A Dog’s Life

 

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Little Mags

Snowbound and sad today. I have learned many times in life that there are circumstances or events where you have to set aside your own agenda in order to be with someone who is suffering—in this case, my son and his dog. Last night the younger of our two dogs succumbed to cancer at nine years old. Maggie, or Little Mags as we called her, dramatically declined after behaving like a little champ throughout her illness. She died peacefully in my son’s arms (also our youngest) saving her last moments for him. He and I tended to her last weeks, days, then hours by simply sitting with her on the couch, her head in one or the other of our laps.

I have always claimed that getting the dogs, first Polly then Maggie, was the best parenting decision that my husband and I ever made. Neither Gerry nor I grew up with dogs and were not animal lovers in general. Giving our kids animals was not in the cards just as going to Disney World was not going to happen. Call me cruel. Then our oldest son was about to turn 14. I woke up one morning and said to my husband, “You are not going to like this, Hon, but Daniel needs a dog.” He thought I was kidding and brushed the idea off until, coincidentally (divine intervention?), he was approached that same day by a fellow professor who claimed that he had a rescue puppy that would be perfect for our family. The idea went from my lips to reality with no chance to change my mind.

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14-year-old Polly lying on Mags bed last night.

Polly was, in fact, the perfect dog for our family especially for two dimwits such as Gerry and myself who didn’t really know the first thing about raising a dog. If there was ever a dog to convince non-dog-lovers to embrace dog ownership, it is Polly. And, thankfully, my siblings are all dog lovers and were able to give much needed advice. For instance, Polly was just a puppy on her first Christmas, a day that brought a significant snowfall. Her face was blowing up and we couldn’t figure out why. I called my younger sister who informed me that she likely needed to pee but was afraid to go out in the snow. Sure enough once we cleared a path through the snow for her to navigate, she went out peed and problem solved.

Then four years later, I woke up again one morning and said to my husband, “You are going to kill me, but Conor needs a dog.” Conor was almost 15 years old, our daughter already in NYC for college, and his brother soon off to college, leaving Conor with us. I promised Gerry that I would not broach the idea of a new dog to Conor but that I would leave the offer to Gerry if he was up for taking on another dog. Over dinner we asked Conor what he wanted for his birthday and he responded that he wasn’t at all excited about his birthday that year. As promised, I kept my mouth shut, but Gerry who is as big a sap as I am, didn’t and before we knew it we owned another rescue dog, one of a litter that had been abandoned on the side of the road. Our little Mags.

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The Girls

Our two “girls” as we’ve called them since have indeed fulfilled their promise of giving and receiving love to our sons and the rest of us. They have been the perfect teachers of unfailing love and acceptance. The dogs gave the boys a way to express a wide range of emotions that, especially as teens, they were otherwise unable to express. After a tough day Daniel or Conor could simply bury their faces in the fur of their beloved pet. I am proud to say that watching my boys with our “girls” I am confident that they will both be great fathers someday.

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On Daniel’s Lap

The tenderness with which Conor has ministered to Maggie during her illness has been remarkable. He has the ability to do all the “gross” things that the rest of us have been reluctant to do e.g. clean Polly’s ears, dress Maggie’s wound after her surgery, and investigate any weird growths etc. He has not been having a great year to begin with, but we feel blessed that he has been able to be with her during her last year. She loved him and waited to share her very last moments on earth to be alone with him.

Both Conor and I have spent much of the past six months wondering about our purpose and direction. My idea of Cooking Therapy has not moved with the momentum I had enthusiastically anticipated upon my return from Ballymaloe. Since I’ve been back other concerns have pressed upon me from unexpected corners like this one. Conor certainly did not anticipate the difficulty of finding work that could provide both meaning and money. But then I think, maybe just being with Little Mags’ during her last months has been purpose enough for us. Is a dog’s life worthy of such attention? Once upon a time I would have said, “she’s a dog!,” implying that one cannot compare animals to humans. I have experienced the deaths of a brother, niece, and both parents. I value human life and grieved the losses of my family members. But witnessing the way Maggie guided us through her cancer and death, I will no longer underestimate the wisdom of dogs. She was a champ throughout and let us know, quietly but in no uncertain terms, when her time was up. Purpose enough to be able to be with her and with Conor through this sad chapter.

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On Elizabeth’s lap

Like all decisions I’ve made with my heart, I do not regret getting the dogs for my boys, and will not regret “wasting my time,” keeping vigil with a sick dog as she showed me how one dies with dignity.

The intersection of watching my son and his dog suffer makes me a very sad mom today.

Many thanks to our wonderful vet, Jenn Weaver, who made the experience of ushering Maggie from this world a sacred one.

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Getting the best spot in the sun

 

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And on the couch!

I actually do have a nice pasta recipe that I made to stay busy as while I monitored Maggie’s decline. I made this pasta a week or so ago while she nudged her sister, Polly, away from the sunny spot in front of the door.

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Orecchiette 

250 grams semolina (high quality better like Caputo)

125 grams “00” flour also Caputo

pinch of salt

one extra large egg

¾ C warm water

Sift flour into a large bowl add salt. Make a well in center and add egg and water mixing with hands into smooth ball. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface (using the semolina) for 15 minutes until smooth. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least two hours.

Taking off a plum-sized portion each time, and leave the rest wrapped in the fridge while you work each piece. On a floured surface roll into a log approximately ½ to ¾ inch log. Then cut the log into ¼ inch pieces. Take a butter knife and pull across each piece so the edge rolls around tip of knife, which makes an ear shape. Place “ears” on baking sheet dusted with semolina until ready to use.

Took cook, drop in boiling salted water for approximately 5 minutes. The pasta will rise to the surface. Taste one to see if done to your liking, drain, reserving some liquid, and top with favorite sauce.

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Bye Little Mags

 

 

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Ode to a Commode

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Image from Static.tumblr.com

 

I subscribe to the “Word of the Day” through Dictionary.com. One of the words last week was “hydra,” (noun: a persistent or many-sided problem that presents new obstacles as soon as one aspect is solved. 2.a water or marsh serpent with nine heads, each of which, if cut off, grew back as two). According to mythology, Hercules was able to finally kill Hydra by cauterizing the neck after he cut off the heads. OUCH.

My oldest brother would be turning 65 today, and I have been contemplating all the things I would have liked to “do-over” since he died. When we look back at the tough times of our lives, don’t we often wish we could have handled the situation better than we perceive we did? What may seem obvious with the 20/20 vision of hindsight is not at all possible when reeling from a traumatic event. In addition, the attributions we attach to our regrets are also from our current perch and the evidence we are seeking to reinforce our beliefs about ourselves good or bad. IMG_2789

I have a litany of do-overs that dog me to this day. Just when I think I’ve worked through an issue there it comes again in a new form or through a new vehicle. And don’t we want to have the chance of a do-over in the first place just so we are not condemned to playing out what seems to us to be the same themes again and again throughout our lives? If only I could cauterize the beast once and for all! However, hydrate the verb, as in staying hydrated is something we need to do to live. Could it be that working and reworking the themes of our lives is our very lifeblood and as such vital as a glass of water to a parched throat? As unpleasant as I perceive the same themes replaying in my life to be, cauterizing them takes the life out of them completely. Rather than cauterizing, perhaps the goal is to accept and transform them for a more workable me.

