Tuesday, December 31, 2013

embracing imperfection, going with the flow

                                                                                               Vermont, Summer 2013

Three lessons I learned in 2013 and why they matter?: because life is too short!

1. Embrace imperfection. This is a liberating lesson because it makes life so much easier! It is a way to embrace the process of living itself because just like we age, things also decay and we have very little control over "time's relentless melt." We dust or sweep and a few minutes later dust has settled over the spaces we have just cleaned and that's just the way things are. We co-habitate with the elements, with dust and air, and these things shift, move, settling in the corners. Accepting imperfection allows us to focus on what really matters, like being kind, compassionate, and accepting, not only to others, but most importantly with ourselves. Perfection does not exist. There is no such thing. I am not alone or original in walking the path towards learning to love and embrace imperfection, as the Zen philosophy of wabi sabi reveals. Each day, each month, each year that we are alive gives us the opportunity to develop a deeper appreciation for the process of change, growth and decay.

2. Let go. This must be practiced every day, it should be a daily habit. In the morning when we wake we must remind ourselves that today we will let go of our fantasies about perfection, we will let go of our expectations that things will go as we planned them. And at the end of the day when we take inventory of our day, we will keep what's useful and discard what is not. This include letting go of negative experiences and resentment. We will be thankful for the day that ended and for the greatness that is life! Letting go will allows us to adapt to the unexpected, to change at a moment's notice, to survive in a fast-paced ever shifting world. 

3. Don't take things personally. It is tip #62 here and #42 here). This lesson has been invaluable this last year especially as I learned to navigate through a difficult situation at work (a situation that existed before me), and one over which I had little control. The only control I had was over myself and my actions. I walked into a toxic situation, but it was a learning opportunity, it gave me the chance to learn to take care of myself, remain honest and to do what was right. In the end I also learned not to tie my self-worth to what other people think or say, because it is about them and their journey and not about me and my journey. By not taking things personally, I was able to overcome a difficult situation and build character in the process. Now whenever I find myself getting upset or obsessing over something hurtful (or that I thought was hurtful) that someone said, I tell myself: "hey, that is not about me!" I quickly let the thought pass away (I find useful the mindfulness technique of waves crashing against the shore: a wave forms, crashes, and then passes away back into the sea). By not grasping onto negative thoughts and feelings I have much more mental room to be thankful, happy, creative, and to engage in positive, affirming thoughts and behaviors!

I am thankful for 2013! I look forward to the splendor of the unfolding seasons in 2014!

Also, here are some links that have been helpful to me as I ponder how to live a content and meaningful life.
The Little Book of Contentment (its free!)
The Short and Sweet Guide to Being Fucking Awesome
Successfool & You don't have to explain yourself

Saturday, December 21, 2013

a very coconut christmas!

It all started when my mother brought her yearly gift to us: a bottle of homemade coquito (literally translated as little coconut). Coquito is a traditional Puerto Rican holiday drink and it is customary for family and friends to exchange bottles of coquito throughout the holiday season. It is also customary to offer guests a shot of coquito when they visit during the holidays. Well, I suppose it was the taste of the coquito that started me on a month long coconut extravaganza. Actually it hasn't been quite a month, but in the last few weeks I've been making coconut treats as a way of bringing some of the balmy spirit of a Caribbean Christmas to our New England home. 

How to make coquito? (my mother's recipe)

1 can evaporated milk
1/2 can condensed milk
1 can cream of coconut
1 can coconut milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
1 cup of white or dark rum (adjust to your liking)
2 shots tequila (adjust to your liking)
**adjust recipe to your desire quantity

Then I found this recipe for Coconut Snowballs and I just had to try it!  
Truly amazing and easy to make! These get 5-stars from us (they taste like a healthier version of dulce de coco).

