mulberryshoots

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

way better cookies . . .

light, crisp, bitter chocolate and toasted hazelnut cookie!

light, crisp, bitter chocolate and toasted hazelnut cookie!

The last three times I made chocolate chip cookies, I failed. That is, I was going for thin, crispy delicious cookies. And the recipe I followed on the Nestle’s toll house chocolate chips bag turned out lumpy and stout, stiff cake-like cookies. At first, I thought it was the turbinado sugar I was using so I got some white granulated sugar from a neighbor across the street. I read more recipes to try to understand what ingredients might result in a thin, crisp cookie. Martha Stewart’s thin cookie recipe called for adding a bit of water to the dough once it was mixed. Another specified aluminum-free baking powder. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Then, there were recipes that called for only baking soda and no baking powder at all.

Add to this motley group of instructions my disappointment in discovering that one of the beaters to my portable mixer would not seat properly into the mixer and rattled loudly against the bottom of the glass mixing bowl. So, I mixed up the last batches of cookies by hand rather than beating them until they were fluffy. Maybe that’s why they turned out so hard you could barely bite down on them.

Last week’s stout little mounds of cookies didn’t seem to bother my husband, G. though, who scarfed them down a couple at a time when he came in frosty and dripping from snow blowing stints a few hours each session during record snowstorms here in New England recently. I started out making these batches of cookies as a treat to reward him when he came in from the cold. Seemed the least I could do to offset all that cold, hard labor outdoors.

So, today, I decided to refine my goals and try again. It’s Sunday and one of my favorite shows, “Madam Secretary” will be aired tonight for a new season and the purported finale of “Downton Abbey” is supposed to run for over an hour afterwards. A Sunday night feast of entertainment for which tasty, thin and crispy cookies would be nice to have on hand if I could only manage to find a recipe that succeeded beyond the pitiful previous attempts.

My research process today included reading recipes that had no egg, used light corn syrup and recommended keeping the dough cold while rolling out knobs of batter, then flattening them and baking in a 325 degree oven instead of 375 degrees. Indeed, this recipe by Amanda Hesser suggested cutting up a block of bittersweet chocolate into small bits (Ghirardelli) and adding walnuts. I opted for hazelnuts and possibly macadamia nuts, buying both at the grocery store along with the corn syrup and bittersweet chocolate bar.

The aforementioned portable mixer acted up again as I dutifully held it against the mixing bowl for a full three minutes to ensure that the butter and sugars plus the light corn syrup, vanilla and milk were fluffy enough to be blended properly. I decided the mixer had seen its last day in this kitchen and placed it in the Goodwill box after I washed and dried off the beaters.

I measured out the flour, baking soda and Maldon sea salt, gently hand blending it into the beaten fluffy sugar mixture. Cutting up the Ghiardelli bittersweet chocolate bar into bits and browning chopped hazelnuts in a little butter to toast them completed the mixing part of the recipe. Two tablespoons of chilled batter rolled and flattened out turned out gigantic cookies the first time around. Halving the raw dough to one tablespoon, then pressing them flat on the cookie sheet produced the cookies that you see here: about three inches in diameter baked to a finely thin and crispy cookie.

I’m happy to say that it was way worth the effort to try this recipe with its royal ingredients of real chocolate and toasted hazelnuts. The baking process and the finished product resulted in a whole new level of invention and taste. Can’t wait to try this recipe next time with chopped macadamia nuts and maybe white chocolate!

Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!

Note: If you follow Amanda Hesser’s recipe linked above, here are a couple of things that I changed: If you want cookies about 3 inches across (this photo); roll 1 tablespoon of cookie dough; flatten with fingers to about 1/4 inches thick and place 2 inches apart on buttered cookie sheet. I used half tablespoon of vanilla and half tablespoon of salt, reducing amounts listed in the recipe. Toasted chopped hazelnuts in a small skillet with melted unsalted butter; let cool to room temperature before adding to cookie dough. Chilled cookie dough as noted.

best cookies 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

spirit stuff . . .

 

DSC_0003As usual in the wintertime, I’ve been pulling out my books on Taoism, Buddhism and Zen to thumb through as the snow keeps falling and falling. The book, I-Ching, stays out for me so that I may ask the Cosmos questions when I am stumped or looking for reinforcement.

