Some Thoughts on Coming Home

The other day while meditating I had a glimpse of enlightenment. And what I experienced was love. Divine love. The kind of love that burns through you and leaves you humbled.

There’s a lot of talk in the spiritual community about the nature of enlightenment, and how to attain it.  We’ve all heard tales of yogis in India living in caves in a permanent state of bliss. PersonalIy, I think that enlightenment is received in momentary glimpses, and once you experience it, you will recognize it, you will not doubt it, and you will never be the same.

But how to attain it? The other day at the beach I started thinking about eternity, divinity, and oddly perhaps, seashells. The nautilus shell came to mind.  It begins life as a soft mollusk, possessing everything it needs to build itself a small, absolutely perfect chamber to live in.  You could say that in its original state, it is infused with, or maybe even is nothing but divine love. When it outgrows this chamber, it simply puts up a dividing wall and builds a larger, more suitable one, continuing to do so, unaware that it is bringing the entirety of its spirit along for the ride. Its divinity stays intact.

Maybe we, like the nautilus, carry our divinity within us. We don’t need to go to a cave in India in search of enlightenment; we just need to find a way to open to what we are made of. We need to find our way home.

“…the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
-T.S. Eliot

As always, your thoughts are invited.

Thai Sesame Tofu: The Super-Secret Recipe!

Sometimes life presents you with big questions. Quit your well-paying job for a more rewarding but less lucrative position? Go to graduate school or travel around the world while you still can? Take the Pranayama (yogic breathing) class you woke up early for and drove two hours to attend or skip it in favor of researching a recipe for a dish you just had for lunch? Let’s just say the answer to the latter lies in a second trip downstairs to the bookstore at Kripalu, again unsuccessful. (See previous post.)

At lunch later the same day I tasted the Lavender Iced Tea (previous post), I had a fabulous Asian tofu dish. I asked a friendly-looking young man who was re-stocking the salad bar if it would be possible to get the recipe.  He said he wasn’t sure, but graciously offered to find the dining room manager who “would definitely help me.” A few minutes later another young man appeared and asked with a very personable smile how he could help. I raved about the Thai Sesame Tofu dish and asked if I could get the recipe.  He told me that most of Kripalu’s recipes are printed in their cookbooks which were for sale in the bookstore downstairs.  Did I know where that was? “Yes” I replied, leaving out my previous  unsuccessful mission for the Iced Tea recipe. “I’m sure you’ll find it there”, he assured me.

Of course the recipe was not to be found in any of the Kripalu cookbooks for sale in the shop. So back I trudged upstairs to the dining room. (At least I was getting SOME exercise.) My friendly manager was not in view, the day was getting on, and it seemed the only sensible, unobtrusive thing to do was to surreptitiously snap a photo of the ingredient list from the buffet line with my iphone.

Back home, I fiddled around with the ingredients and here is what I came up with.  I substituted honey for agave and used regular, not wheat-free tamari. Bullseye!!

   Thai Sesame Tofu

  • l package firm tofu
  • 6 TBS each of: tamari, brown rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1-2 TBS white wine
  • 2 TBS chopped ginger
  • 2 TBS chopped garlic
  • 1 1/2-2 TBS honey
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Canola or other flavorless oil for greasing the pan                      
  1. Dice the tofu into approximately 1″ squares.
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl.
  3. Add the tofu and marinate for 30-60 minutes.
  4. Drain tofu and place the cubes on lightly oiled baking pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Kripalu Lavender Iced Tea: The Secret Recipe

A few weeks ago I had the best iced tea of my life.  Lavender iced tea to be exact. Sweet, cold, and refreshing, it sat unpretentiously all day in a plain stainless steel dispenser in the communal dining room at Kripalu in Lenox, MA. http://www.kripalu.org/  After three or four glasses at lunch, I skipped the afternoon yoga class for which I had registered to sneak downstairs to the gift shop to try to find the recipe in one of their cookbooks. No luck. Returning home that night with neither the recipe nor the benefit of the relaxing afternoon yoga class, I immediately logged on to my computer to search for the recipe. (I know…I’m obsessive about these things.)  Again, no luck. (Probably bad karma for skipping the yoga.)  I did, however, find a recipe for lavender honey.   Here’s how I made an awfully close version of the Kripalu tea.

LAVENDER ICED TEA

1. Make the lavender honey. Warm one cup of honey (I use local honey) in a small pot on top of the stove. Do not let boil. Add 2 TBS of dried culinary lavender buds. Let sit on very low heat for 15-30 minutes depending on how strong a lavender flavor you like. Strain out the buds.

