Week of Joy, Day 3: Cooking

There’s just something about the creative yet often methodical process of making good food that calms my heart and gives me joy.

First, creativity.  I am emphatically NOT a recipe follower.  With the exception of baked goods and bread (though I’m even starting to stray from the Holden Village and 5 Minutes a Day bread recipes on occasion, now that I have a feel for both) I rarely if ever even consult a recipe.  Sometimes I’ll look at a blog post from Not Eating Out in New York or The Heavy Table for inspiration, or to figure out what to do with a random left over ingredient I have lying around.  Generally though I’ll hem and haw for a moment, pick some kind of carbohydrate to start from, and go where the wind and spices take me.  It also helps that I grocery shop every week and try to have some idea of a couple of meals I want to create for the following week.  Which brings me to the joy that comes from being methodical in cooking.

Whether it is shopping or chopping, cooking has a rhythm, a pace, and a heartbeat.  Various elements combine in my cart or in my pan to make something [usually] delicious.  I know this will happen, and I often surrender to my intuition, both in purchasing where other than trying to get as many P6 items and as few packaged items as possible, and to always have enough coffee I just go with whatever looks good, and in cooking where I taste and add, smell and sprinkle.  At least for me, cooking often takes care of itself and releases often previously unnoticed tension in the bargain.

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Unfortunately I’m running astoundingly short on time today, but fortunately I have several posts about past joyful cooking adventures.  So rather than put together a new story, I direct you, joy-seeking blog readers, to:
My Tastebuds are Loving Winter
and
Scrumptious Simple Salad
(I should note with the above story that I have since heartily enjoyed asparagus, often with balsamic reduction)

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More joy in cooking is in more doing, and summer is certainly the season for it.  I hope to experiment with new spices, and particularly learn how to make spicy Asian food of various varieties that has the right balance of flavor.  And maybe some new kinds of greens as well?

I also eagerly await the cooking class at The Chef’s Gallery in Stillwater that was promised via homemade gift certificate as a wedding present from Ben’s brother and his fiance.

Lastly, I am enormously excited for the next Thursday and the first pickup of the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share that I am splitting with my dear Benjamin and my housemates.  If you don’t know about CSAs or have considered joining one but haven’t yet taken the plunge, I have two bits of advice:
1. Learn more and find an extremely extensive list of CSA’s at the Local Harvest website
2. Find a friend or two and DO IT!  You will absolutely not regret the super fresh vegetables, new friends, and [more likely than not] great volunteer opportunities.

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
~Harriet Van Horne

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Week of Joy, Day 1: Bicycling

The choice for what to write about on Day 1 of my Week of Joy was kind of a no-brainer.  What do I do every day that gets me where I need to go, provides exercise, saves money, and has connected me with a marvelous community in Minneapolis?

BICYCLING.

It would take far more than two hands to count the ways that bicycling gives me joy, but let’s begin with the sheer freedom of it.  Bicycling gets me where I want to go, when I want to go there, with minimal mechanical issues (it doesn’t hurt that I’m married to a bike-fixing-man-extraordinaire) and almost zero cost.  Bicycling allows me to see the world, both micro and macro.  Do drivers notice blue herons, quirky house details, changes in wind speed and terrain and light quality?  Maybe a bit.  The pace of bicycling, however, brings the particulars of the world into vivid clarity while also allowing travel far and wide, to new niches in the city one has inhabited for years or to distant towns and states and even countries.  Bicycling gives me joy because it opens up the world.

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I chose bicycling as my first joy largely because I had an amazing experience this past weekend at the Open Streets Cyclovia with the power of the bicycle in community building.  This event was several years in coming; bringing a Cyclovia to Minneapolis was a goal of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition for years.


Rather than experience the first Open Streets solely as a participant, I opted to volunteer.  This meant collecting surveys and raffle tickets from participants along the corridor, a task that’s ordinarily less than enjoyable because people 1.) don’t want to give out their information (though this particular survey was anonymous) or 2.) don’t want their experience to be interrupted at all.  At Open Streets, however, everyone was having such a lovely time that most were more than happy to share their happiness with friends, strangers, and survey collecting volunteers alike.  In fact, I don’t think one person refused to do the survey.  And the overwhelming response on the survey questions?

MORE.

More time.   More musicians.  More food.  More streets.  And above all, more often.  People loved taking back their street in their community, whether they were bicycling, skateboarding, walking with a stroller, or roller skating on the bumpy road.

Though the event certainly required the energy and commitment of several organizations and countless volunteers, it’s amazing that such a simple thing as recreating the commons on 22 blocks of a single street could bring hundreds if not thousands of individuals together in celebration.

