Yoda is a Buddhist

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” - Yoda

So there's a whole 'nother post that I'll work on about Yoda's belief system and how it reflects other religions near and dear to my heart. It's becoming more and more obvious to me that the source of most things hurtful is fear. I tap in to a bunch of resources about this - fear.less magazine (great), Brene Brown, Pema Chodron, and more.

But, actually, this blog post is really to talk more about faulty belief systems. I recently listened to Pema Chodron's talk, Don't Bite the Hook, on audio CD. I seem to be finding these messages all about me now - when the student is ready the teacher will appear, I suppose.

The most recent lesson I read on this was this post, courtesy of the awesome site Dumb Little Man, about taking the opportunity to shift your thinking to release yourself from frustration. The post describes how to stop and evaluate your angry thoughts as they happen. At the time that a situation came up that I could use this insight toward, I couldn't remember each of the steps it described, but the ones I remembered were to 1.) stop, 2.) evaluate whether your thought is true or not, and 3.) shift your thought to take ownership of the thing that is frustrating you or making you angry.

So I had the opportunity to practice this last night - what a great feeling! Here is the scenario: I'm going into the kitchen to make dinner, and all around the counters are coated in flour and cornmeal from John making us mini-pizzas for dinner the night before. He'd done a *lot* of work, and I must say that usually whoever cooks doesn't have to do the clean up, but he'd done all the dishes and really done 99% of the cleaning up, it was just a few areas that still had the signs of all the efforts of the prior nights' work. I was in the kitchen, getting ready to cook, and thinking "he should have cleaned up all this cornmeal! I mean, look, it is everywhere!"

I realized the faultiness and selfishness of my thoughts, seeing that he had cleaned up and done so much already. I stopped my thoughts, considered them (is this true?) and then turned it around to take ownership of it - changing "he should clean up..." to "I should clean up...", and began cleaning up. It was such a great and powerful feeling, and I knew that it was right; it is the way that I should be thinking, the right path.

I encourage you to think this way the next time you are frustrated with someone. Stop. Evaluate the thought (is this really true?). Turn it around and take ownership (from "he/she should..." to "I should..."). Free yourself from the shenpa!!

Have you encountered this? Would you try these techniques? Let me know!! I'd love to hear about others' experiences with this!

My Charlie

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Isn't he adorable?

Gardening update

Monday, March 21, 2011

Well, the seeds are sprouting beautifully. Everything sprouted except the Tropeana Round Onions, and I'm betting that's because those seeds were 2 years old (I just threw them in to fill up the last 6 grow pellets in the mini-greenhouse). Never fear, however, those grow pellets did not go to waste. I had a few extra leeks and one cayenne pepper that were thinned which got moved over to the available slots and are doing fine. It's just as well, since I'd ordered onion sets which I received recently and need to plant out.

The only problem is, onion can be toxic to dogs, and as soon as I set the box on the ground to work with the sets, Charlie was in there trying to eat them. I put several in some planters up on the table on the back porch, but I have no idea what I'm going to do with the rest! I suppose I'll have to try and rig a makeshift fence around each raised bed to keep the dogs out somehow, but I didn't have enough light to deal with it tonight.

Started the tomatoes today:

8 Amish Paste
3 Paul Robeson
3 Cherokee Purple
and 2 Arkansas Traveler (which may or may not germinate, some more 2 year old seeds)

The bees will be coming in mid-April, and so I've also been thinking a lot about the decorative gardening I want to do. I want to be sure to have plenty of flowers and plants for them to choose from for pollen within our yard. I have always coveted a cottage garden, and thinking of plantings around my apiary brings this style to the front of my mind. I've ordered a few plants to start building out the "bones" for a garden of this style, namely (so far):

Russian Sage
Mme. De Verneville Peony

and Josee Reblooming Lilac

This is just the very beginning of a long way to go. I want to add foxglove, hollyhock, lupines, and other perennials, and I will need to add some evergreens (possibly holly bushes, I'm not sure what else) as well as figure out a wind break solution - it gets incredibly windy around here and I want to be sure that my apiary are protected!