 

I have wondered if my inclination to always change recipes is symbolic of my desire consciously and unconsciously to take another pass at life in general. There is always room for improvement to my mind. I have loved watching The Chef’s Table on Netflix especially how the chef’s work diligently to perfect a dish. I am not that kind of chef. I continue to be more therapist than chef. I do not seek the perfect presentation. Don’t get me wrong, how it tastes and whether people enjoy my creations is vastly important, just ask my family. As I change recipes, I am, indeed, seeking a healthier alternative to what I perceive as too much sugar or other unhealthy ingredients. However, cooking like swimming provides for me the opportunity to ruminate or ponder life’s mysteries or attune to self. This is not altogether conscious just as I am certain that while a chef’s conscious goal is to perfect a recipe she/he is involved in similar psychological processes. No matter our conscious goals, we are always learning through the process be it about perfecting ourselves or about perfecting a recipe.

According to June Singer, the Jungian analyst and author of Boundaries of the Soul that I’d mentioned in my last post, “the individuation process, in the Jungian sense, means the conscious realization and integration of all the possibilities immanent in the individual.” She continues, “The essential nature of the individual includes not only strengths but weaknesses.” As such, we are all capable of both creative and destructive acts. She emphasizes the fact that, “we cannot ‘dispose’ of dangerous or destructive aspects of ourselves, we can only know of their presence and how they tend to function.” As we become more aware we are able to transform but, as she noted, not fix or cure our problems. Every encounter in life provides an opportunity to increase self-knowledge and awareness. As we learn to integrate all aspects of ourselves we learn to accept, manage, and even transform them. From this viewpoint, rather than cauterizing the “offending” themes of our lives perhaps we look upon them as opportunities to grow in compassion for ourselves and others.

I began this post yesterday with the intention of sharing a poem that my brother wrote as a Father’s Day present back in 1974. The following Thanksgiving he would be dead from an airplane crash. Coincidentally, the WordPress writing prompt was “ruminate.” So funny because he used ruminate in the poem and at the time none of his siblings knew what the word meant. I love this poem and although at age 22 he likely had little knowledge of Jungian analysis this poem humorously describes the process! He also mentioned chocolate cake.  As it happens, I have been working on yet another iteration of chocolate cake recipes to make them both healthy and delicious.  The latest is a redo of a favorite from Epicurious.com (from 1999) though I am reluctant to associate my recipes or theirs with a commode, it’s only right to share.  Have you noticed I have a thing for chocolate?

Ode to a Commode

by P. N. D.

There aren’t too many tranquil placesIMG_2756

or restful, quiet, peaceful spaces

where a man can think and meditate

or maybe just to ruminate

But, if he’s like the average dad

there is a place where peace is had

and if it’s lunch he’s just been fed

he’s probably going to the head.

A book or magazine he’ll take

the effect of lots of chocolate cake

But, if he’s like the dad I know

it’ll be an hour ‘fore he’ll show

On Sunday it’s the place to be

after breakfast, talk and revelry

the Sunday paper he may take

leave him alone for heaven’s sake.

Yes, like my dad, I contemplate

the world and its present fate

I do this on my own commode

That’s where I wrote this little ode.

He taught me everything I know

As yet I have not much to show

but, I have learned one little fact.

The commode’s the only place to act.

 

Redo of Epicurious Double Chocolate Layer Cake

I basically left the cake alone outside of reducing and changing sugars here.  The outcome was absolutely delicious.  We really do not need so much sugar in our recipes.  Like my brownies, I use date sugar and monk sugar.  You can play around with what you like.

3 oz. fine quality chocolate. I used Ghirardelli, 60% cacao chips

1 1/2 C brewed coffee

1/2 C date sugar, 3/4 C monk fruit crystals, 1 C granulated, 1/2 coconut sugar, combined (this is instead of 3 cups granulated)

2 1/2 C all purpose flour (normally I would mess with the flours too, but I didn’t here).

1 1/2 C Hershey’s (what I had) unsweetened cocoa powder

2 t baking soda

3/4 t baking powder

1 1/4 t salt

3 large eggs

3/4 C vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)

1 1/2 C well shaken buttermilk

For Ganache

1 pound fine-quality semi-sweet chocolate chips (again I used Ghirardelli)

1 C heavy cream

2 T light corn syrup (I used but would say optional and I left out an additional 2 T sugar)

1/2 unsalted butter, cut in pieces

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and line with parchment then grease again 3 9 in cake pans.  Combine the chocolate chips with hot coffee.  Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally until chocolate is melted.

In large bowl sift together dry ingredients (sugar through salt).  In a large bowl of a stand mixer beat the eggs until thickened slightly (about 3 minutes or 5 with handheld mixer).  Slowly add buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate/coffee mixture, beating until well combined.  Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until well combined.  Divide batter among pans and bake until inserted toothpick comes out clean approximately 45 minutes.

Cool layers in pans on racks.  Run a thin knife (palette) around pans and invert layers onto racks and cool completely.

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Ganache

Heat the cream and corn syrup to a boil in a 1 1/2 quart saucepan over moderately low heat, whisking to dissolve syrup.  Remove from heat and add chocolate chips, whisking until chocolate is melted. Stir in butter pieces until melted and smooth.  Let cool stirring occasionally until spreadable.

The original may have originally been in Gourmet Magazine 1999.  Still one of the best even without all that sugar!

Happy Birthday Pat!
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Making a Deal with the Devil (‘s Food)

“Those who stand in the brightest light cast the darkest shadows.” (A Gerry Tobin quotation). What do you see in the above image? (Found in Google images).

When I first began writing my blog, I thought I would do all I could to stay positive as my natural inclination is toward negativity. I have to work very hard to keep that promise to myself these days while also staying current with national affairs. That being said, I thought it would be useful to follow up on my last post’s theme of Narcissistic Personality Disorder with a reflection on Shadow Projection.

I know enough of about Jungian Analysis to know that anything I may write here risks a glaring exposure of my own shadow projections, but I’ll charge ahead anyway as I do believe it is imperative that we all deal with this issue. How did we get ourselves into the situation we face today? I believe it behooves us all to ask that question of ourselves as we are all responsible.

Simply put, we project onto others what we do not want to see in ourselves. We can project both negative and positive attributes. A key to recognizing shadow projections is the vehemence or emotional energy behind the projection. An example of a positive projection is when we might gush over the talents of another. Perhaps we are afraid to recognize similar talents in ourselves. Negative projections, which we appear to come by more naturally, are when we see evil in another human being. Any time we dehumanize other people due to their difference(s) from us, you can be sure shadow projection is at play.

