Daily Moments of Sacred

Originally published 09.13.2016

Many years ago, I recall listening to a segment on CBC radio on the future of the Jewish faith.  Etched in my memory is a comment from one of the interviewees sharing the perspective he gained from his grandmother – every moment of life is sacred.

Since I made the commitment to myself to write this blog, I have been contemplating on the rituals of my day for where there might be an opportunity for mindfulness….. and sacredness that I am missing because I am not paying attention.

Almost every day I make a cup of coffee in the morning.  Many mornings I do this task mindlessly, my brain whirling around as I think about the day ahead or fuss about something that happened the day before.  It takes only minutes and is something I get joy from when I pause to be aware of the subtleties of each step.

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I am a tad particular about my coffee and that shapes my habits.  I use my much-loved stovetop stainless-steel espresso maker from the renowned Lina’s Italian Market in Calgary.  The solidness of the stainless steel provides ballast to my routine.  As I rinse it out, I breathe in faint scents from yesterday’s brew.   I catch the softest melodic sound as the water fills the reservoir.  The scent of the ground coffee catches me every time (even when I’m rushing) and pulls me into the here and now.  It brings me a moment of bliss even before I have even raised my cup to my lips.  For years I have been enamoured with the Espresso Blend from Balzac’s Coffee Roasters.  I appreciate the artistry and attention to details that goes into their entire process.  Perhaps another form of mindfulness?

My recent musings have highlighted the missed opportunity of this morning ritual – the time the espresso maker is on the stove.   Usually, I pop it on the burner and rush off to fit in another quick task until I hear the gurgles and sputters that signal the coffee is almost ready.   My aim now is to lean against the counter and use those few minutes to slow down my brain and breathing.   When I pull this off, I am present enough to savour the velvety dark colour, how the design of my cup pleases my sense of aesthetic, and the rousing aroma promising the taste of my first sip.  And if I sit down to drink my coffee and actually notice the flavour of each mouthful, I am much more likely to have a smile on my face as I finish my morning routine and a peaceful feeling that there is room for beauty, flavour, joy, and sacredness in this world.

Maybe, I will go and make another cup……

Quest for Energy

Originally posted 09.07.2016

My walking group and I decided to switch up our Saturday morning walk and began cycling instead.  It had been years since I had ridden much, yet it was a bit of surprise to learn that my body took longer to adapt again to this activity!  This in itself has been an exercise of mindfulness to move past the discomfort, trusting that my body to adjust and for the muscle memory to return.

To beat the summer heat, we start at 7 a.m. in the morning.  All great…. except that I discovered, I needed more energy before and during the rides.  Back to my old quest to make my own power bars.  The guiding criteria being easy to package and carry, reasonable cost, quick to make,tasty, and clean ingredients.

There is something about working with nuts and oats that is fulfilling.  I can feel myself become more focused and relaxed as I go about measuring the ingredients, processing the nuts and stirring it all together.  When I am extra conscious, I can drop into my yoga mindset and breathing as I work.

I feel content knowing I have bags of these clusters at hand to grab as I head out the door to meet my friends for 7 a.m.

Granola Clusters

Tools

  • Food Processor
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Cookie Sheet – large, rimmed
  • Parchment Paper
  • Sandwich sized ziplock bags

 

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole raw almonds
  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces or pistachio nuts or pecans
  • 1 1/4 cups rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup dates
  • ½ cup raw pumpkin/pepita seeds
  • ½ cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp fine-grain sea salt
  • 6 Tbsp maple syrup
  • ½ cup olive oil or melted coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup tahini

Preheat your oven to 275F.  Line the cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Process ½ cup of the whole almonds in the food processor until you have a fine meal (similar to the texture of cornmeal or sand).  I find that it isn’t always consistent and it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in the formation of the clusters.

Place the ground almonds into a large mixing bowl.

Take the remaining ½ cup almonds and all of the walnuts/pistachio/pecans and process in the food processor until they are finely chopped.  This mixture also goes into the bowl.

Also add the rolled oats, dates, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cinnamon and salt to the bowl and stir well.

In a small bowl, combine the maple syrup, oil and tahini.  Use a whisk to combine these wet ingredients.  Sometimes I quickly heat this in the microwave for 5 – 10 seconds to make it easier to combine.   When it is a consistent mixture, stir into the dry ingredients.  Stir well until the dry ingredients are thoroughly coated.  Make sure all the little bits at the bottom of the bowl have been covered too.

Spread the mixture onto the parchment covered baking sheet (approx. ½ inch thick) and press down lightly to assist in the binding.

