While one day follows the next in logical procession, there are times of transitional importance. The transition may be Solar, Lunar, Seasonal, traditional - even personal. However, all transitional times carry symbolic weight.
Transitional times can be when we, as a species, adopt freshened attitudes and resolve to make perceived or needed changes in attitudes and actions, and how we choose to approach our lives and set our worthiest goals.
The New Year is one such transition when we gather to celebrate the new and bright year to come (we hope) and when we avow to turn over new symbolic, leaves.
Perhaps we'll join a gym, start walking, organize our time more efficiently, clean closets and de-clutter. Or, write that novel we've been talking about!
In only a few days we will arrive at a symbolic transitional time in our Seasonal Year.
What resolutions will you make?
What goals will be set?
What shall we each aspire to?
What do we want to let go of...or release?
How will we work together to achieve family, group, community, national, and worldwide goals?
These are simple and profound questions we may each ask ourselves.
Shall I write down my goals and resolutions on Post-It notes and stick them in prominent places? To be seen everyday as ever present reminders (to nag, nag, nag myself?), or shall I see these notes as wee leaflets ripe with inspiration?
Will I simply resolve and affirm aloud my desires and hopes for the New Year?
Will I write on a piece of paper what I want to release then burn the paper in a personal ritual; or as part of a New Year's celebration with other participants after which we all raise a toast to the New Year?
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Here's how I approach my New Year. Each year. This usually occurs after whatever parties I attend and often in the late afternoon of New Year's Day.
First, I set aside some time to reflect upon the year just gone and evaluate what worked for me and what didn't. Each thing and event will be held for a moment in mind and looked at mentally from each angle. Most times I journal my thoughts and conclusions. And while I ask myself questions and journal the answers I'll be sipping a glass of champagne, a lit candle flickering nearby, and soft music playing while I'm comfy-cozy in front of the parlor stove.
Do I want to continue a trend, relationship, habit, responsibility that was a defining or time consuming feature of the past year? And ask, Was the time involved with these things well spent?
Or, is it time to move on, terminate, or alter how I approach these things?
If something hasn't worked could it be approached in a different or better way?
Or, should the project be scrapped altogether by creating more time for new projects?
After having looked at my past year, it's time to think about the year ahead.
I ask myself what I'd like to accomplish, improve, start over, clean out, lighten up, etc. These questions may be asked in regards to my material life as well as the mental, emotional, and spiritual components of my life.
Another question I'll ask this New Year is, How can I make more time for - or awareness of - joy, inner peace, relaxation, contemplation, and the perception of abundance?
I'll ask, How can I be more healthy, live more "green", waste less, use, less, give more, be kinder, be more tolerant, more nurturing (to self and others), and yet do so with discernment. Discernment is very important lest one become tapped out too quickly, by too many!
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The questions we ask ourselves from a mindful, thoughtful, heart-full perspective become the blueprint for a successful New Year filled with joy, gratitude, accomplished goals, satisfaction, and a perception of abundance.
I Wish each and every one a Happy, Wonderful, 2012. May all your goals, wishes, and dreams come true!
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Something as seemingly ordinary as an apple becomes extraordinary when we look at it in a new way.
One of my New Year's resolutions...an ongoing goal, really, is to become more aware of the Abundance within and surrounding my life. To perceive that Abundance in more ways. More often. Simple Abundance is, after all, one of the Cottage Lifestyle aspirations - to live simply and well. With awareness!
Perhaps, the goal is more a recognition of Abundance already present than the attainment of it. Abundance is not monetary wealth, per se, because whether one is rich or poor (that, too, can be a perception!) is not the defining factor of whether or not one has Abundance.
True Abundance comes from the moment-by-moment recognition that we are immersed and surrounded by natural Abundance that manifests simply and humbly. Abundance that awaits patiently our acknowledgement.
Appreciating Abundance is the simple realization that the Creator's riches, untold, surround us, enfold us, and enrich us continually. Ceaselessly. We only need to take a moment to become aware that we are constantly embraced in Simple Abundance. Divine Abundance. Limitless Abundance.
This Glorious Abundance cannot be purchased. Only recognized. It exists as small beauties, simple pleasures, and wee, needful things, but is only present to us...if...we pause to recognize and acknowledge its presence.
Abundance awareness, an oh-so-simple practice really, is so easy to do most of us disregard it completely. Most of the time. So I've decided that this year I'm going to strive to recognize the myriad "abundances" that permeate my life in small, but profound ways.
I plan on sharing (have already shared) some of my Abundance discoveries through my blog. Readers will find at the bottom of many of the recent-past, and current, as well as upcoming posts my simple perceptions of Abundance. Usually, there will be one simple observation of Abundance per most of the postings.
