Emotional Pain in Crises and Self-Care

One would have to live under a rock in order not to acknowledge the global pain and suffering at the moment.  Since early March we hear the daily COVID-19 reports from countless sources.  Some we believe and send us into the realms of disbelief.

My featured image, this week, shows the baby bunny, a kit, living in my backyard.  His favorite nourishment appears to be crisp, dandelion greens and dandelion stalks.  Since both our dogs died last year, I am delighted that this little creature stays in our yard.  Watching him (I really cannot identify his gender) gorge himself on clover and dandelions while viewing the world around him, reminds me to engage in a quiet pace, enjoy my surroundings, eat my food contemplatively (Okay, I’m anthropomorphizing said bunny!), and be aware of my surroundings with its joys and its, possible, dangers.  Good advice from the bunny, considering world events of late.

My goal, here, does not center on my judgement of the current world and U.S. events.  I assure you, I have the full range of emotions around the effect of COVID-19 and senseless killings.  You don’t need to read those.  Rather, I hope to offer comments regarding self care and how we may focus on ourselves in a healthful way.  I’m sure you’ve read lots of information on mindfulness.  Here, I offer another resource.  A couple of friends wrote an Extension publication called, Everyday Mindfulness.   It comes complete with the “Fact Sheet,” which the actual publication, and with a leader’s guide, in case you want to teach it.  If you want more information on how to gain free access to the publication, just let me know in a comment.

First, let us look at what mindfulness can be:

» Living in the present moment/awareness of the present moment — paying close attention to thoughts, physical sensations, and our surroundings (Like the bunny in my backyard!).
» Observing personal experiences of mindfulness, being completely focused on a project
reading a book, doing a hobby, or playing a sport. This heightened awareness is mindfulness.
» Taking a few deep breaths — becoming fully aware of the present moment.
» Having nonjudgmental awareness in which each thought, feeling, and sensation is acknowledged and accepted in their present state. This steady and non-reactive attention usually differs from the way we routinely operate in the world.
» Paying attention, precisely, to the present moment without judgment

Sometimes, delighting in the little things can help us to be more focused, though we can benefit from setting aside specific time for expressing anger and other emotions.  When we “schedule” such time for judgement, anger, sadness, and guilt, we can focus our energies for the difficult times.  The next step would be to schedule time for joy, celebration, and the plan-of-action for addressing the events that bring on anger, sadness, guilt, and judgement.  When we call ourselves to action, we address the helplessness that often accompanies injustices and inequities.

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This photo is meant to help us imagine a peaceful scene to promote mindfulness.  It’s three of my four grandchildren enjoying Canada geese swimming while an elder feeds them.

Back to mindfulness. We follow seven principles.  They take practice, but it’s worth the effort in your journey toward self-care:

  • Non-judging: Be a neutral observer to each experience.
  • Patience: Allow each experience to emerge at its own pace.
  • Beginner’s mind: Avoid bringing in what you know to the current moment and try
    experiencing it as if it is the first time.
  • Trust: Believe in your intuition and your ability to see things in a new way.
  • Non-striving: Avoid the need for winning or losing or striving for a purpose — it is about “being” and “non-doing.”
  • Acceptance: See things as they are in the present moment.
  • Letting go: Take the time to detach from your usual feelings and thoughts.

You may ask, “How can we do this when the world is hurting and in crisis?  My answer: We can better serve others and be the best for the world once we have addressed our own physical and emotional needs.”  It is not selfish.  It is good practice.

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I snapped this shot on one of my walks not far from my house.  In a world of pain, suffering, and ugliness, somedays, I have to focus on beauty.  Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Love in the time of…Corona Virus!

Living in the midst of the Corona Virus pandemic caused me to think of Gabriel García Márquez’s book, Love in the Time of Cholera, which refers to the disease of cholera, which has contributed to many outbreaks and at least one pandemic in the past 200 years.  In the throes of this pandemic, I witness the realization of the other part of  cólera, the Spanish word referring to the disease and to the concepts of anger and rage.  I liken that anger and rage to be synonymous with what we’re experiencing today.  Some people are angry at the call to shelter in place and politicize and moralize the disease.  Without getting political, I will tell you about my own sheltering in place.  I cook or I bake.  We eat…just the two of us, but I focus on meals that I’d prepare for a group of friends or our family.  I call that, love in the time of Corona Virus!

