the summer s l o w down

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Like a slow tide, I’ve experienced an emerging realization over the last couple months, or perhaps years, that something I’m doing, some aspect of how I approach my life, isn’t working. It is a realization that has made itself known in virtually every part of my experience, in my relationship with friends, in my relationship with William, in my relationship with self, in my slow realization that I’ve lost the ability to just simply stop, lay down on the cool summer grass and do nothing, for even a moment and perhaps hours, as I was prone to in childhood and as a teen. This inability to relax has shown itself in my hormones, in my mental anxiety, physical aches and pains, digestive disturbances, in my rush to chronically add more and more, to say no on the one hand and then say yes to two additional things on the other, to develop a never-ending to do list that’s grown to multiple lists in various regards, to six email accounts separating the differing entities I’m involved in and subsequently floundering through answering most of them, and on.

I know my experience of overwhelm is not unique. I know it’s now more the norm as we all scramble about adding on to our presence on social media, to our physical possessions, to our feelings of incompleteness and subsequent filling the space with things, physical and non-physical.

A year ago, almost a year ago exactly, I actually felt the exact same as I do now, and I took action by downloading Jason McGrice’s meditations. The small sum I paid for those meditations when there’s a plethora of free ones floating about the interspace proved to me well worth it. There are some individuals that I especially associate with Jesus and his qualities as teacher, authority, and healer, in the most sacred way. Jason’s meditations, practiced for this past year more days than not, have been one way I’ve experienced the presence of Jesus, and of attempting to navigate excess stimulation and the generally just too much of our time.

In the past month and more, I’ve written about this slow awakening to the havoc of stress on my more personal blog, in addition to what I’ve shared here in past posts. For whatever reason I also sense the need to share here what is helping me navigate through.

The slow tide of hearing the message to s l o w down, to make it a priority to shut off, to rest my whole system, to notice the constant physical tension and seek whatever activities that guide me to re-learning to relax is coming in strong these days, almost like I’m being hit over the head every which way these days to LISTEN AND SLOW DOWN AND REST.

 

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  • Specifically, I’ve been doing a free-write journal by hand every morning lately. This practice is less like an indulgence and more like a necessity to ground and settle my mind into the day. For example, one morning I felt so overwhelmed by my to-do list and schedule (neither of which should have been causing extreme stress) that I wrote about my exact physical sensations, and how I was watching the shadow of my pen move across the page in the morning light as I wrote down each word. Doing that, and writing it in that way was soothing and helped me slow down my thinking and realize I had nothing to stress over, nothing too pressing, no reason to rush so much.
  • Jason’s meditations, as mentioned above.
  • Re-reading (and actually attempting to follow!) Renee’s self-care recommendations on removing excess stimulation.
  • Gaining more awareness from an eye-opening podcast on self-care with Yarrow Sarah Magdalena Love
  • Maribeth’s Helen’s latest newsletter, which was yet another driving home the message.
  • Returning to the forest. After months of no desire to go trail running, I took my first run back after the marathon to the trails on one of those days that I needed to calm my racing mind. As usual, it was insanely therapeutic.
  • MUSIC! My playlist lately, the birds that soothe me, and chakra healing!

 

Perhaps you’ll resonate with some of this and some of the links will prove helpful. I encourage you to try to slow down with me and take some time to find what works for you in terms of self-care, if you haven’t already. Otherwise, stay tuned for a new recipe coming soon in which I’ll finally share a sourdough loaf!

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Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini

Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini

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I go on stints where I cook almost exclusively from one cookbook or blog. Actually, I take recipes, apply their concept, and change almost everything. I’ve been cooking from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem lately.

I also share recipes on Food52 sometimes and I received the kindest comment on my beet and lentils with flatbread there. It made my whole week and reaffirmed why this blog remains mainly about food. The comment made me think, too, about the decisions I’ve made that were true turning points. One of those was during my senior year in high school when I decided to go to university rather than culinary school, and then after university, deciding to find a job rather than going back to Ireland for a course at Ballymaloe.

Sometimes I feel as if I was born to cook and feed people. I’ve loved everything about cooking for as long as I can remember. I love the creativity of selecting ingredients and flavor combinations. I love both its meditative aspects and the more fast-paced balance of doing multiple tasks simulanteously. I love sitting down to a special meal with William and sometimes friends or family, turning off the phone, computer, TV, pause and say grace, and then invite in the experience of enjoying a meal.

I remember bringing a beef and mushroom stew over to a friend’s one time in college, and how her then-boyfriend took two bites and then paused, looked at me, and said, Bec, I can tell this was made with love, before proceeding. And it was.