One of my favorite books on Jungian psychological theory is Boundaries of the Soul, by June Singer, (DoubleDay/Anchor Books, 1972, 1994). She makes Jung’s theory accessible without dumbing down. As June Singer describes, a man caught in the grips of the defense mechanism of projecting the shadow will find causes everywhere but in himself for why he cannot accomplish what he’d set out to accomplish or be the person he’d hoped to be. “Always there will be an unfortunate combination of events which works against him, or there will be somebody who is out to get him. That somebody will inevitably be described with great vehemence as having just those despicable qualities which he fails to see in himself, but which dog his every step.” (174)

In order to deal with the shadow we have to be relentless in dealing with our own shit (pardon my language but that seems the clearest description). The easiest clue to recognizing when shadow projection is at work in you is the emotional energy involved. As June Singer describes, “Every situation in life which carries for an individual a charge of strong affect, which makes him excessively angry or anxious or even delighted, must be considered…in the form of a shadow projection.” (175)

Furthermore, shadow projection is not just the stuff of individuals. Nations can carry shadow projections as we’ve seen over and over again throughout history whenever a group is singled out as evil due to race, religion, gender, sex, or region. As June Singer warns, and as Carl Jung did before her, “We, as a nation, need to discover our own shadows. We can find them in the images we project, if we can only remember that they are our images.” According to June Singer, the best way to recognize and heal our collective shadow is through each individual’s efforts toward dealing with his or her own projections. In other words, the best way to deal with our nation’s problems is if we each take on the task of dealing with our own shit. June Singer puts it more elegantly when she says each individual needs to take care to “differentiate his own flaws and to take responsibility for them before he goes out to correct his neighbor’s.” (177) Such is the path toward an open mind and heart, and the attainment of wisdom.

To inject a bit of personal history and I hope humor into this post, I’ll share some of my own musings about shadow that came up while I pondered what to write. I began to wonder why I am such a catastrophic thinker. I’ve always assumed my negativity bent was due to my brother’s death in the airplane crash, but upon further reflection I realized that my father built shadow right into the design of our family home, which he designed. As a product of his experiences from WWII and the Cold War, we had both a bomb shelter and an incinerator built into our basement. Talk about symbolic representation!  A Jungian analyst would have a field day!  Add to that, our house was built into a hill, so that the front of the house looked like a ranch, but from the back a two story.  All the kids’ bedrooms except for the newest baby’s, were also in the basement.  Find me an analyst!  I could go on and on, but the point is we all as human beings possess both the good and the bad and we must take responsibility for our part in the state of affairs.

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The riot of color in my outfit is worth years of analysis!  And brother Bob not yet born but with us!

Here is where the Devil’s Food comes in. As an homage to all that is good and bad within us I made up a Devil’s Food cake or cupcake recipe that is not all good or all bad. This cake has elements of the BAD ingredients e.g. white flour and white sugar but less so, and what are currently deemed GOOD ingredients date sugar, coconut sugar, and gluten free flours and beets. Fortunately, they turned out a delicious batch of cupcakes. The devil is in the details. So whip up a batch for all that is good and bad in you!

A Deal With the Devil’s Food Cake or Embracing Your Shadow Cake

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This makes 24 cupcakes. I only have one cupcake tin, so made a small nine-inch single layer Valentine’s Cake for me and my husband.

Cake:

150 grams white unbleached un-bromated flour

150 g gluten free flour (I used a wild combination of 50 grams each of tigernut, banana, and almond flours, but go ahead and experiment)

55 g cocoa powder

2 t baking soda

½ t sea salt

½ cinnamon

1 t sanka or espresso powder or instant coffee mixed with 1 T of hot water

2 eggs (room temperature)

130 grams (2/3 C coconut oil), melted

½ C of sugar

½ C of coconut sugar

¼ C of date sugar or maple sugar or maple syrup (your choice)

200 grams of beet puree. Blend one 14 oz. can of salt free beets in most of their water (I poured out approximately 1/3 cup of their water). Then weigh out 200 grams, which is most of it.

2 t vanilla extract

400 ml buttermilk

Frosting:

1 can of sweet potato puree

10 oz. of bittersweet chocolate chips.

1 t Kahlua (optional)

1 t instant coffee mixed with 1 T hot water (also optional)

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Method:

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour two 9 in round cake pans or line cupcake tin with liners. Sift flours through cinnamon in a medium sized bowl and set aside. In a large bowl of stand up mixer (or use hand mixer no worries) blend coconut oil and sugars until light and frothy. Add the coffee mixture, beet puree, and vanilla, whisk to combine then beginning and ending with flour mixture alternate adding with buttermilk until evenly combined.

Divide batter evenly among prepared pans or tins and bake cake approximately 25 minutes or cupcakes 20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

For the frosting I adopted and adapted sweet potato frosting, which I believe is fantastic. I have seen it on both Food52.com and  Thekitchn.com websites.

Heat up one can of sweet potato puree on the stovetop to a simmer. I added 1 teaspoon of Kahlua and repeated the 1 t of instant coffee with 1 T of hot water to the mix to enhance the chocolate goodness. Remove from heat and add 10 oz of dark chocolate chips stirring until melted. Allow frosting to cool on top of stove. It will thicken as it cools.

Enjoy!

 

 

Walking on Eggshells? Make Pavlova.

Speak Out
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Our Goose is Cooked!

Well this is a fine kettle of fish!

Bad Egg

Egg on our face

Rotten to the core

Neither fish nor fowl

Rotten Apple

Stick a fork in it.

Not worth a hill of beans.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The fat is in the fire

In a pickle

Make mincemeat out of

Out to lunch

Walking on eggshells

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There are not enough food idioms to describe the situation we are facing today in the United States. Given the state of our union at present, I thought it would be instructive to explain a bit about the experience of being up close and personal with a person who has NPD or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

I once went to a conference on personality disorders to earn my continuing education credits for Social Work. The instructor drew knowing chuckles from the audience when he stated, “Mood disorders, patient suffers; personality disorders, therapist suffers.” He was not trying to make a mockery of personality disorders. Rather he was giving the therapists in the audience permission to admit to their feelings regarding the difficulty of treating a person who has a personality disorder.

A person with a mood disorder knows there is something wrong. Psychological theory describes the experience as ego dystonic. We don’t feel like ourselves.  We know we need to seek help of some kind be it from friends, in therapy, exercise etc.

For a person with a personality disorder the experience is ego-syntonic. There is nothing wrong with me. The fault lies with everyone else. Typically a person with a personality disorder will not seek psychological help as he or she does not believe the problem lies within him/her. The finger (or fist) of a person with a personality disorder always points out. Self-reflection or analysis is not an exercise for the personality-disordered individual. In my experience of treating individuals with personality disorders there exists a history of abuse. Their wounds are very deep and often buried beneath the presenting symptoms.

For my purpose today here are some of the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder: arrogant, self-aggrandizement, disparaging of others, grandiose, chronic need for praise and admiration, boastful, little capacity for empathy thus impairing intimacy, pattern of exploiting others to achieve own ends. Another hallmark of narcissistic personality disorder is the empty well. No matter how much praise the person elicits from others, the well is always empty and the demand for more increases.

To be around a person with a personality disorder is very difficult. A person with a personality disorder brings out the worst in others especially those within their immediate orbit. In fact, to maintain a relationship with a person with narcissistic personality disorder you have to agree to be a bit player, circling the disordered person’s orbit as he or she believes they are the center of the universe. In order to maintain a relationship with such a person one has to set aside his/her own needs and desires, shelve his/her own personality and/or subsume the personality of the disordered in order to survive circling in such an orbit. Above all else you cannot win and you will always be taken by surprise as there is no predictability in such madness. One thing is for certain you will always be walking on eggshells.