Recently, I decided to read over my father’s translation of the Tao te Ching, an endeavor that took his attention for the last four or so years of his life. He died in 2008 and was well known for his research in the field of astrogeology but it was a spiritual quest that included meditation and his work on the 81 verses of the Tao te Ching that consumed him at the end of his life. He was quite deliberate about it because he felt that Western translators who were not native Chinese and unable to read the ancient texts themselves were usurpers or worse. “Interpretations,” not even translations like Stephen Mitchell’s widely acclaimed version of the “Tao te Ching” just drove him crazy.

One of his footnotes to the first page noted his disdain for Ursula Le Guin and others who had used the word “power” as a translation for the word “te” (Tao te Ching) rather than  the word/concept of “virtue.” In hindsight, it almost seems comical that someone could be that furious about something like this, but hey–isn’t that what academia is all about? They love to argue about these kinds of things all the time.

I tend to enjoy translations and writing by a writer who calls himself “Red Pine” (aka Bill Porter.) That’s because he took seriously the idea of Taoist hermits and went searching for them in the wilds of the Sian mountains and wrote a book about it. One of my favorite parts is when he writes that these hermits are not invisible nor necessarily to be found in remote shacks in the wilds but are hiding in plain sight. In other words, there are tons of such Taoist hermits but you just don’t know by looking at them straight on that that’s who they are. I love that.

The reason I wanted to read my Dad’s version of the Tao te Ching is that I wanted to see what he was about in doing this work. Some of his wording belies his training as a research scientist in that he seems to feel compelled to explain everything about everything so thoroughly that you can’t miss it. Of course, if you’ve ever read any of this stuff, it’s almost just the opposite. In fact, in reading articles in a journal called “Buddhadharma” and looking at Zen Monastery websites, I’m at a moment close to shouting that “the Emperor’s Has No Clothes On” because honestly, (and I went to college!), it seems, sounds like and looks to me to be gobbledygook most of the time.

Zen enclaves offer retreats, courses and ask for donations all the time. They are marketing their wares just as much as say, MacDonalds is hawking hamburgers. Buddhist and Zen Priests, Roshis and hangers on congregate, fall in love with each other, have affairs with others (some of the Senseis are notoriously more famous for that than their spiritual leadership.) Deepak Chopra is a rich man. They are not ego-less, that’s for sure, because they’re writing books, making audio CDs, getting published and they care very much about their reputations and how they appear to the world. What’s wrong with this picture, I wonder?

In any case, I trust the I-Ching and its wisdom helps me out all the time as long as I don’t read into it what I think I want to hear. Which brings me back to what all this Tao stuff is all about. Simply put, I believe that the Tao is the Cosmos or the Universe. It is a belief in something greater than ourselves. And to me, it has been beneficent and guiding, not harsh and punishing like some religions that inculcate the young they will go to hell if they eat pretzels during Lent or something. Or that adultery can be worked off by saying X number of “Hail Mary’s” or lighting candles at Mass, for example.

My life has been an exemplar of a greater good guiding, rescuing and helping me every time I’ve been in a difficult life situation. There have been many, and I’m not exaggerating either. I have been helped when it seemed it was fruitless to hope for a positive outcome. I remember when I gave in or up to this higher power when I realized I could not “fix” things just by myself. The rest is history, as they say.

So, whether one wants to read about Spirit in a religious context, in a philosophical context or whatever, it’s really about faith and belief. I’m not sure if that huge Cosmic force works for someone if they don’t believe in it first. I just know that its presence in my life has been constant and has had a huge influence on how my life has turned out. I don’t pray to it per se. But I do ask for guidance and for help. I believe that Helpers are available just waiting to be asked. There’s some level of activity involved in engaging with this Tao–you just can’t rely on things happening without some belief or some giving energy going back and forth. Gratitude is a big component of this spiritual engagement. Asking for help and thanking the Helpers when it arrives serves to activate the belief that one’s life has more to it than just what I can do by myself by sheer will and effort alone.

So, my father’s writing is very verbose, at least in the translation version that I have. It’s a little less so in the draft that my sister has in her possession. And it’s nothing at all like the rather sparsely poetic translations that Red Pine and Stephen Mitchell have published.

As for reading about Zen and the Buddha dharma, it’s a true mystery to me and I’m no longer interested in looking for hidden meaning when I can’t even fathom what the unhidden words are saying outright. As for meditation, my physician said to me that it’s a lot more helpful to practice it than to read about it. Point taken.

So, that’s all the mystery I can think about writing in this post today. Either you believe because you have experienced it or you don’t. Either you have faith in a beneficent Universe that looks over your life or you don’t. It doesn’t really matter to anyone else. It can be a big influence on your life or absent altogether. We’re all different, right?

