The Wind that Shakes the Quinoa (or how I learned to clear a room fast)

IMG_1346I wanted to like quinoa. I really did.

It was the early 1989 – before the earthquake – and Whole Foods was the new kid on the block. It was a great place to grab a Martian Martini (orange juice with spirolina) between jobs. I was an artist’s model then, and an artist. Struggling but happy. And I wanted to be healthy.

So – in the same way that I believe a new haircut can be a life altering experience, I believed that if I purchased my food from Whole Foods my body would thank me by becoming healthy. Of course in 1989 my version of health had more to do with what I looked like on the outside and less to do with how I felt on the inside.

Still, I was on my way to a perfect life. If only I could handle quinoa.

It’s not that I didn’t like the taste. At the time Whole Foods sold a quinoa salad that was amazing.   When I tried to make the same salad at home, however, it had a disturbing influence on my bowels. To put it delicately, the salad made me windy. Gaseous. Flatulent. And I mean “Danger, danger clear the room Will Fartinson” bad.

But then I learned about saponins. Quinoa seeds have an outer coating of saponin. This gives the seed a bitter taste, making it unpalatable to birds. They also do my digestion no favors. In 1989 I did not know I was supposed to rinse my quinoa before cooking. Quarter of a century later and I am the Queen of the Quinoa Salad.

Of course, most commercial quinoa is pre-rinsed in the factory. But that doesn’t stop me. Twenty-five years ago I lost too many friends to a cloud of noxious fumes. I won’t let that happen again.

Here’s how I make my quinoa salad:

  • RINSE THE QUINOA (for the love of everything that is pure and merciful rinse those seeds!)
  • Cook one cup of quinoa in two cups water (this will make about 3 cups of cooked quinoa). Stir occasionally. You can add a splash of olive oil, a bit of bullion or a knob of butter to youIMG_1343r water, but to be honest I prefer just plain water. You’ll know your quinoa is cooked when you have a pot full of grains that look like tiny, tiny condoms.
  • Dice a red onion and sweat over low heat. Raw onion overpowers the delicate flavor of quinoa.
  • IMG_1344While the onion is cooking prep the remaining vegetables. I like a combination of carrot, celery, red radish, bell pepper and cucumber.

IMG_1345

  • Add herbs of your choice. I recommend basil or cilantro.
  • Dress with a light vinaigrette – olive oil, tons of fresh lemon, a splash of balsamic.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Chill for a few hours and then enjoy!

Progress Report #2: Perspective and Trivial Pursuits

IMG_0386Perspective.

At the end of the day, it comes down to perspective.

I’ll begin by reporting that the newly acquired notebooks served their intended purpose. They brought back a linear quality to my journey and the hope that life was moving forward in a line that while not necessarily straight as an arrow at least curved only so much that I could still see what lurked around the corner.

But I forgot to look out for what was coming up from behind.

I practice working with this affirmation. Repeating it provides a momentary lift.

It’s difficult to write about trivial pursuits while mothers with their babies fight for life and then drown anyway.   It’s difficult to write about trivial pursuits when families walk together for days, when fathers mourn and when countries build fences around their borders. It’s difficult.

My NCLP and I join a local gym this month.

While our collective heart breaks with the images coming from CNN, as an individual I feel stripped of power. Prayer is not enough and the feeling of impotence agitates. It’s easier to ignore. It’s easier to believe that someone else will choose rightly.

I acquire a Fitbit from a woman who is trading up to an Apple Watch.

Home and family.

Nothing else matters.

I visit the gym four or five days a week for a cardio workout.

I record the food I am lucky to eat each day on the Fitbit.

I learned more about my family of origin this month and in the process woke ghosts that were better off sleeping. And somehow the news about my past impacts my future. The two are intertwined – my abandoned childhood and the cravings of a heart. I’m struggling to loosen the knot and to see that they are separate.

I recognize the blessing of trivial pursuits.

Pulp Kitchen: What to do with Cashew Milk Pulp

Pulp from 2 cups of cashews blended into milk.
Pulp from 2 cups of cashews blended into milk.

It doesn’t make sense that making cashew milk is easier than making almond milk, but it is. At least for me. Don’t ask me to explain why, although I’m guessing it’s because cashews don’t have skins. The milk is easier to strain and the resulting pulp much more fine. I also find cashews sweeter than almonds and so I no longer add dates to the mix. I do still add a splash of vanilla extract.