If there was a secret to home cooking, it’s sort of a combination of bravery to try new things, understanding flavors and how they interact with one another, and a bit of creativity and lots of love.  We used to live in an region marked by majority “minority.”  That just means that there are more people of color than Caucasian people, and the term, “minority” is not one I prefer since it further minoritizes a group of people.  Anyway, the majority in the region is predominately Hispanic from Meso, Central, and Latin America.  And with them comes wonderfully delicious cuisine.  We love fish tacos made with white tilapia, a super mild tasting fish.  It does not overwhelm the other dishes.  We as the “topping,” we use a cabbage and carrot salad much like the “slaw” used for Salvadoran papoosas.   I cook about three tilapia filet in butter seasoned with salt, dehydrated lemon and lime, pepper, and a mild red chili.  When it’s cooked, I drizzle it with lemon.

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Before I cook the fish, I prepare my version of the “repollo.”

Half head of cabbage sliced thinly

1 grated carrot

Dressing: 1/4 cup (59.15 mL) sherry vinegar,  1/4 c (59.15 mL) sunflower oil, seasoned salt to taste, 1 teaspoon (2.60g) each of onion and garlic granules, salt and pepper to taste.  For most dressings, you always need a bit of sweetener, and I like to use jams, so I add 1 Tablespoon (20g) of my jalapeno or apricot jams.  Shake vigorously and add to the  combined cabbage and carrot.  Put in a lidded jar and shake to assure that each cabbage leaf gets covered generously.

Warm corn tortillas on the stove with just a little butter or oil.  They are better if they are warmed and soft rather than fried.  Frying the corn tortillas are great for beef tacos, but it tends to overwhelm the delicate fish in this case.   Make your taco by placing a serving of the fish on the corn tortilla topped with the repollo.  Sometimes, I’m not sure the pictures does the meal justice, but it was delicious!

Around holidays, I love to cook large meals for family or friends.  Obviously, with the importance of physical distancing, I knew that the grand meal would have to be for the two of us, and we would feasts on left overs for the remainder of the week.

The Easter Dinner – The Menu:

Leg of lamb, grilled flat bread, Greek salad, Tzaziki (cucumber/yogurt),  and deviled eggs with lemon-saffron panna cotta for dessert.  Now the leg of lamb cooked on a charcoal grill takes some practice, and Dale has perfected the skill over the years.  The secret is never letting the charcoals sit directly under the meat.  They must be on both edges of the grill “kettle” with a drip pan separating them.  The drip pan sits directly under the leg of lamb (or turkey if we cook that!).   I prepare the leg of lamb by rubbing it with pesto that I make up in the fall and freeze.  This time, I had three slices of bacon left in a package, so I topped the lamb with that and draped it to protect lean that was not covered in fat.

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Notice the charcoals.  Dale adds 24 already red and ashy charcoals on each side every 30 minutes for up to three hours for this seven pound (3.17 kg) leg of lamb.  We take it off when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.56 Celsius).  We let it sit for 10 minutes before we slice it.  We serve it with the Tziziki, diced cucumbers mixed with Greek style plain yogurt.  I season the Tziiziki with salt, pepper, onion and garlic granules).

The Greek salad was a simple mix of romaine, tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumbers, and green onions with a balsamic dressing mixed up by Dale. It was delicious! We served the meal with red wine from the Rijoa region of Spain.  I think we tried to touch as many cultural cuisines as we could!   It worked, and it was lovely!

Now, for the panna cotta, I took a simple box of lemon flavored box gelatin that takes one cup of boiling water and one cup of cold water.  Instead of the cold water, I used one cup of canned milk.  Once all that was mixed, I added about 8 strands of saffron, which I think is one of the most wonderful spice, ever!  The scent of saffron is only surpassed by its subtle but distinctive flavor.  It made a sublime addition to the simple gelatin dessert, which I am choosing to call, “panna cotta.”

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All this was served with great love and friendship with my spouse.  Thank you for reading!

