Tuesday, April 26, 2011


I'm obsessed with food.  Not in a wine-pairings (I am currently imbibing something that brags of "Best in Class" appellations in the 3.0L category; I guess they don't specify the cardboard box part) and finish-with-squid-ink way.  While I enjoy adventures in culinary creativity, these days I leave that to my sister over at http://athome-ann.blogspot.com/.  No, my obsession with food has more to do with whether I can trust it to contain the stuff my body needs without also delivering toxic chemicals.  This sounds pretty simple, but I don't think it is anymore.  Maybe it never was, but since Monsanto was founded in 1901 by a pharmaceutical industry veteran to make artificial sweeteners, big agriculture in the US and abroad has done some pretty creepy things to food and farming.

Eating locally produced food has nutritional, social, and economic benefits.  Also, it may come in handy in the event of the Apocalypse.  I am not a strict locavore, and certainly not a political one.  Nonetheless, given my priorities with respect to what I eat, local food is the best option.  This meal came mostly from Maine (eggs, milk, meat, veggies), or New England (cheese), my salt and pepper come from abroad (although I am very picky about those too: the salt is French Atlantic sea salt and the pepper is certified organic).
Food is more than just nutrition, but that is my primary objective.  Order a salad in a restaurant.  Then eat a salad made from greens you grew yourself.  Few people who care about how food tastes won't notice a difference.  What is that difference?  Even organic mixed greens from the store taste different.  Food loses vibrancy as soon as it is harvested, and it loses nutritional value.  (I would love to see a good study of the exact rate of nutrient depletion, if anyone has one.)

What you absorb through ingestion and environment is all your body has to run on; the same is true of the stuff you eat.  If your food is grown in depleted, chemically treated soil, it stands to reason that it will be nutritionally deficient and will carry those chemicals with it.  Given that sprouts and kefir grains do not grow well in water treated with fluoride and chlorine (most recipes specify the use of untreated water), it might be reasonable to assume that those compounds have a negative impact on healthy cell development.  When I buy my food from a farmer who has rinsed it in fertile fields and then brought it directly to market, I trust it to be nutritionally potent.

I find that local food is also a good way to make friends!  In the area we used to live in, most of the  people I knew that lived there were connected to the farms and coops where I obtained food.  So, when I first moved to this area I called a local organic farmer.  Where could I find fresh eggs, raw Jersey milk, grass-fed meats?  She's become one of my good friends.  Living where food is grown, it is abundant and accessible, and the entrepreneurial energy and work ethic that comes from running small farms and food processing businesses is always present.  Food creates community.  
Local food is also more secure.  The German population was crippled during World War II by the criminal starvation blockades of the Allied powers, as they had limited domestic food sources.  Stalin wiped out between seven and ten million Ukrainians with engineered famines (in that case, even local food was not safe from a tyrannical despot).  Food embargoes are powerful acts of war (as are all embargoes, but that is another conversation).  Rising fuel prices have a tremendous impact on food production, raising costs and prices.  Not only are many farms tractor dependent, but synthetic fertilizers are petroleum-derived.  Fuel costs are an obvious factor in transport, both of raw materials and finished farm goods.  Simply put, local food made with local inputs and organic fertilizers does not travel as far. When arable land becomes acres of bloat boxes, food has to go farther to get to the table.

Certainly, the freshest food is that you grow yourself, and some might criticize me for emphasizing purchasing locally grown food rather than gardening.  There are some things I like to grow at home; I try to identify what I do best with my resources and leave the rest to the professionals.  I have found that small farms benefit from an optimal combination of economies of scale and expertise which allow for a productive division of labor in the marketplace, such as I cannot create by myself at home.  (Of course, mega-farms have the best economies of scale, but chemically-intensive monocultures are sort of like nuclear power: shop now, pay later).  That's just me; there are lots of terrific home growers out there and I commend you. 

Now, for a recipe full of non-local ingredients:)  By request -

Raw, organic energy bars

1 C almonds (I buy Spanish raw almonds; most domestic almonds that are labeled "raw" are actually pasteurized)
1 C cashews
~3/4 Lbs pitted dates (~20)
1/2 C raw honey (I get mine from Honey Gardens Apiary in Vermont).
1/3 C organic, unsweetened coconut

In food processor, chop the nuts and then add the dates.  Continue to chop until it starts to form a ball; add additional ingredients and process again.  Roll out between waxed paper on cookie sheet and then freeze until firm.  Cut into bars and stack with wax paper; store in freezer.

My latest go-to recipe for any veg and grain combo I have on hand, although I like kamuts and green beans these days.  This is a repeat, but it bears repeating.  I double the dressing because I use it on everything.