There is a two-fold plan here. One is to make myself more aware of the unassuming wonder and beauty in my own life. The other is to share these recognitions so that all of us may begin to acknowledge the vast reservoir of Abundance surrounding each of us daily.
It seems practical, that in a world presently experiencing the lack of - and the fear generated by - the seeming scarcity of money, that the mindful practice of opening ourselves to Simple Abundance is, well, quite simply, a good coping mechanism.
After practicing my goal for only a couple of days, new found Abundance has entered my life! I feeeel, well...richer, enriched...bountiful! More open to opportunity and possibility.
I know that practicing Gratitude opens the gates to an influx of riches of all kinds. I suspect the recognition of Simple Abundance works on a similar principle. Try it and see. This is something we can accomplish together. It can't hurt, and more likely than not, it will help!
In addition to the other things I did with (to?) the large French pumpkin, I made some soup, Curried Pumpkin Soup. You could use butternut or buttercup squash, too, as both of these have similar textures and flavors to the pumpkin I used in this recipe.
In this recipe I use an Onion Mixture, a "condiment" sauce, that I adapted from Indian cuisine. It is used traditionally in dishes featuring potatoes or cauliflower. The mixture is usually "sizzled" in hot oil or ghee to bring out its flavors before adding the vegetables.
Here, it adds a bit of exotic flair and spiciness to a creamy, curried soup that has a couple of "nutty" secrets!
I think squash marries well with nuts. And, I used a small amount of peanut butter to give the soup a slight Thai twist, and homemade almond milk to "cream" the soup. If you use store bought almond milk be sure it's not too sweet. Much of the almond milk available in markets is too sweet for use in cooking and one of the reasons (it's also cheaper to make my own) I make mine at home (I'll share the recipe at the bottom of this post).
1/2 onion, chopped
1-1/2 tomatoes, or the equivalent of canned tomatoes
1/2-inch of peeled, chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves of minced garlic
1-1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
Blend until smooth and thick. Left over Onion Mixture may be used as a simmering sauce for flavoring pre-cooked veggies and beans. The sauce may also be added to bean and rice dishes to flavor them, too.
Curried Pumpkin Soup (serves 2 or 3 and may be increased to serve more)
1/4 cup Onion Mixture
1 TBS olive oil
1 tsp ghee or butter (or vegan alternative)
1-1/2 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin or Winter squash
1 cup water or vegetable broth
1-1/2 to 1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp curry powder
1 TBS peanut butter
1/8 tsp cayenne powder (optional)
1/3 to 1/2 cup unsweetened, unflavored almond milk (or any kind of milk you like)
Heat oil and ghee, or butter (or vegan alternative) in a medium sauce pan.
Add onion mixture and allow to sizzle for a minute or two (although it smells wonderful, don't breathe the cooking fumes!). Add the squash and broth, stirring, and bring to a simmer (okay, you can breathe now!).
In a bowl that holds about one cup of liquid, add the peanut butter and about 1/4 cup heated squash/broth mixture. Incorporate the peanut butter and the squash mixture, mixing until smooth.
Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Add the milk and stir in.
Serve the soup garnished with chopped peanuts, cilantro leaves, a dollop of plain yogurt, as desired.
The recipe for almond milk is one I adapted from a wonderful book on making nut and seed milks by Candia Lea Cole, called Not Milk...Nut Milks! (Woodbridge Press, Santa Barbara, CA: 1990)
Homemade Almond Milk (makes about one quart)
1/3 cup of blanched, slivered almonds, ground to a meal
1 TBS flax seeds ground to a meal
1 tsp lecithin granules (an emulsifier)
1 TBS honey or agave syrup (the original recipe called for 2 TBS honey or rice syrup but I like it less sweet for use in cooking)
1/8 tsp almond or vanilla extract
3 to 3-3/4 cups warm water
Add 3/4 cup of the water to a blender. Add the ground almonds and flax seed, the lecithin, sweetener, and extract. Blend this mixture until smooth. With the blender running slowly add the rest of the water.
Strain the mixture through a handheld sieve. Then I strain it again through a finer, smaller handheld sieve. There will still be a bit of nut/seed meal sediment that settles out at the bottom. This can either be stirred in before pouring the milk or the milk may simply be poured off of it.
The sediment I strain out is saved in a container in the freezer and when the container is full I use the almond/flax sediment to make a nut loaf in the style of meatloaf. It tastes very much the same and is quite yummy. I'll save that recipe for another post (also, I still have to save enough of the almond/flax meal first) as there are enough recipes in this post already!
