Hippie Dust: How We Fell In Love

Throw some hippie dust on that!

And so, with that direction bellowed over an enormous bowl of popcorn one fateful evening about 12 years ago, began my love affair with nutritional yeast. Actually, the love began as many affairs do, in a state of acrimony and denial with undercurrent of a tug pulling me toward something inexplicable. My first taste resulted in a somewhat crumply face of disgust as compared to a popcorn bowl full of delicious melted butter and salt with fresh ground pepper. But something about the nuttiness of the unexpected yeast pulled me back. And in no time at all, I was all in.

Nutritional yeast has an enormous benefit to many people over its cousins brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast. This yeast, grown mostly on beet sugar is an inactive yeast which means it can be incorporated into a nutritional arsenal of a system that is often challenged by other active yeasts. (Of course, ask your doctor or nutritionist their view on this for your health.) Hippie dust is a dynamo of benefits packed into a magic flourish over foods for a nutty, almost cheesy, flavor. Look here:

1. Vitamin B-12- This is a crucial nutrient for the body involved in the production of red blood cells and for producing and maintaining myelin, the protective insulation around your nerves. Most sources of Vitamin B-12 are animal based, so nutritional yeast is a major player in the nutritional well being of vegans and vegetarians. One tablespoon will provide an adult with a full day’s supply of B-12, if you can keep the tastiness to that!

2. Protein- 2 tablespoons of hippie dust contains 9 grams of protein. That’s more than in 1 cup of whole milk (8g), a large egg (6g), or one oz. of beef (7g). It’s a wonderful source of energy for your workout mornings.

3. Fiber- Fiber is one of my personal favorites in terms of gut health and functional digestion. It also helps our systems regulate blood sugar giving us a more sustainable even store of energy throughout our days and at higher levels. Nutritional yeast provides 3 grams of fiber per tiny serving.

4. Gluten Free- Not only a boon for the Vegans out there, but this treat is also gluten free providing all of this power with an anti-inflammatory ease.

5. Folic acid- Nutritional yeast is also a great source of folic acid. Especially important for women out there trying to get pregnant or carrying future citizens of the planet, folic acid is known to prevent spina bifida and other major birth defects. For those not planning to get pregnant, folic acid is still important for its role in cell maintenance and production.

Here’s one of the easiest recipes in the world and it’ll wow your dinner guests as well.

1 head cauliflower
1T olive oil
1t black sesame seeds
1/4c nutritional yeast
Sea Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 350. Take all the ingredients and drop them in a mixing bowl. Toss it with your hands until all is coated. Spread on a cooking sheet with parchment paper or foil and cook for about 20-25 minutes. Cauliflower should be a golden light brown. THAT’S IT!

*Originally, I wrote this article for a wellness site here on the web that I’ve decided not to write for anymore. As it has grown to a pretty impressive size, the site continues to insist on not paying its writers for their work. (COMMON PRACTICE) Not even a dollar. Not with coupons or anything, just “Since we do not compensate contributors for posts, we’re more than happy to include a byline and your brief bio containing links to your website, Facebook, Twitter accounts, which we will promote when your post goes live.” I suppose I got lulled into this belief that I had to continue, after many years as a professional writer, to work for free to promote someone else’s content. In the agreement I found myself also letting my voice be compromised, which is actually my favorite part of writing. When I inquired to the editors about when they planned compensation, fiscal or otherwise, for the writers that wholly drive their content, I got no reply at all.  So I decided to simply write here on my own site and accept that I may stay small, but whatever. At least I’ll stay true. 
This text has been edited from its original form to be reprinted here.

The Walking Dread

I used to make lists of things to do for the day. I’d find them all over the place: crunched into dehydrated balls at the bottom of the dryer, in coat pockets from last season, and at the bottom of my purse with stray hair clips, pennies and the odd sugarless gum wrapper. I’d jot things down on scraps and stuff them down into my pockets and then forget to look at them. Later, if they weren’t annihilated in the laundry, I’d find the lists with shorthand on them standing in for some lighting bolt idea I had at the time, and I’d have no clue what the hell it meant. Little stray pieces of would-be genius littering corners of my life, physical refuse of what could have been and the loss of each idea that might have brought me a nice essay or a great client or a recipe to thrill people with. Detritus of what never was.

And the thing about these lists is that conveniently losing them or forgetting them let me see  that I tend to carry bullet points around in my mind, pinballs of things I should be accomplishing or mastering. This luggage brings with it a sensation of dense dread like a Pig Pen cloud following me. I watch people bob and weave around my anxiety as if they’ll get sucked into the fray like a smoothie in a blender.

DREAD.

