Sunday, October 21, 2012

Wide Open

 I've always thought of this blog as something I essentially do for myself.  It's my therapy.  It's something that I do because I love to write and because writing helps me to sort out things that are going on in my helps me to make sense of things in a world that doesn't often make a whole lot of sense.  The last several weeks I have been neglectful of that need.  It wasn't intentional really.  There were a lot of reasons I didn't write.  Some of them are genuine and some of them are only excuses.  Nevertheless I didn't write and here I am writing now so that's where I am.  It feels good to be back here.....talking to you and trying to make sense of a lot of things that have happened over the last several weeks.  So I guess we need to catch up.
     My last post about my friend dying really is what this blog is all about.  It is about me feeling something very deeply, not knowing what to do with all of those feelings and then sitting down and processing it the way I process it and then throwing it out there for others to see.  It's a kind of cry for help.  "God this doesn't make sense to me...and I feel alone....can someone help me?"
     Usually the process of writing is enough. Sometimes I get enrichment out of the realization that my words have touched another person.  Always I feel better for having done it.  My friend did die shortly after I posted that and in a very strange way I felt as though my words were my way of making peace with his physical departure.  I was able to say things and know that he would know them as he left the physical world.  Even though I was able to say them to him while he was in the nursing home it somehow felt better to have the words part of a larger consciousness....floating out there in cyberspace where they can be connected with you and with him and with countless other strangers who have read them, are reading them now and might read them 20 years from now.  It comforted me though it did not make his death any less sad.
     I write a lot about living in the moment.  I also understand how difficult it is to do.  It is something I need to remind myself of several times a day.  I have tried many ways to try to make it easier but it turns out you just have to do it.  There is no magic potion. 
     When I am mindful and living in the moment I am always rewarded in some way.  Several weeks ago I was on Facebook in the morning before work, mindlessly looking at my newsfeed trying to figure out who I was going to be that day, what I wanted to accomplish (or not accomplish) when a photograph of a leaf appeared before me on the screen and I clicked "like" as if I was taking part in a psychological assessment.  I stopped.  I woke up, became conscious and looked again.  It was more than just a picture of a leaf.  It was a photograph of a leaf that was mostly green but was just starting to change colors to a beautiful orange red.....changing just around the edges like it was on fire.  It's not that it was the most remarkable photograph I had ever seen (though it was beautiful) it was that the person who took the photograph saw something in that leaf that he needed to capture and he  wanted to share it with someone else. 
     Suddently I was awakened.  I was no longer just looking but I felt as though I was interacting with someone.  What he was doing was exactly what I try to do with this blog.  I see something and I try to share it.  I commented on the photograph.  "It's beautiful", I wrote.  Almost instantly he responded:  "Thanks Todd!".
     So we were communicating.  I decided I needed to continue.  I sent him a message letting him know how much I had enjoyed looking at the photographs he had shared over the previous several months.  I really had but I was never really conscious enough to realize it.  He had been communicating with me all this time and I wasn't even aware of it. 
     He wrote back.  Over the course of the next several weeks we learned a lot about each other.  I learned that he had been following this blog and liked it.  (I'll be honest I am never sure anyone is reading this aside from the few people who comment on it regularly). I was so flattered.  I learned that I was communicating with him and he learned that he was communicating with me even though we had never met before and had never exchanged a single word directly.  I felt like I now knew the reason that we had connected in the first place.  I had become conscious and I was living.
     We exchanged a lot of emails and he was so kind and I felt a kinship with him very quickly.  We began talking about how this blog and his photographs would go well together.  I started to research the possibility of self-publishing a book with posts from this blog and his photographs.  Over a few weeks we made it happen. The next thing I knew I had a book in my hand with my name on the cover and my words inside.  I was a writer!
     I have spent 30 years of my life wanting to be a writer.  When I opened myself up to actually doing it it took about two and a half weeks. 
     That's not to say that there wasn't a lot of work that went into creating the book beforehand.  I had several months of posts to choose from and Bryan sent me some of the most beautiful photographs he had taken over the years.  It was, however, as though we had been collecting these things for this purpose.  Now I had to believe that the book would mean something to someone else....someone who we might never meet.  Maybe it would fall into the hands of someone and they would be attracted to the photographs and read the words and it would change the way they looked at the world.  Maybe someone would see Bryan's photographs and decide that they wanted to become a photographer. There truly was no way of knowing what the book would mean but I had no doubt in my mind that it was significant. I knew it because I allowed myself to believe it just as I had allowed myself to believe that telling Bryan that day that I liked and appreciated his photograph was important.  I was conscious of living and suddenly became alive.
     So now part of this blog is a book.  I also have a new friend.  One simple action several weeks ago has sent my life in a direction I would never have imagined before that moment.  I wonder how many other moments I may have missed in the past because I wasn't listening.  I know now that that is not important.  What is important now is that I know to listen.  So I am quiet and I am present and I listen. 
     The world really can be that simple.  Too often we don't think we deserve the things we want or we don't tell people we appreciate them because we are afraid we might get hurt. 
     Speak.  Do. Create. Be.  There honestly is nothing stopping you but yourself.  Take a step and listen to what the world is telling you. You might get hurt.  You probably won't.  There are opportunities and people out there awaiting your arrival.  You can't see them now but they are there.  Make sure you get there.  Open your eyes and listen.  That, my friends, is being alive.

