Kitchari porridge in a slow cooker

In a break from your regularly scheduled serious writing, here’s sharing a recipe I’ve enjoyed using a method I’ve found incredibly helpful in the seasonal shift. Don’t worry though, I’m working on another post to get back into the diary part of my reckless cooking + diary tagline.

My roommate (and also my girlfriend) always make fun of me for making “porridge,” a concept which they seem unable to divorce from the world of nursery rhymes. Porridge, however, is the bomb, if you haven’t heard, and is also my personal ultimate breakfast food.

I feel like you’re probably thinking that porridge is some kind of goopy, grits-like slop food. But what I’ve been making is actually an Indian porridge called “kitchari” which you may or may not have heard of before. It’s typically a mix between lentils and rice, often eaten when you’re feeling sick as it’s easy to digest and also full of good stuff thanks in no small part to the lentils. While it is goopy, it also has a wonderful body and even bite to it, which make it perfect for breakfast.

You can make the kitchari simple or more complex, depending on how you’re feeling. I’ve made mostly more complex ones since I haven’t eaten it because I was feeling sick or anything. I made a very similar dish at one point called dal tadka, which is lentils cooked with turmeric and salt, and then mixed at the end with separately tempered spices. Also very delicious, and reminds me of kitchari, though the latter is slightly more filled out in base ingredients, in my opinion.

I have made a few types of kitchari now, with different and perhaps less traditional ingredients. One that I just finished off this morning was a mix of a few types lentils and wild rice, with seasonings, tomatoes, and onions. I didn’t make any of the complex toppings, but I did eat it with pickled radishes and onions and a healthy dollop of yogurt.

This is a breakfast that never makes me feel bad in any type of way, and the lentils help you stay full for a good while as they’re processed through your system. They also have all kinds of wonderful, warming Indian spices that I believe make the dish even more amazing. I’ve come to really love and even crave the scent of cumin seeds crackling in oil or butter.

Unfortunately, though, recently we have been hit with the first of summer’s heat waves. It was a tough moment there, especially over Memorial Day, when I was essentially relegated to my room in my third floor apartment, where there is an AC unit. For fun, I used my thermometer purchased for cheese-making to test the air temp in the room. It was 90 degrees inside. Very hot.

So! When I was over at my parents’ house over the weekend, I decided to take advantage of my mom’s impressive collection of slow cookers. I feel like a lot of parents just have a lot of goods they don’t necessarily need or use just to build a library of useful items for their children. Much appreciated.

I took the circa 1970 slow cooker home, and made a batch of black beans, and later, chickpeas. I used the former to make an honestly out of this world black bean and sweet potato tortilla soup from Cookie and Kate (link not there b/c I guess it’s only in the cookbook.) The chickpeas were used in A Couple Cook’s Santorini salad recipe with black olives, quinoa (subbed for bulgur), cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese with lovely greens and a zingy vinaigrette (link also not available, soz). Anyways, I was getting really into my slow cooker at this point, especially because it would do all the heated labor for me while I was cool in the comfort of my bedroom with a book and some tea or on my yoga mat.

Later that week, I hit up the library for the free AC and found myself, literally coincidentally, in the slow cooker cookbook section! Most of what I found was pretty meat heavy and not the most interesting to me. Also I didn’t want to use my slow cooker because I don’t like to cook, but rather so that I don’t have to be there the whole time in the heat. I also want the complexity/tenderness that comes from the low and slow heating process of the slow cooker. I found that much of the slow cooker literature out there is of the “set it and forget it” or “dump meals” variety, which can certainly make sense at some points in life for different people, but is not my aim at this time. I found a major gem, though, called The Indian Slow Cooker, written by Anupy Singla. And it is amazing! I love this book, you guys. It has that early 2000’s charm and is full of truly delectable dishes that can all be made pretty simply and quickly using a slow cooker. Many of the recipes are for truly unreal amounts of food, though, so there is always a note for how to make the same dish, but in a smaller cooker (or if you just can’t eat that much.)

The book is divided into several sections including lentils (<3), beans and peas, meats, and desserts and sides. After carefully reading through the book several times to really get the feel for the recipes, I decided to start with one of the kitchari recipes. It looked pretty similar to the ones I had made already, and I had 4 hours from yoga class to coming home after dinner with a friend, so it was perfect timing. I also knew that I would be running out of my prepared food pretty soon, so it was perfect timing. I changed some parts of the recipe, using less salt, more garlic, and hulled mung beans, for example.

With that, I hope you enjoy the porridge, and your future mornings full of nourishing, texturized and delicious nursery rhyme food.

Hulled mung bean and brown rice porridge 

Makes 10 cups. Adapted from The Indian Slow Cooker by Anupy Singla

Ingredients:

2 cups (400 grams) moong dal (hulled), rinsed well

1 cup (200 grams) brown rice, washed well (I used brown basmati)

1 medium onion

1 medium tomato

1, 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and chopped finely

3 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1 jalapeno pepper/or 2 Thai chilies (did not have), chopped finely

1 tbsp salt

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp chili powder

8 cups water

optional for serving: cilantro, pats of butter, finely chopped onion.

Method:

Put all ingredients into slow cooker 5 qt. slow cooker. Set to high and cook for 4-4.5 hours. Enjoy the AC. Give mixture a good mix when finished, taste and adjust salt or other seasonings according to your taste. I enjoyed mine with cilantro and raw onion, but butter would also be tasty, says Anupy. Additionally, I made a quick cucumber raita to have on the side.

All recipe ingredients can also be halved, as directed in the book if you have a smaller, 3 1/2 qt. slow cooker… or if you just don’t want 10 cups of porridge. (I did, though.)

Talk soon,

S

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Health and scarcity

Reflections on health + wellness culture through the lens of scarcity.

Recently, my good friend, Claire, recommended a podcast from Hidden Brain to me. The podcast, called “Tunnel Vision” deals with the concept of scarcity. Hidden Brain is actually one of my favorite podcasts, and so I had heard the episode before Claire recommended it to me. But on Friday, I re-listened to it, and it started opening up some interesting doors in my head, new ways to use the lens of scarcity, that have kept showing up the past few days. I wanna talk about scarcity for a minute first.

Scarcity is, of course, when we don’t have enough of something. “Tunnel Vision” deals with how our behaviors change in that circumstance, how our judgment might be clouded. One of the main scarcities that the show deals with is that of money. One of the stories is of a woman who, upon losing her job and leaving her husband, finds herself suddenly strapped for cash. After suffering for a period attempting to make ends meet, and with the entirety of her brain signaling to her that she was being a bad mother, she gets a credit card that she almost immediately maxes out by purchasing household goods and food for her children, as if padding for a hibernation. While she paid her minimum payments for the first few months, she wasn’t able to keep up. In her desire to meet her family’s basic needs in the short term, she forgot about other maintenance necessities, such as gas. This short-term thinking temporarily relieves the feeling of lack you might have been experiencing up until that point in a near-constant state of emergency. As the podcast explains, this story in which the main character wasn’t able to pay off her card until a year after she maxed it out may be seen on the surface as a ripe place for judgment. After all, it’s that line of thinking that often causes people to support the scale back of governmental assistance programs, because “poor people just don’t know how to spend/save their money wisely.”

On the contrary, the podcast argues that a scarcity mindset makes it difficult to focus on anything else but what you’re lacking. They discuss an experiment done with conscientious objectors near the end of WWII who were put on a starvation diet in order to understand what hunger does to the body and how to help the many Europeans on the brink of famine and malnutrition in the aftermath of the conflict. During this experiment, the researchers expected the participants to, in their extreme hunger, take their minds off of food. To not think about it, view anything related to it, plan future meals, etc. The opposite, in fact, was the case. In their extreme nutritional deprivation, they became acutely focused on food and eating. What was scarce in their life became an unhealthy obsession. They had a type of tunnel vision around food and couldn’t really think about the bigger picture beyond the deprivation of their basic need. Similarly, the woman who maxed out her credit card from the jump could only think of providing her family with those everyday necessities that she hadn’t been able to provide with consistency after her job loss and life shift. The podcast argues that instead of creating a punishment for thinking this way, governmental programs should instead view people with a scarcity of money (and cultural capital?) the same way we view airline pilots.

