25 January, 2012

A Day of Cooking; A Day of Fasting

{Experiments in Bliss: In the kitchen}

In the wee hours of Monday morning, 2:39am to be exact, the moon entered its new phase. For those of you who have been reading a while, you know that I have been fasting on the 24 hours following each full and new moon. Thus, Monday was a fasting day for me. (These are still quite a challenge, for me, by the way. I do like to eat!) The real challenge, however, was due to the fact that Monday was also my planned day for preparing food for the week. So, my day of cooking was my day of fasting. Brilliant planning skills, don’t you think? Still, I managed to do okay. I gave myself allowance to lick my fingers when they got sticky with goat’s cheese. (mmmmm.) And I decided it was necessary to taste a couple of beans while they cooked so I could know when they were tender enough to remove from the heat. Other than that, I was a champ. In fact, I was so proud of myself that I let myselfhave a little reward at the end of the day. I rationalized that the blueberry sorbet towhich I treated myself was acceptable for the fast since it’s really a liquid, but just happens to be more concentrated when really cold. In any case, it was worth it. Ciao Bella’s blueberry sorbet consistently makes me swoony with joy.

‘So, what did I make myself to eat this week?’ you ask. Well … I began by cooking up a big pot of flageolet beans with garlic and herbs. In addition to a good quantity of beans, I was also able to extract from this pot a garlicky bean soup as well as a thick bean paste which I can't wait to serve on warm grilled bread.

While the beans were cooking, I set about making Tart no.1. (I had made a couple batches of whole grain gluten free French flan pastry dough the other day. Monday found them fulfilling their destinies.) Tart no. 1 was an adaptation of Aran Goyoaga’s shiitake + purple potato tart. Aran Goyoaga is the brilliant chef/photographer/woman behind the blog Cannelle et Vanille. Hers is one of my favorite blogs to read – full of inspiration, charming stories, amazing recipes, and even more amazing photographs. You should definitely check it out … if you aren’t already a devotee, that is. Anyway, I did not follow Ms. Goyoaga’s recipe to the letter. I made a few key substitutions. For instance, I already mentioned that I had made my own tart dough earlier, and that was from another recipe. I also wasn’t able to get any purple potatoes this week, so I went with Red Bliss (appropriate, no?). I didn’t have any leeks, so I used a chopped up Brussels sprout in its place. When sautéing, I decided to get a little decadent and used bacon grease rather that EVOO and went with the cast iron skillet rather than a sauté pan. I added raw coconut aminos to the mushroom mix during the sautéing, and added some hot mustard powder to the potato slices to give a little more richness to the whole thing. And, finally, I added a little chopped parsley to the end product since my potatoes didn’t have the beautiful rosy tint of purples, and left the tart looking a little bland without something else on it. The updated recipe is below. It turned out really well. Obviously I didn’t get to taste it fresh from the oven, but I had a slice cold from the fridge today, and it delighted the pants off my taste buds! Thanks, Aran, for your intrepid inspiration!

Tart no. 2 involved roasted tomatoes, so while the tomatoes were roasting, I cooked up a batch of amaranth grains. These will make many a happy meal: warm cereal, amaranth + ragout of winter squash, bacon and mushrooms, a hearty addition to the flageolet soup, etc. Once the tomatoes were done, I set about assembling tart no. 2. I knew I wanted to make some sort of tomato tart, but wasn’t quite sure what kind of tomato tart. Then I remembered that Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. I decided to dedicate my tomato tart to St. Valentine … and/or Valentino, the notorious romancer … after all, tomatoes are also called love apples. In keeping with the theme, I tossed the tomatoes in EVOO and dried damiana herb. Damiana is an herb associated with aphrodisiacal properties, though it is also a great tonifying longevity herb. So, it’s romantic and healthy! Then I added a little red kale because, well, it’s super healthy and it’s really pretty. And red and frilly equals romantic. So, that was Tart no. 2. I’m calling it Heart’s Desire as a nod to a location in the book I’m reading right now: The Matchmaker of Perigord, by Julia Stuart. (I love her books!) I highly recommend this book as well as her second book: The Tower, the Zoo and the Tortoise.

I took a break in my day of cooking/day of fasting to attend my lyrical dance class at Ninth Street Dance. It was wonderful, as usual. I am so glad I decided to give myself the gift of these classes.

