Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Beauty of Life

On my last post, I was gungho about grilling.  That worked out very well for my husband and I until we realized how expensive it is to replace the propane, and we haven't bought a grill to use wood or charcoal yet.  Then, the monsoon season came and it was no longer too hot to cook inside.  It was a good experience and one we plan on figuring out to work for us in the future.  In the meantime, I've grown some habits that I'm going to mention here.

I have found myself doing something lately that is a bit out of character for me. I say out of character because this is not a practice that I grew up with, nor is it one that I've consciously learned.  I first noticed myself doing this when my husband and I were camping recently.  He was taking an exploration walk and I was enjoying the peace.  I found myself thanking the trees for allowing us to camp under their sheltering leaves.  I promised to take care of their soil and be respectful of them in return.  Today, I was chopping some chicken and I began thanking the chicken for giving its life for our sustenance.

I do not know if I truly believe that everything has a spirit that would care or comprehend me speaking to it.  I do know that when I watch the trees dancing in the wind, basking in the sun, or bowing with age, I somehow have respect for this beautiful living thing.  In some I find a kindred spirit of sorts.  Some see chickens merely as food, or a "bottom of the food chain" type of creature.  I do not find chickens majestic or anything like that, but have you ever looked into a chicken's eyes?  I find the same spark of life there that I find in myself.  It is surprising the intelligence and calculating look you can see in a chicken's eyes.

So what am I saying?  I do not think there is a chicken's spirit soaring around my house.  Nor do I think the trees would have moved to take revenge had we not respected their space.  I do think that the life that can be seen in the eyes of the chicken and in the physical and ethereal presence of a tree is the same life that can be found in you and me.  I like that I've come to have such respect for the living world around me that I can speak to it and have peace within because of it.  I feel as though I have become a better person for being able to respect, recognize, and even love the life and beauty in the things we as humans often overlook and deem as mundane.

It is remarkable the change that can take place in who we are when we stop to notice the beauty of life in the things around us.  I am reminded of a movie called "A Blast from the Past" starring Brendan Fraser (Adam) and Alicia Silverstone.  There's a scene where Adam sees the world for the first time after having lived his whole 30 something years in an underground shelter.  He is walking down the street and he looks up.  He exclaims something like, "Wow!" and just stands there gaping.  People stop, looking at him, trying to figure out what he sees.  He is enamored of the sky.  A kid is the first one to acknowledge that he understands.  "I see it too!"  It's just, the sky.  It took his breath away.  When was the last time you looked up and allowed something as ordinary as the sky take your breath away?  My husband and I make a habit of sitting outside.  We enjoy the sky, the mountains around our home, the wild flowers that grow, the food we eat, so many simple things in our everyday lives.  It makes everyday, not so mundane.

So, the next time you walk outside, look around.  Stop to admire the trees growing, offering their shelter, their oxygen to give you breath.  Think about the food you eat, where it comes from, that it was once a living thing.  Allow the beauty of all the life around you fill you up and enhabit your soul, causing a deep peace and contentment.  We can find all this anywhere we go, and allow it to replace all the negative emotions and hurts that we've experienced.  Making the life we have more beautiful.  May the beauty of life bring you peace and happiness this day and onward.  :)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Summer Days & Grilling: Day 6

I had a very productive day yesterday. I spent most of my day outside working on the grill. We set up a table on the back patio when we had people over on the weekend and I decided to utilize it instead of having to carry things out after preparing them inside. I also copied an idea I read in a book entitled A Householders Guide to the Universe, written by Harriet Fasenfest. She describes an outdoor "oven" that she put together. She placed a few bricks on the grill (I like the flat ones, and as you can see in the picture, D found a flat rock). Basically, you close all vents and wait for your new oven to heat up, and figure out the best way to bake something. Yesterday I made bread. On the grill. I am still a bit surprised myself.

This bread I made is called "Beer Batter Bread." I found the recipe on my Epicurious app and have provided it here. This is my favorite bread for a number of reasons. The main one being that it is easy to make. The ingredients are few and the flavor varies depending on the beer that is used. We used a blueberry flavored one that was superb and a friend used elderberry flavored beer. I followed the directions on the recipe and then just put the bread pan on a rock in the grill. It cooked through better than in my house oven!

I am not sure if I've mentioned it before, but my husband and I found some wild apricot trees a few blocks from our house growing in an old river bed.  It looks as though nobody has ever seen them or cared to harvest them so we are harvesting all we can.  We are up to our ears in apricots, continuously finding new ways to preserve and use them.  I've made jam, dehydrated them, we're making apricot brandy, we're freezing them, I want to can some, pickle some, you name it!  Yesterday I came up with a brilliant (if I do say so myself) and tasty treat to make with these apricots.  I halved them, removed the stones, and put them in an oven safe dish, added a little butter, sprinkled with brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.  I cooked them until soft and added beer to the bottom of the pan and kept them on the grill until brownish.  We scarfed these down very quickly!