“he left nothing undone”. . .

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The quotation title of this post is what Jill Carr said about the passing of her late husband, David Carr, last Thursday night. There has been an outpouring of anecdotes about him even though it’s less than a week since he died: intimate remembrances from friends, family, colleagues and strangers providing insight about him in the wake of his death (pun intended.)

As one writer noted, David Carr epitomized a life that illustrated second chances are possible. Redeeming himself with newborn twins, an addiction to drugs and a life of waste laid upon his body as well as on a dim future, he suffered from cancer, married, had another daughter, got a job at the NYTimes in 2002 and lived for another 13 years before he collapsed last week at his desk.

One irate reader asked why all the fuss over David Carr when she hadn’t been impressed by his writing nor his column? I guess you had to read and glean what it was from what others said about him to learn why he was so admired and not just what he wrote about. What I can gather is that he was a teacher about life as well as about writing. That he was stern and severe in his expectations coupled with empathy and encouragement towards those starting out and especially providing a way for diversity in the mix. He could fiercely compete with you and also be close friends.  I guess it might be more uncommon for people in high places like the Times to be that human and that compassionate towards others.

One commentator said that David might not have been the worst dancer, nor the best, but he was certainly the most secure when he was dancing. He lived life to the fullest no matter what he did and it seemed he must have known about his debilitating failing health for a long time and made a conscious choice to power on ahead anyhow. He died not in a hospital bed set in his living room but on the beat, working and doing his job.

I guess this is what his wife meant when she said he left nothing undone. That’s a pretty powerful message for those of us looking around ourselves to see what still needs to be done. And more importantly, what we would like to do that we haven’t yet done.

That’s a pretty powerful legacy to leave behind, don’t you think?

Long live David Carr!

 

valentine . . .

v card 1

v card 3It’s Valentine’s Day today and the forecast of another blizzard tonight is putting a damper on the commercial aspects of the celebration. People may stay home tonight instead of going out for dinner. Flower deliveries and shopping might be cut short due to difficulty getting out, parking and the logistics of doing normally what we might do to show our loved ones that we care.

I’ve been debating about what to have for our Valentine’s dinner because the ideas swirl around how much effort the shopping/cooking/cleaning will take instead of going out and paying the piper for a meal that we might enjoy out at a nice restaurant instead.

My first inclination was to order some take-out cooked lobster and cole slaw from our local fish market. It’s festive and easy. Just send G. out to pick it up before the place closes at 6 p.m. And we haven’t had lobster for awhile anyhow. But a quick call to the fish market was taken by an impatient fishmonger who said to call back rather than take my order. The Market Basket fish guy said they were expecting a shipment of hard shell lobsters too but they hadn’t arrived and to also call back. So much for the lobster idea.

Yesterday, when visiting with my daughter C. in Concord in the afternoon, I picked up a small fresh Bell & Evans whole chicken that I could roast in a simplified Judy Rodgers style recipe sans the overnight brining. Throw in some baking potatoes, make a salad and we’re good to go.

The other idea I have is to make a very simple dinner of pappardalle pasta (wide noodles) with a little braised veal and fresh sauteed shitake mushrooms with grated parmesan reggiano cheese sprinkled on top. I saw a demonstration of this dish the other day on one of those cooking shows with three chefs who bantered back and forth, the tension of their egos bubbling among them like a sauce gently basted over an entree in a pan cooking on the stove.

I’ve made pappardalle before because I love these wide noodles. The TV chef’s trick was to submerge the freshly cooked and rinsed noodles into a homemade stock made of veal and chicken. What a revelation! To have a wonderful base of flavor in stock to glaze the noodles before serving. That “Aha” moment was priceless. No wonder the dish looked so appetizing.veal I found a small piece of veal, cooked it lightly with some chopped shallots and unsalted butter; made a small veal stock that simmered for about an hour on the stove.

fresh shitake mushrooms and pappardalle noodles. . .

fresh shitake mushrooms and pappardalle noodles. . .

I bought some large fresh shitake mushrooms yesterday because they’d be so nice, sliced thickly and cooked in some unsalted butter with salt and pepper, then placed on top of the aromatic stock flavored pappardalle. Sprinkle with some grated parmesan reggiano cheese.