It is almost always so much worse than whatever the thing is we are dreading. Since here we are in April, let’s take taxes, for example. I can put off doing taxes as well as the next guy. Something about all those rules, all those numbers, all those facts that tell me things about my abilities, or lack, as a new businesswoman. I don’t want to see it. I don’t want to watch the little calculator at the top of Turbo Tax telling me that after all that toil, I still have to send the government MORE MONEY. I don’t want to face the hours of sitting. The resentment of spending time doing taxes while I could be LIVING MY LIFE.

And there’s the rub. Dread is about tricking ourselves into believing that we are not CURRENTLY living our lives. We think that if we put off doing our taxes (or breaking things off with our date, or going out for a run, or quitting smoking, or, or, or…) that we are staving off the discomfort of the bane of this event.

The reality is that putting it off keeps us in the dread itself, torturing us with our own worst fears about the impending unwanted event. It keeps us in the cycle of loathing a fiction of a thing that has NOT EVEN HAPPENED YET. In addition to the experience of that dread, it also does the work of withholding the possibility that the thing we are dreading might, in all actuality, turn out ok. Or might be an experience that we can bear or grow from or laugh at or tolerate. Or it might suck even more than we think it will but at least it only has to suck while it is actually happening rather than the hours of dread leading up to it PLUS its attending real-time suckage.

Dread is a thief. It robs of of our peace in the moment of the life we are actually living to rake us over the coals of a future that may be nothing like what we are living through in our imagination. That’s two problems at once. The present is given over, and the creative power we possess is being used to hurt ourselves.

So. What to do?

Take the object of this dread and break it down. Splinter it. Do your taxes for ten minutes. Set a timer. Maybe the first ten minutes isn’t so bad. Do another ten. Put them away. Now you have 20 minutes of taxes under your belt with the added victory bonus of having spent 20 minutes of doing your taxes and not having anything be uncomfortable yet. You are now armed with a triumph going into day two. And since taxes, in this example, are something we’ll do again and again (if you believe in that kind of thing, but feel free to substitute a dread you relate to) we are also rewriting the story of how they actually feel. Turns out, the first 20 minutes feel fine. Maybe the first hour does. Maybe then it gets horrible and it feels clearly worth it to hire someone to do it next time or to start 4 days earlier or WHATEVER.

This experience of eradicating dread isn’t about curing our lives of discomfort, but it is about alleviating pain and struggle we create for ourselves around fictions that we create to haunt ourselves. The world is going to serve up plenty of real struggle for us. We don’t have to help it. And so when the real discomfort comes, we can show up for it in our lives and experience it as an honest and actual kind of difficulty. And the other thing is, we might just be wrong. I spent my whole adult life dreading the eventual truth that I would have to live in a body I wasn’t that psyched about.

Turns out, I was wrong and I now have the great pleasure of making amends to my body each and every day for the rest of my life. Even on days like today when it really didn’t do what I wanted it to. Maybe especially on days like today.

It’s like Mr. Whitman says,

“There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”

So be here now and not with dread.
And good luck on your taxes, everyone.

 

Compare and Despair: Keeping Our Eyes on Our Own Papers

I went to five different high schools. With so much of my energy being shuttled to alleviation of social discomfort and trying to assimilate to puberty, cliques, smoking weed and soccer, I did my best to limit the time I spent studying so I could get away with the best possible grades for the least amount of work. That often meant straining my little eyeballs trying to see what Kevin Phillips came up with on his chemistry paper.

Which is to say, I cheated.

I’m not proud of it, but frankly, I don’t feel too bad about it either. I wish people would have told us all what I suspected, and WE ALL SUSPECTED, to be true: most of what we learn in high school, we will never use again. School is for training our brains, teaching them to stretch and think and bend and open. Unfortunately, some of the schooling I had also trained my mind to close but I suppose that’s a whole other post entirely. Have I ever, really, needed anything I learned in high school chemistry? Not really. And even though I was good at it, did memorizing all those state capitols help my life? No. No it did not. But the ACT of memorizing has helped me. The ideas behind chemistry, the cause and effect of things has really shaped me. The ways in which seeing that putting two things together in one way can be an act of genius and one small difference can blow shit up. Chemistry is ripe with metaphor and THAT has been a deep benefit for me. Chemistry has been the undercurrent of the alchemy that happens in the kitchen. What has happened over time with love, with age, with atrophy and stretching.