Informed Hypocrisy

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Driving gives me the opportunity to do something I love doing: listening to NPR and the BBC on my Sirius satellite radio. They have got such great, thought-provoking shows! Today I listened to BBC's The Forum, which featured a discussion about "Hypocrisy, multiverses and artificial leather: mind-stretching thoughts about life." The show touched on something I think about a lot... Our relationship with food and ability to deem one thing fine while being outraged about another. As mentioned in my last post, I suffer from such hypocrisy in my relationship with bananas, coffee, and chocolate; steak, eggs and milk and the like (not to mention, I am sure, many other foods).

Oron Catts, a guest on the show, is an artist-scientist (scientist-artist?) who has been experimenting with art that evokes thought toward the ethical dilemmas and paradoxes that arise around growing flesh and living tissue. As he was talking about hypocrisy and the human brain (observations brought on by a discussion of the work of Robert Kurzban), Catts gave a great example. He spoke of talking to friends who lived in Spain that were outraged about and actively protesting bullfighting, but who spent their afternoon in a fast-food hamburger joint. When confronted with the paradox of their views, his friends were not even so much as able to grasp the hypocrisy of the situation. Catts' work of growing a "victimless leather" (which of course, was not victimless as it required fetal liquids to initiate) received some negative receptions - everything from resistance to outrage.

During the dialogue with the three men (Catts and Kurzban along with Brian Greene) and the show host Bridget Kendall, Catts brought forth another interesting concept - that of informed hypocrisy.

To arrive at the point, let me provide the context for the conversation: Kurzban's studies of human psychology indicate that humans are inherently comfortable with, if not inclined toward, multiple and often conflicting viewpoints. Greene's studies of theoretical physics indicate that our universe may simply be one in an infinite number of universes (in which we ourselves exist an infinite number of times). Catts' work brings forward the paradox of our comfort with some things via dissociation (leather coats) and relative extreme discomfort when viscerally confronted by the process (his work).

The conclusion provided by Catts is that perhaps the best we can strive for is informed hypocrisy - of at least being aware of the choices we each make. I'm still processing all of my thoughts on the show. In relation to my own conflicted views, on the whole, I think his observation may be the best conclusion I can wholeheartedly support. What do you think?

Homemade Granola Bars

Friday, March 18, 2011

Let me start by saying, YUM! I've tried making homemade granola before without much luck. Seems like the stuff always gets burned before the recommended cook time is up or something else goes wrong.

I saw a picture on Inspired Chunky Mama's blog recently of a granola bar recipe she'd made, and it got me started thinking about trying the homemade granola bar again. I'm not much of a breakfast person; I usually don't have any appetite whatsoever for the first couple of hours of my day (and then, of course, when my appetite does finally show up I am STARVING). Those that know me know that I have a bit of an issue with bananas (well, not so much with the fruit itself, but rather the distance it has to travel to show up on your kitchen counters at home - over 1500 miles if they came in a straight line from South America). Yes, I'm a hypocrite: I enjoy chocolate from time to time and coffee regularly. I suppose I make my choices. I decided not to follow that recipe (though it looked delightful).

I went by Eats and picked up a few ingredients I thought would be good: some very expensive organic dried blueberries, some dried apple rings, raw slivered almonds, and flaxseed.

I came home and found this recipe that seemed to be a pretty good match for what I had picked up and had on hand. I toasted the oats and nuts - I used a mix of finely diced walnuts and pecan pieces that I had in the pantry for the 1 cup of nuts, and added the 1/4 c. slivered almonds in to toast also. While those were toasting I mixed up 1/2 cup of local honey, a few dashes of cinnamon, and the egg. On the side I chopped up the dried apple rings and combined them with the scant 1/8 cup of (did I mention, very expensive?!) dried blueberries.