No cooked vegetable like asparagus or broccoli–too mundane, but perhaps a salad of fresh endive diagonally cut and quarter turned, the leaves separated, a large fresh Mineola orange, peeled, the segments free of skin cut into the endive, then a whole just-ripe avocado, skinned, the luscious fruit cut in generous sized chunks into the salad. Dress this fruit salad with the simplest pure vinaigrette dressing made with refreshing meyer lemon juice and toss just before eating after the pappardalle noodle dish. Cracked pepper added at the last minute before the first bite of salad. Oh, and I have a corn muffin that I’ll toast on a griddle to have alongside the pappardalle dish.

 

pasta 2

DSCN7721There’s just enough organic red wine for each of us to have small glass with dinner. Picked up a miniature carrot cake for dessert.

The main event of my day, besides deciding on what to make for dinner and preparing for same, is cleaning up our kitchen-living space. I’m always amazed when I wake up in the morning to see how many things have accumulated in the course of a couple of days and nights. Ingredients and cooking things litter our wonderful new soapstone countertop. Books, socks and magazines are also all over the place in our sitting area.

sweet V-card and cookie . . .

sweet V-card and cookie . . .

After I have my breakfast of Irish steel cut oatmeal cooked on top of the stove, I think I’ll empty everything off of the soapstone counter in order to apply a fresh coat of wax on it to renew its surface. Put things away, clear off our kitchen table; reduce piles of books and paperwork away and then vacuum all around. Our new dark blue plaid flannel sheets are washed and in the dryer. Having our home refreshed is a good thing to do before having dinner and exchanging cards tonight. As usual, most of the preparation for a special celebration occurs behind the scenes.

flower valentine from family living in Minneapolis!

flower valentine from family living in Minneapolis!

There’s lots to do so I think I’ll turn on the “Law and Order” channel and play it until the place is clean. These are old re-runs with Benjamin Bratt and Carey Lowell among the key characters: that was a long time ago! They’ll keep me company while the magic elves go to work!  Fun!

 

‘being mortal’ . . .

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Atul Gawande’s recent book, “Being Mortal” was highlighted by a documentary on “Frontline” (PBS) that aired this past week. It became more ironic as the week wore on because four men in journalism have either fallen from grace, retired or died unexpectedly. Unless you have been living under a rock, Brian Williams (NBC) was suspended on Tuesday without pay for six months. The ensuing wait-and-see will take place before our eyes on NBC’s evening news if you haven’t changed channels yet.

At least Jon Stewart is still alive and kicking even though he abruptly announced that he would be leaving his show on Comedy Central on the same day NBC announced it was placing Williams in TimeOut. There’s buzz about Stewart being on his own syndicated show as an alternative to his current gig. But that can wait.

Two days later, Bob Simon of CBS had the bad luck to get into a Lincoln Town car driven by an aberrant driver whose license was suspended numerous times. That driver speeded up, then crashed the car so badly that Simon, in the back seat without a seatbelt, was injured and killed. Eulogies for him began playing right away on CBS with Scott Pelley in tears.

The day after, late on Thursday night, there’s shocking breaking news that David Carr, the media columnist for the New York Times had died. Apparently he collapsed at his desk around 9 pm after completing an interview discussion of Edward Snowden’s big reveal and aftermath. I’ve been worried about Carr for awhile because in the last six months, he had lost so much weight that he looked anorexic. Turns out he had Hodgkins Lymphoma earlier which has unexplained weight loss as one of its symptoms. Perhaps Carr had a recurrence of cancer and worked through it to the end.

So, back to “Being Mortal” and Gawande’s thesis/theme that both doctors and patients have a hard time talking about next steps when there’s nothing else medically to be done. In the “Frontline” documentary, there are a number of case studies of people holding out hope, wives crying (and apologizing for crying) not acknowledging that they’re incredibly fortunate to have the foreknowledge of their last days so that they can take care of things, see their families and lie in hospital beds in their own living rooms before they die.

For people like Bob Simon who’s death occurred so suddenly and seemingly needlessly, it’s a different story. After over fifty years on the beat, exposed to great danger in war zones and the like, he didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to the droves of people who were shocked by his sudden death and who mourned him without having a chance to compliment him to his face as a final adieu. It’s all the more frustrating because had he just taken a regular cab, he’d probably still be alive.