Airline pilots have a very stressful job with a lot riding (no pun intended) on their successful performance. If they mess up, the consequences could be very, very devastating. However, airline pilots are not robots; they are human beings. So, cockpits aren’t designed to break down or allow disasters to happen in the face of human error. Instead, they are “fault tolerant,” meaning that, if a pilot messes up, there are several layers yet to go before any crisis would take place. The cockpit is designed to handle mistakes from a sleepy human being. It’s designed to handle honest errors or common slip ups. Relatedly, since poverty creates a similarly overwhelming and all-encompassing demand on one’s attention, how much more should we then create “fault tolerant” policies to accommodate people in the tunnel vision of money scarcity? In fact, as the podcast relates, policies designed to “help the poor” often run on an even stricter fault intolerance. Missing one day can mean you’re out of the program because you “don’t care.” Not remembering to do something because you had to take care of your child, an aging parent, or because you had to deal with some other kind of business or persistent issue related to your situation is grounds for expulsion, or at least not to be taken seriously. It’s a basis to be generalized as lazy, irresponsible, uneducated, not really wanting to “help yourself” or some other similar notion. In order to truly help folks, the policies meant to give them a leg up shouldn’t punish them from the start without considering the tunnel vision they may find themselves experiencing.

The final example in the podcast was what resonated with me the most: scarcity of time. This is one that I think the majority of people can relate to. On the podcast, there was a story about a highly motivated and deeply driven med student who, in an effort to be the best at everything she did, essentially didn’t leave room for anything other than working on those things and becoming the best in her field. She hardly slept, had a pretty poor diet, and in her free time (from her sometimes 15-hour shifts) she would spend up to 3 hours per day working out. That’s a scary calculus. She wanted to be healthy, but she was going about it all wrong. She realized this when she almost forgot to prescribe insulin to a newly-admitted diabetic patient. It was at this point that she decided to seek treatment.

This med student described her scarcity as a time thing, but I also think it goes beyond that. And this is where scarcity can become a lens for more than just time and money. In the med student’s case, it was a scarcity, or perceived scarcity, of something desired in life. Some identity you want to have, or some body you want to feel good in, some ambiguous, yet “perfect” thing that is hard to reach by healthy means. The more that she worked out, the less she had time for other things like laundry. So it started to pile up. The more it piled up, the less she wanted to be around it, and the more she decided to keep exercising. She was in a tunnel.

Eventually, the med student was able to relax her lifestyle and put an art room in her home. She started eating better and getting more comfortable at not doing something at every moment of the day. She found that when she implemented these lifestyle changes, she was actually performing better at work and less concerned with being perceived as some all-star med student. We all intellectually understand this result, but it’s very difficult to put into practice when operating from a scarcity mindset.

It made me think of my own relationship with food and with health overall. The lens of scarcity is actually something I have found tremendously beneficial as I’ve been reflecting on this my wellness practices lately. So here’s the more personal reflection:

I’ve almost always loved food, though I’ve not necessarily always been super concerned with what went in my body as long as it tasted good. I had a brief issue with an eating disorder in my adolescence which hasn’t cropped up again in the form of actually restricting my food intake to unhealthy levels to lose weight. I do, however, believe that it’s remained with me in other ways. I think there are many reasons for this, chief among them is the intense pressure to look a certain way. My brain is so wired for it at this point that I notice how pretty much every other woman looks around me, on the internet, in movies… everywhere. I’m not even thinking about it explicitly, but I’ve observed it a great deal after I made myself aware of the subtle behavior. I don’t want to believe that I do, but I have whole conversations with myself (which are still fairly subconscious) regarding how I stack up to whatever person I’m looking at. In some underlying place, I am tremendously concerned with how I look and how other people perceive that. I wish it weren’t the case, but I have to be honest in saying that it is. I am aware of it, which is a good step, but I am also working towards actively creating new mental habits and rewiring my (plastic!) brain to help guide these feelings to more productive, gentle, and loving places and expressions.

At this point in my life, I love to cook, and I love eating foods that nourish my body and taste wonderful. I truly love the experience of looking at recipes (as evidenced by my ridiculous library borrowing history), purchasing the ingredients, allowing the aromas to fill my kitchen, and best of all, sharing it with other people. My relationship with food specifically has grown into something much better than it ever has been over the past couple years. As a general rule, I don’t worry too much about the amounts that I am eating. As long as I’m in the main sticking away from processed foods and listening to my body, I don’t worry as much about fat/calories, etc. I generally eat until I am no longer hungry, or until I can sense myself getting full. I am a naturally slow eater and I’m grateful for that as it stops me before I feel myself getting too full. I also don’t have a problem packing up leftovers from my plate and typically don’t feel the impulse to overeat even if there’s still food left. I love to bring food to work and can count on one hand the times I’ve gotten take out for lunch at work. I just prefer to bring my own stuff, especially since I do a lot of home cooking and really, truly need to use up what I make so it won’t go bad. On a practical level, I just straight up really don’t like feeling bad. I don’t like having headaches or pain of any kind (shocking, I know.) I don’t like the feeling over over-fullness. I don’t like cravings. I don’t like getting hungry after eating only an hour or two before. I like to eat whole, unprocessed, and flavorful foods. Enjoying these things without feeling guilt or shame helps me stay on a good track food-wise. I have never really felt like I have to eat this way because of some health or guilt-related reason. When I’m cooking for myself at home, I rarely make something that isn’t in some way good for me.

Now, especially, after reading books like The Blue Zones, which I’ve talked about on here, and gaining deeper insight into my hormones after recently getting off birth control, food has become even more central to my life than it already had been. I think I used to just enjoy wonderful tastes, but I didn’t really have any general foods that I would gravitate towards or away from. Over Christmas last year, a good portion of my family became (and remain) vegan, which also got me thinking about an even lower portion of my diet coming from animal products. I am personally not even vegetarian, but my home cooked meals almost never contain meat (literally about 0.5/10 times will I cook meat at home), and now increasingly, they don’t contain much dairy either. I mostly use almond or oat milk when I need milk and don’t consume many eggs, or much butter at all. I do love my greek yogurt and cheese though for different dishes. Anyways, through all that, I kind of got more interested in intentionally healthful food choices and wellness in general (which I’ve discussed in this year’s blog posts a lot I think.) Before, I just focused on home cooking, and over the last six months, it’s been a bit more consciously oriented towards my overall wellness.

The reasons for these moves I think are of course the obvious ones: I want to be healthy. I want to live a long time. I want to grow old and see my kids and grandkids do their lives, and enjoy my time. I’m tremendously concerned with being available to my family– being helpful and a resource to my loved ones, including those ones I may not know for another 20-30 years yet. I want to make a difference in my community and have the concentration and ability to do so effectively. I want my body to serve me well as we enjoy a mutually supportive connection. I want to be happy and healthy long into my life. I don’t want to say “getting old sucks.” I don’t want to die from a preventable disease caused in part by the foods I chose. I want to have healthy habits so that when I (hopefully) in the future have my own family, creating nourishing meals won’t be the biggest deal of the century, but something I am confident in doing and able to prepare with my family without great stress. I’m sure there are more reasons than that, but there’s an important point in all of this. I think a lot of these reasons, though of course strong motivators and very good, are in some important ways also rooted in fear and scarcity.

Not enough time, not enough health.