Back in 1995, I wrote a poem about an encounter with a person with a narcissistic personality disorder. Male pronouns can easily be substituted for the female here especially since males comprise 75% of the NPD population.

In the meantime, I feel as if I should at least include one recipe for my readers.

When you’re walking on eggshells make pavlova. My recipe for a Winter Pavlova with Poached Pears to follow.

The Judge 

Possessed by the invisible.

She sits on her throne.

At the ready

to take on all challengers

or just those stupid enough

to fall within reach.

She wields the sword today.

Pulled from the scabbard

for reasons unclear

even to herself—fear,

past hurts, a father’s disapproval.

The unsuspecting one walks heedless

right into the tip.

The sting of the sword poking flesh—just enough

to absent-mindedly place a protective hand

over the wound.

What just happened?

Pay attention you fool!

That was just the beginning!

Deceptive in conversation, drawing you in,

slowly, innocently, certainly unaware.

But if you, oh vulnerable one, are not careful,

her poison-tipped sword will find

every weak point of entry.

Not altogether blameless, you thought, with guile

you could handle her or out-manuever.

How did you get caught?

Say the wrong thing? Be the wrong thing?

In your muddled defense,

you try to pull out your own sword.

The poison has weakened

your resolve.

I’m not strong enough.

I’m not good enough.

Your shield a reflection of the

onslaught waged within her.

Blocking the assault a vain hope.

Compassionate eyes would reveal

that she would release her sword

to drink from the cup of acceptance.

She would gladly step down from her throne

to feel a tender embrace, if only she knew how.

But it’s too late now and so,

You, like many who have gone before you,

leave her to dress your wounds.

Then, you fly off to distance lands, hoping

to never see her again.

Winter Pavlova with Poached Pears in Tart Cherry Juice

For the Poached Pears

8-10 oz. tart cherry juice blended with 8 oz. water to make 2 cups

1/2 C organic coconut sugar

1/2 C organic granulated sugar

1 cinnamon stick

pinch nutmeg

2-3 juniper berries

juice and peel of half an orange

4 firm pears, cored, peeled, and halved

Put the first 7 ingredients in a stainless steel sauté pan cherry through orange juices.  Stir to dissolve sugar and bring to simmer.  Place the pears cut side up into the simmering syrup.  Cover with parchment paper and the lid of the saucepan and cook gently for 20-30 minutes.  Once finished chill.  Reduce the cooking liquid to a nice syrup.  The poached pears are delicious on their own served chilled on a dish cut side down and drizzled with the syrup.  Leftover syrup is delicious on pancakes as well.

For the Pavlova

4 egg whites

3/4 C granulated sugar

1/2 T cornstarch

1 t orange balsamic vinegar

1 t vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 9 ” circle on the parchment then turn over so pencil line faces down on the baking sheet.

Mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl and the vanilla and vinegar together in another small bowl.  Pour the egg whites into a very clean bowl and be sure the whisk is also clean.  Begin to whip by starting on low and gradually increasing speed to medium until soft peaks form.  Begin adding sugar mixture 1 T at a time incorporating each before adding another.  Continue to increase speed while adding sugar to maximum speed.  Continue whipping until meringue holds stiff peaks and is white and shiny.  Add the vinegar/vanilla and beat for another minute.

Place meringue in oven and immediately turn oven down to 250. Bake for approximately 60-70 minutes.  Turn oven off and allow to cool in the oven with door partially open. The pavlova will be slightly brown and crusty on the outside and soft (kind of marshmallowy) on the outside.

Whipped Cream

1 C heavy cream, 1 T sugar, 1/2 vanilla extract whipped to soft peaks.

To Assemble

Place Meringue on serving dish.  Spread a layer of whipped cream over the meringue.  Top with poached pears and drizzle with cherry syrup.  I melted dark chocolate and drizzled to garnish along with grated orange peel.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Am I an Empath or a Rational Compassionate? Read All About It!

 

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Just when I thought it was safe to take on the topic of empathy I run across two reviews regarding a book by Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology, titled “Against Empathy.” After reading Shai Held’s and Simon Baron-Cohen’s book reviews in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ 1/2/2017) wsj.com, and New York Times (New Your Times, 12/30/16)nytimes.com respectively, it seems to be a case of semantics.  Personally, I do not see much difference between empathy and Bloom’s preference for “rational compassion.”

Here’s the definition of empathy as I understand it: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  As a therapist, I need to be able to understand how my client feels within or about an experience.

According to the reviewers, Bloom defines empathy as “the act of feeling what you believe other people feel—experiencing what they experience.”  As a therapist, doing as he says would narrow my encounter with the client.  I do not join my clients in their experience. I understand how they feel because I have awareness of how I would or how I did feel in a similar situation.

Empathy, like rational compassion, does not separate emotions from mind. Humans are not and never have been head or heart. We are head and heart and gut.  We are whole.  We are unable to separate our feelings from our minds.  My mind and heart must be engaged when I am listening to another.  His argument against empathy in favor of “rational compassion,” harkens to the age-old dispute within the research community between objective and subjective approaches and which are more valid.  What does rational compassion even mean if not empathy?  We human beings always bring all of who we are to the task at hand whether we are aware of it or not and be it for good or ill.  We are, in fact, capable of more damage when we do not bring awareness to our emotions.

Indeed research has borne this out.  Falling down this rabbit hole, I found an article in The Atlantic theatlantic.com, about a study by Alexander Soutschek from the University of Zurich, which has shown that the right temporoparietal junction, long linked to empathy is also the area of the brain responsible for self-control (The Atlantic, 12/6/16).  As Ed Yong wrote in the article, “The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us to restrain ourselves.” Sounds to me like empathy is reason and compassion combined!

To my mind, we have precious little empathy or rational compassion going around these days.  Far too few of us are making any effort at all to understand those who are different from us.  What prompted my interest in writing about empathy in the first place was listening to a piece on All Things Considered (NPR12/22/16) npr.org, about reading fiction and cultivating empathy.  Psychologists Keith Oatley and Raymond Mars have found that those who read literary fiction possess more empathy and tolerance for people different than them than do other people.  In fact, other genres do not provide the same benefits.

Reading literary fiction allows us to enter the world and inner life of another person or persons.  As author Jennifer Haigh noted, “It’s really the best technology we have to get inside another person’s mind.”   In addition she says, “There is no better way to see through somebody else’s eyes than by reading fiction.”  I whole-heartedly agree with her and I also agree with her description of the divisive nature of the election as “the ultimate failure of empathy.”

Like Jennifer Haigh and author Nickolas Butler who recommended various books to read as a way of cultivating empathy, I have compiled a list of books for you to read. Since 1995, I have been writing down the books that I read on the back and inside covers of my journals.  I spent the better part of yesterday looking at my journals and coming up with a list of mostly fiction that I found to be excellent when I read them as indicated by my three arrow pointing up notations, or “excellent read,” or “right up there with Trinity” (by Leon Uris that I read in 1992) or “as good as Kristen Lavransdatter (by Ingrid Undset).

 

I cannot provide you with a more detailed book review as, in many ways, reading fiction is like doing therapy for me.  Therapy is like a container between therapist and client.  What happens within the session percolates and changes each person throughout the week.  (Do you notice the fermentation imagery?)