Acorn Squash Cookies


 I am huge fan of cooking and baking with fresh, in-season ingredients.  They taste better, are healthier and buying them encourages your grocery store to stock more fresh produce and less imported and genetically altered fruits and vegetables. 

     So now it's Autumn and the end caps at your favorite store are filled with those hard, oddly shaped gourds and squashes.  A few years ago I thought they were either to be used for table decoration or slathered with butter, brown sugar and marshmallows and served on Thanksgiving.  This year I am challenging myself to use these seasonal oddities to create some tasty new dishes. 

     This morning I managed to create something tasty and (relatively) healthy to satisfy both my sweet tooth and my desire to use the acorn squash that I had roasted last night.  This cookie recipe uses no eggs or oil and really lets the fall flavors of the acorn squash an cinnamon shine through.  These mini-cakes are incredibly easy to make and travel well!  Take a batch to your next holiday party or eat them with a cup of tea on a chilly fall morning.  I think you'll make them again!

Roasted Acorn Squash:

Cut medium acorn squash in half through the middle of the squash.  Scoop out seeds and place squash cut side down on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake until soft inside (about 30 to 40 minutes).  Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature.  Scoop out the insides of the squash and discard the skins.  Refrigerate the squash until ready to use.

Acorn Squash Cookies:

In a small bowl combine 1/3 cup almond milk with the juice of 1/2 lemon.  Stir and let sit for a few minutes.

In a large mixing bowl combine:
1 cup roasted acorn squash
2 cups Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 tsp Baking Powder
3/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Turbinado (raw) Sugar (or you can use regular sugar if you wish)
1/2 tsp Cinnamon

Add milk mixture to dry mixture and mix until well combined.  Add in 1/2 cup raisins and mix until raisins are incorporated evenly in the batter.

Drop batter by tablespoons onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

Makes 3 dozen cookies. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Butternut Squash Hummus

I know....I know....I haven't posted in a long time!  I promise to get back to it as soon as I am able to process everything in my head and make sense of it enough to write about it. 

In the meantime I made this delicious Butternut Squash Hummus and I wanted to share the recipe! 

It's the time of year when those squash are plentiful and I am making an effort to take advantage of them this year in any way I can. 

To roast the butternut squash, first peel and then halve the squash lengthwise. Remove the seeds (you can wash these seeds and dry them in the oven like you would pumpkin seeds so don't throw them away!).  Cut the seeded and peeled squash into 1" cubes.  You can drizzle the squash with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper but I just kept it plain.  If you use olive oil you should be able to spread the squash chunks onto a baking sheet.  Since I did not, I put a sheet of parchment paper onto my baking sheet to keep the squash from sticking.

Bake the squash in a 400 degree oven until tender (probably about 20 to 30 minutes....but keep an eye on it).

You won't use all of the squash for this hummus recipe but you can use it for other recipes.  I added some to mashed potatoes, topped a salad with a few more and chopped the rest up and threw it into  my spaghetti. 

Butternut Squash Hummus

3 cups (or two cans) of Chickpeas with about 1/2 cup of the soaking liquid from the chickpeas saved
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Cup Butternut Squash, cubed
3 cloves Garlic
1/2 Tbsp Falafel Spice (I get this at the Arabian Market and you may be able to find it in a specialty store.  You can substitute Seven Spice or make your own combination of spices to your taste.  If you just really want to try this without a trip to the market substitute 1 tsp Cumin, 1 tsp Corriander and 1/2 tsp onion powder)
4 Tbsp Sesame Seeds or 2 Tbsp Tahini (I use the sesame seeds to make this fat free)

Combine all ingredients in the food processor and process until smooth.  If you need more liquid add a little bit of olive oil or (for fat free) just a bit of water to smooth it out.

I served this with brown rice I had also seasoned with falafel spice but it would be delicious with raw or roasted vegetables or on bread or crackers!

I hope you enjoy!