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After the joyful, community building experience of Open Streets, where can I bicycle from here to increase and spread joy?
Keep volunteering.  There are many organizations and many many bicycling related events coming up (it is summer in MN after all).
Continue planning weekend mini trip to various locations just outside the metro area.  These micro vacations with Benjamin provide new landscapes, adventures, and stories galore.
Encourage friends and family to bike (without getting too preachy).  The best way is to keep doing it myself of course, and talking about the joy it brings me, but I can definitely invite friends on bike rides more often.
Read more about bicycling, both present culture and past history.  I just happened to have checked out Wheels of Change from the library mere hours ago.
Contribute more to the larger cycling community.  Write for the Grease Rag blog, perhaps?  Plan the ice cream alleycat that Ben and I have been talking about?  Actually be a part of MplsBikeLove?  The opportunities are endless.

More than anything else, keep bicycling every day, practicing presence while I do so.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
-Arthur Conan Doyle

Inspiration from friends and strangers.

With the often glorious and occasionally sauna-like ridiculous weather lately I have oft neglected the many wonderful blogs I follow through Google Reader.  However, the tidbits I have gleaned in the few blog-reading moments I have found have been great, and I find myself inspired to create, brainstorm, and dream more than ever before.

The Style Rookie is one of my very favorite blogs for a certain kind of eye candy, fashion, and decadence.  I absolutely wish I had been as fabulous as Tavi is as a freshman in high school, but alas, now I can only aspire to reconcile my adult life with the often mediocre quirkiness of my adolescence.  Tavi’s shrines are some of my favorite inspirations for creating random things- I don’t have a shrine yet, and possibly won’t ever, but collecting and repurposing random trinkets has always been a hobby of mine.

I have long had a Seven Wanders of My World post in my saved post drafts list, and hopefully will get to it soon (maybe a rainy day when exploring my present geography is not nearly as pleasant as dreaming about future expeditions?).  The Adventure Cycling blog is particularly stellar for living vicariously through bicyclists having adventures all over the country and world, and brainstorming such trips for one’s self.

In addition to following the adventures of world-wide bicyclers, I love My Hyggelig for occasional photos of places I know in the Cities and lovely prose poetry about the ordinary joys of these days we live in and so often let pass by unnoticed.  Her latest post led to dreams of my planned vacations for this summer, and to visions of the tres exciting trip Ben and I will hopefully take next autumn: bicycling the Mississippi River Trail.

Summer in Minnesota is always a strange mix of lazy days filled with sunlight, iced tea, and naps, and a frenzy of activity- music festivals, art shows, vacations, bicycling, unending visits with friends, trying to live every day as fully as possible doing and making and experiencing because you know there are only so many of them.

How do you spend your summer?

Plant friends and a surprising precursor.

Plant friends and a surprising precursor.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts (albeit briefly) that I’m becoming increasingly interested in herbalism.  Moreover, it is quite exciting to walk around and feel as though the surrounding plants are friends, or acquaintances at the very least.

Plantain, a common weed to most that grows in impacted soil pretty much everywhere, is particularly useful for cleaning out cuts and helping to remove splinters and such.  I have a clump of it taped to my foot right now in hopes that it will pull out the splinter/stone that lodged itself in my heel on Sunday.

Dandelion!  Previously thought to be even more of a pest than plantain, this plant is almost magical in its food and medicinal abilities.  The root can be roasted and ground up as a coffee substitute (I have not yet tried this because I’m somewhat particular about my coffee- dark or French roast made in a french press is my brew of choice), the leaves are edible and incredibly healthy, the flowers can be made into an oil, and I have been told and am presently testing the validity of the white sap-like substance that comes from the stem being used to get rid of warts.

And last of my new yet common friends is STINGING NETTLE (in all capitals because I decided at this moment that it should be a metal band name as well).  I’m planning to walk down by Minnehaha Creek later today to collect some nettle tops- the larger part of the plant has gotten woody by now- to steam with brown rice, tofu, and mushrooms for lunch/dinner.  Nettles have an amazing amount of protein, minerals, and all around goodness.  Plus most people unfortunately despise them for their sting, so you might be doing humanity a favor by picking them.