From Oh She Glows   
Protein Power Goddess Bowl

  • 2 cups uncooked brown rice (or however much you want to make)
  • 1.5-2 cups uncooked lentils (you need 4 cups cooked lentils)
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
  • 1 red/yellow/orange pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup Tahini lemon garlic dressing
  • 8-10 sundried tomatoes, sliced (optional)
  • 2 large handfuls of mixed greens (or spinach)
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • Lemon wedges and olives, for garnish (optional)
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste (I think I used about 1/4-1/2 tsp kosher salt in the sauté)
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil for sautéing
Directions: Cook lentils and rice according to package directions, rinse with cold water, strain, and set aside. (Soak them overnight in water with some apple cider vinegar to get maximum nutrition from them) In a large skillet, add in the oil and heat to low-medium temperature. Now add in the onion, garlic, red pepper, salt, pepper, and optional sundried tomatoes. Sauté for about 5 minutes over low-medium heat. Now add in the cooked, drained, and rinsed 4 cups of lentils and stir well. Cook for another few minutes. Add in 1 cup of tahini lemon garlic dressing and stir well. Cook until it starts to bubble and then remove from heat. Add in 2 large handfuls of greens and parsley and stir well again. Portion cooked brown rice into the bowl(s) and then scoop the sauté lentil mixture overtop of the rice. Garnish with olives and a lemon wedge if preferred. Makes about 6 large portions. Dressing: Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1-2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Directions: In a food processor, process all ingredients until smooth. Makes about 1.5 cups.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Listen: Radio Silence

Lightning in Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa
Perhaps if I lived on the great plains of the world, thunderstorms would cease to be a novelty.  I have to resist the urge to stand on a naked hilltop, arms outstretched, and answer the summons of the great roll of thunder, in rain so hard it hurts.  I count the seconds from the flash to the shuddering clap, closer and closer until they are nearly simultaneous and a splintering crack tolls the submission of some tall pine to the sky's fierce touch.  And then, with a slight disappointment, I count again as the seconds increase and the rain lightens to a steady, soaking shower.

On Wednesday I returned home from some errands to find that the storm had fried my modem and my routers, thus shutting down my internet and phone.  I called the phone company from the rotary phone at the old general store (which now serves as our friend Will's boat shop), and then, since my cell phone doesn't work down here either, settled in for a day without outside communication.  From Wednesday until Saturday we were mostly out of contact.  Having just blogged about my son's use of the internet, I then got to enjoy most of the week without it.

There are more than enough essays and opinion pieces on our relationship with information in the age of constant access; I doubt there is much I can add to the subject.  We had several beautiful days and spent most of them outdoors, Wallace exhausting himself in that exultant play that comes so easily to young children.  He missed his computer games but filled the time with different games, and I think he really enjoyed the change.  I, on the other hand, spent the first 24 hours faintly concerned that I might be missing something, wanting to check my email, looking for phone reception to listen for messages.

I always have a story to tell.  Ideas and information swirl around in my head and I get so excited that I forget my head isn't the only place in the world.  It all gets so loud that I forget to listen to anything else.  I am cloven in two trying to reconcile the intellectual adventures of my pre-child life with the physical adventures of the life I lead now.  The growth that occurs when I open myself to my weaknesses doesn't happen; I am "the busy man who is never wise".*

Lysander pulled me down to the water's edge and let the freezing waves wash over his legs.  In my arms his little body would heat up from the rush of cold and excitement.  Wallace drew huge faces in the sand and invented a detective game by making trails with sticks.  My children communicate so simply, and they forgive me for my failure to hear.  In not hearing, though, I lose.  Letting the world get small again reminds me how big it is, and how much more I need to listen.  Perhaps I can accept the summons of the lightning after all.

*There is a Chinese proverb that the Wise Man Is Never Busy, and the Busy Man Is Never Wise.

Monday, April 11, 2011

There is Time To Breathe

A few days ago a friend posted on Facebook that her closest friend had received a grave and startling diagnosis; heading into emergency surgery with an open-ended prognosis, would we hold her in our thoughts?  I remember that feeling, like losing my peripheral vision; the feeling of looking towards the westering sun.

In private, our mutual friend asked if I could get in touch with Lavender* and offer some words of encouragement.  Such a request is a powerful gift, but also a bit intimidating.  How can we comfort someone else, if we have not worn her shoes?  Or even if we have, what is the "right" thing to say in such a situation?  But no one travels these paths alone, and if the people around me hadn't taken the risk of saying the "wrong" thing, they might have said nothing at all, which would have been much, much more difficult.  So I tried my best.  I began by quoting someone who had offered me comfort and support.

"There is PLENTY OF TIME. Do not get caught up in the medical urgency paradigm. Nothing is different other than some lab test. ALWAYS insist on consulting a second opinion from another specialist outside of the practice.

