Inspiration

“Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into.” ~Henry Beecher

Monday, August 31, 2009

Divinity in Nature

After two cool, rainy days, the sun finally broke yesterday and I went for a hike. My intention was to get in a good, strenuous workout by briskly maneuvering my way through some of the hilly trails in the area. So I set out from home with my hiking shoes, my water bottle, and my camera towards East Rock Park. When I reached the base of the park, I noticed some flowers growing wild along the road, so I stopped to admire them. They were small and looked a bit like dandelions, but with a much more vibrant yellow color. Close by were different flowers, so I walked over to enjoy them as well. Small, daisy-like blossoms with either a red or yellowish center. When I finally looked up, instead of heading for the hill, I chose another nearby path where I could climb down to the water. Yet another type of flower was growing along the shore and found at the base of some trees was a bushy, green moss that felt like a comfortable carpet. I stopped to look at lily pads sunbathing just below the surface of the water, an inchworm dangling in front of me, acorns that had fallen to the ground, ferns and trees whose limbs had grown into elaborate braids or had spiraled upwards around the trunk of another tree.

My brisk hike never actually happened because I spent almost two hours staring at the beauty around me in the wild. In fact, when I stopped and really looked, it was as if I was seeing so many things for the first time and I was fascinated and inspired. For example, have you ever really looked at the plant below?



I never had until today, but what I saw was remarkable. Clusters of tiny eggs that looked like they had just burst open their pods were perfectly spaced and oriented, displaying a distinct pattern along the length of the green stem that gradually altered their length and distance from one another to form an elegant taper as they reached the tip. There is a method to this level of perfection and scientists are working to understand just how these type of patterns form, not just in plants but in other organisms such as flies, worms and mice, to better understand the developmental process. The complexity of these processes is nothing short of a miracle. Their blueprint lies dormant in a seed until it’s given the signal to create this magnificent work of art on nature’s canvas. This is just one example of the beauty I saw today and I've posted more here.

Although we can’t take the credit for these gifts, it’s wonderful that such beauty can be replicated as the pattern on my summer dress, or decorate an accent pillow on the sofa or be the inspiration for the shape of a vase or lampshade. Mother nature (whatever that divine force is) is responsible for the miracles we are fortunate enough to see if we just take the time to look. We should be so grateful that they’re here for us to enjoy. I returned home from my walk peaceful and content and realized that sometimes we discover the greatest treasures when we veer off the road, take the wrong path, or stop in our tracks. Treasures that may even enrich the remainder of our journey.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Warming the Soul

When the weather here suddenly went from hot and humid to cool, damp and rainy, I decided to substitute my asparagus frittata for a hot asparagus soup. There's nothing I love more when it's cold than hot soup to warm my body and soul and this one does it in a way that is also nutritious. Many of the recipes I’ve come across use butter and either cream or milk, but I experimented without the dairy and the result was a light and surprisingly flavorful, creamy soup with only a few simple ingredients:



Creamy Asparagus Soup

1 medium onion, chopped;

1 pound fresh asparagus, washed and woody ends removed;

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped into ½ inch cubes;

4 – 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth, simmering

fresh ground pepper and coarse salt to taste


In a medium, heavy saucepan, sautee onions over medium heat until translucent. Meanwhile, chop asparagus stalks into 1-inch segments, setting aside the tips. Add all but the tips to the pot of onions and continue to cook for another three to five minutes. Add chopped sweet potato and pepper, stir well, and cook a few minutes more. Slowly add enough simmering broth to a height one to two inches above vegetables (~four to five cups). Raise heat, bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium and cook uncovered until sweet potato is soft. Remove from heat and stir to cool slightly. Very carefully add mixture to blender and blend until smooth. Pour back into pot, add reserved asparagus tips and simmer for five minutes. Season with additional pepper and/or salt to taste. Makes 2 – 3 servings.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A High Energy, Protein Smoothie

This time of year I tend to have more smoothies for breakfast because they’re quick, cool, versatile and because the produce is so abundant. One that I‘ve really come to love this past summer is a hearty protein shake that is very satisfying after a strenuous workout or when I want something to keep me going for several hours. I’ve made several variations of this, depending on what fruit I have on hand, but the basics are the same:

1 cup nonfat milk (Can substitute any type, for example nut milk if you don’t do dairy. I’ve even made it with coconut water.)

½ cup plain or vanilla yogurt (I use my own, unsweetened nonfat);

2-4 Tbsp protein powder (I use hemp – it’s a complete protein source with EFA’s and fiber);

½ frozen banana (peel and wrap or place in airtight container before freezing);

1 handful of frozen blueberries (this time of year, I wash and freeze my own);

¼ avocado or 1 Tbsp sunflower seed or almond butter;

1 Tbsp natural sweetener (I normally use Grade B maple syrup but can also use honey or agave nectar);

1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)

½ Tbsp “green” powder (optional, spirulina, wheat grass, or whatever you like to use)


Add all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Add more milk, water, or ice if the consistency is too thick. To further “green” this, I occasionally added several lettuce leaves. This smoothie is a good source of protein, carbs, fiber, vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C, D, Ca, Mg, iron as well as healthy fats from the hemp and avocado or nut butters. And it’s always good for satisfying a chocolate craving! Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Joy Blooms


Monday night, I went to listen to The Joy Blooms at The Space in Hamden, CT. It was my first time at The Space, a venue whose mission is “to build a safe and positive community for people of all ages through music and the arts.” They house an eclectic d├ęcor and even have a vintage boutique upstairs where you can find everything from old LPs, clothing and jewelry.