Use less water (about 3 cups total) if you want a creamier milk, such as one used to cream soups. Use the full 3-3/4 cups water if you want milk for drinking, using on cereals, or using as a "whole milk" substitute in recipes.
The milk will keep in the fridge for about a week.
Abundance is...a very, large French pumpkin. It is a beautiful and very visible sign that God loves us and wants us to be nourished with every good thing!
Appetizers aren't just for parties. Why not appetizers for dinner? As dinner?
When I want to treat myself to an appetizer dinner I'll break out a variety of home canned pickles - sliced, spiced fennel bulbs, spicy Jerusalem artichokes, savory bread and butter pickles, piquant dilled green tomatoes or green beans - make some deviled eggs, and whip up a batch of these vegetarian Stuffed Mushrooms!
Add a glass of red wine or champagne (especially champagne!) and I've got a personal celebration going with minimal work involved. And, I've solved the "what-to-have-for-dinner" question!
The following recipe makes about 12 medium-size stuffed mushrooms. The recipe can be cut in half, or quartered (like when I make some just for me), or doubled, tripled, etc., for parties. If there's any filling left it can be refrigerated for several days and used to stuff additional mushrooms in the days ahead.
Keeping a bit of the prepared mushroom filling on hand and cleaned, de-stemmed mushrooms means a quick, effortless, and hot, tasty snack for when unexpected guests drop in.
Add glasses or red, or chilled white wine, some thinly sliced cheese and fruit, marinated olives, or pickles, and a filling mini-meal will make everyone feel right at home.
Stuffed Mushrooms make a nice appetizer-addition to upcoming New Year's Eve celebrations, too!
12 medium-size mushrooms, cleaned with stems removed and reserved
1 TBS olive oil, plus additional for drizzling prior to baking
1 TBS onion or shallot, minced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4-cup soft bread crumbs
1 TBS ground (or finely chopped) walnuts
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves (or 1-tsp, fresh)
Salt & pepper, to taste
1 - 2 TBS grated Parmesan (or Asiago, Swiss, Blue, Gorgonzola, or Feta work too, and change the flavor), optional
Mince the reserved mushroom stems. In a skillet, heat the oil and saute the mushroom stems, onion or shallot, and garlic until tender.
Add the bread crumbs, nuts, salt, pepper, and thyme.
Cool slightly. Stir in the cheese.
Stuff the mushrooms caps with the mixture and place them on a lightly oiled baking pan. Drizzle the mushrooms with a bit of olive oil. You may bake them in a preheated oven at 400-degrees for about 12 minutes.
I bake the Stuffed Mushrooms in my small counter top toaster oven at 400-degrees for 15 to 18 minutes and don't need to preheat it due to its much smaller size. For a vegan appetizer omit the cheese. Minced briny olives, such as Calamata, make a nice substitute for the cheese.
This past Summer I grew several types of Winter squash including the French "Cinderella" pumpkins (Rouge Vif d' Etampes). The French pumpkins are large and flatish.
Very deep orange in color when fully ripe, these "pumpkin-squash" make for great eating. They are more like a large Winter squash in flavor and texture. And, are much tastier, with a more refined flesh, than the field pumpkins typically found around Halloween. French pumpkins are easier to carve and de-seed, too, as they don't have the long slimy strings of field pumpkins.
The long vines produced several big pumpkins and a few smaller ones. After last Autumn's frost that killed all the squash vines, I let stems and flesh of all the squashes harden in the field before harvesting them. The squashes were then stored in baskets in the pantry for eating all Winter long.
Except the French pumpkins. They're too big for the baskets, so they were stored on sheets of newspaper directly on the pantry floor. Like most Winter squashes and pumpkins they will keep nearly all Winter in a cool pantry or cellar.
Yesterday, I hove one of these rather large "fruits of the vine" out of the pantry and onto the kitchen counter.
Hmmmm. What to do with it?
One doesn't have to grow too many "Frenchies" to have nutritious, delicious, squash dishes all Winter. Only a few of these beauties will feed you into Spring.
This pumpkin will become the basis for many meals. It will be carved into workable slices, de-seeded, and peeled. Some slices will be baked to bring out their nutty, mellow flavor, then mashed and frozen in quart bags for a variety of "cream of squash" soups, muffins, breads, scones, and pies.
Other slices will be diced and blanched, then dehydrated for storage in my pantry. Dehydrated pumpkin may be re-hydrated and added to roasted vegetable medleys. When added to soups, dried pumpkin will rehydrate as the soup cooks.