2. Make the iced tea.  I used 5 plain black tea bags to a pitcher of boiling water. While the bags were steeping, I added a large handful of fresh mint, including the stems, and half a large lemon, squeezed and then put into the pitcher, rind and all.  When fully steeped, remove the bags, mint and lemon.

3. While the tea is still hot, and THIS IS IMPORTANT, add the lavender honey to taste.  Otherwise, the honey will sit as a solid mass in the bottom of the pitcher–a very frustrating situation from which even yoga will not save you.  Stir and let cool.

Note: Any extra lavender honey is sublime spread on warm biscuits or scones!

Image

Farewell to Friendly, A Remembrance

The Friendly Uniform 1950′s

Its decline started a long time ago, about 1989, when “Friendly Ice Cream Shops” added a seemingly innocuous “‘s” to “Friendly”, its original name.  It may seem like a little thing, but that was really the beginning of a long steady tumble downward to its current incarnation: “Friendly’s: Home of the High! Five.”

Still, it stung me hard last week when I read that Friendly’s has filed for bankruptcy and will be closing hundreds of its shops, several in the town where I grew up.

Some of my favorite, sweetest memories of time spent with my Dad are the evenings we spent together in the late ’50s and early ’60s having supper at our neighborhood Friendly.  Starting when I was a skinny, pig-tailed six year-old and continuing until my pre-teens when I became too cool to be seen with Dad, we went out about once a week to our dependable place around the corner.

The drill went like this. My mother would declare that she was too tired or too busy to cook and suggest that maybe Dad and I could go to Friendly.  We always jumped at the chance. Dad would drive us there in his never-more than-a-year-old Oldsmobile ( in accordance with his “keep up the trade-in value” policy), both of us happy to be out for the night together.

The routine was familiar, and comforting in its dependability.  With it red brick facade and  wide plate glass front windows, before you entered you had a full view of the pleasant, orderly,  even homey room inside.  We would to choose an empty booth, sit down and wait briefly for a waitress, never doubting that she would be right along to greet us with a pleasant “Good evening.” It’s hard to imagine, but in those days, the waitresses actually smiled.

Our waitress would be dressed in her clean, wrinkle-free Friendly uniform: grey short-sleeved blouse with a fancy white lace collar, a headband or hairnet to secure any stray locks of hair, and a grey skirt which would be hidden by a white half-apron tied over it.  It was hard to see the shoes from where I sat, but I imagined they were sensible white or gray ones, with laces. Silk stockings were a given.  Once in a while a stray male employee would amble over to be our server for the night.  Uniformed in a white shirt, bow tie, and white pants (see photo above), he would always look a little bit uncomfortable taking our order or serving the meal, as if maybe this was women’s work.

The first order of business after the greeting was always the same.  My dad would inquire politely, as was his way, about the soup of the day. His favorite was split pea with ham, but no matter what was on offer, he would order a cup (never a bowl.)    I would order a cup also, whether I wanted it or not, just to keep him company and to keep our order the same.

Next Dad would order our main course: “2 Big Beefs, rare please, with onion.”  In those days, the Big Beef was a square-shaped patty of what seemed to me to be the epitome of fine beef, and it was served on white toast (no choice of bread). With no corporate fear of Salmonella and resulting lawsuits,The Big Beefs would arrive thick and juicy-rare, as ordered, the blood seeping into the bottom slice of toast . The onion would be white, thick and crunchy: you knew it had been sliced fresh. (No choice of sauteed.) Pickle chips would be served on the side.  We would order a side dish of french fries for me, and when they arrived at the table, all five or six of them, you never had to ask the waitress to bring the ketchup: she would just pull the bottle of Heinz out of her handy apron pocket. I’d always offer Dad a fry or two.

This simplicity of ordering left plenty of time for Dad and I to talk.  Once in a while we would order dessert: a single or double scoop of chocolate ice cream for each of us.  Served in a small pewter-colored dish, it was just enough to be satisfying.  We never had room for a hot fudge sundae, but I used to notice that there were three flavors offered (vanilla, chocolate and of course strawberry) with hot fudge and whipped cream, both real, not “toppings”.

Contrast this with today’s “Friendly’s: Home of the High! 5″.   Now, instead of just ambling in to Friendly with a friend or two for some relaxation and fun conversation,  you are obstructed as you enter by a metal, always-unwelcome  “Welcome” sign instructing you to “Wait for Hostess to Seat You.”  Your expectant, happy gait halted, you are now forced to stand obediently and wait.  With your expectation of a relaxing time plummeting and your blood pressure rising, you survey the room searching for someone, anyone within the employ of the Home of the High! Five to seat you. Time standing still, you spot several empty booths but still no hostess . Should you sit down at one of the empty booths and disregard the sign? Just the first of the many choices, all of them unhappy, you will have to make.  Sound familiar?