Apparently I shouldn’t be surprised by my recent dedication to herbalism as a calling.  Upon reading my college-era Livejournal I discovered this little tidbit, dated January 12, 2006:
“Today I spent the whole of 8th period sitting in my same spot in the Naperville North library (hiding behind one of the bookshelves) reading about herbal medicine. It is so exciting to learn about these things because I am a firm believer in using herbs as medicine rather than chemicals that have been formulated in a laboratory. Granted many of our conventional medicines come from plants initially but nothing will ever be the same as tea and poultices. So I am going to do further research and begin compiling a list. Susan and I have decided that it will be quite grand when we have our own places to live, and my most recent excitement regarding this will be my ability to grow plants in a window box. There is no light for that in my dorm and it makes me miss growing green things. Until then I will drink my peppermint tea, delight in the tingle it leaves in my throat, and gain knowledge about possibilities.”

Everything I am and everything I love has always been there, I think, some of it just takes its time to blossom.

Right Now I’m Reading: The Ragged Edge of Silence

Brain Pickings came through for me again, reviewing and recommending a marvelous book, the second written by radical walker and activist John Francis.

The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World is, in a word,  centering.  In precisely the way I’ve been looking for as of late.  Through a combination of memoir and practice sharing, John Francis tells his story of choosing silence for a birthday, a year, and eventually seventeen years of his life.

Before choosing silence, John Francis became a committed walker of the world.  After the oil spill of ’71 in San Francisco Bay, Francis committed to never driving or riding in a oil-driven vehicle again.  Despite being a year-round bicyclist and happily car-free individual, I’m not sure I’d be able to take a similar stand, more for the barrier it would put on visiting family and friends than anything else.  However, Francis shares deeply personal stories of the challenges and conversations with his loved ones after taking both the vow of oil-free transportation and, later silence.  Through his willingness to lay bare the struggles in understanding and communication that he experiences, I have found myself contemplating the possibility of some kind of similar commitment.  For now I feel my transportation choices are enough of a positive challenge- I spend quite a bit of time already advocating for a car-free lifestyle, and answering questions about why I do what I do.  Silence, however, is another story.

I am not quite a born talker (in fact, back in middle school I received a written comment from a teacher that I needed to more of a shark and less of a minnow) but have become as good as one.  Listening fully has always been a challenge for me, and particularly in these first few months and years of marriage and something resembling adulthood, I want to commit to listening deeply, truly, with my whole being.  Inspired by the practices, stories, and lessons from John Francis, I’m considering committing one day of every month to silence.  Our loved ones, strangers, and the earth itself have much to say if we can learn how to listen, and I hope that if I can find it within myself to open my ears and eyes through silence I will begin to touch the ‘ragged edge’ that Francis speaks of.

“I couldn’t help smiling at myself as I asked internally, ‘Why am I in such a hurry?’  Yes, perhaps it was ursaphobia, the fear of bears, but it felt more like being on the ragged edge, where silence and awareness come and go, where one gets lost and then is found.  It was not simply black and white; it was more like peace, real peace: alive and dynamic, a state where one can discover and explore one’s true self.”

Just in Time for the Wedding

I’m very nearly done with my hand-stitched quilt, just in time to gift it to the intended family member that I’m not going to name at present just in case they are reading this…  My quilting class is a happy memory at this point because my present-moment brain space has been thoroughly absconded by the final weeks of wedding planning.  But we were a lovely group, don’t you think?

Photo from my co-quilter’s great craft blog

I’m finding that the last week or two of planning the wedding (happening near you- if you’re in the Twin Cities- this Saturday!) have been less stressful than the month or so before that.  Maybe because we’re now past the big decision making and all that’s left is relatively simple things (at least in the decision making camp, probably not so much in the labor requirement camp) like purchasing candles, finding daisies for my hair, and making sure we have enough cupcakes for everyone.

Certain large-ish pieces have waited until the last minute, such as collecting everyone’s readings for the ceremony and, er, the final language for Benjamin and my vows.  At times I’m almost tempted to do it impromptu style, because all of the words and feeling are there, and are expressed to each other so often in our daily life.  But I suppose for the sake of our wonderful friends and family that will be in attendance it would only be fair to actually collect said words and feelings beforehand so that our declaration makes sense to someone other than Benjamin and me.

Please think sunny thoughts for this weekend!

Videos for a rainy day

I may have written before about my painfully short internet attention span, but it has reared its ugly head again today in the form of intriguing-sounding yet disconcertingly long (to my internet monkey-mind at least) videos.  However, the likelihood of actually watching them during that hour after-work-before-bed is much higher if I share them somewhere in cyberland.  Today’s lucky audience are my few and far between blog readers, so without further adieu…

The Comedy Queen that is Tina Fey

and

A Likely Depressing but Nonetheless Worthwhile Historical Look at Russian Criminals

Thanks to Brain Pickings for continually unearthing cultural gems.