturing out of this conformity and into a state of ‘cultural consciousness’ commonly leads to a disconnection between some members of the family and community. This schism happens as individuals struggle to choose between normative behaviors and expectations, and finding a way to be ‘true to themselves.’ And it can be painful. Those who choose to align themselves with their values typically experience a sense of isolation from anyone else whose outlook is defined by conventional cultural codes.  –Shannon Hayes, Radical Homemakers

Why is it so hard to break free of a life that’s good enough to pursue the life we truly long for? We like to think these things are complicated, but the root cause is pretty simple: change is hard, so we tend to put it off until it becomes urgent. When the time comes to change, it becomes an overpowering presence; something that must be resolved one way or another.  –Chris Guillebeau

The time of learning is seldom free from pain and questioning. But from these experiences and what they can teach us, we are ready to learn. We all enjoy the easy times when the sailing is smooth, when all is well, when we are feeling no pain. And these periods serve a purpose. They shore us up for the lessons which carry us to a stronger recovery, to a stronger sense of ourselves.  -Karen Casey, Each Day a New Beginning: Daily Meditations for Women

Riding the waves of change is always a precarious challenge. I find the most calming, helpful coping mechanism is to have a clear goal in mind. To avoid settling and taking the safe way during the scary times, I envision where I am going and where I want to be to keep myself moving in the right direction, wherever it may take me. Here is to the perpetually renewing chance for fresh beginnings!

Purple Morning and Raw Lasagna

I keep wondering to myself why I decided to quit my job and start wwoofing in the middle of summer. We’re enjoying what feels like the last of cool, dewy mornings here in Richmond; by 9 am, I can already feel the beginnings of the hot rays of the sun.

I went to a very inspirational Richmond Vegetarian Society meeting last night during which local foods activist, Ellie Sparks, talked to us about things we can do to help curb global warming. I found out about the Citizens Climate Lobby, which organizes citizens to put political pressure on elected officials to support “green” legislation. I am definitely going to look into getting involved with Citizens Climate Lobby.

On to the food! Good morning blueberry bear!

And I’d like to share what I made for dinner last night: Raw Lasagna!

It was crunchier than the real thing, but, I must admit, it was really good!! I got the recipe from Rawsome! It was very satisfying and had LOTS of flavor, probably due to all of the zesty Italian herbs.

On that note, I’d like to do a quick update on how I’ve been feeling. Today is day seven of the ten-day raw food cleanse, and I’m feeling great! I’m finding that I don’t need to eat nearly as much to feel full and I can go longer without eating than I can normally. (Normally I have to eat every hour on the hour, lest I feel lightheaded.) Prior research suggests that this is because when one eats a very “clean” diet of whole, easy-to-digest, organic foods with low residue, the mucousy lining in the intestines goes away. This lining is usually there to protect your intestines from bad things in your food. However, it also inhibits nutrient absorption. So, when you’re eating well, and the mucous goes away, you are able to absorb more nutrients from the food you eat, hence, you don’t have to eat as much to get the same amount of nourishment.

I feel more in tune with my body overall, and I feel like I’m getting better at listening to its subtle cues. I’ve discovered that when I’m full, I’ll almost feel a gentle “click” in my abdomen, a little cue that says, “Enough.” Like I said, it’s very subtle, but very obvious once I learned to hear it.

I’ve also tried to be more strict about my waking and bedding hours. I’m reading Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra, which suggests going to sleep between 9:30 and 10:30pm and waking at dawn without an alarm clock. I’m not quite up at dawn yet, but I have been regularly waking up at about 7am without an alarm and definitely going to bed before 10:30, usually around 10pm. While it has only been about four days since I’ve been observing these hours, I’ve noticed a huge difference! Not only do I feel like I have a steady energy throughout the day and I’m tired when it’s time to go to bed, I’ve noticed an almost magical flow about my day. I’m arriving places a few minutes early, or right at the perfect time. I’m fitting just enough activity and social interaction in my day, while still having enough relaxation and reflection alone time. Instead of brushing off half of the items on my to-do or to-be list, I’m fitting everything in without feeling overburdened. I highly suggest reading Perfect Health, or at least try paying attention to your circadian rhythm and see what a difference it makes. As Chopra posits, our bodies have only healthy desires deep down for bliss and balance!

As my yoga teacher said yesterday, “May anything that is not in line with your higher self simply fall away.”