David Carr, it seems, may have been the most courageous one of all by so blatantly motoring on to the end of his life doing exactly what meant the most to him. He wrote a piece about the Oscars coming up next weekend that I read on Wednesday. He went to the big event interviewing Laura Poitras and others responsible for outing Edward Snowden. He then returned to his desk at 9 p.m. and collapsed, either dying there or shortly thereafter at Roosevelt Hospital. He put his body through the wringer with years of drug addiction. He then survived one bout of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was surely wasting away at the end. But he kept going. There was none of the precious denial or being afraid of facing death as depicted in the Frontline documentary of those who retreated into their affluent homes to die.

Maybe I’m being too harsh about all this mortality stuff but I don’t think so. I’d be surprised if Brian Williams’s career has a chance of surviving. And he’s not that old either; what will he do with himself?

Jon Stewart has a reputation for integrity so he’ll be fine.

Poor Bob Simon drew the wrong car driver and didn’t use his seatbelt.

And David Carr. Somehow, his pushing himself to do the Snowden piece and to die by collapsing at his desk (instead of in a rented hospital bed in his living room) is completely in character with his personality and with his incredible life. It’s unimaginable to make such a rise to the pinnacle of writers at the NYTimes after being an addict with newborn twins in the car, looking for a score.

So, in the end, because that’s what we’re talking about, right? In the END, it’s who we are, personal integrity, professional dedication and being trustworthy as a parent and spouse that matters most. Not feeling sorry for ourselves helps. Everybody, every one of us will die. Having a good death is within our grasp: that is, to be relatively free of pain, to have enough time and spirit to make peace within ourselves and with those who matter, not torturing our bodies with treatments that have no chance of prolonging life but instead destroys whatever quality of life and time that’s left. That’s a good death.

David Carr had a good death even though he may have been in pain at the end*. Bob Simon’s death was a pitiful twist of fate. Jon Stewart still has time to live his life the way he wants to, whatever that is. And Brian Williams? I don’t think any of us wants to speculate what will happen to his life when he has already sacrificed the most important thing there is: honesty and integrity. And so it goes.

*Footnote: An autopsy of David Carr showed that he had metastatic small cell lung cancer exacerbated by heart disease. Even though he’s looked ill for a number of years, he chose to write and work to the very end.

“Ivan Ramen” . . . sort of

ramen title photoHave you seen the Japanese movie, “Tampopo”? It’s pretty old but it’s a classic about making ramen, a soup noodle in broth simmered for days. “Ivan Ramen” is a memoir cum cookbook about an American from New York who goes to Tokyo and opens a ramen shop.

Just to be clear, the ramen I’m talking about in this post is not the instant ramen noodles in colorful cellophane packets that college students eat for four years plus maybe longer when they’re starting out looking for a job and a place to live. My favorite brand of instant ramen is Sapporo Ichiban. It’s great cooked up quickly for lunch with a handful of baby spinach thrown in just before serving.

Nope, the ramen I’m talking about in this post, in “Ivan Ramen” and in Tampopo, is handmade. The taste and texture of handmade fresh ramen noodles and instant is night and day. Ditto, the soup broth. Then there’s all the add-ons: barbecued pork (char sui) or pork belly, Chinese spinach, halves of a boiled egg, fresh cilantro–you get the picture. Ivan’s cookery book gives detailed instructions on how to make chicken stock from scratch which takes 9 hours of simmering a whole chicken. He combines chicken broth with freshly made dashi broth (seaweed based.)

Because I’m not crazy although I am retired and might have the time to follow Ivan’s recipes, my predisposition is to simplify and still achieve an acceptable meal with a lot less trouble and expense. Here’s my experiment:

1. Make chicken stock using three lbs. of fresh chicken bones from the local asian grocery instead of using a whole chicken. This morning, I roasted the chicken bones for almost an hour, then made broth, simmering for a few hours.

2. Make dashi from kombu, bonito flakes and enrich with a little instant dashi granules.

3. Use fresh Chinese thin noodles from the Asian grocery instead of making from scratch (this one is truly a no-brainer.)

4. Buy char sui pork (barbecued pork) from Chinatown available at the local Vietnamese grocery store on Saturdays (ditto.)

5. De-stem and wash Chinese spinach leaves and rinse fresh cilantro.

6. Boil eggs and hold in ice water.

ramen 2In ramen sized bowls, place stemmed washed spinach in the bottom of the bowl. Add cooked fresh Chinese noodles in layers. Place slices of Char Sui pork (Chinese barbecued pork). Add boiling hot soup broth, filling the dish. Garnish with eggs sliced in half, sprinkle with fresh cilantro and chopped scallions.