After you sit down, you wait.  And wait.  Eventually, a harried, rather messy- looking sort arrives at your booth, sometimes out of breath.  If you are greeted at all, it is with the loathsome “Hi Guys!” (Can we start a national movement, maybe joining the Wall Street Protesters, against this revolting phrase?)  Should you choose the Big Beef, which now comes on a bun instead of toast, you might also choose fries: “Loaded Waffle Fries” to be exact.  In contrast to the five crispy fries of my youth, these come “topped with melted cheddar cheese sauce, bacon, and sour cream, served with delicious ranch dressing on the side”.  In other words, heart attack in a dish.  The coup de graçe comes when you are about half-way through your meal and your server appears and inquires sweetly (now that tip time is near), “all done, or are ya’ still workin’ on it?” ( Can we add this allusion to a cow chewing its cud to our list of protest subjects?)  If you are still breathing after your Loaded Waffle Fries, you may now order a “Happy Ending Sundae”.  This behemoth consists of up to 5 scoops of ice cream, and you are able to choose from a selection of “toppings” : perhaps marshmallow and/or peanut butter, finished with, you guessed it, whipped “topping”.

So farewell, Friendly, and thanks for the memories.  I won’t be patronizing “Friendly’s, the home of the “High 5! ” anytime soon.

Slow-Roasted Romas

Okay, so I got carried away with the San Marzano tomatoes at the Farmers’ Market today.  But stuck in my mind was the gorgeous photo of roasted plum tomatoes on Tea&Cookies’ recent blog post.  (If you’re not familiar with this blog, see my blog roll on the right for the link.) The smattering of dirt on these babies’ faces made them even more appealing, as if local and organic weren’t enough.  At an irresistibly low price this late in the season, I bought , let’s just say, more than several pounds’ worth.

But how to roast them?  I went back to Tea&Cookies (Tea, I love your blog!) and found her recommendation for preserving them well into the winter, when tomatoes have all the flavor and texture of a paper bag.

San Marzano tomatoes with fresh parsley

The directions are so simple that they don’t even qualify as a recipe.  Here’s what to do:

1.  Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

2. Line a large cookie sheet or tray pan with tin foil.  Slice the tomatoes length-wise . Try to keep the slices approximately the same thickness.

3. Place them cut-side up on the sheet.  Sprinkle with kosher salt.  You can also sprinkle on some herbs if you wish–I didn’t this time.

4. Roast for about 7 hours or overnight, if you’re comfortable with that. The sides should be crinkled and dry and the interiors still juicy.

About halfway done

That’s it!  I’m thinking of using them to liven up pasta this winter, with maybe a little basil or parsley thrown in along with the EVOO, salt and pepper.  Come to think of it, I ‘ll probably add some red wine vinegar to the mix.  Maybe I can use them on top of pizza crust slathered with EVOO. (Can you tell I have a bit of an EVOO addiction?)

How would you use them? Do you think they’ll freeze well? I honestly have no idea, but I’m counting on it!

Looking forward to your comments,

Heidi

Presto Pesto! (And healthy too!)

With still a huge bouquet of basil left from last Sunday’s farmers’ market, I thought of making another batch of pesto, a family favorite around here. (I have two “World Famous” recipes in my repertoire (self-proclaimed, sadly).   Pesto is one of them.  The other is my bolognese sauce, but I won’t divulge that one until at least the first bite of winter!

But having gorged all summer long on enough butter and cheese from pesto to last a lifetime (okay, maybe only until next summer), I decided to make a lighter version which is not only lower in fat, but dairy-free as well.  Best of all, it comes together in less than half the time of the usual pesto, since there is no sauteing (in butter) of pine nuts and no shredding of big cheese chunks.  Oops…I may have given away the secret of my W.F. pesto recipe…

Here’s the light version:

Ingredients:

1 cup pine nuts
1 1/2 cups EVOO
10 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried*, no stems
4-6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
salt to taste, about 1 teaspoon

Method:

1.  Preheat a small skillet over low heat.  Add pine nuts and lightly brown by shaking the pan and stirring the nuts, about 3 minutes. Be careful not to let them burn.  Set aside to cool.

2.  Add all ingredients to food processor or blender.  Puree until desired consistency, either chunky or smooth or somewhere in-between.

This recipe makes about 2 cups of pesto.  It can be stored for about 5 days in the fridge.

* A salad spinner works well to dry the leaves.