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Sponge and starter fermenting

You sit with and allow the material from the session to work on you, but you do not go out and talk about it as that dispels the energy.  I am similarly transported when I read fiction.  When I look back on my list of favorite books images from them spring to my mind, but I am unable to talk about them in a detailed or linear way.

Full disclosure: When I first listened to the NPR piece, I immediately thought of author Amy Greene. Reading her books gave me a whole new perspective and a lot more empathy for the plight of people in Appalachia.  As I wrote alongside the three up arrows I gave her book, The Long Man, riveting!

A book may be brilliantly written or not.  What makes a good book is how it affects the reader.  And each reader brings his/her life experience to the reading, encountering the book from a unique perspective.  Just like therapy.  A therapist may or may not be brilliant.  It’s the therapist’s relationship with the client that makes the therapy work or not.  Mutual respect between therapist/client and writer/reader is non-negotiable.

And so it is with food.  A perfectly prepared dish may or may not satiate the diner.  Personal tastes impact the encounter with the meal.  But a good chef always prepares a meal with respect for the patron.   Cooking a good meal is mutually satisfying.  As my husband says, he can always detect if I didn’t put the love in it.  Going one step further, I am similarly transported by cooking.  I often experiment with recipes and can become so involved in the cooking and then the eating that I forget to write down what I did or take pictures of the results.

I hope you are able to find some of my choices for top reads and that you enjoy them.  NB—I’m writing when I read the books not when they were published.  You might detect an Oprah’s Book Club influence. And here’s to growing more empathy in the New Year!

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1995The Heaven Tree Trilogy by Edith Pargeter.  I ‘m guessing this is the book that inspired me to begin writing down what I read, so that I would remember.  This book remains one of my “all time favorites.”  Another good one from that year, The Truest Pleasure, by Robert Morgan.

1996Little Altars Everywhere, by Rebecca Wells.  I also must recommend a book of poetry, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.  But my favorite read that year was Cry the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton.  I wrote alongside it, “Right up there with Trinity and Heaven Tree Trilogy!”

1997Jazz, by Toni Morrison, though I did write alongside it, “Song of Solomon still my favorite,” which she published in 1977.  I also loved The Book of Ruth, by Jane Hamilton that year, but not as much as A Map of the World, which I’d read previously (speaking of riveting).

1998Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier and A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.

1999The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant and All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy.  Talk about very different authors!

2000A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest Gaines, Jewel, by Brett Lott, and Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat.  This year is notable in that I read so many (45) and so many good books, so I had trouble choosing, but the best of that year was In the Fall, by Jeffrey Lent—beautifully written and captivating.

2001—Speaking of beautifully written and captivating, The Voyage of the Narwhal, by Andrea Barrett, Amy & Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout, and Stones from the River, by Ursula Hegi.  This was another great reading year for me.

2002Slammerkin, by Emma Donahue–still my favorite of her books.   The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.  In Sunlight in a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor.

2003Peace Like a River, Leif Enger.

2004A Widow for One Year, John Iriving and The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd.

2005The Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks and Kite Runner, by Kahled Hosseini.  This was another good year where I am having a hard time limiting my recommendations.  Here are three more: Fall on Your Knees, by Anne Marie MacDonald, Where No Gods Came, by Sheila O’Connor, and Icy Sparks, by Gwen Hyman Rubio.  If you happen to teach Child Development these three are worthwhile reads.

2006Plainsong, by Kent Haruf and The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel.

2007 & 2008 I mostly read non-fiction and neglected to write down the fiction I was reading.  What I did write down I wasn’t very excited about, so will not include here. I will save the non-fiction for another time.

2009Eventide, Kent Haruf and Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri, Electric God, by Katherine Ryan Hyde, and Olive Kitterage, by Elizabeth Strout, which received an enthusiastic EXCELLENT!!

2010Water for Elephants, by Sara Givens, The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, and Sylvanus Now, by Donna Morrissey.

2011The Help, Kathryn Stockett, and Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, Caleb’s Crossing, Geraldine Brooks, and The Double Bind, by Chris Bojahalian.  But I was most enthusiastic about Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese, about which I say, “one of the best books I’ve ever read.”

2012The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides and The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman.  I was also very enthusiastic about both of these giving them 3 up arrows apiece.

2013—Hard to beat 2012 and I had a dry spell, but liked Moodtide, by Dawn Clifton Trip and The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey.  I must note that what I did love reading that year were two memoirs of loss by Joan Didion, Blue Nights and The Year of Magical Thinking.

2014—Another great reading year!! The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer, The Long Man and Bloodroot by Amy Greene.

2015Someone and After This by Alice McDermott.  I loved these and I was a reluctant reader of Alice McDermott because I think I’m the only person in the world who did not like Charming Billy.  I’m guessing because it struck too close to home.  I’m glad I tried her books again.  I also LOVED Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell.  And Jeffrey Lent did not disappoint with a beautifully written, A Slant of Light.

2016—Last but not least—God’s Kingdom, by Howard Frank Mosher and The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry both excellent reads.

Thanks for your patience slogging through my list.  Enjoy!

 

 

On My Way to Bethlehem

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Sourdough, White/Whole Wheat Rolls, and Seed Crackers

 

Sorry about not writing. I have been baking bread and preparing sweets for the holidays, anything but writing, I guess, but since the weather outside is frightful, I figure I can take a moment to write.

I always intend to write about one topic, but then as I begin to write I go somewhere else entirely. When I thought about a Christmas blog, I intended to write about how to manage stress during the holidays, but as I investigated I found there are already plenty of helpful tips out there. I’ve decided, instead, to stay with my process and the subject of process. In this case, spiritual process.

Cooking therapy is really all about process. Akin to meditation, when you are cooking a good meal or baking bread or dessert you are engrossed in process. You are in the present moment.   I recently read an article on Smithsonian.com titled, “Feeling Down? Scientists Say Cooking and Baking Could Help You Feel Better.” The article sites psychology theory indicating improved emotional functioning and outlook with creative pursuits like baking.   Focused attention and creative activity facilitate good feelings. And lets face it, what beats pulling a freshly baked loaf of bread from the oven? I believe cooking and baking is intimately entwined with our spiritual and communal lives as well. The process of baking and the process of sharing equally significant.

We often do not know exactly what our process is about when we are in the midst of meditating or baking. Sometimes, we need to simply stay with the process to see what bubbles up, much like sourdough. Currently, I am all about the sourdough. What is bubbling up for me? In fact, my thoughts were just interrupted by my timer to take a loaf from the oven. Honestly, I’m not sure what my process is yet, but we are sure eating a lot of delicious bread around here.

I have wondered what my fascination with bread baking is about and I’ve decided to take a wait and see attitude. I believe the answer will reveal itself eventually or that perhaps the process will lead me where I need to go. I suspect that waiting is exactly what this is about.