Have a beautiful Sunday!

Hello New Life

Next week is my final four days at my public health job. While I am very grateful for this learning and working opportunity, I think the most valuable lesson I garnered from my time there was about myself: I am not a cubicle person. I need personal contact, stimulation, variety and adventure. My current vision of my future includes an assortment of ventures to support my needs. I want to do freelance nutrition writing for magazines and online content; I want to grow produce and make herbal remedies for my community farmers’ market; I want to help people achieve their health goals by doing personal nutrition consulting; I want arts and craftiness back in my life.

I initially read about voluntary simplicity and purposeful living in college. When I turned 25 one week ago, I decided it is time to take these philosophies, which I hold close to my heart, seriously, to practice them and not just dream about them. Leaving a secure job in this economy is nothing short of scary. However, I like to think of myself as a thrifty, creative and frugal person. And I am immensely lucky to have enough freedom to make this life-altering choice. People keep asking me if I have another job lined up. My answer is, “Well… I have an internship!” (The closest “legitimate-sounding” description for a series of dates with different farms across southeast USA.) Their next question is, “Does it pay?”

I’m realizing that I am developing a mindset much different from that of the average person. I don’t want to worship or rely on money for my needs. I know this sounds naive, but it is indeed my goal.

I wrote the following in a journal entry on my birthday:

Something about the nice, round number 25 makes me feel that a lot of good things will develop this year. Many also feel that 2012 is an auspicious time for change. My friends gave me a blue tiger eye stone, which they said protects you on your travels and wards off anxiety. I will keep it close. “This year I’ll try to only listen to myself.”* This year I want to peel back the layers. I have set myself on a righteous path of rigorous self-actualization. I will work to shed the ego this year, to dig deeper into who I am and who I want to be. This is the year of Getting My Hands Dirty. I believe this is the year I’ll find my life’s calling. I will also reconnect with those closest to me. I have not felt “home” in a long time. I will regain that this year. I will delve into my spiritual side and release practices and thought patterns and controls which are no longer serving me. I will become very comfortable in the Now and the path I am on.

This quotation from Chris Guillebeau planted a seed of deep pondering in me, especially the part I italicized: “Sometimes, we let people take over our lives by entrusting judgement to them. We assume other people know better than we do. We assume other people’s priorities are more important than ours. The answer is to stop believing these things… You begin by deciding for yourself what success looks like. Set your own rules. Be clear on what you want and how you’re going to get it.”

It reminds me of the Thoreau quotation that I can confidently say, when I read it, changed my life: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” I think it was when I read these words, I believe via Guillebeau, that I decided to leave my job to pursue my passion instead. Really, what better time than now? What better moment to start doing the things you have always dreamed of doing than now?

As I prepare to leave Richmond, I am parting with a lot of my “stuff” (non-essential, useless, excess). I think this has a lot to do with my shedding process and leaving my old self behind to better uncover my potential and to embrace my new mindset. I remember a time when I felt weighed down by stuff, when all my stuff was an excuse not to jet off somewhere. Changing location is a perfect opportunity to raise the anti-materialism bar. Through this move, I have gotten rid of many things that I never would have if I wasn’t moving – like my kitchen table! Yet, with each item I remove, I’m happier with my space. So open and uncluttered! It is really true that keeping only the most special, bare essentials multiplies their sentimentality and functionality. I now eat at my desk which I moved to the breakfast nook.

“Be willing to live on less and you’ll buy yourself priceless freedom.” – Colleen Kinder

Carpe diem!

*The Lawrence Arms

Four Guilty Pleasures I Need to Quit

Since life is our ultimate learning experience, and there are always improvements to be made, I’ve decided to compile a list of habits and choices in my life that I would like to change – two short and two long term.

Short Term:

1. Stop thrifting.

A few of the many bags of give-aways I have made in preparation for moving.

“Stop thrifting!?” you say, “I thought thrifting was good.” Yes, generally going to your local thrift store for something you need is a great way to reduce waste, support the local economy, and save money. However, my guilty pleasure and the verb “thrifting,” is sort of a synonym to “shopping.” You know, the “I don’t have anything to do, so I’m going to go to the mall to distract myself and look at the pretty things and probably buy something I don’t need” thing. The mystery of the hunt while thrifting adds a bonus lure – finding the jewel in the ruff. That added excitement is quite addictive. I must admit, I’m pretty decent at walking out of the thrift store without buying anything should nothing call out to me; however, the principle I need to face is that I am still killing time (and cash) seeking things I don’t need. Every cute thing I bring home that I don’t really need is a backward step from the intentional, minimalist life I am trying to create. So, in the spirit of intentional living, no more going to the thrift store without a mission!