How can I do all these things? Will I ever be doing enough? When will I know if I am healthy? It’s hard to learn and understand basic truths about nutrition and not want to constantly apply them to your life, even if you’re already doing a pretty good job most of the time. It’s hard to un-know things, or make choices you know might actually make your body feel bad, or have an otherwise negative impact on your health, even if it feels right on many other levels. On another level, my fear was also grounded in a negative self-concept and image.

Similarly, when I’ve been practicing yoga in the hotter weather recently, I’ve been increasingly aware of my body which was previously covered with leggings and more shirt material. I watch the person I do yoga with on YouTube and unconsciously think toxic thoughts to myself about my strength, my body shape, the fat on my legs. I compare myself. There I am, trying to focus and clear my mind, focus on my breath, and care for my body, but I’m thinking pretty much every thought that could possibly undermine those goals. Even in writing this, I struggle not to judge myself for judging myself. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this. This is where I need to be fault tolerant.

These were the thoughts sticking around in my head this morning when I listened to this podcast from A Couple Cooks. They interviewed Robyn and Andrew Downs, of Real Food Whole Life, who spoke a lot about mindset around food. I was able to put some wheels on my thoughts.

Carol Dweck developed a lot of the research we often cite around types of mindsets: fixed and growth. During my time as a 6th grade teacher, we often used this concept in our education strategies. Fixed mindsets typically manifest in giving up on something when it gets hard, which leads to less risk taking and low personal growth. A growth mindset, on the other hand, holds that when confronted with a problem (often seen in academic spaces, but holds true for all life, really) the person with a growth mindset responds not with, “I can’t do this,” but with “I can’t do this yet.” In other words, there’s room for change and growth. People with growth mindsets show stronger resiliency, greater risk taking, and stronger personal growth in their lives than their fixed mindset counterparts.

The wonderful thing about this research on mindset is that it highlights the plasticity of our neurological wiring and the changeability of our behaviors. It makes flexible and porous the boundaries in our lives we previously perceived as static and solid. When Robyn was being interviewed, she talked a lot about her own journey of food and healthful choices as also being really informed by the concept of scarcity. Her mindset about her body was fixed regarding what she was eating, how she was exercising and how often, etc. When she first took on a more health-centered approach to food and life, it was based for a while on that scarcity that told her she wasn’t doing enough, didn’t have enough “health.” Even though she was making healthy choices, they were often extreme and not serving her. Her strategy was predicated on comparisons and “shoulds.” Her healthy diet was more like a series of mandatory tasks rather than a joyful way of life, and she lived in fear of what would happen if she didn’t do the healthy thing enough.

I don’t totally identify with this, but a great deal of it really resonated with me. I don’t cook the way I do because it’s a chore I feel I must do. I cook and eat this way because I find it genuinely enjoyable and because I can tell a significant difference in the way that I feel and the energy I have when I depart from my regular diet. However, I certainly feel a sense of scarcity around my own physical health and wellness. I worry a lot about my future and being well. I worry about the way I look, if I’m skinny enough, strong enough, flexible enough. I criticize my body on a daily basis and sometimes judge myself for not being strong/balanced/focused/bendy enough when I practice yoga.

I focus on the lack rather than the presence.

But the truth is that I have a body that serves me extremely well. It functions great, tbh. Because a vast majority of the time, I’m prioritizing food and yoga and many other practices that help me out, I almost never experience pain, even headaches. Since starting a super regular home yoga practice last October, I rarely experience back issues. When I do, I have a handful of stretches in my “tool box” that typically relieve it. Even though I can’t do a handstand, I know I am strong enough. (Also, as my good friend aptly pointed out to me last night as we were discussing these ideas: “When did handstands become a part of natural selection?!”) Despite not being able to run for more than like a minute (something I was painfully reminded of while running in vain to catch a flight in Miami two weeks ago *facepalm*), I can walk and bike for extended periods of time. There are other areas of my body that are naturally strong, and it’s OK for my body to be different. Rather than focusing on what I can’t do, I am attempting to rewire my brain in a way to focus on what I can, and what is possible for me with persistent, gentle practice.

I also have to mention that one of the most important things in this was checking out Robyn’s Instagram earlier today. I don’t use Instagram anymore because I felt personally that it was eroding my focus and was actually exacerbating some of the comparison issues I’ve described in this post (and more things, which you can read about in my most recent posts). But I found myself looking at her Instagram for a long time earlier today, reading her thoughtful posts and seeing photos of a woman whose body looked a lot like mine. It was incredibly powerful, actually. It was powerful to see her strong, doing yoga like I do. She even got certified to become a yoga instructor and wrote vulnerably about the negative self talk she experienced during that process, specifically that she couldn’t do a handstand or hold a chaturanga pose for long at all (so hard!!!) I resonated so much with her process and journey, and how she has eventually gotten to a place where she advocates that “gentle is the new perfection.” In other words, how can we move away from forcing ourselves through these “health hoops” to get to some place unnaturally fast, or in an unsustainable form?

Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve heard this message. I know that my process is lacking its core if I base it on self-critique. I know that my yoga practice is much emptier if I show up frustrated by things I can’t do yet. Or maybe ever (which is also OK because bodies are different.) The difference, I truly believe, was seeing someone who looked like me saying it. Someone who has a really healthy lifestyle, a child, a fulfilling career, runs an awesome food blog, hosts a podcast that helps to uplift people (esp women) everywhere. She’s not without her curves; she’s not able to do everything Yoga with Adrienne is able to do. She’s not perfectly, magazine cover skinny. But she is strong, healthy, and knows where she’s going and what she wants. She realizes the futility (after a huge amount of struggle) in comparison and scarcity mindset around health. She leans into experiences as they come to her, with self-reflection, not judgment.

This made me thing of an amazing book I recently read by Meg Jay called The Defining Decade. Her famous Ted Talk is on the main ideas of her book (which was also, coincidentally recommended by Claire, who is singlehandedly propelling my life’s growth it seems!)

Jay’s book about claiming your twentysomething years and not stagnating. She explains how to get “identity capital” and the entire thing resonated with me a ton as I’m on the cusp of graduate school and delving into a career in higher ed. I’m totally compelled by the idea of claiming this time and not letting it pass me by. Working on my motherhood before I’m (hopefully) a mother, on my marriage before I (hopefully) have a spouse. Getting myself in order and asking the hard questions during a phase in life when taking things seriously might not necessarily be encouraged by society or represented in the media we consume. Although Jay talks a lot about ways you can claim these years and some of the consequences of letting them slip by in a state of prolonged stasis, she also encourages twentysomethings not to operate from a memento mori place.

People often say YOLO or allude otherwise to their death in justifying certain choices or even in making good choices. They look to their own expiration as the gravity surrounding the bigness of their actions now.  I agree with this. I think remembering you will die is an important factor, it couches us in a degree of mortality that can galvanize us into action if things aren’t working. However, it’s also fertile ground for scarcity mindsets to grow. Importantly, Jay says that rather than fearing death, age, and any form of deterioration of the life experience, twentysomethings (and everyone else in my opinion) should replace memento mori with memento vivi: remember you will live. 

This is a key shift. A concept so important I’ve thought of inking it on my body because scarcity and this deep fear of loss run so deep in my blood. I don’t want my life to be about pushing off deterioration so intentionally that I forget what’s in front of me. I forget how well my body is working, how good I feel, the blessing it is to truly love and not dread cooking wonderful, healthful foods. I don’t want to focus so much on my health and wellness that it becomes singular in my life’s experience. I want it to complement my life, to be a background for the other things, wonderful things, I am a part of. My future family. My career. My avocations: cooking, reading, writing, bicycling, etc. I know I am the type of person to focus hard on things, to run all the things I experience through a filter of my beliefs (like many people I’m sure) which can sometimes detract from my enjoyment of picnics, hanging out with friends, and other similar special activities that aren’t my typical routine. It’s because I care so much about living long and well that I feel this way. But I need to remember memento vivi, I need to remember that it’s right here, happening right now. My life. That the scarcity is of my own creation, and of society’s. It’s also resulting from the sexist culture I’ve been steeped in since becoming conscious that has been judging my body and teaching me to internalize that judgment on my own. I need to remember that I don’t need to participate. That I am enough. I am well right now. I’m doing what’s necessary already. I am realizing the simply truth that it’s OK if it’s not perfect, and, more importantly, that truly it won’t be. The goal shouldn’t be rooted in comparison. I want to trust and believe in my body, to treat it well, respect it, honor it, and recognize it for what it already so generously gives me.