What about the cheating, though?
Well. I liked getting away with things. I liked the velocity of getting over, the feeling of rebelling and subverting authority. I liked the thrill of wondering what the outcome might be with what I could manage to get by on with my wits and what I’d have to explain away to my parents who were Very Busy doing everything they could to make my future solid while I listened to The Cure and tried to figure out how to keep my head above water in the many predominantly white suburban John Hughes high schools of my life. I picked up some cigarettes, Marlboro reds, and learned to pack them into 4 inch bullets. I picked up little metal pipes full of shitty weed and snuck out of school dances. I picked up the tool of a Malleable Truth and carried it in my backpack from school to school, sanding down my edges to fit in anyplace I could. And while all this happened, I missed out on the offer of learning in school. My brain could have been doing all kinds of gymnastics and honing itself to be a ninja in the universe of interesting information but instead,  I treated it like a stoner on a stinky couch outside a frat party in Santa Barbara.

The kicker is, I find myself doing it today in still more insidious ways that are much more costly. An old friend was talking about how she was going to stop looking at fashion magazines because it was making her feel so bad. The way advertising somehow manipulates us in comparing ourselves with images on a page. There’s a few ways to wrap our minds around how this NEVER serves anyone too well.

This photo was taken in 2011. I don’t really look like this. I didn’t look like this then, really, and I sure as hell don’t look like this now. Since this was taken life took a lot of difficult turns and I added some pounds, hacked off a foot of my hair and grew all the gray out, plus I shot it of myself from the most “flattering” angle above. And it has at least two different romantic filters on it. But I like this photograph so I use it in press and print. I’ll use a new one with the gray hair soon or I’ll mix it up.

1. The “I’ll Never Look Like That” Edition: Thankfully, this one can be pulled apart in all manner of directions. First of all, she/they/he doesn’t look like that either. We all look so many different ways at different times of day, in light, with digital manipulation, angles of a shot. We are people of full dimension, not just two, so the reality is, we don’t even look the way the image says. I know this because I am a photographer. So there’s that fiction. The second thing is, let’s say for argument’s sake that the model really DOES look like that all the time from every angle, no matter how much sleep they got or who recently broke their heart or whether or not they actually have the flu. If that person ALREADY looks like that, then you’re off the hook. Somebody already has the job of looking like that and you can get busy doing the job of looking how you already look. No one else is doing that important job. So we need you. Not even your identical twin looks like you exactly so get to the business of living in your face and your thighs and your ass just the way they are. This is the body you have. It’s fucking great no matter how it looks because it is the vessel of your life. Without it, you join the ether. Without it you do not get to write, to do a tarot reading for your best friend. You don’t get to roller skate or swim or watch your kids learn to read. No singing. No listening. No plump cherries to bite into and no getting laid. So this Edition of Compare and Despair isn’t going to work in your favor.

This is what I looked like yesterday. Size 8 billion overalls, hat on bad hair, no make-up, and I still kinda like it.

2. The “They Think I’m Fat/Crazy/Nerdy/A Loser/Fill in Your Nightmare” Edition: One time I went to a beginner’s hip-hop class in Brooklyn. I had just been through back to back breakups with not one, but TWO women who felt ambivalent about their feelings for me. What the fuck, right? (Side note, Don’t date people who don’t think you’re fantastic. Getting your self-worth from trying to convince an ambivalent lover that you’re the one is a sure way to misery. You are already the one for someone or several people who are wholeheartedly stoked to hang out with you.) So I’m already feeling less-than and I head to this class to have fun! To exercise! (Which at the time I did not do so trying something fun was key). To be with great women! I get there and it’s in this gorgeous old studio, vaulted ceilings and original red looking wood with swirly accents way up high and the front of the room entirely covered in mirrors. Before the music even started I could feel my throat tighten down looking at the room reflected back to me. Scads of easily stylish beauties greeting each other and limbering up like a Fame outtake. Me? Jesus. I’m the pudgy girl at the back, sweats and an ill-fitting t-shirt to go with my bruised ego. The music starts and I can’t get my body to do anything the other bodies in the mirror are doing. This is the warm up. I start to feel humiliated by what people must think of me, oozing my incompetence into their fun place. It barely takes any time at all. So little, in fact, it’s like a sad miracle of a thing how quickly the imagined judgment moves me to sobbing. I bolt from the class, a bad after school special moment in real life. God, it’s so horrible just to type this out. More judgement so many years later like, “Poor you and your luxury dance class problem. Inept Pudgy Lesbian is so sad and alone.”

BUT THAT’S HOW COMPARE AND DESPAIR WORKS! It’s actually none of my business what anyone thinks of me. Whether they think I’m pretty or ugly or loud or selfish or fake or funny or devious or dim. My business is to keep my eyes on my own paper and either learn the dance or don’t. This was about giving my body movement and treating my battered little heart to some levity. I cheated myself out of that and left with quite a little internal gash.

I am not a minimalist.