The Joy Blooms are a local band started by Adam Christoferson, a young and talented poet, songwriter and performer who gets his inspiration from within and who shares his joy and happiness through his songs. He also works with children in a psychiatric hospital and teaches them to use music as a form of self- expression. You can see and hear some of the band’s music and meet Adam and Brendan Page, who plays the mandolin in the band, in the video below. You’ll also learn about the origin of the band’s name. Adam’s Dad Paul, who is a Vietnam Veteran, began making colorful flowers from pinecones and calls them Joy Blooms because of the joy they bring to others and to himself as an artist. You can find him at the band’s performances selling his flowers.

It’s always a breath of fresh air to meet people who want to spread light and happiness throughout our World today and The Joy Blooms are doing just that. You can learn more about Adam and The Joy Blooms at his website.

Friday, August 21, 2009

There are Angels Among Us

I’ve been on vacation in Southern Maine all week, visiting family that I haven’t seen in a few years. The other day, my Aunt Terry shared a story with me and my Mom about how she walked into a consignment shop called Heart’s Desire, in Saco, ME and asked the owner if she needed help. She explained that she didn’t want to get paid. She adores the shop and wanted to simply come in and help. At the time, the owner of the Heart’s Desire, Barbara, was facing challenges and was thinking of closing down. She saw my Aunt’s request as a sign that she should stay open. Please hear what they have to say below:


My Aunt helps out at the shop because she likes Barbara and her shop and because she enjoys the work. Barbara sees my Aunt as an angel with wings. I believe there are stories like these unfolding all around us on a daily basis - angels that are quietly blessing our lives with their acts of humanity. We just don’t hear enough about them. And I believe we should…

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sunrise Over the Ocean

I’ve spent the last several days in Southern Maine at Old Orchard Beach. As a kid, I would visit here every summer with my family. We would spend a week swimming in the ocean, playing in the sand and eating seafood. I hadn’t been here in seven or eight years and had forgotten all about the beauty of this shoreline. The sand is smooth and the water is clean and low tide goes on forever.

Although I don’t spend time sunbathing, I still love to be out here and as I’ve gotten older, one of my favorite times to come is early in the morning. So all this week, I’ve been on the sand before sunrise. The beach has been mostly empty and I’ve sat quietly, listening to the waves crash and the seagulls. It has also been a perfect time to meditate and journal.



But the best thing, by far, about these mornings has been watching the sunrise over the ocean. It first appears as a dim slice of red/pink that grows into a bright pink glowing ball that looks surreal against the gray sky. As it rises, it casts a brilliant streak of pink across the sand, then soon after, another streak appears behind it that reflects along the surface of the water. Within minutes, the pink orb is replaced by bright yellow light and the sun that we see throughout the day continues its ascent. You can watch this on video here:

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be with the sunrise here one last time before heading home. No doubt I am grateful to be in the presence of something so spectacular, beautiful and miraculous. This week, it’s been the best part of my days…

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sprouting Seeds

Michael Pollan said it so well when he summed up his book In Defense of Food: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. I believe it really is that simple. I think by now, most people would agree that plant-derived foods should play a leading role in our meals. They are for the most part, easily digestible and act as a huge source of soluble and insoluble fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats and proteins and beneficial enzymes when eaten raw. Vegetables are usually the main focus of my meals, particularly this time of year when the fresh vegetables are plentiful and local.

But one way to get the benefits of plants all year round is by sprouting seeds. In the past, I had frequently purchased sprouts (alfalfa, broccoli, pea shoots), until several years ago, my daughter turned me onto to seed sprouting at home. It is a simple process that requires a few basic tools:

- seeds of choice,

- a glass jar

- a porous cover (screen, cheesecloth, or piece of stocking)

- a rubber band

- clean water and

- a warm, sunny window.

Alfalfa sprouts are abundant in nutrients and have a number of vitamins, particularly C and K, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids.*

I demonstrate the sprouting process using alfalfa seeds in the following video and describe it below.

1. Fill bottom of jar with a thin layer of seeds.

2. Add water to jar to reach ½ to ¾ full.

3. Place cover over mouth of jar. Secure with a rubberband or if using a mason jar, screw on outer lid without the insert.