Growth mindset supports these goals tremendously because it allows me to make these changes. I don’t have to continue what I’m doing. I can replace habits… with hard and consistent work.

I think of my brain sometimes like an open field. When I do something the same way every time, or when I learn something new, I tend to visualize that fresh learning as walking a new path in a field of high grass for the first time. After the first trek, the grasses are still tall, and there’s hardly any evidence that someone really walked there. But then I walk that same way again and again, and over time, it becomes clear that someone keeps walking there, and the grasses start to get matted down. Eventually it becomes the new pathway. The pathway I’m trying to learn to walk when I look in the mirror, step on my mat, put on my summer clothes, plate up my dinner, attend Memorial Day picnics, don my swimsuit in a public place. This pathway is possible. The pathway that replaces perfection with gentle, prizes functional and healthy bodies, appreciates diversity, cultivates self-love in an authentic sense is possible. I can make that pathway, and I can work to replace experiences and feelings that aren’t working.

Here’s to my (and your) non-gentle brain field pathways getting totally weeded over.

Until next time.

Finding balance in a despairing world

This post isn’t really about food, but it is about something I think about a lot: How do we find peace, hope, and stability in a constantly changing and, frankly, kind of scary world?

Recently, Juli and I have been watching the second season of the HBO series A Handmaid’s Tale. And, let me tell you, it is ROUGH (heads up for minor spoilers.) I woke up in the middle of the night last night (not even from a nightmare or anything) and dwelled on the ideas in the series so much so that I had a hard time falling back asleep.

If you’re not familiar with it, the A Handmaid’s Tale is based on the book by Margret Atwood of the same title, and it’s basically a dystopian future in the U.S. (pretty much set in the present, which makes it all the more eerie), in which a fundamentalist offshoot religious group takes over the U.S. government and begins ruling by their horrific standards. The new order is unbelievably violent and ultrasexist (terms which don’t even begin to define the atrocities depicted in this show.) Fertile women are systematically raped, and if they are badly behaved (or even if they’re not) they are subject to inhumane treatment or even sent away to “the colonies” to work in what’s presumably radioactive waste sites. It’s an unbelievably discouraging show, and every time you think that something may be going right, or that there’s some level of break though, the ultra-powerful and super militarized government comes back again, shooting.

It’s heavy for so many reasons. Many of the episodes are in large part comprised of flashbacks of “before” the violent government takeover (which was only a few years before the present time– or maybe the present time?– in the show.) The last episode dealt heavily with folks in the LGBTQIA community and their fate under the new regime, which I’m sure you can imagine wasn’t survivable. This really hits a tender spot for me. At one point, the main character, June, is holed up for a few months in the abandoned Boston Globe press offices, which were long abandoned as the (presumably) entire staff had been slaughtered (the correct term) after the violent government takeover. (Of course, the presses were the first to go without mercy.) June makes meaning out of her sojourn in this horrible place by creating a shrine to the victims, lighting candles, and pasting photos she found from their personal spaces to the wall against which they were all shot or hung. She gathered something from each of their desks (mugs, hats, trinkets) and assembled them all at the base of the memorial, stopping every so often to pray or send her thoughts to the victims and their loved ones. In some ways, this is really one of the only things that feels like a moment of some degree of peace or reconciliation– or at least sanity– in the show. There are many pride stickers and photos of same-sex couples pasted on the walls; the most recent episode dealt with so many of these types of stories.

It feels so relentless at times. And when I watch this show, it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. I actually had to do a hard reset physically with some yoga after the most recent episode because I found it so upsetting. The uncanny resemblance to the present day (mass hangings in an abandoned Fenway Park and all the architecture of familiar, present-day life) with a nightmarish reality playing in the foreground is almost too real to be digested.

Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by all this. While it’s not the present reality, it bears so much resemblance; it doesn’t actually feel so far off. And that’s just this particular brand of dystopia; there are many others, especially regarding the state of the environment and our resources. I feel bowled over by it at times, suffocated by the pace of the world and the way that we are as a species. It’s certainly changed my ideas around what people are like and what we are capable of. And it’s not just what I see in a fictional show, but what I see playing all about me, especially in these recent years.

But I can’t live in that mindset. I can’t live in despair. So I’ve been asking myself this question: How can I live in the world as a conscious, active, and concerned person while retaining a sense of balance and peace in my life? Because, at the end of the day, I experience the bad, but I also experience a lot of the good. This ratio has to do with my privilege and socioeconomic background. But, one thing I feel more conviction in everyday is that spending all your time in the despairing over the news and a potentially bad future is not a solutionI am not more active, informed, or radical by simply burning myself out with the deluge of negative news articles and Facebook arguments that come my way every day. In fact, I am probably inhibiting my potential for positive change.

So how can I maintain the balance? Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of things I’m working towards (key phrase here is working towards):

  1. Maintain a healthy distance from your devices:

This has been a big one for me the last few months, and definitely the most important one in my opinion on this list (and the longest!) We need to get more distance from the constant input of information, especially stressful news, organizing the times of exposure to limit anxiety. Like children, when we are presented with too many options and realities, we tend to become overwhelmed and can’t really meaningfully engage with any of them. By limiting this constant interaction, we will do much better with what we do eventually take in.

After reading a lot of Cal Newport’s work, I’ve become really convinced that shattering our attention via the current internet iteration and our devices is a ubiquitous folly for so many reasons (see my past post on that here.) But it’s more than just fragmenting our focus: I believe it’s also deeply harmful to our mental health. Being constantly connected to everything that’s happening in the world at all times via our phones, computers, and televisions introduces a hum of anxiety in the background of our daily lives. Our connectivity has brought us into an important communion beyond borders, but there is still a price for unmitigated and unflagging attention to it.

Beyond the constant news, our interaction with social media can also make us feel interpersonally isolated. On social media, our friends often curate a collection of images and posts that represent only the best parts of themselves and their lives. Not only does this fragment identities, but it also creates an envy of what other people have, believing a facade to be the truth about their life. Spending all this time in front of a screen takes me to an imaginary reality where a super curated comparison is all there is. Of course, this isn’t the life any of us actually greets on a daily basis, but we can certainly put on a very convincing show.

When I have access to the internet, especially in a mobile way like on my phone, I find it’s easier to spend my energy in places and future times that are not relevant to me in the present moment. And while I admit it’s definitely important to think these things through, too much is really anxiety-inducing for me. I’m spreading myself so thinly to imagine the future problems or issues I may encounter in an imaginary situation that I can simulate with relative accuracy using the research tools of Google or simply passively scanning the web or my social media news feed.

I had a therapist once who asked me to hold on to some pebbles she kept in her office in an attempt to ground me in the moment I was currently in, not some imaginary future problem. I have used this technique throughout my life since then, primarily through breathing, but also through literally touching things around me at a given moment, reminding me of the reality I am living in now. I am not in another place or time living a different story than the one I have access to right now. By maintaining distance from our devices, we allow ourselves to experience more of what’s happening around us and focus on what we can have an effect on in the present, rather than imagining things that aren’t going on for us right now.