3. The “Why Don’t I have That Couch” Edition: There is nothing like an issue of Dwell Magazine to help this one hit home. In some ways this one is harder for me than the fashion magazine one. This one is all about What I Don’t Have. And there are a million versions of the ways I don’t have the things I don’t have. There are the modern boho versions of it featuring interesting globetrotters who select the perfect items to bring home and place Just So in their incredibly homey and chic living rooms with giant dangly light fixtures and bold patterns and colors you can sink into on oversized cushions and guzzle micro aged bourbon and talk about film together after the retractable screen disappears. There’s the sleek, minimal modern version of Things I Don’t Have because I have no fucking restraint and don’t know how to make minimal work no matter how many times I study it. I don’t understand negative space in writing, in paintings, in design or in conversation, really. But I love it and it defines what I am not. And in this case, what I cannot afford.

And isn’t it always the couch?
It is.

I have always wanted to buy a new couch for myself, somehow exclaiming my independence as a woman. A real, live, adult woman. All these people in the magazines with all their beautiful houses and their stuff and their COUCHES, they count, and so therefor I do not. Because I have never gotten myself a new couch. And that is how Compare and Despair works. I look at a photograph of a couch in an image and I let it define my life, if only for a moment, into nothing at all. Which really pisses the old dog off, who would like me to give him dinner now, thank you very much.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I can’t go back. I don’t believe in regret. I made the choices I made and so did you and here we are. But I think when I go to my new ceramics class next Monday, which I have always wanted to do, I will bring curiosity with me, wondering what it is I’ll learn to do. I’ll keep my eyes on my own paper and only look to the other clay in the room to admire it, wonder at all the possibilities, and watch myself be a beginner in a world that would only value a master. Maybe I should write Kevin Phillips and say something. But I don’t know what.

Anyhow, I hope I get super dirty in messy clay.

Goodbye San Francisco, Notes on Ex-Lovers, and Welcome Home with Chana Masala.

It’s been nearly three weeks since I got here to my new home across the country from my beloved San Francisco. It’s not that all its digital money boom entirely obscured its charms from me with the Google busses and the wall to wall boutique donuts. It would take more than that. I love that town. I will always love that town. The way in which I remember some of the women who have come and gone. I can always recall how that one smelled so good right behind the neck like pomade and a campfire, or the other one, how she read me Raymond Chandler while I soaked in the bath. There was the first real true love who I somehow convinced, in true lesbian fashion, to stay on as my favorite abiding and loyal friend and that one who I don’t remember much about except how good she looked in those work-worn Levi’s every time she left. I always remember her leaving, which, as it turns out, is probably how the memory should go. I Hate to See You Leaving, But I Love to Watch You Go. All of those connections, like the city, are still easy in these ways to love. And with San Francisco, my favorite metropolis so far in which to live, I look forward to seeing her again, I know the exact angle of the sun going down on the bay in the Spring when I walk myself to a day game on a Wednesday clad in black and orange. I know the way the light starts to shimmy like a gown at the Oscars and the remainders of the old wood docks jut up out of the water right through the sequins. I know the way North Beach smells and which blocks off of Market used the sparkly concrete on the sidewalks so when you run over it, it hurts a little bit less at 8 miles. I love that city. But I am no longer right for city life itself and it really wore me the fuck down.

We moved to a town with a population of 711. There is no post office. No traffic light. Not one state route passes through the whole dang thing. No store and, well, no baseball stadium. But in this town, you can watch the bats come out when the sun trades places with the moon at dusk, the sky turns pink, then violet, then lazes its way to navy and finally black. It’s so dark, you look up and it’s like somebody powdered the canopy of night with sugar. A car rolls by maybe every 45 minutes. Maybe. We take the trash to the dump because no one comes to get it and the old dog can lumber around the back with me and no leash. He seems mad we waited until he was 15 to tote him out to paradise, but when the Spring comes, he won’t be mad about anything at all.

Plus, Elizabeth Warren is my Senator.
FUCK, YES to that.

I unpacked like a marine. Up before five and I just kept going until it was done. I always feel weird if the boxes are around. Since I left my home at 17 for college, I have changed domiciles 19 times. I have some ideas about what works for me. And the thing I have always known, is the kitchen comes first. Even before I really gave a shit about how I ate, something about the kitchen had to settle first. It’s where I always feel closest to some kind of connection to my foremothers. I’m not exactly sure why because Gramma Eva I don’t remember cooking very much and Nanny Bert cooked, but never seemed to love it. She loved to smoke these Parliament lights at the breakfast table with the glass top over a bagel and coffee. By the time I was six and old enough to get shipped to Jewish Grandparent Utopia on the gulf coast of Florida, she mostly seemed like she was waiting for the sun to drop from the hot sky so she could pour the Sapphire gin into a rough tumbler, squeeze in a lime, splash out some tonic and listen to the ice clink around as if Bach was conducting.