Breathe, it will work out and you are safe. There are many alternatives and the one which you feel most comfortable about will come to your awareness.

Trust your body. There is a reason, a cause and a way to address this."


Breathe in Peace.

Breathe out Resistance.

Sit mindfully and watch your thoughts. The calm will help more than anything. Don't judge your fears or your resistance or anger or desperation or feelings of betrayal by your body. Just BE with your thoughts. Observe them. Find a place of centered-ness, of feeling grounded. Go outside and sit on the Earth. Look at the leaves and the grass and hear the birds. Breathe in. Breath out.

Focus on the breath.

Do that as often as needed.

Pause and BE in this moment. You are amazing. You are alive. You are strong. You are present for your children. You are in this moment. Focus on your breath.

And take some Rescue Remedy. Put it in water and sip all day. You will be ok. You are a strong and powerful healer. Your body is amazing and wants the best for you. You are healthy and confused. But, you are healing by focusing on the breath.

Do this first. There is plenty of time. There are millions and millions of moments and breaths. Be present with your breath.

All is well. Find that center. Be grounded in the present moment. You are ok, Right Now. The rest is chatter, speculation and supposition about tomorrow.

We are here. You are not alone. You are safe in this moment. Be present in this moment."

And as I read those words again, I realized how true they are.

I am struck by how unexceptional, how ordinary, it is to carry these burdens.  My uncle has an aggressive form of melanoma.  My mom has spasmodic pain in her neck that can be immobilizing.  People close to me have lost pregnancies, dear friends, relatives.  I have contemporaries with lupus, fibromyalgia, rheumatic arthritis, chronic fatigue.  Birth complications, divorces, abandoned careers; the list waxes and wanes, but winds ever on.  What is extraordinary is not that so many deal with so much with such grace, but that we generally recognize the positive as the norm.  The challenges are just that.  We go through them and grow through them; what else can we do?

Whenever we know of someone who is facing illness or loss, we extend our charity and our sympathy, as neighbors.  Again and again, we are undaunted by the frequency of these occurrences.

This is very telling.  Our reserves are much deeper than we think until we test them.  There really IS time to breathe, and the odds really ARE in our favor.

*Not her real name.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Welcome the Rain

A promise kept, the sword-like leaves of new green emerge from the detritus of shredded snow.  The honoring of a sacred trust that an emotionless, flaming ball of gas 93 million miles away will still be there when our spot on our own emotionless ball of rock tilts its face upwards and shakes off the shackles of winter. 
"Don't you hate the rain, Mom?"  "I don't hate the weather, Wallace.  I think I'd be setting myself up for a lot of misery if I did."  We welcome the warming of the air, the sweet smell of damp soil, in the Spring.  But do we welcome the flat gray drizzle of late Autumn, though it is last replenishment of the aquifer until the snow melts, an assurance to the sleeping trees that they can keep their fists closed and toes curled for a few months of rest before the exuberant unfurling and the effort of growth?  When we lie prostrate under the swelter of July, are we paying obeisance to the bursting tomato, the voluptuous pepper to come?

The forces that bend us are as much a gift as those that buoy us.  People ask me how I'm feeling.  Since early February, I have to remind myself of why; the question genuinely catches me off guard.  How am I feeling?  Terrific!  As healthy as I have ever been, perhaps healthier on a baseline level.  If I have had the occasional cold, it was no worse than any other, nor any more an injustice.  Somewhere in my recent past there is this tremendous experience of growth, the opportunities from which are still just glimmers in my imagination, and yet so many folks seem still to express concern! 

I don't resent it (it's nice enough to have people tell you how great you look, even if they mean "..considering that you have had a life-threatening illness"); how could I fault someone their generosity, or their genuine emotion.  But in so many ways it was easier to be me than anyone else this fall.  When I first got sick and spread the news around, a friend called to say, "I can't wait to hear how this new adventure turns out for you!"  Now that is a powerful statement of confidence and comfort. 

This is not to recommend that one necessarily respond to news of serious illness with words of congratulation.  It is just that those that bear the burden of worry and doubt are reflecting their own needs as well in their concern.  I have talked with others who have experienced severe illness about the impulse to try to care for the people who are caring for you, to offer them information and reassurance.  I dreaded calling my parents to tell them of my illness because I was worried for them; I burst into tearful apologies on the phone.  I think this is a large part of why it is so important to let people give; it is for themselves as much as for the recipient that they must do it.  It is the gift that we who suffer the illness can give in response to the gift of the illness itself; strange gifts both, but powerful.

To hate the rain would be futile, but it would also be a terrible loss.  What greater promise is there than the rain?