Once I pulled out the oats and nuts, I mixed that along with the dried fruit into the honey mix, and threw in a tablespoon or two of the flaxseeds. After I mixed it all together it didn't seem to be very sweet, so I added a small amount of Splenda (maybe 1 or 2 teaspoons). Note that I did NOT include the 1/2 c. of brown sugar that the recipe calls for. I realized then that all that sweet might need a bit of salty (only because I was using UNSALTED nuts - if you use salted nuts I would not add any salt), so I threw in a few pinches of kosher salt. I laid a sheet of parchment paper in the cookie sheet and pressed the mix in as evenly as I could.

As I mentioned before, I have a tendency to wind up with burnt granola, so I set my timer for a :15 cook time (instead of the prescribed :20); sure enough when I checked on it at the :15 mark it was ready to come out. I let it cool and it cut up perfectly into beautiful granola bars. As I was cutting it up, there was of course one piece that just didn't quite make the cut (it crumbled a *tiny* bit), so I had to eat it on the spot. So good - and really very easy!!

The Ides of March

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

First: drawing updates. On day 3 I discovered the eraser, and it was good. Also, in case you were wondering, I never intend to draw eggs.

Day 2:

Day 3:
I had to adjust the "shadows" quite a bit to get all the pencil to show up under the flash, so this isn't quite so dark in person. Also, those white lines in the shadows of the bottom image are some kind of phantom from the flash, quite possibly from where I'd erased and re-drawn something.

And, a couple of updated pics of seeds that are going. These pics are a couple of days old, these suckers are growing like gangbusters. I need to get the next ones going very soon - tomatoes are up, week of 3/18 is 8 weeks before average last frost; tomato starting time!

Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts beauty shot:

Leeks finally sprouting:

What's that in the background? Thinned seedlings trying to make a go of it in the plastic lining!

Sunday dinner - Rockfish

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Today I made a new entree that I've never tried before; rockfish. I wanted to try making one of the less common varieties of fish and see if I could turn it into something good. No salmon, tuna, or swordfish for me. I was ready to go for "striped bass," which was supposed to be available at a great price at the Gourmet Pantry this week, but when that fell through John offered to check in at the Fresh Market in Roanoke while he was there for .NET code camp on Saturday.

When John called from the Market and told me about some "rockfish" he found there, I said "go for it!". He came home with two fillets (about a pound total) of fish, and a story from the fish monger that they just couldn't keep the stuff on the shelves (or, to be more exact, in the case). Now, little did I know until I just now looked up rockfish, that it is often a pseudonym for striped bass!!

I looked online for help and found this recipe. It looked quick and simple, so away we went! I decided to prepare the sides ahead of time so that I could focus solely (haha...hah? pun?) on the fish. I went with a simple basmati rice and a side of onions, garlic, green pepper, and baby bok choy (pretty much some of every vegetable we had on hand, except celery!). Then I started the fish.

I used a cast iron pan and got it good and hot, and followed the directions to score the fish skin and salt liberally with kosher salt, and laid the fillets in the hot pan. After a few minutes I could see that the skin had browned up, so I flipped the fillets over. My pieces of fish looked about twice as thick as those in the video, so I was a bit worried about making sure they were fully cooked without overcooking the much narrower sides. Still, I followed the process exactly, giving about :04 per side and basting thoroughly with the butter / garlic / thyme mix once the skin side was up.

I put the pan in the oven to finish off, and checked online to see what temperature I should be looking for as "done." I found out that most fish should be about 140 degrees when fully cooked, and monitored the temperature of mine accordingly. About :06 later, I pulled them out of the oven (I'd been checking every :02-:03 minutes). It seemed I might have overdone them a bit when the final core temperature I measured was about 150. I pulled them out and crossed my fingers.