My dad's garden is doing so remarkably well for the desert (we're jealous) and he shares his harvest with us.  He brought a zucchini to us.  We decided to try a new veggie dish on the grill using the oven technique.  I used a deep pie dish and added sliced zucchini, diced onion, carrot, green bell pepper, tomato, and mushroom.  I then sprinkled with shredded cheese, vegetable crumbles (made to look and taste like ground beef), more cheese, and fresh oregano, basil, and parsley from the garden.  We cooked it until the zucchini was tender but not mushy.  I poured a little beer over it and let it simmer a little longer.  We served it over whole wheat fettuccine noodles.  My mom was here for dinner last night and our impromptu masterpieces passed her inspection. (She's not at all sad to be in town for the next few days).

I had a really good day yesterday, full of delicious food and my happy family.  What better way to end it than to enjoy the monsoons that are coming in?  Even the dog likes to sit and smell the rain and enjoy the breeze.  I am a firm believer in enjoying the food we eat.  If we take time with our food, prepare it ourselves and select the best vegetables and fruit, add some love and effort, along with quality family time while we eat it, so much more goes right in life.  I know that we feel better physically, emotionally, and spiritually when we take the time to enjoy things.  I know others who feel the same.  There is no need to look at life through rose colored glasses when you make your life more appealing than any fantasy.  Good food and family time is just one more simple way to do this.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Summer Days and Grilling: Days 4 & 5

The past couple of days have not been that inventive in regards to grilling. We had my parents over on Saturday and the neighbors over yesterday. That meant hamburgers, hotdogs, and more meat for most people. There are a couple of simple things that made the meals memorable that I would like to share.

On Saturday, D made ribs for my dad. We whipped together an extra tasty sauce that he later used on the chicken. I tasted the chicken and it was GOOD (which is a compliment considering I don't enjoy animal flesh all that much). We mixed together barbecue sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and some granulated onion and garlic salt. We don't measure on things like this, so just go by your taste preference. I am sure that others have used this mixture before, but this is something worth sharing.

We like potatoes in my house. We were very proud of our first potato harvest and are looking forward to our next. In the meantime, we bought regular old russet potatoes. D likes to put them in the microwave for a few minutes before cooking on the grill because it makes the cooking time faster. This isn't rocket science, but who says food has to be? He sliced the potatoes in half, topped with slices of onion, and when they were done, we put extra sharp cheddar cheese slices on top. It is amazing how different something cooked on the grill tastes! The charred flavor and the cheese flavor mix so well with the onion.

We found a melon at the store that was weird looking. It wasn't labeled of course, so we had to buy it. It tastes kind of like a mix between cantaloupe and honey dew. The skin was wrinkled like it was old. I cut it up for our cookouts, and we all enjoyed it. Whenever I cut up a melon I hate how wasteful it is to throw away the rind. Growing up, the only thing you could do with the rind is to give it to the pigs. We do not have pigs, so I searched online for recipes and found some pickling recipes. I had to make up my own based on the ones I read. I won't share my recipe until I know it is a success, but here are some links to others.

Our weekend was fun, a lot of work, but fun. My husband is more social than I am, so I get more tired, but we finished the day off with a short trip to the river and lake. Our dog loves to swim and chase things in the water. We pulled over to watch the sunset on the way home and finished our day off peacefully. It is the simple things in life that make us as humans become a more joyful bunch. Take time out to appreciate the simple things like a tasty sauce, experiments in the kitchen, and impromptu trips to the river as messages from the universe of how lovely life really is. I know I need to do this more often!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer Days and Grilling

A few days ago my husband and I decided that for the rest of the summer we are not going to do any cooking indoors. Our stove and oven give off so much heat that it negates any cooling that the unit and fans accomplish.

I'm sure this has been done before, but I decided that I am going to do my next blogs on what we discover to cook on the grill. We started a few days ago, my husband is an excellent cook, and I will give an overview of some of the things he has come up with.

