Tuesday, September 30, 2008

RECIPE: Toasted Almond Butter-NO SALT

"Training is everything.  
The peach was once a bitter almond; 
cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education." 
~Mark Twain, Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894)

I made nut butter from scratch for the first time today.  Very easy and yummy!

1 lb Whole Almonds
2 Tbs Almond Oil (or other oil) as needed

1)   Toast almonds in 350F oven for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to toast evenly.  Allow to cool.

2)  Add almonds to food processor, stopping and scraping sides frequently, until paste forms.  If the nut butter is too firm, add oil one tablespoon at a time while continuing to process.  Length of processing time depends on the processor power/speed and oil content of the nuts.

Other nuts or mixtures of nuts can be substituted using the same method.

  • I've stored mine in a repurposed 16 oz glass peanut butter jar.  
  • One pound of nuts filled the jar exactly.  
  • Processing was done in an 11-cup Cuisinart I got at a yard sale for $15.  
  • The nuts were purchased on sale from the grocery store, at a savings of several dollars over the cost of a store-bought jar of almond butter, and without the salt.  
All very simple and the house now smells like roasted almonds.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

GAIA LUNA: Harvesting What Isn't

Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the centre hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes that make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there
~ Lao Tsu, From Tao-Te Ching

Health brings life filled with activity.  Illness empties time to its barest essence.

Health allows forward motion.  Illness stops the wheel in mid-rotation.

It was the emptying, the resting, that brought clarity about the perpetual motion of my healthy life.  This was the useful outcome of two months of illness;  once I was able to get past the first heat of frustration and anger (at not being able to do everything I'd planned for myself), I began to see with vividness and gratitude the small things that could happen.

Back before I got sick, I'd planted corn from seed for the first time, started indoors before the soil had warmed, then planted out in early June.  When the corn went untended, with little rain for many weeks, I gave up hope of growing anything more than bare stalks.

Even so, in late August I harvested a dozen perfectly formed ears of corn.  The stalks where spindly and short, but they had overcome adverse conditions to fulfill their potential.

The lesson learned: Plant the seeds.

Don't worry.  Just do it.

Within each seed is a powerful will to become.

Even if you're unable to tend it something will still come of it.  If nothing else, you'll learn that you can plant a seed and watch it grow.  You'll get the joy of experience.  And you'll either learn what it takes to make it produce, or what can stunt it.  

Knowledge is the most valuable harvest.  It's yours to keep no matter what the outcome.

Ideas are an artist's seeds. An artists plants ideas by beginning the process of realization.

Even when the process of realization is interrupted,  the artist may return to find the idea has produced something useful.

It's up to me to begin.  It's up to me to do what I can.  And I've also seen clearly that things can become what they're meant to be even without my direct involvement.  

I can let go and my dreams won't fall apart.

At times, my role in the creative process must be simply to sit still and watch the seeds of planted ideas unfold and grow as they will.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

GAIA LUNA: Fall Harvest 08

Happy Autumnal Equinox, to those in the Northern Hemisphere.  It's a day to celebrate our creative harvest.

The picture above is the last big harvest from Gaia Luna: one spaghetti squash, half-a-dozen each sweet italian banana peppers and bell peppers (red and green), a few jalapeno peppers, several acorn squash, and an arm-load of under-sized delicata squash, all topped by a bunch of pink cosmos.

This is far more than I thought the garden would produce with so little water and weeding during the height of summer.  It falls far short of what I had envisioned last spring, but vastly exceeds my most desperate hopes during the many weeks I was confined to the house.

The only credit I can take for this harvest is in minimally preparing the soil, planting the seeds and erecting a fence to protect them from deer, all prior to the first weeks of June.  Everything else, quite literally, was done by the sun and the wind and the rain.  At the end of it all, I simply walked out with my clippers and gathered what the plants chose to supply.

Other things didn't go so well.

The zucchini, yellow crook-neck, and patty pan squash plants I'd grown from seed were stunted when I mistakenly pealed off their paper pots before planting, damaging their tiny new roots.  This and the lack of water yielded only a handful of summer squash.  This was a blessing in disguise.  They produced just the amount I could deal with.

I planted three kinds of cucumbers.  Because I couldn't get the rabbit fencing up, groundhogs and rabbits got into the garden and ate the growth tips off each.  Two varieties died from this and lack of water.  The third, the lemon cucumbers, produced prolifically enough for many salads plus a large jar of refrigerator dill pickles.