One bowl noodle, spinach and pork in broth is a nice way to handle supper in the midst of these New England snowstorms. Oh, and our hot water heater was finally repaired this afternoon so I ran an overloaded dishwasher through a wash and dry cycle, emptied the warm dishes, glasses and clean silverware before I began assembling our one-bowl ramen noodle supper.

While G. went outside to do more snowblowing to clear areas to make room for more snow expected yesterday and today, I decided to make a half batch of chocolate chip cookies. Using the last stick of unsalted butter, I mixed the cookie dough by hand and baked small cookies for when G. came in from the cold. His face lit up as he reached for a couple of cookies during this very snowy couple of weeks here in New England.

a batch of chocolate chip cookies . . .

a batch of chocolate chip cookies . . .

 

 

 

 

“be happy!” . . .

DSC_0721_2“Be Happy!” That was what my favorite cousin who died a year or so ago, said to me on our last visit together. I was reminded of Pei-Fen today when I saw a photo in the NYTimes of the Martha Graham dance company dancers in motion. Pei-Fen had danced with Martha Graham and Ted Shawn in the last mid-century. Her second husband was composer and clarinetist, Meyer Kupferman. I read in one of the chats online that people lined up to visit them not just for music camaraderie but especially for Pei-Fen’s cooking.

On that note, her cooking was very individual and representative of her nature. The last time we had a meal together in Rhinebeck, New York, she served a single dish for our lunch: Buddha’s Delight on wooden plates. I’ve sampled this dish elsewhere since it’s a favorite dish, and was delighted that she had made it for our leisurely lunch, but also so that I could get a glimpse of how she had prepared it. Everything was cut meticulously. That’s the main message of her dish–the soaked cellophane noodles, tiger lilies, dried shitake mushrooms reconstituted in warm water, tree ear (an important textural element), a little sliced cabbage and seasonings. When I make it, the dish tastes all right but the texture is not the same–I haven’t managed to get everything sliced and trimmed as tidily as she did when making this dish. Her Buddha’s Delight dish was, well, buddha-like in its harmonic simplicity. There was a peaceful aura about it too.

In any event, the photo of Martha Graham Company dancers in the Times today brought back this instant image, memory and message from Pei Fen. “Be Happy” she had said to me, holding my hand, knowing about my family background, my parents and how life had unfolded for me. I took her advice to heart. I remember it when I am feeling down or depressed about things. And how is it that one can uplift one’s spirits to be happy?

Simple: take away what is not working in one’s life and put it aside. Be in the moment of a winter’s day with the sun gilding the horizon, trying to come out in the mid-morning light. Marvel at the whiteness of the snow that has blanketed everything. Be thankful that our hot water tank is working again and it was only the pilot light that got blown out by a draft last night, sparing us the expense of having to call the plumber and replace it on a Friday before the weekend.

Observe how actually nothing is wrong, right this moment. Rejoice that my vertigo is diminishing simply from performing some simple gravity-driven maneuvers called the “Epley Maneuver” for a benign crystal floating around in my inner ear rather than something that might be more serious.

Be glad that my husband and I are so lucky to be together even when things are hard around us that are outside of our control. And let go of how others behave–you can’t do anything about it anyhow by reacting to it. Save and conserve my energy instead of letting it dissipate willy-nilly.

We have a local Councillor with the initials “PP” who has been loyal, consistent and gone to bat for our causes in the past decades: defeating a wetlands development plan two or three times so far; advocating for protecting uninfested trees from rampant clear-cutting during an infestation of beetles in our town. Two years ago during the holidays, I made some mince pies using my Breville pie maker after coming upon jars of British mincemeat at a local emporium. We gave some to PP, family and neighbors.

G. saw PP last night at a hearing to try and save more trees (5000 of them) from being clear-cut by the USDA. We suspect that authorities are more interested in spending their budget so that they can ask for more money rather than doing right by our trees. In any case, I’m going to pick up some prepared pie crusts to make some of these miniature mince pies this weekend and brighten up the kitchen with the delicious smells–and for G. to bring some over to PP as a thank-you for his efforts. He loved them before and there was a twinkle in his eye last night when G. mentioned that there might be more coming soon.

Robertson’s Mincemeat ingredients: apples, raisins, sultanas, candied mixed orange peel, lemon peel, treacle, currants, sugar and spices, everything nice!

So, there you are. Being happy is easy when I focus on what I am grateful for and to do something that makes someone else happy. Mince pies are perfect! They smell divine while they are cooking and are so tasty eaten with a wedge of cheddar cheese.