Fresh pumpkin may be roasted, skin on, and eaten with a bit of butter, salt and pepper. Simple but sublime! It can be diced along with potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips, and Jerusalem artichokes - or whatever root veggies you have - and placed in a baking dish, drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, and sage and baked, uncovered, at 425-degrees (stirring every 20 minutes) for about an hour. The aroma of the roasting vegetables is mouth-watering! Serve the roast veggies as a savory side dish, or, do as I like to do and use them as a main dish served along with a dinner salad.
I'll bake some of the big pumpkin for mashing and freezing. It can be baked with the skin on. The moist, soft flesh is easily scraped off the skin after baking and cooling. Or, it can be peeled prior to baking.
To bake, simply add a bit of water (to a depth of about half an inch) to the baking dish so the slices don't stick. Water will also keep the flesh from drying out. You can "tent" the baking dish with a bit of foil to keep the flesh from browning on the edges and the water from evaporating too quickly.
These slices will be baked, unpeeled, with a bit of water in the pan, to yield soft, creamy flesh for freezing. Upon thawing you have the basis for pies, bread, muffins, scones, and soups! The seeds will be washed, tossed with seasonings, and roasted for snacks and garnishes.
To dehydrate pumpkin I peel the slices and dice them in 3/4- to 1-inch pieces. Then they are steam-blanched for three minutes before being placed in the dehydrator. The pieces take about six to eight hours to dry completely.
Dehydrating foods allows me to store more food in less space. Studies show that vitamins and mineral content are not significantly reduced by dehydrating. Taste and color are maintained or intensified, too, when rehydrated for use in recipes.
You could do any of the above things with Halloween pumpkins or all the yummy varieties of Winter squash. And I do too. But today was the large, French pumpkin's turn!
These days many chefs are experimenting with dehydrated foods. Both fresh and dehydrated foods are used together in a recipe in order to enhance the mouth feel of a dish and to layer flavors.
Cinderella pumpkins belong to the Curcurbita maxima family of squash. All pumpkins are actually just varieties of Winter squash. The C. maxima family includes a lot of various varieties of squash, along with banana, buttercup, hubbard, and turban. And Cinderellas will interbreed with these and all other types of C. maxima.
Cinderella pumpkins can, however, be planted with butternut and acorn squash - C. moschata and C. pepo, respectively, as none of the three will interbreed because they are from separate species within the Curcurbita family.
In the next couple of posts will be recipes for Curried Pumpkin Soup and a Pumpkin Seed Snack!
Abundance is a spot - large or small, flat or vertical - to grow something!
In ancients times our ancestors watched the sky and wondered...
They noticed Solar and Lunar events and knit them into their lives, rituals, and traditions. They observed how what occurred in the heavens meshed with seasonal changes indicating the best times to plant or hunt. They noted the comings and goings of planets, the lengthening and shortening of daylight and nighttime hours.
And, realized that the longest night of the year, occurred in Winter just before daylight hours began to lengthen on the road to Summer. The ancients celebrated this transitional time as "Yuletide" in European and Scandinavian traditions.
In all regions, worldwide, people were aware of these celestial cycles. From serpent-shadows moving down South American pyramids to rock art around the world, people have marked these transitional times, watched the sky, plotted Sun and Moon, and wondered...
The Winter Solstice marks the Solar return - when Earth's eliptical orbit begins to bring us closer to the Sun - and longer nighttime hours give way to gradually lengthening and warming days.
Although unseen, life begins to stir beneath soil, snow and ice. Roots start to unfurl, seeds and bulbs plump with moisture and send forth tentative rootlets. Stalks and stems begin to search for the soil surface whence they will - months hence - emerge into the warmth of a new day when conditions are just right.
But not yet. Longer periods of daylight are only just now beginning to grow by a few minutes each day. There are yet many weeks and months of cold and snow and rain before Springtime.
Still, daylight is expanding. Increasing minute by precious minute.
Nearly all religious and spiritual traditions have rituals and symbols of Light. The birth of the Sacred Child, candlelight, bonfires - Light in all its forms blesses our Holiday Season, its rituals and traditions.
At the time of the Winter Solstice (this year it comes on Wednesday, December 21st, as does the first day of Hanukkah, and additionally marks St. Thomas Day), I contemplate the idea that not only is the light of the Sun increasing in wee, measured increments, but that the Light, Life, and Love of the Son is expanding inward illuminating my "within" places as it reaches out to each and every one of us, blessing us all equally, making ever more radiant our collective human Souls.
While the run up to Christmas and the traditional Holiday Season on through to the New Year can be busy with visiting, shopping, decorating, travel, etc. Let us not forget to set aside time to reconnect to the meaning behind our outward traditions.