When I returned home from dance class, I did one final round of cookery. I roasted acorn squash and Brussels sprouts. Some of the squash was reserved for the ragout for the amaranth grains, but the rest was pureed with butter and vegetable stock (which I made a couple days ago). This puree will be used in tortillas with goat’s cheese, cilantro and lime to make quesadillas. Delicious!

So, life is good. It’s continuing on at its usual pace, but I am managing to carve time within that pace for the things that nourish my body and spirit. I hope you are doing the same!



PS: My continued apologies for the lousy photo quality, but I work with what I have.

Red Bliss + Shiitake Tart (aka: Tart no. 1)

1 tart crust (for 9-inch tart)

2 T. bacon grease

1 T. . EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) for coating potatoes

1 small Brussels sprout, stem and outer layers removed, diced

8 ounces (110 g) shiitakes, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 t. salt, plus more for topping

1/4 t. ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 t. raw coconut aminos

2 eggs

1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk (canned)

2 ounces (60 g) chevre (soft goat’s cheese)

1 med. Red Bliss potato, thinly sliced


1 t. hot mustard powder

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). In a medium cast iron skillet, heat the bacon grease over medium heat. Add the Brussels sprout and cook for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the shiitakes, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes until tender stirring occasionally. Add the parsley and raw coconut aminos (if using) and stir. Remove pan from heat and let filling cool. In a separate bowl, toss the sliced potatoes in olive oil, salt, pepper and hot mustard powder. 

In another small bowl, whisk together the egg and coconut milk. Spread the cooled mushroom filling and the crumbled goat cheese over the tart crust. Pour the egg mixture and spread evenly. Top with oiled + spiced potato slices. 
Bake the tart for 30 to 40 minutes until golden. Let the tart cool for 15 minute before cutting.

*NOTE: Slicing with a mandoline makes things infinitely easier and more uniform, but, if, like me, you do not have a mandoline, then slice as thinly as you can without hurting yourself!

Heart’s Desire Tart (aka: Tart no. 2)

1 tart crust (for 9-inch tart)

Pint grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise

1 T. damiana leaves

1 T. EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)

1/4 t. salt

1/4 t. ground black pepper, plus extra for topping

1 c. red kale leaves, woody stem removed, loosely chopped

3 eggs

1/3 c. unsweetened coconut milk (canned)

1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Toss tomatoes with EVOO, damiana leaves, salt, and pepper in a bowl until well coated. Lower to temperature to 325° F. Roast tomatoes, cut sides up, in shallow rimmed baking pan in middle of oven, 1 hour. When done, remove from oven and cool in the pan for 15 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and coconut milk. Add the kale and parmesan to the whisked mix.

Place the roasted tomatoes in a single layer on the tart crust. Pour the egg mixture and spread evenly. Top with ground black pepper and parmesan cheese, if desired. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden. Let cool before serving.

**Note: This recipe was an adaptation of several recipes, the primary two being the Roasted Tomato Tart from July 2006’s issue of Gourmet Magazine, and Aran Goyoaga’s Roasted Tomato + Watercress Tart.

Flageolet Beans w/ Garlic + Herbs

(adapted from Oct. 2009 issue of Bon Appetit)

1 pound dried flageolet beans

8 c. water (room temp.)

2 T. EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)

1 large head garlic, unpeeled, top ½ inch cut off to expose cloves

1 t. dried rubbed sage leaf

1 T. Herbs de Provence

¼ t. whole black peppercorns (I used the famous Pohnpeiin pepper, but go

with what you’ve got)

1 t. coarse sea salt

Place beans in large bowl. Cover with cold water (at least 6 cups) and let soak overnight.

Drain beans. Place in heavy large pot. (I used my Le Creuset dutch oven.) Add 8 c. water, EVOO, garlic, herbs and peppercorns. Bring to simmer over med-high heat. Reduce heat to med-low and simmer, uncovered, for 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Mix in coarse salt. Continue to simmer until beans are tender, adding more water if needed to keep beans covered, about 30 minutes longer. Remove from heat and cool beans in liquid 1 hour.

Using slotted spoon, transfer beans to separate bowl, reserving bean cooking liquid, but discarding garlic head and peppercorns. Serve with a drizzle of EVOO and salt and pepper to taste.