Being happy is a choice and I choose it! Thanks, Pei-Fen.

 

after the (big) game . . .

drink

This morning, I made an almond-banana smoothie for breakfast.

Martha Rose Schulman’s recipe includes a frozen banana, flax seeds, some almond butter, a drop of almond extract and a splash of cold buttermilk. Refreshing.

Here’s the best joke I’ve come across online about the Super Bowl this weekend:

Reporter to Pete Carroll:

“Hey, Pete, would you like to win the Super Bowl?” Pete: “No thanks, I think I’ll pass.”

The Patriots landed at Logan Airport and the celebratory Duck Boats parade is scheduled today despite snow removal and public transportation issues in Boston. Fingers crossed that all will go well.

The snow continued yesterday and the temperature is below zero this morning as I write this post.

Hope it warms up a little soon.

 

 

Secretariat and the Super Bowl . . .

DSCN4930While waiting for the Super Bowl hype shows to blow over, I came upon a movie playing on TV in the afternoon, “Secretariat” starring Diane Lane and John Malkovitch as the trainer who she believed in, even if he didn’t believe in himself. It’s a tale of long odds, if you’ve seen this film: Penny Tweedy takes over her ailing father’s thoroughbred breeding farm and wins Secretariat as a colt in a coin toss by default. Her father dies and her husband plus brother connive to sell Secretariat to pay death taxes on the farm. She refuses, deciding to syndicate Secretariat’s breeding rights ($190,000) to thirty-two other owners, all of whom refuse her until the most prestigious owner of all, who gave up the colt at the coin toss (yes, it’s all true) decides to be the first to sign up. The others follow and Secretariat promptly loses his first big race due to an abcessed tooth.

Secretariat goes on to win the Triple Crown, the first time in 25 years, setting track records in EACH race that are still standing. It’s truly an amazing story. That it actually happened is sports history.

So, now we are down to watching the Super Bowl game and to see if this much maligned team can win their first Super bowl game in ten years. Yes, they’ve won divisional championships. Yes, they’ve gone to the Super Bowl in between years and lost, sometimes ignominiously (like the time Brady fouled in the first play of the game the last time.)

The Seahawks are defending their Super Bowl win last year. There’s been so much hype about the two coaches, Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll, both of whom have coached for the Patriots and Bob Kraft. And both, it turns out, are part-Croatian! Who knew? Plus they’re supposed to be crafty coaches with sophisticated knowledge of the rules so that they know what they can try even though nobody else may have.

Well, here we are. I’m finishing this post at 11:16 p.m. after a Super Bowl win by the Patriots that will go down with the ages as one of the most unbelievably tight and suspenseful victories of almost all time. After all, who could make up a last minute interception over the goal line by Malcolm Butler, a rookie from Alabama playing his first Super Bowl game? In his interview afterwards, he was asked about the three-bobble catch that the Seahawks made improbably while the guy was on his back and the ball was still bouncing around in the air. Butler said he thought he felt that because he didn’t prevent that catch, that he might be responsible for losing the game–and that he HAD to do something during the next play: which he did, by intercepting the ball in the Seahawk’s endzone.  The last 30 seconds of the game were the longest ones ever after Butler’s interception: a half yard from the goal-line moved five yards out due to a penalty, then fifteen yards out due to fighting by a Seahawk who was ejected from the game for unnecessary roughing.

It was amazing. Chris Collinsworth, the most urbane of all TV sportscasters put together was sputtering through the last two minutes of the game. He kept saying, “I can’t believe this!” And the rest of us couldn’t either. What a relief! I’m glad that I was “wu-wei-ing” it throughout the game. In fact, I threw the I-Ching when the Pats were down in the fourth quarter and it felt like all was lost. It predicted that the Patriots would indeed win the Super Bowl in the end after a few hitches. And what an ending!

This Patriots Super Bowl victory was as unpredictable as Secretariat’s winning of the Triple Crown years ago with a thirty length win over the second horse at Belmont stakes. Big risks, a lot on the line and winning at the finish line–making exceptional sports history for a long time to come.

Bravo! Whew! I’m going to bed!

 

 

“wu-wei” baby! . . .

truro photo for duvet cover

So this morning, I pulled out a couple of paperbacks in my library on Taoism: “The Wisdom of the Taoists” by D. Howard Smith and “The Elements of Taoism” by Martin Palmer. Once again, as always happens, we, the reader, are told over and over again how Taoism cannot be put into words while reading words by people trying to explain it to us. It happens every time and it always amuses me no end.