Bake at 275F for 20 minutes.  Rotate the pan and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes.  Watch and remove when you can see the beginnings of a light toasting on the bottom.

Be sure to cool for at least an hour before attempting to break it into clusters and store in bags.

Enjoy during our favorite exercise activity.  Makes about 6 cups of clusters.

(adapted from The Oh She Glows Cookbook: Vegan Recipes To Glow From The Inside Out)

Celebration of Life

Originally posted 09.07.2016

Even though we are doing our best to be more mindful and live in appreciation of the abundance that frames our lives…. there are moments that come out of left field.

On an August Friday afternoon  …. it came at me from the other side of an intersection in the form of a large, red, transport truck with a full load of stone…. coming down a hill ….. gaining momentum as its brakes failed.

I was travelling with my friend Matthew and his dog, Clooney, doing errands before heading to his cottage.  We were stopped at the lights, chatting.

We all walked away with miraculously few physical injuries.  Looking at the pictures, afterwards, was surreal.   Thank goodness for seatbelts, airbags, and the design of the truck we were driving in.  As we worked our way through the mental and emotional aftershocks, we toasted to the many reasons to celebrate life with a gin & tonic (or two).  The accident was an “in our faces” reminder.

Matthew has a fabulous set of south-facing planter boxes in front of the cottage.  This summer, its output has been colossal – especially the basil!  I have been the happy recipient of several bursting shopping bags of basil.   This green, fragrant bounty has given me ample opportunity to experiment with many versions of pesto.  This is my favourite and has become a symbol of the many reasons to celebrate the life I have.

Celebration of Life Pesto

Tools

  • Salad spinner
  • Food Processor or Blender
  • Grater for cheese
  • Measuring spoons
  • Spatula
  • Storage jars or small ziplock baggies

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups organic, extra-virgin olive oil (I prefer unfiltered)
  • 6 – 8 cloves garlic, peeled *
  • 2 cups toasted walnuts
  • 4 Tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 cups (6 oz) basil (washed and dried in a salad spinner)
  • 2.5 cups finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 – 4 Tbsp 100% pure roasted walnut oil
  • Salt to taste (start with 1/2 tsp)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a food processor or blender, puree the garlic, walnuts, olive oil and lemon juice to a creamy texture.

Add the basil in small batches, continuing to blend until smooth.

Finally, stir in the parmesan and walnut oil.  Season with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice or walnut oil to satisfy your personal taste.

Put the finished pesto in small jars if storing in your fridge.  To freeze, I use small snack ziplock bags and put approximately 1/4 cup in each.

I find that the flavour becomes richer a couple days later.  So I don’t fuss about the perfect seasoning when I’m making it.  I know I’m likely to tweak the seasoning once I use the pesto in a salad, vegetable, egg, or pasta dish.  I used pesto in the dressing I used for the Caprese salad in the picture above.

*If you happen to be lucky enough to have access to smoked garlic (thank you Matthew!) it adds another wonderful flavour profile to the pesto.

P.S.  09.16.2016

I’ve been playing with using pesto in biscuits.  Haven’t found the magic yet.  This recipe is close.  Still making modifications.  BASIL & PARMESAN SCONES

A Story of Unexpected Friendship and more..

“It was one of the best meals we overate… the fact that we remember it it with such queer clarity must mean that it had other reasons for being important.  I suppose that happens at least once to every human.  I hope so.”    M. F. K. Fisher, The Gastronomical Me

We connect with stories in so many ways.  Marketing a service or being successful during an interview is often because you tell your story or stories in a way that connects to your audience…. they connect and relate to the emotion that is expressed through your stories.

Dinner with Edward: A Story of an Unexpected Friendship by Isabel Vincent is many stories ….. a sensory experience.  I became immersed in the heart and soul of the stories woven throughout the book. Stories of reflection, appreciation, insight, transition, and transformation.  And!  I became completely entranced with the food pairings that accompanied these stories.

I now have a list …. a new one, since I have several on the go….. of food to try my hand at, some that I would have never really considered until I read this book.

Apricot Souffles….. Edward’s approach to martinis….. Apple Galette (tried with satisfying results)…..Herb-Roasted Chicken in a Paper Bag….  Fennel Remoulade….Popover Flambe…..

I just might do a Julie & Julia and work my way through everything described in the book!  The exiting thing is that there are no recipes, only menus and Isabel Vincent’s description of her experience of the meal.  A perfect challenge to search for and experiment with the ideas of the recipes.   To create my own experiences and stories.  Look out my friends…. there’s a dinner invite in the future!