This time of year I am given to spiritual reflection. I have a favorite book by John Shea, Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All Year Long, that despite its name I reach for during the holiday season. It’s a bit cerebral, but there are gems of wisdom sprinkled throughout. Starlight is the kind of book where I will be looking for one thing then suddenly an hour has passed because there are so many pearls to choose from. I thought I might find a gem or two to explain my process that apparently involves copious amounts of flour and water. He did not disappoint. I opened to a random page to see if anything spoke to me and sure enough I found not so much an answer as an explanation that makes spiritual sense to me.img_2531

For one thing, did you know that Bethlehem means House of Bread? Given the season, perhaps my inclination for bread-baking isn’t so strange after all. About this, John Shea writes about Adam and Eve’s encounter with the shepherds who invite them to search for the Child in Swaddling Clothes as written in Luke’s Gospels. About their search Shea writes, “They may not have a clear idea of what they want, but that they want is the steady driving force of their lives,” (90). About the shepherd’s invitation he says, “They must invite Adam and Eve to Bethlehem, to the house of bread, where their hunger can be fed and their thirst slaked,” (89).

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Turkish Flatbread with Sourdough Starter

He goes on to say, “Those who are more satisfied would probably pass up the shepherd’s invitation. The earth-roamers are on their way to Bethlehem, looking for they know not what,” (90).

I can live with not knowing exactly what I want. I never have known to be honest. My prayer now is to have the courage to follow the thread to take the next step when it comes. By the way, part of the sourdough process is to look for the threads of gluten before you turn up the mixer too high while kneading. Do you get my symbolic drift?

I planned to leave well enough alone here, but I found another pearl in John Shea’s book to share about the benefits of engaging the process and why you might as well bake bread or go for a swim or do what you do while you wait for you know not what. He writes, “Attending to the present, watching it emerge and contributing to its creation, is one of the premier skills of the spiritual life. It is also one of the best ways to become aware that the terrors of the unknown future are born and nurtured by the mind,” (117).

I have pages marked all over this book that I could share but for now I hope it is img_2523enough to inspire you to find his book, originally published in 1992. I will go back to my bread making.

 

Merry Christmas.

Stumbling Round the Learning Curve

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Can’t even see the blue roof from here!

I had intended to write on the grieving process, as November 27th is the 42nd anniversary of my brother’s death in an airplane crash. I even started a post about meaningful/momentous days and may get back to it, but I’m not feeling it right now. I thought I sounded melodramatic when I tried to write about what his death has meant to me, so instead I’m taking a break and will share about the inherent frustrations and rewards in learning something new.

A few years back, likely due to a mid-life resolve to prove that I’m not dead yet, I decided to do the Presque Isle Bay Swim. As you know, swimming is not new for me. Swimming is decidedly within my wheelhouse, but open water swimming is not. My husband’s favorite quip about me is that I meet my thrill quotient staring at the bottom of a pool. But I thought the mile open water swim should be easily accomplished given that I could swim a mile in the pool with my eyes closed, so to speak.

The day came, the water looked a bit choppy, there were tons of people (to the mind of this swimmer who doesn’t even like sharing a lane), and that blue roof we were aiming for appeared very much in the distance. I began to get nervous, but too late! I’m committed to doing this thing. fullsizerender-1

About halfway across the bay, I had a panic attack. “Calm down, calm down,” I told myself, between chastisements for whatever mid-life crisis got me in the bay in the first place (resolve has turned to crisis by this point). What the hell were you thinking? Where are the lane lines? They said the bay was clean now? I rolled over on my back and stared up into the blue sky and took some deep breaths before resuming my swim. As I began again, I’m looking around thinking, do we have to swim there and back? Then someone shouted to me, “You’re going the wrong way!” Just then a volunteer in a kayak came alongside and asked, “Do you need help?”

“No!” I barked and turned around. Two heads of white hair were bobbing along in front of me, which provided just the right motivation. Oh, hell no! I cannot let them get there before me.

When I climbed out of the water to receive my bright orange Bay Swim towel, I felt an elation that carried me through the week. I also vowed to never do that again. The same summer I completed a tri-athalon. The 1/3 mile swim felt like child’s play after the mile open water.

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Will I get a towel?

The point of my story is that once again I feel like I’m jumping into open waters hoping to make it to the finish line. I submitted my proposal for cooking therapy, Food is Medicine, Cooking is Therapy, to a social innovation competition called the UpPrize, a Forbes Fund challenge to support entrepreneurs with ideas that serve the city and surrounding counties of greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The categories are technology and food innovation with the aim of serving under-represented populations. My proposal has been accepted in the open submission phase for food. See http://www.UpPrize.org/ideas/86. Please check out the site, sign in, and click the heart icon on my page to like before November 30th.

I am not working out of my wheelhouse here. I’m a great ideas person. This competition is making me get focused, concrete, clear, organized, and nervous. The closer I get to the blue roof of this finish line the more pressure to perform. Am I up to the task? I hope so, but I worry with each new learning curve that I’ll hear, “You’re going the wrong way!” as I stumble forward. First stumble–I’m pretty new to social media. In fact, this blog was my first foray into social media. I needed help from a much younger person to set up the framework for the blog in the first place (Thanks Courtney!). I’m also new to Instagram, and I’ve never had a Facebook page.

A highly suggested recommendation for the UpPrize challenge is to include a video. Yikes!! I spent the better part of last weekend trying to make a video out of still shots to promote my idea. I may have mentioned before that I’m pretty certain I have ADHD. I’m not great at directions. I downloaded a movie-making app for my Iphone only to realize I need it in a YouTube format. YouTube requires a gmail account, which I did not have. I do now.

I figured out, after a “gentle nudge” from husband to look up the directions, that I can make the movie and share with YouTube, but, as luck would have it, the upload failed multiple times because I was in “project” mode not “theater“ mode. AAARGH!

Then all of a sudden the download worked! Hallelujah! I copied and pasted the link from YouTube and entered the link to my proposal. Please watch and please don’t laugh because I was very proud of myself! Again, I felt a sense of elation for having tried and finished a task outside of my comfort zone.

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Feels Great!

The foundation of cooking therapy is what is called behavioral activation. The act of doing a task, exercise, group activity, cooking, you name it, even and sometimes especially when we feel unmotivated or scared, is the very thing that will help lift us out of our depression, grief, anxiety or social isolation. I very much believe in talk therapy, but therapy is not always an option. Not only that, but talk therapy is typically one hour/week at best. I believe it is essential to help clients find strategies they can implement throughout the week in order to alleviate symptoms. Cooking therapy gives participants a chance to activate behaviors that can be built upon and lead around the next learning curve.

Please check out Food is Medicine, Cooking is Therapy for more information at http://www.UpPrize.org/ideas/86 and hit the heart!

Speaking of new ideas. Lately, I’ve discovered new takes on chocolate frosting. Here’s my adaptation for School party sheet cake with Sweet Potato Frosting from Genevieve Ko found on Food 52 https://food52.com/blog/18054-you-will-never-guess-what-s-in-this-beaut-of-a-chocolate-cake. Talk about a genius idea!! Who knew?!! And it’s delicious!

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

Spray a 9 X 13 pyrex baking dish with cooking spray.

1 lb. zucchini and yellow squash (I used what I had from leftover garden produce).

Grate squashes on large holes of box grater over at least 2 layers of paper towel then cover with more to press out excess moisture.

Then sift the following dry ingredients into large bowl.