I remember my mother as a wonderful cook, but she always says I’m wrong. Meh, she says. But no matter what, we all ate together. All five of us. Every night there was a feast on the table for 5 effing people. That seems like such a feat to me when I think about it today. Keeping a house for a family, stitching them all together with brisket and clean laundry and floors so spotless, you might as well eat off of them. I remember this insane shiny wallpaper we had in the kitchen in Pittsburgh with massive cartoony flowers all on it and my mom tan from tennis, pushing her hair back from her forehead with the back of her wrist while she diced things. Something about my mom in the kitchen is the crux of what makes me feel, well, powerful.

I know. I’m as surprised about it as you are.

But that’s how it turned out. Nothing makes me feel more kick ass than inviting over a handful of favorite people and fanning out a spread of divine tastes for everyone. The more food restrictions, the better. I love a puzzle. I’ll try anything new. I like to listen to Sam Cooke, Aretha, Ray Charles and Leonard Cohen. I like cello when I cook or the sounds of a Giants game with Jon Miller calling it. I like them better when we win, but, fuck it, I’ll take any of it. And I will cook my ass off.

Anyhow, all of that to tell you, we had our first handful of incredible people over last week. In honor of our vegetarian, there was a salad, a mujadara, and a chana masala based on the Gingered Chickpeas recipe from the wonderful book 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. I wanted something warming and cozy and this recipe was perfect. It also happens to be good for vegetarians, vegans, plus the wheat and gluten challenged. I served it over brown basmati rice. I’m sharing my variation with you here.

 

Welcome Home Chana Masala

1 Large tomato. (if you don’t have one, use a small can of diced)
1 small red onion, chopped
8 lengthwise slices of peeled ginger (each 2 in. long, 1 in. wide and
1/8 in. thick) Chop 4 of the pieces coarsely, and chop 4 into matchsticks.
1 dried serrano pepper, soaked in 3/4c water, liquid reserved
8 cloves of chopped garlic
1T coriander seeds
1T cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2T sunflower oil
2t hot paprika
1t turmeric
1/2c chopped fresh cilantro
3 cups cooked chickpeas (I cooked mine the day before with an onion)
1t garam masala
1t sea salt
1c vegetable broth
Juice of one lime. I like a big fat lime, myself.
First get your dried pepper in warm water to soak and get all puffy. While that happens, you can put your basmati rice on to cook. When the pepper is all puffy again, put it in a blender with its attending water, the tomato, onion, chopped ginger (not the matchsticks), half the garlic, coriander, cumin, salt and the cinnamon stick, busted up. Puree it all together and you should get a speckled dark red sauce.

After that, heat the sunflower oil in a pan and put in the ginger sticks. Let it sizzle for about 30 seconds and then add the rest of the garlic. Cook for another minute. Everything should turn light brown. When that happens, pour in the sauce from the blender. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the paprika, turmeric and 1/4c of the cilantro. Let the sauce come to a simmer again and sit for 5-10 minutes.

Now you get to add your chickpeas and a cup of vegetable broth (or water). Bring the whole shebang to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, covered, and go stir it once in a while. Cook for about a half hour. The sauce should thicken and the chickpeas will get good and soft.

Now stir in the garam masala and the lime juice. Serve over rice with the remaining fresh cilantro used to garnish each bowl.

Welcome home.

 

Old School Potato Leek Soup

One of the things I love about winter is the angle of the light. It’s not good for driving and it flees from the low perch too quickly each day, but the way it hitches sideways, a smirking dandy with a walking cane. Handsome, and a little bit lazy. I grew up on the east coast before we were melting the ice caps so rapidly and my life revolved in four real seasons. Year in and year out. Roughly every three months, something changed, and with winter, along with the light, I loved the frost.

Weirdly, here in San Francisco, there’s been frost on the ground every morning for a week straight. That’s more mornings than the rest of the 14 years I’ve lived here all together. In addition to providing shiny surfaces for a sunrise to ping around on, it makes a lady want stews and soups. And this old soup is one of my very favorites. I had a few potatoes and leeks left over from Hanukkah and whipped this up in no time.

The first thing I did was pull all the ends of squashes and celery and onions and garlic out from the freezer and make a vegetable broth. This one was sweet from the squash and so my soup turned out extra comforting.

For the broth, I keep a ziplock bag of all the ends of my vegetables to go in as I cook during the week: ends of scallions, squash hats, onion skins, broccoli stalks, cauliflower cores, kale spines… all of it. By the weekend the bag is full and I add 8 cups of water and bring it all to a boil then reduce and simmer for 30-60 minutes. Voila. Broth.