Of course, there are times when we need to be connected in order to learn about the country and the world, understand complicated issues, and draw important lessons or parallels from totally different situations to avoid unfortunate mistakes or inform our decisions. My method isn’t to totally disconnect and move off the grid or anything like that. In fact, I believe connectivity and investment in what’s happening right now is a solid path towards a better future. To try to balance these two, I try to only check the news or be on social media at given times of the day, not constantly throughout it. This doesn’t have to be hardline scheduled, but it should be something you’re mindful of. It’s helpful to also time these periods, so you don’t fall into a depressing rabbit hole.  I also find that getting a lot of news on the radio helps too, since there’s generally pre-programmed time slots to hear the top stories and discussions, rather than a second-by-second live update. Also, that bulk of radio news is typically given in an analytical manner, rather than a raw update. We all know how it feels to get one, disembodied and scary headline on our phone that makes us remark something like, “This country is going to shit” or “I can’t believe we elected him” or “We are living in a hellish reality” etc etc. I believe strongly this reaction on its own is not useful or helpful to anyone, least of all ourselves.

More concretely: One thing I’ve taken to doing is putting my cell phone on airplane mode about an hour before I go to bed and not turning it on again until after I’ve been awake for 30 minutes to an hour. I got this advice from a recommended YouTube video in my feed one day: When you make your habit to be on your phone as soon as you wake up in the morning, before even getting out of bed, you give away a lot of your own power to dictate what your morning looks like. You are allowing something and someone else tell you how to feel. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, seeing the news and information in your day is critical to being informed and conscious as a person, but there’s no rule about how you take this information in. You don’t need to get alerts and updates on your phone all day long to still be able to read all that information at a designated time later. By going to bed without being on my phone, I’m not only literally making my sleep better in the biological sense, but I’m also giving my nervous energy a chance to settle to calm me down and re-center before doing the most detoxifying and integral activity of my 24 hours. And of course, waiting for a while after you wake up to get on your cell phone gives you a chance to be in the day as a human first: how do you feel? How did you sleep? Are you thirsty? Do you want to make some coffee? Stretch your back? Brush your teeth? Did you have a weird dream? Have you thought of a solution to a problem you’ve been facing? Gotten some new insight into an issue at work or home? Now is the time to tend to these things, and often when we first get on our phones, we cut off that vital morning energy that can power our day in a really different direction from jump.

In reading a lot of Cal Newport’s work on focus, I have come away with a strong lesson: by preserving your focus at given times of the day, you still end up doing the same amount of work, just in less time and with more freedom for your off hours. In other words: None of these strategies to limit time online or with devices is to get you to cut yourself off, it’s about getting you to engage in a more meaningful and mindful way, when you’re ready to, absorbing consciously the same information you may have otherwise.

2. Consistently engage in positive activities that remind you of what you care about

Now for some shorter bits!

Your job is not just to stay informed, but also to stay well. By continuing to stay plugged into the activities that matter to you–for me this is cooking, yoga, reading, spending time grounding in nature and connecting with my people– you’re able to remember who you are within a world that can often make us feel like a cog in a machine, or helplessly on a one-way ride to worldwide disaster via climate change. I can reclaim some of that identify back by doing the things that matter to me, and these activities are also stress-releasing for me, so I am not always jamming my nose to the grindstone of a 24-hour news cycle or an algorithm-driven, attention-dominating social media account. We can gain control over the tools in our lives rather than the other way around. I can refresh and recharge in this way without becoming numb or forgetting about the beautiful things in the world. By being outside, especially at this time of year, it’s hard to not contemplate the natural beauty surrounding us, and the fidelity of the seasons every year. It remains a beautiful world. Who are you beneath all the stuff going on around you? What can you allow yourself to feel? How can you put things aside for a moment to get back to yourself minus the noise?

3. Set boundaries

This can be with yourself, but also with family and friends. If you find that you’re consistently in a situation that typically turns negative or around a friend that always wants to talk about sad things, it’s a good idea to keep that interaction limited. Conversely, sometimes people are really good at sounding off about how great their lives are, which, depending on your relationship with this person, might be another good time to “mute” them. You may also just be stressed out being privy to people’s lives that are distant from what you would want for yourself– profiles that stress you out for whatever reason. Maybe friends you’ve had since you joined Facebook in a different season of life. I frequently “mute” people who are not adding to my life or causing me undue stress. In fact, I recently downloaded a great Chrome add-on called “Quiet Facebook” that just totally removes the entire news feed. In this way, I really can’t be on FB unless I have some kind of task to get done, which helps with my focus and my self esteem and comparison tendencies.

In the first suggestion, I mentioned how social media can create the background hum of anxiety in your life, and I think this touches back to the curated lives we all see on Facebook and Instagram. We feel stressed because we don’t have what other people have. Maybe that’s material possession, experiences, money, a college degree, a loving family, or any number of other things. People spend so much time on photos and posts before they send them into the world, carefully considering how they will be received. Some of this is good, and some is bad. If it’s making you feel bad about yourself, or causing you to look twice in the mirror, in your closet, or at your accomplishments, better to limit, in my opinion.  If you can even get rid of a social media account you feel less strongly about, do that. Or at least get rid of it temporarily and see how you feel. I was very addicted to Instagram, and after a month long practice break, I just got rid of it completely after contemplating the costs and benefits in my own particular situation. (Read: not everyone has the same pros and cons regarding social media use!)

4. Be as solutions-oriented as possible

In other words, when you do talk about the problems in the world and spend time simply dwelling in the more horrible realities of issues, try to do so in a way that emphasizes a route towards change rather than just stays stagnated in the negative. This isn’t to say that being fucking pissed isn’t OK. I definitely spend a lot of my time being just that, especially as a member of current American society. There are so many things to be angry about; that bumper sticker is right “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” That’s part of the reason why I’m writing this post: I am so upset about how so many things are playing out right now. It’s not what I want. But what can I do to fix it? That always needs to be the next question. What steps can you take to make a difference locally? What movements can you make on an individual level? Can you volunteer to help make refugees feel welcome? Can you mentor a homeless LGBTQ teen who’s been kicked out of their home? Can you tutor an ESL student? Can you march in a rally for equal rights? Can you organize a book or discussion club to talk about these issues in a productive way? Can you simply be a voice within your own community and close ties for equity, justice and conservation? Taking steps towards change and creating a more just and hospitable world can make us feel less mired in the despair. At least we are in motion.

5. Recognize the power of the structures in place

That said, many people think that if they’re not at the level of Malala right away, they’re not doing enough. This is often a recipe for burnout. Changes can be small and grassroots, and in fact they need to be in order to grow into the more sweeping reforms we may fight for. In my view, the way our capitalist and individualistic society is set up at present will always advantage the fortunate few over the rest. Without a cultural shift in terms of the way we think of politics, economics, race, class, sexuality and gender, etc., we aren’t going to be going very far very fast in the present system. I do think these subtle shifts are happening, though, to some degree. We have so many young people fighting hard right now, revealing a new generation’s ideas on what is working and what is not. These cultural waves are the engine behind lasting political and governmental change; it goes from the bottom up. However, at present, we are still in a system, and that system will always limit the efficacy of individual actions. This is why “voting with your wallet” will always be an incomplete solution. Recognize what is possible, productive, and positive in your community, and try your best to do just that. Don’t beat yourself up for not solving all the problems at once, especially if those problems affect all people, or all citizens in your country. Significant change may take generations, but will only come about if we value and complete the small work now.

6. Surround yourself with the right people for you

This is similar to the boundaries issue: try to keep the people around you who remind you of who you are and who you want to become. This is also true for social media accounts you follow. Are you connected to people who are helping you connect to better versions of yourself, or are you connected with people who either keep you focused hard things or encourage you to do things you don’t want to be doing? During a recent period in my life, I often scrolled through Instagram, watching influential voices there discuss health and wellness, among other things. But it felt like a deficit-based approach, which wasn’t working for me. Once I was able to break free of that, I then found different voices (or perhaps tuned into those which were already there) and pursued a more lasting change and set of priorities– not just based on how things look or how much they cost, but on how functional and important they are for me individually. Try if at all possible to keep those people around who push you towards what you already know, who accept your process, who aren’t asking you necessarily to change things about yourself that don’t need changing. This way, you will feel less pulled in many different, all seemingly-compelling directions, but instead in one that feels fitting and peacefully right for you. True community should help facilitate this process and can help you feel more in flow with the world, rather than fighting against it or lagging behind it.