The Winter Solstice is the return of Sunlight to our physical world. As such it can act as a reminder to open, also, to the sacred Light that we celebrate on and around Christmastime.
Let us all try to take a few moments to pause, to remember, to read the sacred words, and to reaffirm our connection to Something Greater, to that Light which also dwells in some measure within each of us.
Perhaps, to find time to light a candle with depth of purpose and bring literally and symbolically our own inner Light into the world and unite it with that of others to make this Holiday Season - and the year to come - times of Peace, Joy, Wonder, and Hope. For all.
Let us each and every one do our part in bringing forth in thought and action the birth of the Sacred Child through awareness and recognition that we too hold within our secret places a part of this Greater Light.
The Winter Solstice is Nature's celebration of the return of the outward light. Let us in turn use this time to become aware of the Inner Light at this Blessed, most Sacred time of year.
Following are a few tips to chase away the stress and anxiety that threaten to overwhelm during the Holidays.
1. Breathe! Sounds simple. Taking time out for a few deep breaths is a simple way to relieve stress. When feeling pushed or anxious, we tend to take shallow breaths which can lead to headaches, irritability, and feelings of exhaustion.
2. Do only one thing at a time. And focus your mind on just that one thing. Trying to do too many things at once, or, doing one thing while thinking about all the other things that need doing is sure to increase anxiety.
3. Delegate. Even if it won't be done by someone else the way you would do it, it will get done. If need be, offer the "delegatee" some guidelines, then release your attachment to the outcome. There is blessed freedom in releasing. Then, breathe a sigh of relief and scratch one more item off your to-do list.
4. Get up early. Arise before everyone else. Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and go sit and enjoy the peace and calm of a still-quite house. During the Holidays I like to rise while it's still dark, turn on the Christmas lights and just sit in the quiet and the calm. When my nephew still lived with me I'd often rise early before the preparing-for-school rush to simply be still for a little while. And think. Private early-morning moments may be spent journaling, praying, planning, contemplating, or just quietly sitting, sipping, and being still in mind and body. Or, stay up late after everyone else has gone to bed. These quiet times are restorative. You and your mate may enjoy spending early morning or late night quiet times together in quiet conversation or simply lost in your own thoughts in shared space.
5. Journaling. Writing out what is bothersome or negative in your life helps work through issues before they take root and bear their sour fruits of stress and anxiety. You can journal in blank books or on the computer. Keep, or destroy the pages you've written (or delete them if using a computer) if your private musing are not intended for the eyes of others.
6. Practice gratitude. Taking time to acknowledge the goodness in your life reduces stress and brings a sense of balance. Gratitude reduces the cycle of self-involvement and allows us to realize the good things we enjoy while making the "bad" things seem less powerful. I believe that the practice of gratitude opens the door to abundant blessings and Divine Grace.
7. Exercise. The Holiday Season may demand that you cut back on your exercise program. But don't eliminate it all together. Exercise reduces stress. Taking a short walk or engaging in some slow stretching exercises will defuse stress and increase oxygenation to tissues, thereby increasing energy.
8. Reward yourself. In nurturing others we sometimes forget to nurture ourselves. The "reward" doesn't have to be expensive, big, or too time consuming. When I worked (I am now a happy retiree!), there would be stressful, difficult days. I would tell myself, "When this day is done, I'm going to go home and take a long, bubble-filled soak in the tub". I'd tell myself that I'd do for me whatever sounded good or needful at the time. Then, I'd go home and do it! Always keep your promises to yourself! A restorative cup of tea, a glass of wine on the patio, a nap, a bath - whatever will comfort and restore your senses is a simple way to take a huge bite out of stress.
9. Pray or meditate. Ask for Divine help if you need it. Or want it. It doesn't matter if your need is large or small. Simply ask for what you need in any given moment. No request is too small, insignificant...or undeserving of Divine attention. Sometimes when I can't formulate the needed words, this simple prayer is enough, "All things shall be well. And all things shall be well. And...all things shall be well." I believe this simple prayer is attributed to St. Teresa of Avila.
10. Above all, enjoy the Holidays. Whatever your Holiday or spiritual traditions plan to enjoy them. Savor the special food-traditions unique to your culture, heritage, or religion. Relish each and every aspect of your Holidays. Absorb them and their special moments for yourself and with others. Amid the shopping and going and doing, allow for blessed islands of peace and calm. After all, most Holiday traditions include some recognition of peace. Peace on Earth. Peace between species. And Goodwill toward all.
May each of you enjoy and reclaim the Peace and Goodwill of this Blessed Holiday Season!