 

 

A few days ago I made a double batch of milk:

  • Soak two cups of cashews over night
  • The following day, drain and rinse
  • Blend the cashews with six cups of water and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract.  The vanilla is optional.  Depending on the size of your blender you may have to do this in batches.
  • Once blended pour the mixture through a nut bag, clean muslin or several layers of cheese cloth into a large bowl
  • Squeeze the bag get every drop of creamy milk from the cashews
  • Empty the pulp into a separate bowl
Candied ginger about to be diced into quarters
Candied ginger about to be diced into quarters

For the cookies: 

  • Add 2 tablespoons of unrefined coconut sugar, ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon of almond extract and a pinch or sea salt to the pulp and mix
  • Stir in about ¼ cup of diced candied ginger pieces
  • At this point you can add anything else that sounds good:  chia seed, pumpkin seed, chopped cashew…maybe even cacao to make coco-cashew pulp cookies!
  • Mix well, either by hand or with a food processor
  • Form into small balls and flatten slightly
  • This should make about 2 dozen bite sized cookies
On the dehydrator sheet.
On the dehydrator sheet.

I’m certain you could bake these at a low temperature in the over, but I used my dehydrator:

  • Set dehydrator for 135 degrees
  • After two hours flip the cookies
  • Dehydrate an additional 2 to 4 hours depending on your preference.  I prefer these cookies on the soft and chewy side.

The mellow flavor of the cashew pulp is a perfect balance to the sweet and sharp ginger. Store in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

Repeat After Me: Do Affirmations Work?

IMG_1107My skeptical side has never given much thought to affirmations as they are presented in most self-help books. I never really believed that standing in front of the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning, looking into my sleep glazed baby blues and repeating the phrase “I love you” to myself could have any effect on my psyche.

But my annoying ability to see two sides to most stories always follows that up with “Why not?”

Indeed. If affirmations are a cousin to neural-linguistic-programming, then perhaps it’s true that changing the way we speak to ourselves will change the beliefs we hold about ourselves.

But not all affirmations are created equal.

Research at Stanford University discovered that “…timely affirmations have been shown to improve education, health and relationship outcome, with benefits that sometimes persist for months and years…[writing about core personal values]…they touch off a cycle of adaptive potential [and] a positive feedback loop…”

In other words, taking time to write about those things that have heart and meaning for you is affirming. What makes you happy? What brings fulfillment? Journaling these answers, really considering their truth, is supportive. It helps you to feel good about yourself. This is a much different approach to affirmation than what I was taught when I was studying complementary healing modalities in Ireland.

Louise Hay was all the rage when I managed a health food store in County Donegal in the 1990’s. You Can Heal Your Life had been published and many of the body therapists I knew were advising their clients that the root of physical illnesses might be based on emotional trauma. They believed Hay’s premise that illness could be reversed through the repetition of specific affirmations. Hay has claimed to have healed herself of cervical cancer without medical intervention but this has never been proven.

Remaining positive through even the darkest moments of life is one thing. But I believe Hay’s advice is dangerous, irresponsible and unethical.

I feel the same way about every motivational speaker and product that tells you that changing your thoughts can change your life. This simply isn’t true. You can’t think yourself a parking space. Or a new job. Or a new love. This is what’s true:

Change your thoughts and you can change the attitude.

Change your attitude and who knows what might happen.

Yet a 2012 article from Psychology Today, Why Don’t My Positive Affirmations Work? explains why my advice might also not be so great: “Unreasonably positive statements such as ‘I accept myself completely’ can provoke contradictory thoughts in individuals with low self-esteem…when people get feedback that they believe is overly positive, they actually feel worse, not better.”

May a dose of healthy realism with a dash a pragmatism is the best course for navigation the ups and downs of life.
Still, I’ve decided to find out for myself. For the month of August I’m working with an affirmation. I say it each morning and throughout the day. I’ve written the words on three notecards. One is taped to the bathroom mirror. Another is taped to a kitchen cabinet. The third leans against my desk lamp next to my computer. It has all the hallmarks of a reasonable reminder. It is written in the present tense (“I am” not “I will be”…even if what I am doesn’t feel true) and it is undoubtedly positive:

I love myself. Today. Just as I am.

Later this week I’ll take a page from Stanford’s research and journal about what brings heart and meaning to my life. What makes me feel whole.

Anyone want to take this ride with me?