7. Love others and be a light

I realize this is the hippy dippy-est list item, but hear me out. When we are doing all we can on an individual level, recognizing and trying to reform the system that’s holding us back or down, we may feel we’ve reached the end of our abilities. But I believe strongly that, in addition to the tangible work of change, a huge source of that shift is through loving others and being a light. This can mean so many things. One example of light for me is listening to podcasts. They shine into the dark places where maybe some others don’t want to go and investigate. In my experience, they connect you slowly to others all around the world, from a variety of backgrounds.

Last night, for example, I listened to an excellent RadioLab podcast about a girl who had been raised by really conservative, homeschooling, and fundamentalist religious parents in rural Texas. They didn’t do anything in life through the official channels, so once their daughter decided to leave the farm she was raised on, she realized she had no official proof of her citizenship; she wasn’t allowed to get a job, go to college, travel, or do any of the myriad other things for which one needs some form of citizenship ID. Because her situation was so rare, she was unable to get help for it, and it took her a very long time to get a birth certificate. Texas needed to pass a bill actually in order for her to even get started on the process.

Here’s the part that really shone the light for me: When she posted her story originally via YouTube, she explained that so many people came out of the woodwork to offer her encouragement. She had people writing her from so many countries, to the point where she was receiving 2 emails per second. Very few of them had advice on how to get clear of her rare legal blockade, but they did offer her immense solidarity and love.

Did that solidarity and love actually do something for her situation directly? Maybe not directly, but I think certainly tangentially. She was riding this wave of support and love to help her solve her problem and eventually get her birth certificate. I don’t think we can underestimate that. Personally, I was moved by the story, mainly because I am now trying to imagine myself waving a similar wave of solidarity and support for whatever situation I’m in, knowing that in reality, I would probably get such a wave if enough people had access to my story. (I don’t really need this now, but just in general, it’s so important to think of the world being for you as much as possible.)

Being love and light is mainly about maintaining civility, humanity, and interconnection in your life: the things that make us human. It’s what people stand for when they are patient with the person who doesn’t speak English at the store or on the bus; when they help someone they don’t know, or do the hard thing so someone else can do the easy one. It’s important to do kind things for our neighbors, not to get too upset at passers-by or other drivers. When we dissociate others from their humanity we can instantly become fed up with a stranger, we are really lost. Maintaining love in your life helps remind you of your humanity and recognize and honor it in others, no matter how different they may appear to you.

 


 

While that’s not a complete list at all, it is some of the things I’ve been (with varied success) working on and thinking about. I am trying to maintain this balance in my life so that I can be a productive and calm person, someone who is focused and knowledgeable about themselves as well as the world around them. I am trying to be a person who is unafraid. I want to be someone who can move through places within her life with relative ease and consciousness– being aware while also remaining present in the time and place where I currently find myself.

What strategies do you use to maintain this balance in your life? How do you keep calm and retain your identity and peace in moments of particularly difficult news or negative social surroundings?

 

This week on the windowsill: Big breakfasts and Blue Zones

It’s marathon weekend here in PGH, and the anticipation is in the air. I live right on the marathon route, but will not be there at the time of the race because you can’t drive out until like 3-4pm in the afternoon if you park where I always do. The weather has been holding back a bunch of rain recently, only sporadically allowing it to come down. It’s also been pretty hot recently; this past week I had this year’s first slightly uncomfortable night’s rest due to heat. I am trying to be thankful for all phases of the year, and I am grateful for the seasons, distinct as they are. It’s amazing how fast all the green grows back– literally overnight.

Anyways, I’ve been a bit MIA on here recently with so much going on. I decided it’s probably better to keep the windowsill series as a bimonthly thing rather than weekly. Also, I’m just not sure how many of you are THAT interested in what I’m cooking each week. I do want to share with you recipes that I really loved though, just not every single one. I am learning and growing in this as well. Trying to make this blog a resource more people want to use 🙂

One thing I made for the first time this past week that I absolutely loved was chapatis! I used Chetna’s recipe of course. It didn’t puff up the way it does in the video, but even if it does puff, it very shortly un-puffs and then looks basically the same as mine did in the end. I bought chapati flour at a local Indian grocer, but I think there are ways to mix whole wheat and regular flour for the same end. I made a batch twice this past week so far. The first one was eaten with spinach dal and okra masala and the second with leftovers and some Korean multigrain rice (which I bought pre-mixed). That was many meals this week, as well as lots of fresh salads inspired by a friend of mine who brought a salad one night to dinner with quinoa in it. I’ve been making a lot of those filled liberally with nuts/seeds and vegetables, typically dressed in a light French-style vinaigrette.

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I’ve been trying to eat particularly well recently not just because I enjoy being healthy and not feeling bad, but also because I recently went off birth control (which was used to control painful periods for the past 5 years) and am now trying to do a lot to support my hormones in the transition aftermath. It’s been almost a full month now, and so far no major symptoms to report. I’ve been loosely using a food guide by Alisa Vitti that accords with each phase of your cycle. I also am using an app to report changes and it gives me advice on things to eat/do to try to resolve common menstrual issues. Okra was actually on the list for last week, which was perfect for the spinach dal side. It’s fun to try different foods at different times, and it also helps from getting into a meal rut when you find something you like. I’m all about eating nutritional, hormone-supporting foods as a natural solution to issues. We’ll see how it works out!

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This is the okra masala, multigrain rice, spinach dal, and chapatis. Not the most visually-appealing, but definitely delicious, especially when eaten with friends.

I’ll know more about how successfully this method is working in time. But so far, I haven’t noticed any major mood swings or changes in energy, but I am also implementing cycle syncing not only nutritionally but also through my behavior (trying to do more and less at different times depending on my energy level, including both exercise and social activities.) I am already one to guard my energy levels jealously, and I have also grown a lot personally and health-wise in the last 5 years. These I think will support the transition. Anyone else gone through something like this and have any advice?

Another impetus to change my eating habits slightly came after reading this conversation (“The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right:
Mark Bittman and doctor David L. Katz patiently answer pretty much every question we could think of about healthy food”), which was actually recommended by one of my favorite food blogs, Cookie and Kate. It’s such an amazing resource for clearing the noise around “healthy eating” these days. Through that article, I found out about the Blue Zones, which are areas in the world where the highest proportion of centenarians live. The zones are Nicoya, Costa Rica, Okinawa, Sardinia, Ikaria, and Loma Linda, CA (high population of Seventh Day Adventists.) Even if you’re not interested in changing your diet and lifesyle to reflect Blue Zone principles, it’s fascinating just to read about these places. At first, I started reading The Blue Zones Solution, which is primarily about the author, Dan Buettner’s, attempt to make different towns in America their own blue zones (which is just as much about diet and exercise as it is about structural supports for them as well as emotionally, socially, and spiritually healthy habits.) But I wanted to learn about the actual Blue Zones themselves first before that, so I’ve been reading the original book, published in 2008 that just explains the different Blue Zones and conversations with people there.