And... Success! Not just success, but WILD success! John and I both LOVED it. It was so good, not dry at all - perfectly cooked. Definitely on the "make again" list. And, truth be told, the recipe was in fact just as simple as it looked in the video. Surprisingly (I'd normally be one to stay away from it), the fish skin was tender and delicious and, from what I remember (it's been 4 years or so since I've had chicken), like chicken skin. Yum! A +

John and I have decided to do Sunday night dinners every week, so I'll keep you posted on what's up and coming on the Sunday dinner menu.

Learning to Draw

I am interested in starting a nature journal, so that I can draw and document some of the natural world around me as I hike, garden, or generally just appreciate my surroundings. I'm inspired by Marion Roach's The Naturalist's Datebook excerpts that I catch periodically on Martha Stewart Living Radio on my Sirius satellite radio.

Toward that end, I picked up a book called You Can Draw in 30 Days. I'm going to share with you my first day drawings (please don't laugh too hard). The top half of the page is the "pretest" where you draw, freehand, a house, a plane, and a bagel. The lower half of the page are my efforts on lesson 1. Yes, hence the book! I'll try to remember to document and share my progress as I go through the 30 lessons... We'll see.

On a completely separate note, I'm not sure if I've raved about John's breadmaking abilities here before or not, but he is truly mastering the art of making awesome whole wheat bread! Just so you can be a little jealous and see what I'm talking about, these beauties just came out of the oven about :15 ago (forgive the tangle of wires in the background, ugh!)...

Here's a better "beauty shot" from the top (but it's hard to get their size from this angle! Now, excuse me while I...nom nom nom nom......

The Cheese Making Diaries

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Well, I've tried this twice now. I'm following the directions for Neufchatel that you can find here. It's a great, super detailed site with a lot of information. The only downside is that this guy is using his own fresh goat's milk, and I suspect that simplifies the process somewhat!

Cheese making, episode 1: The Phantom Break*

I was so excited. I'd followed all the steps, and it was the morning after, when my cheese was supposed to be ready. I cut through the cheese and it *looked* like a clean break! I could clearly see that the top surface was solid, and was so thrilled to see yet another miracle of nature happen. Then I started ladling out the curd.

It was a disaster. As I started trying to ladle out the solids, I realized that I hadn't actually gotten a clean break. Yes, there were solids on the top layer, but the rest was like a cottage cheese liquidy mess. I had already started ladling when I came to this realization, so I just moved forward trying to salvage it and finally ladled the whole soupy mess into a cloth to try to drain it. I set it in the sink in a colander, and waited, then I wound up the top of the cloth to try to squeeze it down. I got a bunch of the liquid out, but not nearly enough. I decided it was time to try to hang it up to let the rest of the liquids drain out.

John was out of town at the time, and I failed to sufficiently think about how I was gonna hang that sucker up before I gathered it up and headed toward the fridge. In my mind, both of our refrigerators (our main fridge and our "beer fridge" in the basement) have the kind of shelves that are wire, which made hanging up the cheese in this nifty arrangement my go-to plan. I soon discovered that the shelves in both refrigerators are glass and there's no way to use a chopstick and a rubber band to MacGyver it into a hanging position when that is the case.

So here I am, holding a gathered up pouch of not-separated milk, and it's super heavy because it is most of the liquid and all of the solids for a gallon of milk. It was probably 7 or 8 pounds of unwieldy, dripping,"would you please just be cheese already?!" mess. I'm trying to hold this thing in one hand and figure out an arrangement to hang it up with the other. I am at a loss. I finally get a clamp, and in my mind this plan works seamlessly. I'm going to clamp this sucker to the shelf. Yeah.

As I'm trying to finagle the clamp into position (there! that's it! now let me just let go for a second and see)... SPLAT! all over the inside edge of the fridge, all over the floor. Charlie was in HOG HEAVEN. I, needless to say, was pissed off.