Progress Report #1: Re-Grouping After My Get Up and Go Got Up and Went

IMG_3464I knew a fresh chapter was about to begin when I set my sights on the local stationery store. When life is about to take a turn, I buy notebooks. It’s a compulsion. And last Tuesday it was a compulsion I couldn’t resist. Twenty minutes after walking through the doors of Village Stationers I walked out with an empty wallet but a full heart.

I wish I could explain my obsession with new notebooks. Perhaps opening the cover to a fresh and unmarked white page reminds me that stories can change and that while life is unpredictable we can choose how we move through it’s bumps and detours.

That’s supposed to make us feel better, right? Knowing that we can choose how we navigate the course of life. Except sometimes life is heavy and the weight of it pulls us under the surface. Our spirits are stuck in the muck and trying to move forward is as difficult as swimming though quicksand.

July was a bit like that for me. I was stuck. I lacked gumption. I ate more than I should and exercised less than I could. And even though I made a commitment with friends to revisit the ‘detox’ that my NCLP and I easily completed a few months ago – the detox that was the springboard for this blog – I didn’t make it past the fourth day.

I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say that I wasn’t disappointed. But we all become stuck from time to time. A little backslide on the road to health doesn’t mean it’s the end of the journey. What it does mean is that it’s time to regroup.

Hence the notebooks.

I remember when I joined Weight Watchers. It was 2004 and I had about eighty pounds to lose. I didn’t tell my friends. I went to the meetings on my own. I did the work. I was accountable only to myself. I don’t know if it was a fear of failure or the fear that sharing my news would somehow dilute my intention but I kept my secret until it was obvious my body was changing.

But now we share everything with everyone. And I’m contemplating how it would feel to reveal exactly what my intentions are and how big I’m dreaming. Am I at the point where I want to tell the truth of who I am? My hopes? My disappointments? If you knew the dreams I dream would it help them come true?

Maybe.

But for now I’m going to open my brand new notebook and take some time to figure out what those dreams are and then I’m going to hold them close to my heart for a bit.

Lucy, Ethel and the Omega Juicer

A basic sauce:  fresh tomatoes and basil.
A basic sauce: fresh tomatoes and basil.

If that familiar scene from I Love Lucy, the one where Lucy and Ethel struggle to keep up with a speeding conveyor belt while wrapping chocolates in a candy factory, is your idea of a great date night – then you’ll love making pasta with an Omega Juicer.

The Omega Juicer came into our lives about two months ago and ever since my beloved and I have had fresh juice almost every morning. Those in the know, however, will know that the Omega Juicer does more than squish fruit and vegetables. It promises to process nut butter, make hummus and with the help of a few attachments, extrude pasta.  Epicurious by nature, I had to find out for myself.

A little olive oil, some garlic and cubed mozzarella and viola!
A little olive oil, some garlic and cubed mozzarella and viola!

I began the sauce on a Saturday morning. I kept it simple: fresh picked sun ripe cherry tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, olive oil, cubed mozzarella and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Chopped walnuts and chili flakes might have been a nice addition.  The mozzarella is optional.

My pasta dough was basic: An eggless semolina recipe I found on the Internet. When I use a recipe sourced online I look to the comments for real inspiration. Several suggested adding chopped herbs and a bit of olive oil to the dough for depth and flavor, which I did.  I don’t recall, however, anyone suggesting that I chill the dough before extrusion.  Big mistake.  I have no proof but my instincts tell me that chilled dough makes the extrusion process much easier but not nearly half the fun.  Our room temperature dough extruded too quickly and was too elastic for one poor soul to manage.

Chill the dough!
Chill the dough!Our room temperature dough extruded too quickly and was too elastic for one poor soul to manage.

Enter Lucy and Ethel.

How I managed to keep my fingers as Ethel Scissorhands snipped the flying pasta into manageable lengths while we both howled with laughter is beyond me.  The end result? Not the prettiest pasta, but certainly delicious.  More than that, it was fun.  Food always tastes better when it’s cooked with joy, laughter and fun.  And maybe a glass of wine.

Drape the extruded pasta over a bowl dusted with flour and let it dry a few minutes before adding to boiling water.  It only takes about 4 minutes to cook.
Drape the extruded pasta over a bowl dusted with flour and let it dry a few minutes before adding to boiling water. It only takes about 4 minutes to cook.
It won't win any awards for beauty but it sure tasted good!
It won’t win any awards for beauty but it sure tasted good!
The kitchen, post pasta making.  Thank goodness my beloved loves to wash dishes.  Seriously.
The kitchen, post pasta making. Thank goodness my beloved loves to wash dishes. Seriously.