As much as anyone in these Blue Zones would tell you there’s not a “miracle” ingredient or even really such a thing as superfoods (at least as Americans tend to conceptualize them) there certainly are better foods and habits to integrate into your life. One thing I’ve been making a big push to eat more of is beans, which are widely used in pretty much every Blue Zone. Nuts, too, are frequently eaten and those who eat nuts typically live longer than those who don’t (which Buettner talks about a lot in the book and gives statistics for.) I have been trying to incorporate nuts into more things, and generally have them with me for mealtimes, along with fruits. Another habit I’ve been trying to get into more so is eating progressively smaller meals as the days go on and relying less on snacks (which I don’t do too much actually), but more on the actual meals I choose to provide stamina. This way, you give your body time to digest and detox for 12-16 hours between dinner and breakfast, which is really good for you. I have also become more OK with eating nontraditional breakfast foods in the morning, like leftover meals from the day before, in order to make breakfast a much heartier meal. When I do make breakfast fresh, I have been using a lot of grains, beans, and tomatoes. Recently I bought some avocados on sale which I’ve been using as well. I just read yesterday in The Blue Zones that Seventh Day Adventists have a little phrase for meal portions throughout the day: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” I think a loose adherence to that is a good plan. Here are a few breakfasts I made work this past week (all different days despite the similar appearance, lol):

 

Also, I’ve been trying to train myself less to eat until I am full, but until I am no longer hungry to avoid overeating. In Okinawa, apparently, some centenarians have a saying for this that they might repeat at the beginning of a meal (similar to “bon appetit”) which which means “eat only until you are 80% full.” I learned about this in another book I recently read called French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon, which chronicles a bi-cultural family’s move back to France with two picky-eating daughters. Spoiler: it doesn’t go smoothly. (There’s a lot more to the story and you should totally check this book out from your library and read it. I don’t even have kids and found it super relatable and engrossing.) Anyway, according to Le Billon, the French are more likely to eat until they are satisfied rather than full (asking questions like “Have you had enough?” rather than “Are you full?”), a subtle, but really important difference. It takes roughly 20 minutes for the stomach to send the message to the brain that it has eaten enough. In other words, to wait until you are 80% full isn’t to perpetually eat less than you need, but to slow down and only eat what you need, sincerely enjoying it.

All of that made me begin to make me reconsider more basic approaches to food that I have. Obviously I derive a great deal of joy out of cooking and eating, but I have also noticed, as a working person, it’s very hard to avoid what I call a “survival” mentality around food. Unfortunately, in the U.S., we don’t have many food rituals that are widely followed or accommodated in the workday. For example, I work two part time jobs and don’t get breaks for lunch. Everyone can have a different lunch hour and, because it’s often unavoidable, we tend to eat at our desks, on the run, or otherwise by ourselves. We are I think in some ways divorcing ourselves from the actual practice of eating.

Recently I’ve just been taking them anyways for 20 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the learning center where I work because otherwise my blood sugar will plunge, which often results in a headache. I typically work right in the middle of the day also, right when my body needs lunch. While I can eat relatively comfortably in 20 minutes and be back to work without any repercussions, it doesn’t stop me from trying to eat a lot during those times so that I won’t be hungry later as I’m often rushing to the next thing after work. I also sometimes think the fear of feeling hungry “later” in itself gives me some degree of a weird, psychosomatically-induced headache in itself. Despite that, I’m trying to maintain the habit of only eating until I am no longer full rather than eating more than I need out of “survival” mentality.

I also want to do practice this for a deeper reason, which is simply that I don’t want food to be only an “eat to live” thing. (Something I’m fortunate not to have to worry about…) I remember when I lived in Germany, I would go to bed at night genuinely excited for breakfast the next morning. At that point, feeling such a thing was a first for me. I grew up eating cold cereal pretty much exclusively for breakfast– a poor contrast with the German morning feast. Of course I was hungry in the morning, too, but the experience was so special and valued that it felt like a whole event in itself to anticipate. This is the attitude around food and mealtimes that I am trying to preserve in myself.

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Leftover dinner for illegal lunch (this is the masala okra, multigrain rice, spinach dal and chapatis) the next day at work (feat. The Blue Zones!)

I’m trying to spend more time breathing consciously and mindfully eating my food rather than squirreling it away for the winter. Part of this whole process is also not divorcing myself from my body but listening very deeply to it, and recognizing the subtle messaging that it’s time to stop eating, or that I am simply contented. (This is another reason why pursuing cycle syncing is happening at a good time for me right now; I am trying more than ever to listen deeply to my body and come into it in ways I haven’t up until now. I’ve developed a strange compassion for the body I inhabit, especially having been socially conditioned to wear it down beyond bearing.) I want to enjoy food for the way it tastes, and the way the experience of eating feels, not simply for the function of literal sustenance. Also, I am never really in so much of a bind that I get so hungry, especially after taking my semi-illegal work lunch break (to be fair, I only take it when there’s no one there currently who needs my help.) So I’m trying to just relax in the actual plenty of my life and focus on the joy of food above the more utilitarian side.  I’m curious how other people address this in their lives? I am sure others have much more demanding schedules than mine… How do you carve out time to make food feel special… and even sacred? (This again makes me remember what a great resource French Kids Eat Everything is.) Perhaps this post should have been called “this week on mind mind,” or “this week on my bookshelf” ;-).

With that, I wish you a happy and sunny Saturday wherever you are. I am off to listen to brass bands play in the park with people near and dear to my heart.

Until next time,

S

 

 

Spring dinner party: Chetna’s alu matar (potato and pea curry)

I think every year when the weather changes, I get a lot of feelings. There’s always the sense of full circle that comes, and I also think that the warmth melts a little bit inside me and gives way to an all encompassing gratitude. I’m deriving great benefit from recent lifestyle changes, like distancing myself from social media and my cell phone in general, being frugal, and making an effort to spend more time with others.  I’ve been learning how to be okay with more things and enjoy what’s available, not biting off more than I can chew.

I had a few friends (and one sister!) over for a small dinner party last night, and it was so, so refreshing. I have a whole drawer full of Indian spices that I enthusiastically bought a few months ago when I first discovered Food with Chetna on YouTube. I have more than enough spices to last me for a year probably, which I’m not sad about! Every time I make Indian food, I have everything I could possibly need. I am also always outfitted for a batch of scratch chai tea, which in itself is a calming reality for me.

For last night’s dinner party, I decided to make a simple potato and pea curry— and only one dish. I didn’t have the “right” kind of rice for Indian food, but I made due with what I had. And guess what? No one noticed or cared. It was the first dinner I had at my place since adopting a lot of different perspectives on myself, and it was really liberating– as every other process has been with this new paradigm– to just allow things to be as they are, without excessive modification, stress or expenditure. Also, it allowed me to focus on the important part of the experience, which was connecting with my friends rather than stressing about what they think.

This is also a ripe area to check my self talk. Part of this whole experience of making do with less and simplifying has certainly meant that I need to be much more okay with myself and the things I give out into the world: not critiquing them to death, but just allowing them to be as they are– works in progress. In other words, I’m trying to let them be worthy of grace and acceptance. As I’ve been sensitizing myself to this negativity more and more (especially as I’ve cleared so much external noise out of my life) I’ve noticed many aspects of my life that I’ve sort of labeled “self care” or “self love” but which actually have been primarily topical solutions. For example, I’ll get enough rest, a balanced diet, enough water. I’ll give myself permission to say no to things; I prioritize how I’m feeling and listen to myself as much as possible. Because I have many of these arenas “in check” I think I’ve been letting myself off the hook for more substantial areas where kindness to myself is sorely absent. I nonverbally say really harmful things to myself about my body, my performance, my physical strength, my quality of (vocational and avocational) work on a fairly regular basis. It’s so ingrained that I hardly recognize it at times. But now I’m getting increasingly impatient with it, asking myself what on earth this well-worn brain path is serving..? I’m trying to learn, especially in moments of offering to others, that I am enough and that what I’m offering is enough. People are much more grateful and chill than I often realize, something I’m also trying to internalize more and more.