I planted tomatoes, too, but didn't get nets over them.  Bluejays and crows carried away each tomato before it had ripened.

A large net was thrown over the blueberry bushes, but it had unnoticed holes in it this year.I hadn't the strength to fix it.  Catbirds got in and ate all the blueberries.  There will be no frozen blueberries from the garden for my breakfast cereal this winter, no blueberry jam.  Very sad, but ...

There was another solution.  Once I was feeling better again I went to a pick-your-own orchard and brought home fruit to freeze and can.  I brought peaches, to eat fresh and preserve, home from vacation and from a local farm stand.  I made friends with someone who had more zucchini than she knew what to do with so I could make bread-and-butter pickles.

More soon about the meaning all this has communicated to me, in the world of gardening as metaphor.

Friday, September 19, 2008

HEALTHY: Cup Much More Than Half Full

Cup says:

The Way I See It #291:
"In a world where celebrity equals talent, and where make-believe is called reality, it is most important to have real love, truth and stability in your life." 
~ Bernie Brillstein
Film and television producer.

Tiny print at the bottom says (ironically):
"This is the author's opinion, not necessarily that of Starbucks.  To read more or respond, go to www.starbucks.com/wayiseeit."

Though I'm not a big fan of Starbuck's as a corporate entity and would rather patronize a locally owned establishment, this is what's available.  After exercising several times this week (yeah!) I've stopped in for a cup of Tazo herbal tea (very cool website) and some writing time away from the distractions of home.  Somehow, writing in a public place has allowed me to dive deeper on the page, saying and hearing things that I might not have gotten to otherwise.

Cup quote, above, relates directly to one of the life's lessons brought into sharp focus this summer.  Real love, truth and stability really are the most important things in life.  Everything else is frosting.

As an artist/musician, when I'm working on a project I can become highly focused and goal oriented, to the exclusion of other things, like eating and getting enough rest.  Being sick this summer forced me to stop everything completely, to let it all go and realize that I wasn't really falling behind.  There is no behind or ahead, only now.

All we really have is the way we treat each other.  Money is a useful illusion, necessary, but temporary.  Accomplishment, the same.  Even health will sooner or later fail each of us.

What we ultimately leave behind us are the small ways our lives have touched each other's, for the better or not.  Even trying to do good for another may have unintended consequences.  We can only do the best we know how.  The rest is up to Someone greater than ourselves.

Think of it this way:  when you're not feeling well you may long to get back to doing the things you enjoy, the things that give a sense of accomplishment and offer a chance to make a useful contribution to others through your skills, but mostly you long for kindness and tender companionship, you long for someone who will share their strength with you until yours is restored.

It all gets whittled down to this--the way we treat each other.

Kindness is the most lasting and most needed form of art we can create.

PS-If you visit the Tazo website, try out "Consult the Tea Leaves".   Fun!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

HEALTHY: Best Foot Forward

I'm back.  Dipping my toes back into the pool.  Toes painted with hearts (I did this myself) in celebration of health restored.

What a summer it was!

Didn't go at all as planned.  I planned and planted, but fate had other designs.

I won't go into details here.  Enough to say I was very sick for over two months.  Couldn't garden.  Couldn't do much of anything but read, sleep, teach my lessons, stay out of the heat, and try to figure out how to get well.

In both the literal and figurative sense, weeds overtook the garden while I was dealing with this extended illness. 

My greatest emotion now is gratitude.  Gratitude that I'm well again and able to do the ordinary things of life, like laundry and grocery shopping, without a struggle.

My heart goes out to those who live with chronic illness.  My struggles are just a shadow by comparison.

Coincidentally (or maybe not) an artist friend, Sarah, recently had something to say about both weeds and illness on her Art Calling blog, in two separate, lovely articles/reflections on these topics.  

After reading what she had written, I thought it might be of value to jump back in here and, over time, share some of the things I've discovered during this recent detour.

It's easy to post when things are going well.  Not so comfortable to write for public view when all my best intentions and efforts are lost in a tangle of weeds.  

The choices I make for many years to come are likely to be influenced by the lessons learned from this difficult time, now past.

Not going to say it all today.  Just glad to be back.