4-6 leeks, sliced
1 small onion, diced
2 yellow potatoes
1t celery salt
1t fresh ground black pepper
2T olive oil
6c vegetable broth or water
2T half and half (optional)
cilantro or parsley to garnish

I like to prep everything before I start. I slice the leeks into coin and soak them in a bowl to get the grit and dirt out.  I peel my potatoes (I used yukon golds here, but I actually think the humble russet works better in this soup. It comes apart easier.) and slice them into quarters, then into 1/4 inch discs. The onion gets taken care of.

In a heavy bottomed pot I throw in the olive oil, and heat it up. Then go the leeks and the onions for about 5-7 minutes, until soft. Then I put in the potatoes, the salt and the pepper. I like mine to have kick. when everything is good and soft, add your broth or water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce and let cook for an hour. You can mash up your potatoes or let them fall apart. I like to leave some hearty chunks in mine. If you like, near the end of cooking stir in the half and half. Then you’re ready for your warm soup!!

Some options: do it with sweet potatoes. Swap the half and half for a hunk of coconut butter to keep it vegan. Take out the onion and use extra leeks. Add garlic. Add a dried chipotle pepper for a smokey taste. You could use a turnip too if you like.

Why A Poem is Not Just a Poem.

Those line breaks aren’t just higgelty piggelty crap, yunno?

Poets are the sculptors of our verbal life. They make the mundane hunks of language we throw around shimmer and dance and halt and sit and stay. They arrange and they carve and revise and then start all over.

Poets stew.
They writhe and wrangle.
Poets mete it out and
They can sit in a
Slow, rolling boil
For a month at a time
And then a year.

The way poets paint a life, we can’t just bash through a paragraph or a page like it ain’t nothin’. It is. And so, at this time when the season brings us holiday mayhem, I’m honored to mull a cider, stud an orange with cloves and watch it bob around a cinnamon stick until the bubbles come. Then I leave the pot on the stove on a low-down blue flame whispering at a copper bottom. A hand carved wood ladle dips in and retrieves a glass of the cider for me. In my right hand I carry the mug and in the left fist I gather a throw blanket, an old one. I get situated and pluck a thin volume from the shelf. I turn off my phone.

I stop at all the line breaks.
I let my eyes spill down the page.
I remember to breathe.
Sometimes I read it all to the dog.

And on a good day,
It goes a little like this

On Being Asked ‘What Is Poetry?’
by Jill McDonough

I ask that a lot, ask a lot of students that. Whitman,
Dickinson, Dietz. There are hundreds of ways
to say you don’t know, most of them
pretty good. Anne Bradstreet, Anne Carson, Anne
Sexton, Annie Finch. Right now I teach Understanding
Literature
. They didn’t Understand
that people still write Literature, that it’s alive. Bishop,
Pinsky, Lowell. It took me three weeks to make them
stop saying they don’t like poetry. No to Baudelaire.
Ditto John Clare, Gwendolyn Brooks. What the hell
are you talking about?
 Don’t like poetry. Don’t like food.
Vessels, buildings, days. Don’t like lumber, time.
Poetry: whatever we say it is. We’re
in charge. Homer, Akhmatova, Frost. I don’t know
art, but I know what I like
. Here’s
what I like. Fresh chalk on my hands, marking stresses
on the board. a PLUM. a PURple FINCH: three
iambs. Hopkins, Herbert, Fred Marchant. Then reading
aloud from Alan Dugan who, I admit it, is dead. But not
much: the purple prick of that skunk cabbage is still
erect in its frost-thawing fart gas. Basho, Bronte, Keats.
Berryman, Ashbery, Yeats. Poetry means you get to say
whatever whatever you want. Your professor might close the class
with Dugan’s prick in her mouth. It’s poetry, so it’s
allowed. Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day? Sure.
Also, They Fuck You Up, Your Mum and Dad. What is poetry?
What is poetry? I don’t know.

Fearlessness, Cereal, and Courage.

Fearlessness is bullshit.
There.
I said it.

What might happen if we spent time getting to know fear rather than trying to banish it? What if we sidled up next to it at the campfire and checked out the curve of its cheekbones in the light of the flames? What if we let it be real, a hungry visitor, instead of letting it lead us around by the nose?