 2. Chuck shampoo & facial soaps.

I picked up this tip from my favorite blogger, vegan chef, and ultimate lifestyle role model, Joy Tienzo. As someone with fine hair (I wouldn’t quite call it “thin”), and a definite T-zone of oily skin on my face, I am excited to see how the no-poo method works for me. Joy writes that she didn’t like the baking soda/apple cider vinegar method mentioned on a lot of sites, so I’m going to follow her advice to condition once weekly and scalp massage daily first.

For my skin, the supply and demand explanation of bodily oils definitely makes sense. The more you soap up your face, the more oil your skin produces. We need to reach a natural balance instead of a roller coaster. I have experienced mild to moderate acne and oily skin since puberty, and I’m hoping the oil cleansing method will finally (I’ll be 25 next week for goddess’ sake!) help my skin find the balance I’ve been screwing up the past decade or more with various soaps, astringents, topical medications, and antibiotics. Since I eat a fairly healthy diet, I think for me acne is mostly hereditary – which is the most frustrating part. However, I refuse to believe the only way to cure my acne is through medications. I am determined to find out what will make my skin naturally clear, whether it be through eliminating an irritating food (gluten? dairy? peanut butter?), or discontinuing stripping the natural oils from my skin which have been causing it to overproduce oils for years. I plan to make an antimicrobial oil concoction with coconut oil as the base and a few drops of tea tree and lavender essential oils to use for a nightly cleanser. To be honest, adding moisture to my skin resonates with me much more than soaping. More and more lately, I’ve been feeling like I am doing my skin a disservice by going to bed with it squeaky clean and dry. I imagine my new regimen will not only lead to less maintenance but probably discourage wrinkles as I get older, unlike the constant drying of the skin caused by using soaps. I believe in the infinite wisdom of my body and its ability to heal itself, so I feel like any treatment I impose on myself that goes against my body’s natural processes is counterproductive. I think that’s why no-poo makes sense to me.

I laugh at myself for this new adventure because I recently bought two “natural” products on impulse. They were shampoo and facial wash.

I’m not saying anything bad about these companies and they are certainly better than the average chemical stuff, but I believe we need to be aware of greenwashing these days during which “green” is hip and trendy. Don’t think that advertisers and big companies aren’t going to capitalize on this trend in order to make money, usually selling us stuff we do not need. While I have been very happy with these products for what their jobs are, and at the time of purchase I didn’t yet know about the no-poo and oil-wash methods, I was definitely a victim of impulse buying with the facial wash and shampoo.

So, I’m going to give no-poo and oil wash a whirl and report back with my results to see if my impulse buys truly were unneeded.

Long term:

1. Driving a car.

I recently paid off my car loan after two and a half years. Woo! I officially don’t owe anyone anything! Except my parents I guess since they birthed me and let me live in their house rent-free for 18 years. However sweet it is to not have a car payment every month anymore, there is still a little voice in my head saying I shouldn’t own a car at all. Insurance payments, gas, pollution, military-industrial complex, carcinogens in car materials… the list goes on and on. My current travel plans for wwoofing SE USA include traveling by car; however, I see myself possibly doing some wwoofing in South America next year. This may require selling the car. My dream is to one day live in a utopian cooperative community where there would be a shared car. My primary mode of transportation would be feet and bike, and folks in the community could reserve the car for special occasions or large hauls. And it would be a veggie mobile. *Sigh*

2. Disposables and recyclables.

Since I am going to be a farming intern for the rest of this year, I hope I don’t have to wait too long to fulfill this goal because luckily, homegrown food has no packaging! In the previously described dream community I plan to find or create in the future, all our food will be homegrown = goodbye need to dispose or recycle! Love the correction: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse then Recycle.

In the mean time, I try to reduce the packaging I consume by supporting the local farmers’ markets which are just popping up for the spring season here in Richmond – lovely, buying in bulk, and choosing less-packaged products. By buying more produce instead of processed semi-foods, you can cut your disposable packaging by a LOT!

Off I go to do my scalp massage!