At the same time, there are differences explained between Confucianism and Taoism which for me delineate the difference between choosing to live your life according to what you think OTHERS’S expectations or “shoulds” rule your life (Confucianism) or for your spirit inside to align with a larger Universe (the Tao) and to pursue your life in alignment with your inner truth (Taoism.) That might be a glib way to explain the differences but at least, it illustrates how vastly different these two philosophies of life can be.

There were pencil notes in the texts that I had written years ago, including a reminder of a quotation that I saw on the wall in a calligraphic script when I woke up one morning. It was not a hallucination so much as it was a vision that I remember clearly in a large calligraphic font on the bedroom wall:

                                                    “The more we are at One, the more we are All One.”

Now if that isn’t an axiom of Taoist one-ness, I don’t know what is. In my life, especially in times of hardship, I have experienced alignment with a Universe which was invisibly beneficent. I didn’t feel threatened by it and I trusted in its goodness to support the unknown in a positive way. So many seemingly insoluble circumstances in my past (bankruptcy, divorce, joblessness) smoothed themselves out masterminded by Helpers from the Universe. Truly, I could not understand otherwise and it has borne itself out in my life ever since. Which brings me to “wu-wei”

In its simplest definition, “wu-wei” describes a state of non-doing and going with the flow, trusting that the unknown is meant to be and that we are less wise than it is in dealing with anything more than the present moment. Without a trust in the Universe, whether it be in the form of an all knowing Sage, or God, or Almighty, it feels impossible to let go and subscribe to trying something like “wu-wei”. Although it’s hard to do, it’s also really hard NOT to do if one goes through life thinking you can control events and everyone around you. Here in America, we live in a culture that promotes the idea that we are invincible and will overcome if we just try hard enough. That’s not “wu-wei” though.

Everyone is different and that’s why there is no one formula about how to be happy or how to be enlightened even if we could wrap our heads around it. The only knowledge that we may have of someone is that we don’t know much about who they are inside deep down, unless of course they decide to tell us or to talk about it with us. So, given that we don’t know and really can’t know much about all of the people or circumstances that we are trying to react to, marshal or get things done with everyday, no wonder we get worn out. That’s where “wu-wei” provides an alternative reality to live with, within ourselves.

Here’s a short excerpt about “wu-wei” from Wikipedia:

To follow Wu Wei you must first let go of struggle. Stop fighting with life and trying to make things happen. You are struggling against the flow. You must first realize that you can give this up. Then it is the case that you act, you are not passive – merely waiting for things to happen, but you are no longer opposing the flow of events. Instead, you act, but let go into the uncertainty of life, and you see how life actually occurs. You become open to the mystery of which you are part. In a sense it is total acceptance of yourself and this moment. Of course, it is necessary to practice this. While the way is not of time, and we can be there in an instant, practice connects us to this place over time. Through practice the way reveals itself. Only through practice can this truth be revealed.

“Wu-wei” takes care of that enormous expenditure of energy, expectation and sturm and drang from our lives.

The Walt Disney movie, “Let it Go” is popular not just for the freeing storyline of girls being able to rescue themselves rather than relying on males to do it for us, but it also exhorts all of us to “let it go” –release ourselves from the Confucian dogma of what everybody else wants from us or expects us to be. How about that, huh? “Let It Go” being a Taoist mandate to free yourself from the inside out? I’ll bet nobody at Disney was thinking about that message when they made the movie, but hey, it’s not far from what they’re actually encouraging lots of little girls to do. And perhaps some grown-up girls too.

Maybe the rest of us can take heart that as we age, even though there’s less and less influence that we seem to have on our children as they spread their wings, asserting themselves inwardly and outwardly, we can know that the Universe is there for all of us. So, why struggle? Why not float along in a life with “wu-wei”, going with the flow knowing that there’s more in store for us that we can’t know. And that change is the only thing that is constant. So, why worry?

Now, I think I’ll go and make cheeseburger sliders on snowflake rolls with chopped onion for lunch on Super Bowl Sunday. Whatever happens at the big game, I’ll bet that it won’t be predictable, not with all the hoopla over Deflate-Gate or whether it’s actually a Deflate-Gate-Gate? Maybe It’s a good time to practice some “wu-wei” about the outcome, right? See you later!

 

 

 

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