If we do something we’re afraid of, let’s even say terrified, we come out the other side a changed person. There’s a kind of alchemy that happens between fear and courage. I say, LIGHT IT UP, BITCHES, because without fear, how do we know where an edge is? And if we’re not afraid to try something, if there’s no risk or growth potential, who gives a shit? What’s moving about witnessing someone pour their Cheerios in the morning? I’ll tell you what’s moving:

Jenny’s been in physical therapy for over a year after being stabbed on street in a back alley someplace in Minnesota. She felt his breath on her neck before she ever saw him. So quiet. She remembers thinking, “I wonder if that’s why they call them creeps…” as the blood soaked the arm of her flannel. She didn’t have time to get out the way before turning and lifting her arm into the blade. She barely felt it at all. It slid right in, across the muscles like a tailgate party steak. Then she couldn’t feel anything but the rush and the heat. She can’t tell you exactly what happened, just squared off images come to her. Even the smells and sounds feel like squares. The beer in her collar. The dull metallic smell of that much blood all at once. The way his voice left his throat when her knee came up. And then her boot in his teeth. But she didn’t feel afraid then. No time.

She felt afraid after she woke up though. She felt afraid every second of every day with her arm strapped to her side. She couldn’t go out after dark anymore. A grown woman imprisoned for all evenings. Then there was the shame of that too. The rage. That high crimson screech of rage caught in her ribs, laying in wait. It’d come out in physical therapy when she tried to move the arm. She went four times a week, and she’d meet Peter at the door. She felt like Eeyore, glum and blue and sluggish.  He’d coax her to move through it. And it wasn’t just the pain, Oh, HELL no. On top of that, there’s the FEAR of the pain. The fear of no results. The fear of the depression of so many months of the things taken by the pain, and her bad hair done with a clumsy left hand. Buttoning jeans took on a new set of challenges.

One time she saw Peter wince when she tried to move the arm to the right. It’s the only slip he ever had, mirroring her sorrow. And that was the exact moment her courage took root. She saw him feel her pain and she let herself be touched by it. She stayed with it then, not just the pain, but even before that. The bus ride to the office, knowing it was coming. The searing. The failure. The exhaustion of it all. For hours. And days. And months.

So when you see Jenny in the kitchen one day about to grab the cereal with her left hand and pour, and then stop. You see her fix her eyes at an angle, her chin follows. You watch her lungs open up and fill and watch her wide hips pivot to the right. You watch her move the right hand toward the box and clutch it, sweat beading along her hairline. And then just as she begins to raise the box, her mouth opens and all that rage, the shame, the hours of agony and the smell of beer in an alley come tumbling out of her mouth and she manages to get half her cereal into that bowl while the dog eats the rest off the floor and, well,

That’s what’s moving about watching someone pour their Cheerio’s in the morning.

So when you think that fearlessness is the point of doing something, when you imagine yourself strapped to a parachute and about to hop out the floor of a plane and even the thought brings the twitch to the back of your throat and up from your belly, when you aren’t quite sure if you can face the rejection of telling the beloved the truth of your heart, remember it is the alchemy that takes you from terror to courage that awaits.

So I say,

Be afraid.
Be very afraid.
But don’t let that be the
Only
Reason you stop.

Maple Miso Delicata Squash with Chickpeas and Kale

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sliced my hand open working with butternut squash. And don’t even get me started on the kabocha. I’ve since found a U-shaped peeler that makes these endeavors quicker, easier, and a whole lot less bloody, but before I made that discovery, there was the: (angels singing) Delicata squash.

I love this squash because you can bake the skin and eat it. Plus the edges come out like scalloped moons, lacy little things that look fancy. I suppose you’ve gathered by now that I really go for low-investment, high-yield kitchen work. I want a lot of flavor, pretty plates, and solid nutrition without breaking my back about it. Unless I’m throwing a party. Then I love to fuss. But just for the day-in, day-out kind of cooking, I like it fast and easy. I won’t make jokes about myself in college, but it’s tempting.

ANYHOW!!! Roasting a delicata squash is so easy. It’s delicious. It’s good looking. It’s cheap as hell, and it’s good for you. Great. Let’s cook some. I got this idea originally from this recipe over at Sprouted Kitchen. The original recipe is QUITE different from this and you can try that one next!

1c cooked chickpeas
1/2 bunch dino kale
1 delicata squash
1t chickpea miso
2t pure maple syrup
3T olive oil, separated
juice of 1 lemon, separated
1t toasted sesame oil
1T pumpkin seeds
1T crushed walnuts
crushed black peppercorns

Preheat your over to 400 degrees. Slice the squash open the long way and run a spoon along the inside to get rid of the seeds. Make 1/4 inch moons from both halves and toss them into a small mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the miso, the syrup 2T olive oil and half the lemon juice. When the miso smoothes out, and the sauce to the squash and toss with your hands until covered. Turn out onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with black pepper. Cook at 400 for about 30 minutes. Toss it around once at about 20.

Meanwhile, slice your kale up into ribbons and put in a mixing bowl with the chickpeas, a dash of sea salt, a teaspoon of the olive oil that’s left and the rest of the lemon juice. Mix everything until it’s all covered with the liquid. Let it sit and the kale will soften.