On Simplicity

I was reading through some of my first posts from the original Raw Summer back in 2007, and was reminded about how I’d dedicated my cleanse to not only my body, but to my surroundings as well. I’d proclaimed to get rid of excess stuff and simplify my belongings and life. How fitting to revisit now, as I transition to life on the road.

As mentioned briefly before, I am planning to be a farming intern this summer through WWOOF. Therefore, I am currently working on giving away, selling, and donating most of my “stuff.”* I am trying to pare down to the essentials. I feel like minimizing is a constant process in my life, evident by the fact that I write about it often and it always seems to be needing done again and again. I don’t consider myself a hoarder by any means, but tend to like pretty (though usually cheap or free) things like thrifty home decor. Nevertheless, it is stuff I will need to purge in order to travel as freely and easily as I desire. My friend gave me a great compliment by saying, “You are already pretty minimalist,” in response to my proclamation that I wanted to be. However, the more I learn, the more I develop the idea, the more I garner inspiration from others, the more I up the anti on my own simplicity goals.

So, once again, I find myself wanting to shed unnecessary “stuff” from my life as well as nourish my body more fully through raw foods and the avoidance of negative nutrition. And it is spring. Here in Richmond the wind is blowing and the flowers and trees are in full bloom. Nature seems to be damp and fuzzy. Soon, summer will begin my adventure of living off the land, learning to be more self-sufficient, experiencing real food production first hand, and listening to the stories from those who know it best.

I’ll finish this post by sharing some very inspiring quotations I came across today on simple and non-conformist living:

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you ought to set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” – Seth Godin, Tribes

“Life is indeed bloody short and no one is going to give you a gold star for playing it safe.” – Almost Fearless


* By “stuff” I mean clutter, excess, non-essentials, anything that makes me feel bad or obligated, or doesn’t serve me as a useful and productive item, anything I haven’t used in a long time, anything I’m keeping out of “sentimentality” but serves no purpose. “Stuff” is weight, baggage, guilt, and blockades to Freedom.

This Year, Know Your Food

A Stonyfield Farms advertisement caught my eye recently: “This Year, Know Your Food.” Hmm, I thought, I want to know my food. I went to their site to check out the “food adventure” sweepstakes. The winner would receive a fridge makeover and a visit to Stonyfield Farms. I decided not to enter the contest because, coincidentally, I am planning a year of really getting to know my food.

As most people have, in New Years past, I made resolutions. Some I have stuck with, others have faded with the passing of the months and finally been forgotten. Late in 2011, I happened upon a book, Shed Your Stuff Change Your Life, which suggested a different idea: Establishing a “theme” for a desired transition in life doesn’t have to be set at the New Year, but for me it was perfect timing. My theme for 2012 and beyond is “Getting My Hands Dirty.” Having finished college, completed my dietetic internship, passed the arduous registered dietitian exam, and landed a public health job, I saw no clear next steps in front of me. I began to feel stagnant. But, because I realized the world was wide open, I began to think critically and carefully about my next steps and unlock the possibilities for the future. I felt I needed some real world experience before re-entering the realm of academia. It felt wrong to begin the master’s of sustainable food systems program I’d been accepted to without ever having worked on a farm.

To amend this gap in my education, this year I plan to participate in wwoof (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to get my hands dirty, literally, and to actually experience the philosophies I am so passionate about. I am hoping to wwoof at homesteads, more so than larger farms, to learn about sustainable living and providing for oneself. Most of the farm hosts I’ve contacted are small homesteads that primarily live off the land and sell some produce at nearby markets. Some are off the grid, described as “insanely committed camping.” All those I’ve contacted so far have been rural, but it would be great to experience an urban homestead as well. After all, it seems to me that since most folks live in cities, urban homesteading is a huge part of creating sustainability in our world.

One of the farms I might wwoof at is in Bath, NY. If I do make it there, I might just have to get an experience in urban homesteading in NYC. That would be the ultimate urban farming experience! I’m trying to leave my plan open-ended enough to allow for spontaneous opportunities to come at me (like NYC); however, I do want to have enough contacts when I set out that I won’t be wasting time on the trip trying to find farms that have space for me. Two notes I’ve written to myself in my wwoofing planning folder are “Don’t squeeze too much in!” and “Don’t be afraid to waver from the plan!” Yes, since I am usually an over-planner, I need to write these things in as reminders. What do you think the importance of hands-on experience is? Have you ever been a farming intern? Is it important to you to know your food?