Flageolet + Garlic Soup

Take equal parts cooked beans (see above) and reserved cooking liquid and place in blender. Add meat of garlic head that was used in cooking of beans. Puree to a smooth consistency, adding more beans or water, as desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Herbed Flageolet Bean Paste

Take 2 parts cooked flageolet beans (see above) and 1 part vegetable (or other) stock and place in blender. Add juice and zest of ½ lemon. Add Herbs de Provence to taste. Puree to a thick pasty consistency. (You may need to do this in small batches depending on the efficacy of your blender.) Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on warm bread/bruschetta, or any other way you like it!

16 January, 2012


So, it’s a new calendar year, and, while it is completely cliché of me, I have been making resolutions … not for the new year, specifically, but for my Whole Life. I realized amid the whirl of the recently departed holiday season, that I had managed to completely disavow everything I learned during my travels, especially those lessons and practices I began to cultivate in Thailand – the lessons of Self Care. My body was none too pleased about this devolvement, and was very quick to tell me so. To that end, I have been using this turn of the calendar year as a prompt to reflect on the life I want, and to make steps toward creating it. As that wise sage Frank N. Furter once said: Don’t dream it. Be it. And that’s what I intend to do.

My Resolutions (so far):

1. I resolve to maintain ample space in my schedule for my Self. This is basically my way of revolting against my habit of over committing myself for others at the expense of my own health and sanity. NO MORE, I say! I will practice saying NO to others more often. I will practice releasing any guilt associated with saying NO to others more often. And I will make a solid effort to include activities in my schedule that replenish and rejuvenate me, so that I can meet my everyday obligations with grace and fortitude.

A side note here: I have accepted a promotion to full time at the Inn. In order to make this a viable move, I have had to release myself from obligations at the Theatre and at the Farmers’ Market Stall. My new schedule begins February 1, and I am really feeling good about it. I will still be working every other weekend. But, the beauty of the new schedule is that I will have 10 consecutive days on [at work], and 4 consecutive days off. That means I will have ample time to recharge from my work ‘week’, and can even schedule mini vacations regularly if I want. Yay + hooray!

2. I resolve to regularly take classes to better my Self . I have become very lazy in my day-to-day routines. It’s partially from being overworked and super stressed, but also partly just plain apathy and delusion. I say delusion in reference to the fact that I sometimes allow my fantasy world to delude me into believing that I am doing more than I really am. (Wrap your head around that, why don’t you?) In order to have some concrete evidence that I am actually doing the things I want to do, I am going to take classes – with other people, and everything. This taking of classes allows me the opportunity to be a student, too, rather than always taking the role of teacher. (Though it is true that teachers often learn as much or more from their students as they teach them, it’s not quite the same as straight-up being a student.) I suppose there is also a good measure of accountability being built into this resolution, as well.

I have actually come up with a nice little class schedule for myself. Each week I take a yoga class at a local yoga studio. On the weeks that I am working, I take an Anusara class on Saturday morning. On my free weeks, I take a Yin Yoga class on Sunday evenings. I also enrolled in a Lyrical/Contemporary dance class at Ninth Street Dance for the winter session. I have only had one session so far, but, already, I can tell it is having a profound effect on my health and well-being, and on my relationship with my body. Plus, it’s FUN! In the future I may add different types of classes, such as photography, visual art, sewing, or such. So exciting!

3. I resolve to clean up my diet, and eat a sustainable diet of whole foods that nourish the whole me. This is going to be a challenging one. For whatever reason, I have always had trouble connecting my will power with my consumption of food and drink. It’s not that my diet is so bad. I eat pretty clean as it is: organic, gluten free, no-antibiotics, no-hormones, free range, etc. And I choose local over long-distance when the choice is presented to me. That said, I am aiming to get even closer to the source. I aim to seek out those foods that are available locally. The Triangle area of NC has a plethora of farmers, many of them employing organic practices. So, every other Saturday I will buy my groceries at the Farmers’ Market. I will eat what’s in season. (I try to do this already, but will make a more concerted effort.) In short, I want to stop being lazy about food. I intend to do more preparing of wholesome meals at home rather than stopping by Whole Foods every other day for quick meals. More vegetables and whole grains, less dairy, sweets, prepared foods and booze! Mindful meal planning, executing and consuming; that’s what this resolution is about, really.