310 grams (2 C) white whole wheat

48 grams (1/2 C) cocao powder

1 t baking soda

1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

Then add (don’t sift):

50 grams (1/2 C) of almond flour

Next whisk together the following ingredients:

1/4 C date sugar

1/4 coconut sugar

1 C granulated sugar

1 C plain Kefir at room temperature (again it’s what I had in the fridge, Genevieve used buttermilk).

1/2 C coconut oil or neutral oil

3 large eggs at room temperature

1 t vanilla extract.

Make a well in the dry ingredients.  Whisk in wet ingredients until just smooth. Then fold in squashes and:

1/2 C bittersweet chocolate chips

Spread batter into pan and bake until toothpick comes out clean approximately 40-45 minutes.  Whole grain flours can be drying so keep an eye on the cake. Let cool completely.

While cake is baking peel and chop:

2 small – medium sweet potatoes

Cover with water, bring to boil and let simmer until mash tender about 15 minutes.

Using the cooking water puree sweet potatoes in blender and return to saucepan.

Melt 10 oz. of 60% cocoa chips on high in microwave stirring at 30 second intervals until mostly melted.

Heat up sweet potato mixture to a simmer, stirring so it doesn’t stick.  Remove from heat and stir in melted chocolate.  As mixture cools continue to stir occasionally until frosting consistency.  Voila! No added sugar.  And it is delicious.  Frost the cake as per usual.  I had plenty leftover, which I will use on the eclairs my husband has requested for his birthday.img_2451

 

 

One Bite at a Time

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Since I’ve been writing about addiction issues I thought I’d offer some nourishing tips and recipes to fortify mind and body during recovery from illness and addiction. I think it’s important to bear in mind that this is not an all or nothing situation. One of the reasons my friend who had made the decision to detox from Xanax had, in my opinion, managed (weathered, endured, survived) the ordeal so well was that despite her addiction, she had been taking pretty good care of herself. She exercised, ate well, and took vitamins.

We are all full of contradictions. We take great care of ourselves in some ways and then fall short in others. Who among us has not over consumed, be it food or alcohol? How many of us sit for too many hours each day or avoid exercise? And how often do we try to do the right thing, especially around food, and then read that this or that “good food” is now bad for us?

Newsflash! None of us is perfect. We set goals we fall short. We try. We fail. For these reasons, I’m a big proponent of baby steps or more fitting for this blog—one bite at a time. Whether it is exercise or incorporating healthy ingredients into your diet, start small and work your way up. Feel the success of your efforts. Notice how good you feel after you’ve walked ten minutes. As a lifelong swimmer, I was gratified to learn that those of us who notice how we feel after we exercise are the ones who stick with it. There isn’t a time I have gotten out of the pool when I haven’t said, “God did that feel good!”

Making healthy swaps in recipes you are already familiar with is a great place to begin nourishing mind, body, and spirit in recovery. For instance, the addition of blueberries to pancakes instantly boosts their nutritional profile. Blueberries are great brain food. Go really wild and swap out the white flour with sprouted wheat and soon you can do your superiority dance around the kitchen. Sprouted flour digests more easily then white flour, retains the nutrients of the grain, and is delicious in baked goods. As someone who has spent a lifetime trying to stretch a dollar, I understand you might balk at the price of sprouted flours. They are becoming more reasonably priced, but as my husband always says, “there is always a cost.” Organic fruits and vegetables and sprouted grains are worth the cost. Again, start small. I typically do what I can. I spend more on food and less at the doctor or on make-up or clothing.

On tonight’s menu I’m making Stuffed Sweet Potatoes. The recipe originated when I needed to use up the sweet potatoes that were lying around. I’m not a huge fan of sweet potato pie (GASP!) but I want their health benefits. A Mexican twist on stuffed sweet potatoes is my answer. Tonight I added finely chopped zucchini because it was in the fridge and we get more vegetables with the addition. I also swapped cooked barley for the rice. Have fun and experiment!img_2388

The act of cooking by itself has a number of benefits. Cooking requires focus. While we focus on making a meal we are not focusing on our troubles. Bonus—cooking takes up time. For a person in recovery, cooking is a nice way to occupy oneself. Cooking is also a productive use of time. You are immediately rewarded and so are your loved ones. People love having someone cook for them.

Caring for self is particularly difficult for a person in the throes of addiction. Any act of self-care is a step in the right direction. Acknowledge and be grateful for the little steps you do take and then take another step. I understand the vicious cycle of shame and regret that often holds us back. I spent years regretting not taking full advantage of my time  when I attended the University of Michigan. I smoked cigarettes and drank heavily. It saddens me now when I see how many college students waste their student loan dollars on excessive alcohol use.

During that time, I had not realized that I was grieving over the loss of my brother who had died in a plane crash. Grief turned to depression, which was exacerbated by alcohol use. I also did not realize there was help to be had. Even though I worked as a Resident Advisor, I was unaware that the university had counseling services for students. For years I beat myself up over the fact of not making the most of the opportunity a University of Michigan education offered. Not until many years later did it occur to me that I had been reaching for life as strongly as I had been self-destructing. Throughout college I wrote to my deceased brother in my journals daily. I took many long walks in and around Ann Arbor. I worked hard to pay for the education. I was not just about self-destruction. I was also about self-preservation.

Many of us duel with the life/death struggle in our minds and actions until one voice becomes stronger. When I began lap swimming, the self-care voice strengthened and I was able to quit smoking and take one step after another toward a healthy lifestyle. I am grateful to myself that I started swimming. The domino effect has led to where I am today and which I hope to impart to you here. Do what works for you. No need for lofty goals. Even after 35 years of lap swimming to get myself to the pool I promise I don’t have to do much.  I check in with how I feel as I am swimming.  I do 250 meter increments and make the decision after each set whether to keep going.  In that way, I can take what seems like a lot (a mile swim) and break it down to doable. Another sound bite from husband, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Crazy Healthy but Tasty Blueberry Pancakes

1 C sprouted wheat flour

1/2 C sourdough starter (if you don’t have on hand use another 1/4 C sprouted flour)

1 T date sugar

1 t baking powder

1/2 t baking soda

1 1/4 C plain kefir

2 T coconut oil

1 egg

1/2 to 1 C fresh or frozen blueberries

Heat a cast iron skillet or griddle over medium high heat.  Mix dry ingredients together sieving the baking powder.  Mix the wet ingredients together and add to dry.  Melt butter or use cooking spray on hot skillet.  Using a quarter cup measure or ice cream scoop drop batter onto skillet and top each with blueberries.  When bubbles form on surface flip over until golden on each side.  Top with warmed maple syrup.

Mexican Style Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic crushed

1 green pepper, finely chopped

1 T olive oil

1 can diced tomatoes or leftover sauce whatever you have in your pantry.

1 can of black beans drained and rinsed

1 C dried sprouted brown rice or barley in this case then follow directions on package to prepare before adding to sauce.

Fresh parsley finely chopped

1/2 t dried Mexican oregano

dried chili peppers to taste

s & p

2-4 small sweet potatoes (baked or microwaved until soft. I use Ziploc steamer bags http:www.ziploc.com ).

Shredded cheddar, salsa, sour cream to your liking.

Heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onions, peppers, and garlic until soft but not burned.  Add black beans, tomatoes, and seasonings.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Split sweet potatoes lengthwise down the middle, smash pulp a bit as you would any baked potato and top with black bean mixture.  Top with shredded cheddar and other toppings to taste.