In a skillet, use the rest of the olive oil and the toasted sesame oil to warm the seeds and the walnuts. Use a low heat and just until the sesame oil is fragrant. If you begin to hear sizzling, turn it down.

As soon as your squash is ready, add it to the kale and chickpeas and mix it all up. Then toss the warm seeds and walnuts in and mix again. Enjoy!!!

I May Never Be a Gazelle

I keep trying yoga. I’ve tried Vinyasa, Bikram, Kundalini, Anusara and Hatha.  I’ve tried new teachers, both incredibly peppy and those that brought quiet and calm. I’ve had men teachers, women, and some delightful people somewhere else on the gender spectrum. Done it outside. In ashrams. Tried it with video. And I’ve done it simply to prepare for meditation.
Everything about it is an obvious match for me. I like a practice that keeps us in the present. I am a devout believer in tending to our bodies with physical care and reverence. I enjoy a group endeavor that can bring together a diverse gathering of people. I am fantastically inflexible with hamstrings chiseled from granite. I got a nice mat. Obviously, yoga could be just the nourishing practice I fit into my life. All manner of people have tried to help with introducing me to teachers, styles, and giving me support.
But still, I kind of hate it.
For me.
Not for you.
Making my way through a packed city to a packed class to spend a ton of money on a series doesn’t feel inviting. Rushing to serenity doesn’t make sense. And when I let people know I have not yet found a yoga that works for me, there’s a certain way the face looks back to mine. I know the face. The eyes soften at the corners, and the mouth drags across the teeth into a quarter smile. It borders on pity, pulls up just short of it. People are sad that I have not found the joy they’ve found. Or they feel sorry for me that my enlightenment is so off track. Or they remember their own yoga story of being where I am now, adrift from the mat, body gnarled up with muscles begging to be unfurled. So I go again. But I’ll shift around some old stuck spots and get nauseous. Starting feels terrible. I know it will pass, but do I care? My yoga friends see a way that I could.
I see it too, and sometimes I agree. That’s why I keep going. Every few months or years, I’ll try again. A friend will convince me they found just the class for me. And so far, they haven’t.
Now here’s the thing: when’s the point what I just let myself agree it’s not my jam? I don’t like the culty vibe of some studios or the cool, popular vibe of others. I don’t like doing it alone because I can’t tell what the fuck I’m doing. Plus I am also prone to a compare and despair problem where it’s difficult sometimes to be the platypus in the room of gazelles. No offense to the platypus. Of course I understand that no one in the room really cares what I am doing. I also understand that there is a path to when one finds a gazelle in the mirror eventually.
What feels like the tough part is to tell when it’s time to just maybe accept that my path isn’t this one. I do not have that gazelle reflection waiting for me. AND THAT IS FINE! It will save me many hundreds of dollars in Lululemon wear, and I can continue my humble stretching in the corner of the gym. I will be the awkward running lady. I never got good at that and I still like it. I can do that. I like lifting small weights. I like walking and I enjoy the feel of a good badminton game in the summer. I do balance exercises and I think often about boxing. Doing what I’m drawn to seems to serve me and it definitely kicks the ass of making exercise a chore that feels like a torturous Game of Thrones undertaking.
Still, the last time someone described Yin Yoga to me I thought, “Maybe I’ll try that one.”

What if it wasn’t a problem?

That’s what I’ve been asking myself a whole bunch this past month. It’s a simple question I’ve been toting along in the spiritual back pocket of my Jordache jeans like we used to have those combs in the 80s. I can’t believe what a difference it has made for me.

Here, I’ll show you what I mean.

Me passing a reflection of myself on my way to the gym: “I can’t believe I work out this often and I still have days when I cringe at my own reflection.”
Pocket: “What if it wasn’t a problem?”
Me: “Oh. I can just be grateful that my body works. That I am loved. That I just got to move my body and feel exhilarated. Maybe how I look isn’t today’s big PROBLEM.”

Or how about this:

Me at the end of a long day of not feeling productive: “I sat at this desk for 8 hours, didn’t finish my article, left emails on my desktop, didn’t make soup, and now it’s far too blustery to go running.”
Pocket: “What if it wasn’t a problem?”
Me: “Holy crap. What if productivity wasn’t the yardstick I chose to judge myself with today. What if I coached five clients really well, I took some time to pet the dog, and I read a ton of articles that inform my life? What if I let that be enough today?”
Pocket: “What if you are enough?”
Me: “Now you’re testing me, Pocket.”
Pocket: “Let’s talk again tomorrow.”

It’s just a tiny question that can get us out of a malaise or a self-imposed despair that we are not required to carry. You can turn around in your own prison cell and just walk right the hell out. Try it. You got nothing to lose but some sorrow.