4. I resolve to get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep every night. This one is self explanatory, no? Though, admittedly, I seem to do best with around 10 hours a night.

5. I resolve to do some form of mindful movement (yoga, stretching, dancing, etc.) every day – even if only for 10 minutes. So far, I’ve been managing to make this one happen pretty easily. Since I’ve been walking everywhere (no car!) I have begun experiencing some hip discomfort as well as some foot cramping. Stretching thoroughly every morning and night really helps to alleviate this discomfort, so it’s a resolution with immediate benefits. (Aren’t those the best?)

6. I resolve to cultivate a daily meditation practice. This one, too, is likely to pose a challenge. I don’t know how many times I have tried to start a meditation practice. And on the rare occasion that I’ve actually managed to start one, not one has lasted more than about a month … and that’s a month of scattered practice. So, I have set up a little sacred space in my bedroom with a little side table-turned-altar. I am placing inspirational and meaningful objects on my altar. I am hoping these objects and this lovely little oasis will entice me to want to get on the cushion to meditate. And I’m willing to mix things up for myself, too. I can do any kind of meditating I want for those 10 minutes: mantra work, pranayama [breath awareness], tratak [candle gazing], visualization, mindfulness, etc. If I know it’s going to be a challenge, I may as well give myself a little leeway in the particulars, right?

7. I resolve to get a pedicure every two weeks. This resolution made the list for two reasons: 1. Sometimes it’s nice to allow myself to feel pretty. Pretty feet and toes are a nice, simple way to do that. 2. With all the walking I’m doing and foot cramping I’ve been experiencing, I figured this would be a great way of being nice to my feet – helping them with the healing process – to counterbalance all the stress from walking (and the occasional wearing of heels at work).

8. I resolve to get a massage or other healing bodywork session at least once a month. This one is also pretty self-explanatory. What might not be so apparent is the fact that I am one of those stereotypical wounded healer types. I am quick to help other people find healing in their lives, but I neglect my own healing and well-being much of the time. This - and every other resolution here - is about correcting that imbalance.

9. I resolve to dance at least once a week. Dancing is fun. Dancing is expressive. Dancing is freedom in movement. Movement is good for the body, the mind, the spirit and the soul. Enough said.

10. I resolve to write in my blog at least once a week. You can help hold me to this, darling reader. I openly invite you to chastise me if I fail to honor this resolution. And while I write largely to give myself a better perspective of my Self, I also write with the hope that some of my experience and insight might be of use to some of you. If there are things you would like me to write about, or experiments you would like to see me perform (within reason, please), then I invite and encourage you to contact me with your ideas.

11. I resolve to cultivate a daily practice of acknowledging and expressing gratitude. I think I might start writing in a gratitude journal every night. But right now, this practice equals me going over all the wonderful things in my life for which I am grateful, and giving a cosmic thank you to the universe for those things. In fact, right now, I am grateful for you!

12. I resolve to take at least 2 vacations (min. 3 days) each year. I have long been a believer in the whole notion of vacations. I believe that we would all do well to remember that it’s more important to work so we can live rather than living to work. That said, while I really, truly believe these things in my heart of hearts, I have not practiced these beliefs. (Are you sensing a theme here? I am.) Aside from my mass exodus last year, I have rarely carved actual vacation time into my schedule. I intend to remedy that now. And I mean ‘vacation’ in the very literal sense of the word. I intend to take these holidays to vacate my usual routines, environments, habits and experiences. They will, by their very nature, be true experiments in bliss.

13. I resolve to experience at least one social activity with friends every two weeks. Okay, so some of you may be thinking that one social experience every two weeks is a ridiculously low bar for which to reach. However, I tend to be very hermity and nesty. Most of this comes from my poor time management skills, to be sure, but I am also actually an introvert by nature. As a kid, I could often be found hiding behind my mother’s legs when she was trying to introduce me to new people (or sometimes even around familiar people)! So, this is a realistic, but still honorable goal for me. I do enjoy time spent with friends, and I am very lucky to have some really wonderful and eclectic souls in my life. So, I resolve to spend more time with them … just at my own little pace.

14. I resolve to support my local organic farmers by buying much of my food from my local farmers’ market. This is kind of a rehash/sub-genre of number 3.