Dense Foods and Other Interests

No matter where you are on this planet, we share similar circumstances of staying at home because of a pandemic.  I am quite fortunate to have my job as an educator at the university.  We are working at home!  I sit, perched, on a tall stool in my kitchen participating in virtual meetings and virtual teaching.  My favorite place in the house continues to be the kitchen.  This is my creative spot.  I get great vibes in my kitchen environment.  Before the pandemic, people gathered in my kitchen, though it’s quite small for someone who loves to cook.  We have lived in this house only since the previous May.  My former house had three ovens for my baking, and it had more room, but a similar kitchen space.  I have but one oven and cooking range in this house.  I am not deterred, however.  I manage to cook at least once a day, but usually two times. We will sample a few of my dishes of late but first, a digression.

Another great thing about this house is that it has magnificent windows!  I have placed bird feeders and bird baths in my back yard with great views of the birds, and my yard list is growing quickly.  My featured photo, though blurry, is a Carolina Wren that frequents the feeders and bath.  I heard a barred owl last night.  That’s a new one for me, now that I live on the east side of the 100th meridian. Now, for the food.

Yesterday morning for breakfast, we had avocado toast topped with Brisling, a.k.a. bristling,  sardines, packed in two layers.  We came upon this idea from the chef and food scientist, Alton Brown.  I’m not crazy about his method, so I changed it up a bit.

One ripe avocado serves two open faced toasts.  I use dense, seed bread, toasted.

Mash one ripe avocado.  Add salt and pepper, to taste, and mix with fresh lime juice.

Mix two tablespoons (225g) of Sherry Vinegar (I prefer that from Spain.  Not sure if it comes from any other place!) in with the sardines, being careful not to break up the tiny, delicate, nutrient-packed, North Atlantic fishes!

After you toast the bread, assemble your food.  Spread the avocado mixture on the toasted bread. Then lay the sardines side-by-side (head to tail, though there is no head!) on the bread.  It is a nutrient-dense breakfast, and you will be set for a full morning!  We had a nice cup of coffee with our toasts! Here’s the picture.

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Speaking of dense foods, here’s a cake with a dense crumb!  First, I must tell you a back story.   Back in the 1970s, when slow cookers first arrived on the kitchen scene, one of the manufacturers produced a cake pan for the slow cooker.  It makes these wonderful, little dense cakes, which work best for chocolate cakes.  I don’t think white cakes do too well, unless you’re wanting a pound cake!

I was in the right place at the right time when I received the cake pan.  At an estate sale auction, a man had given the winning bid for a kitchen and housewares lot.  He looked at the cake pan with a puzzled expression on his face.  I asked him if he knew the identity of the thing in his hand.  He said, “No!”  I told him that it was a cake pan.  He said, “Here, take it!”  The rest is history.

There is a recipe for a chocolate cake which uses mayonnaise.  That makes the perfect, dense, chocolate cake.  Usually, I cut the cake in two so that I have a two-layered cake. In baking/cooking this cake you are “flying blindly,” because you cannot look at it.  Your sense of smell will tell you when it’s done, which is usually about 2.5 to three hours with the slow cooker set on “high.”  You could likely do the same cooking process with a tin coffee can, assuming you won’t find this cake pan.

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This is the cake pan and how it fits into the slow cooker:

 

Here’s the recipe:

Butter and dust with flour one cake insert for slow cooker (or that tin coffee can), and set aside.

For the Cake:

2 cups (250g) of all-purpose wheat flour

1.5 cups (300g) white sugar

6 TBS (36g) cocoa powder

1 teaspoon (5.69g) baking soda

1 teaspoon (5.69g) salt

Mix all the dry ingredients to blend.  Then add blended wet ingredients.

1 large egg

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup (236.59 mL) hot water (not boiling).  This activates the baking soda, salt, and egg as the leavening agents.

Add vanilla to taste.  Pour the batter into your cake pan or coffee can.

Bake, covered,  in your slow cooker on high for 2-3 hours.  I usually check after 2.5 hours.

Once you take it out of the cooker, invert it on a wire rack to cool.  Slice through at the equator of the cake for a two-layer cake, and frost with your favorite cream cheese frosting.  It’s yummy!