I know a lot of my friends and family do not get the food I make. I’ve long felt sensitive about it, as I’ve been cooking creatively since the beginning. When William and I first began dating, it was summer and I was in town for a week. There was very little to eat in my college house as my roommates and I were largely absent for the summer. I invited him over for lunch, knowing there were approximately five ingredients to make a meal—and I knew they could combine to provide a pretty spectacular combination. William survived college up to then on his grandma’s spaghetti sauce, made by his family and frozen in huge quantities, tuna sandwiches, plain spaghetti, pizza, and kraft mac + cheese. Anything outside of that lineup was super adventurous, and he didn’t exactly appreciate what I thought was a fabulous summer lunch—with ingredients largely from my self-watering garden. For months after, he approached every dinner I’d make with trepidation, knowing it was going to be awful, and a breach from his standard American diet. But he’d try it anyway. Nine times out of ten, he’d end the meal telling me he was pleasantly surprised, again. The weird things I made actually tasted good. All he had to do was try.

When left to my own devices, I tend to veer strongly in the direction of cooking with middle eastern influences. I don’t know exactly when I picked this up as I didn’t try the cuisine until mid-college at least. I like the combination of savory and sweet grains and spices, the vegetable-heavy emphasis of the traditional recipes, and the infinite possibilities as even the simplest of ingredients can taste rich and flavorful and nourishing.

 

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As I reflect on the statement above, I feel as if I was born to feed people, I realize I still haven’t found exactly what this means for me. I know my place is not actually feeding people in the standard chef/culinary sense. I know it is not in producing food, as I also once contemplated. Perhaps it is in sharing recipes here or elsewhere, but more likely, it might be in feeding people something other than actual food, in the form of kindness, hope, understanding, or inspiration. Ultimately, I know for me to be able to do that with authenticity, I have to be able to provide it to myself first.

William has been working late these days, and I’ve often been feeding only me. So I’ve been cooking with more mindfulness, taking recipes and adapting them intuitively to what I need, trying to eat meals a little more slowly with less distractions. I’ve been focusing on allowing the process to fill me up in ways that stretch far beyond the meal itself, to let light shine into the dark internal corners I’m afraid of, and let self-compassion and love in, when for so long I’ve projected it only outward, onto others.

I’m at a real turning point just now, and it feels like a good one. I’m finally coming to know and appreciate me. I’ve been learning (and still often failing) how to feed myself the essential nutrients that come from genuine self-care, rather than merely “nutritious food.” This is one of the meals I’ve been enjoying lately through the process.

 

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Mejadra with Swiss Chard + Tahini

The inspiration for these two recipes are drawn from Jerusalem. Mejadra is an ancient dish in the Arab world, considered a meal for the poor but fit for kings. At its simplest, it is rice and lentils cooked together with caramelized onions. Crazily enough, those simple ingredients can taste heavenly. I’ve incorporated a few wonderful spices in keeping with Ottolenghi’s version, and for William, I’ve added raisins. He loves raisins. He added another handful for good measure as he gobbled it up.  The Swiss chard and tahini-cream will make for a nice side. I’m loving Swiss chard lately, when for so long I discarded it completely. The trick, I think, is a quick sauté. 

For the Mejadra:

1 very large onion (1 1/2 lb.), sliced thinly into rounds

2 Tbs. olive oil, divided

1 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground coriander

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1 1/2 tsp. allspice

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. pomegranate molasses

1/2 tsp. salt

pepper to taste

1 cup long-grain brown rice, soaked and rinsed

1 cup lentils

1/2 cup raisins, optional

3 1/2 cups water

  • Begin by soaking the brown rice for at least 8 hours in a large bowl of water with a little apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. This breaks down some of the phytic acids which can bind the zinc, magnesium, calcium, and other important minerals. Prior to cooking, rinse and drain the rice.
  • In a large sauté pan, add 1 Tbs. olive oil and heat to medium-high. Then, add in the sliced onions, cook and stir for 3-5 minutes, and then turn down to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften and caramelize, about 25-30 minutes.
  • While the onions are cooking, add the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil, spices, rinsed rice and lentils, pomegranate molasses, raisins, and water to a medium pot, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down to low, cover, and allow to cook for 40-45 minutes, or until the water is absorbed.

For the Swiss Chard:

1 tsp. olive oil

1 large clove garlic, smashed and minced

1 bunch Swiss chard, stems chopped, leaves sliced

salt and pepper to taste

  • In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high. Add garlic and chard stems and allow to cook until beginning to soften. Add a little water as necessary to help the chard stems soften up.
  • Then add in the sliced leaves and heat just until they begin to wilt. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste.

For the Tahini-Cream:

2 Tbs. tahini

1 1/2 Tbs. lemon juice

1 small clove garlic, smashed and minced

2-4 Tbs. water, as needed

salt and pepper, to taste

  • Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl, thinning as necessary with water.
  • Spoon the tahini-cream atop the Swiss chard as a side to the mejadra.