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Somedays are just too pretty to be inside cooking!

 

Waste of Human Potential

 

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In addition to the cooking lessons at Ballymaloe, we learned about the business of food.  Blathnaid Bergin of www.therestaurantadvisor.ie. emphasized the point made by M. E. Gerber in The E-Myth, that though the system runs the business, people run systems.  I am veering off the cooking side of my blog today to address what I see as a very ugly side to our health and mental health system in the U.S.

Have you noticed the commercials for medication that helps alleviate “opioid induced constipation?”  Like me, did you think, wouldn’t it be better to stop taking opioids?  Then I read the Washington Post article, The Drug Industry’s Answer to Opioid Addiction: More Pills. Apparently, drug addiction is big business for the pharmaceutical industry.

Since my experience in September going to Pittsburgh to help my friend through a medically supervised detox from Xanax, a benzodiazepine, I have been more attuned to the toll on Americans’ lives due to drug addiction.  Frankly, it’s hard to avoid.  A day does not go by without a news headline about overdose and death due to opioids (prescription pain-killers like Vicoden, Percocet, or Oxycodone) and opiates like heroin.

I fell down the rabbit hole on this issue after reading the WP article, which led to another Washington Post article on 10/5/16, about a 7-year-old who told her bus driver at the end of the day that she hadn’t been able to wake her parents that morning.  Her parents were found dead from overdose.  Still in the house were the 7-year-old girl’s siblings ages 5, 3, and nine months.  The article noted that there have been 422 opioid deaths in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is located, in the past year—the largest death toll in county history.  The article went on to say that in Pennsylvania’s Lycoming County, coroner Charles Keating has begun recording the deaths from overdose as homicides.  He is quoted in the article as saying, “They’re homicides. Drug dealers are murderers.  They need to be prosecuted as murderers.”

 Here is just some of what I gleaned from my readings (rabbit hole), and I highly recommend following The Washington Post articles concerning the issue. I also found other recourses: www.sobernation.com and www.orchardrecovery.com. I learned that 165,000 people in the United States have lost their lives to opioid overdoses since 2000.  Somewhere between 227-249 million prescriptions for opioids were written last year! Prescription opioids kill, on average, 52 people per day in the U.S.  Americans represent 5% of the worlds’ population but consume 80% of its prescription opioids.  I wonder what the other 95% of the world’s population do for pain management?  Dr. Tom Friedan of The Center for Disease Control and Prevention summarized the research and found that 1 out of every 550 patients started on opioid therapy died of opioid-related causes, a median of 2.6 years after their first prescription.

“Beyond their addictive potential, research studies show weak or no evidence that prescription opioids are actually effective treatments for chronic pain. In March, Friedan addressed the insanity of the opioid epidemic: ‘We know of no other medication routinely used for a nonfatal condition that kills patients so frequently.’”  (Sobernation.com).

 Peddling in addiction for the sake of profits is despicable whether you are a drug trafficker, the corner dealer, or sitting in a corner office for a large corporation.  Remember what Charles Keating, the coroner from Lycoming said?  Why is the drug dealer more to blame than the person(s) at the large pharmaceutical company who saw Americans’ addiction to opioids as potential “growth drivers” and an “expansion opportunity” for profits.  The Washington Post article stated, “if opioid addictions disappeared tomorrow, it would wipe billions of dollars from the drug companies bottom line.” I interpret the “aggressive prescribing,” as Dr. Andrew Kolodny described (the pharmaceutical industry’s approach to reap the most profit) as not only failing to alleviate human suffering, but as a pernicious trafficking in human suffering for the sake of profit.

People work for corporations.  Real people made the decision that addiction is good for the bottom line. I believe we should be asking the very real people at very real corporations to take responsibility for the callousness and disregard behind their decisions that cause their fellow human beings to suffer and die.

A dealer is a system of one.  An industry is a system of many making it much easier to hide.  When we hear of a person’s death from overdose, how often do we think, what a waste of human potential.  How much bigger a waste of human potential is it to work for a death dealing industry?

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The sun sets on us all eventually.  How do we spend our lives?

You Say Foment, I Say Ferment

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Foment Definition: Instigate or stir up. Synonyms—incite, provoke, instigate.

Ferment Definition: 1. undergo fermentation 2. Incite or stir up (as in trouble).

Sound pretty similar don’t they? Ever since returning home from Ballymaloe, I have been drawn to all things fermented. I’ve been reading The Fermented Man, by Derek Dellinger www.thefermentedman.com/ while I make a steady stream of sourdough bread. I’ve made the fermented tomatoes and hot pepper sauce from his book.

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Fermented Hot Pepper Sauce

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Fermented Cherry Tomatoes

My husband and I have loved the fermented Lemon/Ginger Fizz that I learned at Ballymaloe. I’ve mastered the kombucha after growing my own scoby thanks to detailed directions from  http://www.thekitchn.com.

I have felt that making any fermented food is a symbol for patience. I am a patient person when it comes to dealing with people and situations. I am not a patient person when it comes to my agenda. I want my direction clear and I want it clear now! Just as I have purported as a goal for Cooking Therapy, making fermented foods, requires focused attention and patience. I have to put the work into the process in order to get the results I seek. Time and effort leads to mastery. Nothing teaches you that lesson like sourdough. If you want the sourdough to live and grow, it must be fed everyday.

Sourdough also teaches about abundance. I have more sourdough starter than I know what to do with. Having so much has pushed me to get creative. I just made sourdough banana bread. Besides a loaf of sourdough per day, I’ve already made sourdough pancakes, muffins, and dumplings.   And what surprises me is that I don’t tire of making it. Every loaf is a surprise. Will it turn out? How much will it rise? Will the loaf be filled with the requisite holes that indicate a job well done? I have feeling I need the lessons of patience, effort, and time more than I am aware of already.

In other words, I like being a fermenter. I have in my time also been perceived as a fomenter. I have a childhood memory, second grade, when the pastor at our church came out of the confessional to yell at me in front of my fellow students. I cannot imagine what a second grader could possibly have said to make him so mad, but I’m guessing it had something to do with the exclusion of women from the priesthood. I was an observant little shit at the time. I was looking for the holes in logic even in the second grade. My other clue about what he might have said came when Gerry and I sat down with the same priest to discuss our wedding plans.  He clearly liked my then fiancé, but to me he pointed a finger in my face and said, “You’re not a priest yet, you know!” I don’t recall EVER saying I wanted to be a priest, but maybe I had in the confessional that day?  It will take a lot more sourdough to dredge up specific details of that memory.

Then in the seventh grade, my French teacher said I was an iconoclast. Of course, I had to go home and look it up. I do not go looking for fights. In fact, I hate conflict. I am much more interested in preserving relationships (Fermentation is a great preserver). However, I also do not like injustice. I almost always take the side of the underdog. I have a way of “stepping in it,” when I feel I am just stating the obvious. Understandably, I might ruffle some feathers. Maybe one foments on the way to ferment or are two sides of the same coin. I know both lead to change and growth, that is, if the base doesn’t blow up in the process.

My conclusion, foment is who I am. Ferment is what I do.

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Kombucha