15. I resolve to drink at least 3 Liters of water every day. This is already something I work toward every day, and usually succeed in achieving. However, I list it here as a good reminder to myself that hydration is imperative for me. When I start to get too busy and overworked, I often get distracted, and forget to drink water. This, of course, compounds the negative effects of the stress I am feeling, adding headaches, ringing ears, stagnant digestion, poor sleep/insomnia, and other such ill effects to the mix. No fun. But when I remember to drink my water every day, I don’t have to worry about such nasties infiltrating my life. Yay for water!

16. I resolve to give my Self a full body exfoliation every week. In order for the skin – the largest organ of elimination – to do its job properly and efficiently, it must be free of built up residues and toxins. How do we achieve this freedom? By exfoliating regularly! For me, this is either in the form of dry skin brushing or homemade scrubs made with salt, sugar, coffee or the like. Crafty and healthy! Plus, exfoliating leaves the skin soft, rosy and glowing. Boon!

17. I resolve to fast on each full moon and new moon. This is a practice that I started half-heartedly last year, inspired by my sister’s research and practice of Moon Diets. I have found that when I adhere to a full liquids-only fast on both the full and the new moon, I feel so much better in my body. I have more vitality, equanimity, and just feel cleaner and healthier.

18. I resolve to observe the power and magick during full moons, new moons, and the holidays of the Wheel of the Year. Celebrating the Wheel of the Year and the moon cycles is something I used to do quite regularly with friends. But once I lost touch with those folks, I sort of just let the practice fade to nothing, too. Being someone who feels a very deep spiritual connection with Nature, I have really been missing these celebrations. I feel I have been doing my Self a disservice by not openly acknowledging these Natural rhythms and cycles. So, I resolve to revive those celebrations in honor of the rhythms and cycles that connect us all in the great tapestry of Life.

19. I resolve to avoid looking at my computer screen first thing in the morning, or just before bed at night. This is just good advice for anyone, really. Let’s let our brains and eyes actually have the chance to transition to deep rest and daily activity!

20. I resolve to always resist the temptation to say something negative about my Self, opting, instead, to say something positive and wonderful, and maybe even glorious. It is often said that the negative is easier to believe than the positive. I think this is a fallacy. I just think that we, as a society, have forgotten the power of positive thinking. And I don’t mean that in a Tony Robbins kind of way, though there is nothing wrong with the Tony Robbins way. What I mean to say is that we have trained ourselves to repetitively seek out the negative. We make jokes about misfortunes. We put others down to lift ourselves up. We compare ourselves to others by noting how one is less than the other. We celebrate sarcasm. Advertisements try to sell us things based on our deficiencies without a particular product. So, with so much negativity in our periphery – in our faces – it becomes very easy to default to a negative way of thinking. But I postulate that if we can catch those negative thoughts as they are about to happen, and swap them out for positive thoughts, then we will begin to see the entire world in a new light; a positive perspective. And that’s what I’m going to do, goshdarnit! And I challenge you to do it, too.

21. I resolve to resist the temptation to mindlessly eat/drink in an attempt to sate my emotional needs. Okay, another rehash/sub-genre of number 3. (I told you that dietary changes were a big challenge for me!) This is what you might call The Grand Poobah of my food issues. Wish me luck and fortitude, please!

22. I resolve to resist the temptation to beat my Self up if I break my own rules or resolutions. Say it loud … say it proud: I will remain kind to my Self if I slip up along the way. I will encourage my Self to just get back up and keep on truckin’. I will love my Self no matter what. And that’s what life’s all about, isn’t it?


So … what are you resolutions for 2012? Are you resolving? Are you abstaining from resolution? How do you incorporate changes into your life?

Happy 2012, darlings! I hope it will be a year of enchantment, fulfillment, contentment and LOVE!

01 January, 2012

reflections on a passing year

As I cast a glance back over this year, my vision practically blurs with the magnitude of changes I underwent in so little - and yet so long - a time. So many experiences, so many experiments; I put one way of life to rest and birthed another. I said goodbye to loved ones. I said hello to new friends. I have changed in so many ways, and, yet, have returned to the center of who I am and always have been. 2011 has been a year of incredible transformation. Thank you for coming along with me for the ride. I look forward to sharing more experiments with you in 2012, and hope to hear of some of your experiments, as well. Here's to an amazing 2012! Cheers!