Finally, I have to tell you about a virtual cocktail party that I had, recently, with two of my co-workers.  We had made it a practice to meet up after work on Fridays to share a drink and a snack previously.  In this new format of social distancing, we decided to have a virtual cocktail party.  I will only give their initials.  “T” was having jelly beans and a glass of Bourbon.  “M” enjoyed a shot of vodka and some fresh tamales, made by a friend.  I “went all out” and enjoyed Icelandic caviar atop a corn biscuit and sour cream.  Usually, I would have baked small corn muffins for this, but I found these wonderful little corn biscuits on sale.  I chased it with a small shot of vodka in a chilled glass.  We talked about work for a while, but mostly the conversations centered on the future of our lives with family, work, and other social and familial worries.  The important thing is to stay connected one way or another  with out meeting face-to-face with those you esteem and love.  Cheers to you!

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I think we will emerge strong from this pandemic.  Remember to distance from others, wash your hands, and don’t touch your face!  Thank you for reading.

 

Mother’s Visit

My 90 year old mother had not seen our new (to us) home since we moved to a different town, so she wanted to make the 18-hour drive to see us and arrived on Monday, March 9, 2020.  Luckily, her 82 year old husband and 70-something brother were along to do the driving. My mother makes a great drill sergeant,  so she “supervised” the trip.

They arrived the day after my friends left our house for their weekend visit.  Most interesting, also, it was when the COVID-19 stories began to surface in a serious way.  We went out to eat on the day they arrived, but after that, the university where I work and which was in spring break mode, began to think about what to do with 20-thousand-plus students.  Administration decided to extend spring break one week, and then we’d work on turning all of our classes into a virtual format.  Suffice it to say that I have been conducting meetings and teaching schedules in a virtual format called, Zoom (c).  It’s been an interesting way to do business.

My mother likes to eat, though she eats very little save sweets and starches.  The second night of her visit, I fixed grilled chicken and pesto pasta.  I’m still using the 30-plus small containers of pesto that I made last summer from a prolific basil plant.  The lovely thing is that pesto, when prepared and frozen properly, looks as green and lovely thawing from teh freezer as the day you put it in.  I simply seasoned the chicken thighs with seasoned salt and garlic powder, and grilled until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (75 degrees Celsius).  I cooked the pasta until al dente and tossed it with thawed pesto.  I sprinkled it with a little more Parmesan after I served it.  We had a added roasted Brussels sprouts and crusty bread and enjoyed it with a sparkling Cava.  My mother mostly ate the bread with lots of butter.  Last fall, Dale and I took a sparkling wine and Cava tasting class at K-State’s College of Health and Human Sciences’ Hotel and Hospitality department. It was a good lesson.

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Last December when I was home, in Western Colorado, I had noticed a perfect wasps’ nest.  I showed it to my step-father and told him all about such wasps (Bald-faced hornet, actually) being the best of architects!  Low and behold, unknown to me, he had cut it down and presented it to me as a gift.  Please understand that these hornets leave the nests in the cold of winter, but to make sure, I stuck it in the freezer for 24 hours.  Then it became a decoration.  The nest now hangs from my living room ceiling.  Look at its beauty!  The queen builds this paper nest going round and round.  While she builds the walls, she builds the comb, which will hold the workers.  It’s perfect, as many things in nature are.

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Interestingly, we discovered a yellow jacket nest in our yard.  They build underground, and they are perfect until an opossum came along and tore it out.   They like to eat the larvae.  That’s another story for another time.

Well, it was a great time with mother.  I am 63 years old, and she still feels the need to tell me that I’m cooking wrong, cleaning wrong, and she has opinions about my behavior.  She did like the variety of birds feeding at my various feeding stations, so that was entertaining.  Here’s another thing that makes mother think that perhaps I was switched at birth with her “real” daughter, because her own daughter would have better sense.  While she was visiting, I created my seasonal centerpiece.  I found the idea somewhere, but I can’t remember, but the idea is not mine.

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Dale drew the horrified faces on the little guys.  Well, as always, thank you for reading me.