4. Soak seeds for several hours or overnight.

5. Drain jar by slowly pouring water out.

6. Refill jar with water to give seeds another quick rinse.

7. Drain slowly, allowing seeds to adhere to sides of jar.

8. Prop inverted jar at ~45 degree slope into a bowl to catch drips.

9. Place in a sunny, warm window.

10. Rinse seeds twice per day with cool, clean water.

By day four or five, sprouts should have expanded to fill the jar and should be a nice green color as they are now producing chlorophyll. Remove sprouts from jar. Soak them in lots of water to remove the unsprouted seeds or residual seed coats, then allow them to drain. They can then be stored in the refrigerator for a few days. I’ve eaten them in salads or on sandwiches or added them to soups (in fact, Dr. Weil suggests that they should be cooked due to the presence of canavanine).

*Like many legumes, alfalfa sprouts also contain phytoestrogens, however, whether or not this is a good thing is still unclear to me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tomato Season

This is the best time of the year for local produce in my area and I take full advantage of it. Berries that were picked hours ago burst with flavor, freshness and greater nutritional value than those that have been traveling for a week. The same with tomatoes. Nothing tastes like a vine-ripened garden tomato, in season, and I use them as much as I can while they’re around. One of my favorite dishes during this often hot and humid time of year is gazpacho. Although traditionally a tomato-based, cold soup, I’ve come across many variations that center around other fruits and even avocados. And since I’m a huge fan of tomatoes and avocados, the other day, I decided to create a gazpacho that kept its roots in tradition, but then took on the characteristics of a guacamole; inspired by recipes in Vegetarian Times Magazine. Here’s the soup below and a video if you’d like to see what it looks like:


Tomato-Avocado Gazpacho

The following will make ~2 batches in a blender:

5-6 roma tomatoes or enough of another variety to equal ~3 cups, chopped

2 peeled and seeded cucumbers

1 large bell pepper, preferably red, yellow, or orange

1 large red onion

3-4 cloves garlic

4T chopped cilantro leaves

4T fresh lime juice

1 cup tomato juice

2t cumin or to taste

2t sea salt

2-4 ripe avocados

Chop the tomatoes, cucumbers and bell pepper and one or two avocados into uniform sized pieces, ~one half to three quarter inch. Slice and chop red onion and coarsely chop garlic. Place half of everything above except the avocado into a blender and blend briefly, stopping and stirring with a spoon if necessary to allow the mixture to fully blend. The consistency of the soup should be a thick and the vegetables should be visibly minced. Add one half or one of the chopped avocados to the blender and blend for a couple of seconds only. Transfer the soup to a glass or ceramic container and refrigerate at least two hours. To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped avocado, cilantro and plain yogurt. Drizzle with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil if desired.

This is quick, refreshing, tasty and brimming with fiber and nutrients, including heart healthy omega-3 from the avocado. Hope you enjoy!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Community and Relationships

So many of us work on our inner selves because this is where true happiness and love reside. We read books on personal growth and learn to meditate, care for our health, recite positive affirmations, reflect, set goals, face our fears and learn to embrace failure. But we don’t live in vacuums, we are sharing the planet Earth with ~6 billion people. And a significant level of our growth arises from the influence these tools and exercises have on our relationships with others that then challenge us, teach us and allow us to evaluate our progress. It’s so much the events in our lives with people that catalyze our rate of growth. The plus side of this is that when we strengthen our relationships with each other, we create synergy and can all expand in positive ways.

Last weekend at the City Seed Farmer’s Market, I interviewed some members of this community, Nate and Joanna Price - owners of Nate’s Naturals. Nate has been making granola for almost twenty years and last year he and his wife Jo launched their business around it.

Their pride and love for their granola is exhibited in their enthusiasm at the market and in their product and they declare on their website that they’re “learning how to make a business out of doing something that we love”. I’m a huge fan of granola and theirs is one of the best I’ve ever had. But what impressed me even more with Nate and Jo was that this endeavor has become more about relationships with the local community than about making money. While in the past they were supporters of the local, whole foods movement, they are now active participants at the local farmer's markets and even purchase some of their ingredients like maple syrup and honey from local vendors. They are supporting the local community as their own business grows. This is what it’s all about. Whether in business or life in general, we grow when we are helping others to grow and collectively generate a strong foundation of support greater than any individual alone could ever create or maintain. Thank goodness for people who love to do what they do and thank goodness we’re here together. : )

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Creativity

We are all unique and our differences go far beyond the color of our hair or eyes or skin. We each have particular food preferences, tastes in music, art, movies and books, special talents and/or hobbies and fashion preferences. These are just a few of the components of our lives that help to characterize us as individuals. Our tastes are often a reflection of how we see the World and are intimately linked to our past experiences. And everything we absorb through our senses shapes our impressions. This is why no two people who witness a particular event will have the same reaction to it and also why our perceptions are in a constant state of flux. Our unique characters are something that we each should be grateful for - that we should celebrate, nurture and develop. Instead of working so hard to “fit in” we should have the courage to “stand out from the crowd, let our creative juices flow and shine because when we present our special gifts to the World, we live authentically, through our spirits and we give others permission to do the same. In fact, the World would be a far richer place if we all lived our lives in this way.



I’ve posted a video interview of a friend of mine, Don Schwartz. He’s used his creative talents and innovation to make some very cool pieces of art and to produce an environment in his home that clearly defines his individuality. I hope you enjoy it. You can also see some of his art at www.wontondon.com.

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