Cheese making, episode 2: Attack of the Whey*

Skip to several weeks later. I decide that it is time to try this again. I am going to make sure that I have the absolute freshest milk and buttermilk for this process. I'd bought Homestead Creamery whole milk for the first go-round of cheese making, but then some off-brand buttermilk, which I felt sure could have been part of the problem. For round 2 I invest the extra buck or two and get the good stuff; the Homestead Creamery buttermilk. I've also read more and seen the test method for checking for a clean break, so I feel like this time, I know what I'm looking for, and I can always give it more time to set up if needed (as recommended in the troubleshooting tips in the site I've linked above).

I follow the process. I wait until the following morning and dunk my freshly washed finger into the milk. No clean break. I wait another 5 hours, try again. No clean break. Later that evening? Still no clean break. I'm back at square one, where I was last go-round.

The good news is, this time John is home with me, and he's rigged up a wire in the beer fridge to hang the cheese from to drain. So, I do the same process as last go-round, draining, squeezing, and trying to get as much liquid out as possible. Then, with the newly installed wire, I easily hang it up in the downstairs fridge to drain. A day or two later, it seems to have drained off another cup or two of liquid, and I squeeze out as much of whatever liquid remains as possible. Finally, I carefully unwrap the cloth.

Lo and behold... it's cheese! At least some very soft spreadable semblance thereof. I can't say for sure how the consistency measures up against what Neufchatel is supposed to be, but I can describe what I wound up with as a soft cream cheese. I salted stirred the cheese, and John and I divided it up into several containers. We added various mix-ins: flavor 1 is dill (almost too mild to taste), flavor 2 is basil (again, very mild, but still very good), and flavor 3 is garlic, which is our favorite.

We've been eating it spread on the homemade bread John has been making (YUM, by the way, I am quite lucky!), and as soon as I can get by the store I'm going to pick up crackers and bagels. We have quite a bit of cheese to eat!! I'd guess it's probably the equivalent of 4-5 softened and blended bricks of cream cheese. I think I'll have to start bringing in little containers of it to give away, because I want to get on to episode 3 and get past this clean break issue!

Next up: trying Homestead Creamery's Cream Line milk. I shyed away from this when purchasing my milk for these experiments previously because I had no idea what that meant, but apparently Cream Line is not homogenized, which can help resolve the break issue. I've been reading this great book and plan to follow closely their recipe in my next attempt. Stay tuned for episode 3: Revenge of the Milk*.

* These references are to the Star Wars movies, in case you just thought I was losing my mind. Not to say that I'm not, but at least there is a method to my madness. :)

Seeds are sprouting!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The cabbage and come of the collards are up (they were really close yesterday, and today they have leaves!). Some of the leeks are about to pop. Nothing much out of the peppers (it may not be warm enough for them in our ~68 degree house). I love watching this spring miracle.

Starting seeds!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Well, we're finally at that point in the year that we can start GARDENING! At least, start growing seeds indoors. One of my favorite resources for this is courtesy of Little House in the Suburbs, it is their Spring Garden Planner. It says 2009 but will work for any year since you fill in the dates inside yourself. It has very helpful info about what to start indoors at various points, and also what to start outdoors. Thanks to their handy little guide, tonight I got the following seeds started:

2 x Jalapeno
2 x Cayenne
4 x Brussels Sprouts - Long Island Improved
2 x Cabbage - Mammoth Red Rock
2 x Cabbage - Brunswick
2 x Cabbage - Early Jersey Wakefield
4 x Collards - GA Sourthern
4 x Collards - Morris Heading
10 x Leeks - Autumn Giant
10 x Leeks - Bleu de Solaise
6 x Onions - Tropeana Round

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds? That's where the majority of these are from.

Coming soon? Tomatoes!! I guess I'll back off a bit from the 32 tomato plants we had (which went to seed because we couldn't keep up). I have 15 on my plan for this year. Which brings me to another great resource - GrowVeg. Highly recommended.

Also on the plan (but may or may not be getting started soon: cantaloupe, bush beans, cucumber, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, summer & winter squashes (various), peas, beets, turnips, swiss chard, and a whole mess of various herbs.


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