That said, I am learning and growing and getting to know my patterns better as time goes on. The season reflects the personal development I experience on a daily basis and the openness I feel towards new experiences. I feel the grace of the weather slipping in through the windows and look back at previous growth (“This time last year when it was warm like today…”) It’s been a nice process. Juli and I took Frankie on a warm walk this morning, and every magnolia tree in the city seemed to be in bloom. Also a wonderful reminder of pleasant summers growing up here as a child, safety and stability, gratitude for the beautiful and regenerating earth we live on, etc. Each year, I’m amazed that spring comes after winter; it always feels like a metaphor for trust and forgiveness that the growth comes so soon after the cold.

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Magnolia trees in bloom!
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You can see Frankie and Juli in the background of this one 😉

The recipe I made last night is super simple and is one of the reasons I love Chetna Makan so much. Have I adequately expressed in this space how much I love her? She is so wonderful. Chetna’s recipes are extremely easy to follow and never fail to deliver in the flavor category. Also, she had this compilation video of Indian street food that I watched yesterday, which was so lovely that I was overcome with appreciation for the diversity of this world and the many beautiful things we all create without knowing how beautiful they are. It’s wonderful to watch people like Chetna do what they love, and see the world through their eyes and tastes. It always opens up a window of possibility in my heart and reminds me that nothing is ever closed off.

Note: the spices listed are for the original recipe quantity, but I upped them each by about 1/4 teaspoon. You can check the seasoning and see what you think depending on your personal taste.

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Chetna Makan’s Alu Matar (potato and pea curry) (slightly modified to serve 6-8)

Ingredients (in order of appearance):

1 1/2 T neutral oil (sunflower/veg)

1 t cumin seeds

1 t black mustard seeds

3 onions, roughly chopped

3-5 minced/grated garlic cloves, depending on your taste

1-2 inches minced/grated ginger, depending on your taste

6 tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 t salt

1 t turmeric

1/2 t chili powder

1 t garam masala

2 T coriander powder

6 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into large bite size pieces

~2 cups frozen peas

500 ml (2 cups?) boiling water

Chopped cilantro

Optional sides: rice of your choice, homemade naan or chapati– so delish!

Method:

Heat the oil in the pan and add cumin and mustard seeds, cooking until they begin to pop.  Add onions and cook for roughly 10-12 minutes until they turn a nice golden brown, but not so brown that they begin to fully caramelize. Add your garlic cloves and ginger. Cook for about a minute before adding the roughly chopped tomatoes. Cook for another 10-15 minutes until the tomatoes have fully softened and cooked down. Add all remaining spices, the potatoes, peas and boiling water. Cook until potatoes are soft enough to slide a knife through, 15-30 minutes. Can’t wait to try this on the second day after the flavors have melded overnight in the fridge!

After dinner, we enjoyed homemade sweet and milky chai and macerated the strawberries that my sister brought over with balsamic vinegar and fresh basil and served them with some fresh whipped cream on top. More proof that simple is better (aka, glad we didn’t stress over dessert.)

Let me know if you give the curry a try. Hope you all have a wonderful Sunday.

Love,

S

 

This week on the window sill

Hi all,

I was away last weekend at my partner’s sister’s baby shower voraciously reading (and completing!) a free copy of Meet the Frugalwoods, and so I did not post a weekly cooking roundup. Also, I decided to rename the roundup “this week on the windowsill” because I often take photos of my food on the windowsill for better lighting. Also, until recently, most of what I posted on Instagram was food on my windowsill. In that spirit, and because I recently left Instagram but would still like to share food I make, I want to show  you guys some of the stuff I’ve been making as photographed on my sill. I don’t have photos for everything, but you can appreciate the idea.

As I’ve been embracing frugality recently, I haven’t been making as many jaw-dropping dishes (I kid), but I still have been enjoying very tasty food that lasts me longer. I’ve been spending an average of $13-15/week on groceries since I have such a backlog of ingredients I can use up. I got an account with Personal Capital (a personal financial monitoring/budgeting website) which has a fun feature to compare your previous month’s spending with your current month’s spending. Looking back, I am truly asking myself what in the WORLD I was spending money on by March 12th?? Like, HOW is it even possible that this dollar amount was travelling out into the world from my hands? Anyways, no longer! Juli makes fun of me for talking about frugality like a religion, but I actually think in some ways you can think about it changing the way you think of your life and everything in it; you adopt a wholly new paradigm. I’ve set up all kinds of financial goals in my life to be debt free (including graduate student debt) within a few years. I have also determined the amount I can comfortably and frugally live on per year, and it’s been a truly empowering experience. When you feel like you gain knowledge in control of this area of your life, it’s almost intoxicating in the best possible way.

I also continue to feel super grateful for and not stressed out at all about food. I am releasing a need for perfection, slowly but surely. It’s OK not to have everything I think I need. Almost every single time, things work out better than I thought they would given the starting materials. I am so enjoying how quickly the sense of not having enough food gives way ever faster into a creativity of what I can make with what I have. I have enough food in my house to live on for a long time with very little supplementing, and for that I’m grateful, grateful, grateful. Here’s a post about this very issue over on Frugalwoods (my favorite place on the internet right now.)

That said, I’ve been using what’s available. Here’s some of what I made the past days:

Tomato and Egg

This is probably my favorite breakfast food. It’s also possible to eat it for many other meals. It’s so delicious, warming, comforting, and filling. I’ve been eating it with brown rice for higher nutritional content.

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recipe

West African Peanut Stew

Oldie but a goodie that I’ve blogged about on here. Truly delish and totally satisfying. Ate with brown rice! Instead of collard greens, I used my 99 cent frozen spinach from Aldi.

recipe

Socca

Also blogged about here. Each time I make this, something goes a little bit wrong. The first time I baked rather than broiled, the second time I broiled too long, and the third time (this time) I forgot to add salt. Sigh! Still worked it out, and still waiting for my perfect socca experience.

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recipe

Orange pan-fried tofu and 5 ingredient green curry

My sister invited me over the other night to help her make dinner with her for our parents, so we made these two vegan dishes. I can’t decide which one I liked more; they were both INCREDIBLE. And very easy!

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Curry recipe

Orange tofu recipe

Homemade oat milk

This I just made yesterday, and Juli came over this morning and gave the thumbs up on it. I’ve been interested in oat milk for some time but wanted to use my almond milk first. Now that I’m out of that milk, I decided to give this a try. Talk about frugality, people! Amazing. Also, very good with hot beverages as its doesn’t break up as you stir it in.

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recipe (couldn’t find the original one for some reason, but this is basically what I did)

Tortilla soup

This was my flaming hot intro to chipotle peppers in adobo, you guys. Talk about HOT. I am definitely a person who likes very spicy food, but I was at my limit with this. I definitely added way more than was called for since I was working with chipotles that I had frozen after using a very small amount from a can like a month ago (not spicy!) It was kind of hard to tell how many peppers I had. WHOO BOY. It’s an experience. The soup was delicious, though. I also added a butternut squash to try to take the heat down a bit, but I also love the body it gives to the soup. I also used free tortilla chips that my roommate gave me rather than purchasing new tortillas and frying them independently. I also didn’t really have any of the recommended toppings, but I still found this soup great (see above thoughts!)

recipe

And finally, not a recipe, but very worth your while– a photo of Frankie the dog in a babushka on our way to NY last weekend for baby shower:

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You’re welcome.

I hope you all have had and continue to have an excellent week.

Coming soon: Weekly cooking round-up

Starting this week, I hope to post a weekly cooking/recipe roundup where I post a collection of photos of the food I have made during the week and links or actual recipes written for them. I am also considering getting a camera to photograph the food, but we’ll see… All in an effort to distance myself from my cell phone, honestly!

Anyways, be on the look on Fridays or Saturdays for a weekly round-up. Remember to subscribe if you’d like to get updates from this blog.

I hope you’ve all had a lovely weekend and are settling back into the week well.

Love,

Susanna