And I still wanted even more coconut treats so I found a recipe for a coconut pound cake but tweaked it and made coconut bread instead. So GOOD, and specially with a cup of coffee!
My Coconut Bread Recipe
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut (toast on the stove ahead of time)
3 tablespoon coconut oil (melt on the stove ahead of time)

What to do? 
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour your pound cake pan. Add your dry ingredients into a bowl whisk them together. In another bowl, add the coconut oil and sugar and mix using a electric mixer then add the eggs one at a time, add the vanilla and mix until it all comes together and is slightly fluffy. Then add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, adding a bit of buttermilk each time and mixing in between each addition. Finally, fold in the toasted coconut into the mixture. Add the mixture to pan and bake for 50 minutes or until knife inserted into it comes out clean. 

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut 
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons buttermilk
1 tablespoon butter or coconut oil

What to do?
Toast the shredded coconut on  the stove. In a bowl, add the sugar, buttermilk and butter or oil together and beat with mixer until it thickens. Once your bread has cooled add the frosting and sprinkle the toasted coconut on top.  

 I am wishing you a very coconut Christmas 2013! 




Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wondrous Wild Rice (Manoomin)

This is the story about how we (me and my husband) became addicted to wild rice: last winter, a friend gave me a pound of wild rice that she brought back from a trip to northern Minnesota. The rice came in a see through bag a small golden seal that read Spirit Lake Native Products in the bottom right hand corner. The bag of rice sat in my cabinet for a long while because frankly, as someone who comes from a culture where white rice is king, this wild and nutty looking distant cousin intimidated me. Every so often I would pick it up, look at it, ponder about it but I would quickly put it back beside the other rice varieties in my cabinet. I long ago stopped eating the short-grain white rice customary in Puerto Rican cuisine and began making all my rice dishes (i.e. arroz junto) using the fuller bodied Basmati or Jasmine rice. Sometimes I make rice and chickpeas [arroz con garbanzos] using brown Basmati and other times I make white Jasmine with pigeon peas [arroz con gandules]. I find both Basmati and Jasmine rice are tastier than short grain rice and they are much healthier as well. 
But back to wild rice: early this fall, I finally decided it was time to taste Spirit Lake’s wild rice. Sure, I had eaten wild rice many times before but I had never made it myself. I proceeded the way I usually make rice: my experience cooking whole brown rice has taught me that unprocessed varieties need more water and more time to cook. I set my rice pot on the stove and added 4 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of sea salt covered the pot and let the water boil vigorously. I then added 2 cups of wild rice setting the heat to 4 (low-medium) covering the pot and setting the timer to 45 minutes. Immediately upon adding the rice to the boiling water a fragrant, meaty aroma began to infuse the air. I wondered why it smelled more like mushrooms than rice, and found that this bold aroma might be due to its high protein content which is part of its high nutritional value. Whatever the reason, I now could not wait to taste it!

I chopped calabaza squash, ñame, carrots, green peppers, tomatoes, and fresh cilantro. I added 6 cups of water to my soup pan and threw in 3 veggie bullion cubes, 2 crushed garlic cloves, and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper. Once the broth began to boil I added all the other ingredients allowing them to cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. I turned off the stove but left the soup pan covered until the rice was ready. When the rice was fluffy and each grain had “popped,” I measured 1 cup and added it to the soup. I turned the soup to low for 5 minutes to allow all the ingredients to come together. This wild rice soup was truly therapeutic and restorative. And it tasted so good that we ate it all the same night! 
I still had another cup of rice left and also had fresh corncobs in the fridge. So the next day, we grilled corn in our coal-fired BBQ and I shaved the kernels (using a knife) off the cobs onto a bowl to which I added 1 teaspoon of butter and a pinch of salt. I re-heated the rice and added the corn to it to make wild rice with fresh corn. This was a simple meal, but it scored very high in flavor, freshness and nutrition. Luckily, my friend recently hooked us up with more Spirit Lake rice and I was able to buy a couple of pounds to satisfy our newly acquired wild rice obsession!