I am a vegetarian and my husband (D) eats meat sparingly. That said, you can see how difficult it may get to be creative enough to find things to make. In addition to this, we also make our own bread products, other than pastas. We haven't gotten there yet, but I have a recipe for flat bread that cooks on the grill. Anyway, D has come up with some inventive things. My favorite so far is the asparagus stir fry (frozen vegetables) and pepper jack cheese wrapped in leafy green lettuce. The day before yesterday I made rice and lentil stew. I added green onion from our garden and a couple of carrots. I seasoned it with a mixture of spices, it's never the same. I love rice and lentils because they are easy to make and give me some necessary protein. On the grill, or camp stove, you just add your ingredients and water as normal and bring them to a boil, cover, and simmer until done; about 45 minutes, give or take. Yesterday we had stuffed summer squash. The squash was from my dad's garden and the stuffing was left over rice and lentils. We cooked on the grill until the squash was tender and browned around the edges. We had never had summer squash cooked on the grill, it was very tasty!

Today, our lunch experiment was pizza. Every once in awhile we buy a frozen cheese pizza and add our own fresh vegetables to it. Today I added tomato, green onion from our garden, mushrooms, and fresh parsley and basil from the garden. I put it on a medium heat grill and cooked until the veggies were done and the cheese was brown around the edges. We aren't sure what we are going to do for dinner, but so far the day is successful.

Let's all save a little energy, dip into our creativity, and enjoy some outdoor cooking everyday. Create your own outdoor oasis where you and your loved ones can relax and unwind.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Lesson in Maturity: from the peanut gallery

Unfortunately I have not gotten to the point where I blog everyday, or once a week for that matter.  This post dips into my interests (& slight training) in psychology and philosophy.

I suppose everyone has their own view of what makes a person mature and responsible.  I think the most mature and responsible thing a person can do is to take charge of their own lives; taking time to stop, pray, and listen to the inner voice to tell one how to live life instead of running from one person to another and listening to a multitude of voices.  Only one voice matters, the one with which we are all given by Creator.  We have to stop living in the past and worrying about all the "what-ifs" of the future.  We must choose today, here and now, what that Divine Light inside is leading us to do.  There is no better guidance than the one we can all find within.  Too many voices in this world seek to control, manipulate, and indoctrinate us with their way of life and thought.  The one true way is the way that leads us to peace within ourselves while dealing no harm to others.  To think practically and logically instead of emotionally and to act on this is the first step.  The second is to pursue the answer that we find.

I know there are those who would argue that we all harm others in one way or another at some time in life.  I'm not speaking in regard to hurt feelings when I say, "while dealing no harm to others."  I am speaking in terms of forever harming the lives or way of life of others.  For example, in the extreme view, we have those who say they were "led" to kill one person or another.  In another view that is more practical to understand, how do the decisions we make for selfish reasons affect our children or spouses.  Thinking logically and practically while listening to the inner voice will lead us down paths that are beneficial to those we are involved with.  Here is a personal example.  I want to go back to school to get my Masters in Counseling.  My husband supports this.  I would prefer to do this without working, but that may not be feasible.  So, I re-listen to my inner voice.  Peace with my husband is FAR more important than being in a tight schedule because of work, so I'll look for a part-time job.  It is hard to balance caring too much about what others think and becoming heartless and selfish.  It is a balance we must all strive to achieve everyday.  When we invite others into our lives, like having a life partner, or when our decisions lead to having children, this balance becomes more difficult, but striving for balance makes the end result well worth it.

My closing statement will be to encourage everyone to take charge of their own lives, seek the balance.  Let us all choose to take one step closer to maturity.

Monday, March 5, 2012


Today I was doing some research on how to keep cats out of the yard.  My husband and I live in an apartment complex and the neighborhood cats come and try to eat the birds that congregate around our feeders.  Besides this, they pee on everything and make a lot of noise.  I believe in humane methods of dealing with pests, so the research began.  I was astonished to find that one of the methods listed to take care of cats is to plant lavender.  I love lavender.  It has so many uses, and they just keep popping up, so I decided to share about the marvels of lavender.  The two types of lavender that I will be talking about are the English and French types; Spanish lavender has properties differing from these.

The most common use for lavender throughout time has been aromatic. The live blossoms attract butterflies, and as mentioned previously, scare away cats.  My research showed that ants also dislike the scent so it can be used as a natural ant control.  Dried, the blossoms continue to give off a pleasing aroma, however, the benefits go further than mere pleasure. Lavender is a leading scent used in aromatherapy, using both dried plants and oils.  Phyllis Balch (2002) notes in her book entitled Prescription for Herbal Healing that lavender tea and oil have been used is medicinal ways as well.  She tells us that lavender can be used in treated acne, headaches, psoriasis, anxiety, insomnia, bronchitis, burns, digestive discomfort and gas, and bacterial infections.  Lavender is an antihistamine and an antiseptic.  In addition to this, lavender can be used as an herb in preparing meals.  It belongs to the same family as mint, sage, and thyme, so it can be used in the same dishes as those herbs.  I have also read that lavender can be used as a natural cleaner because it has the bacteria killing properties.

My recommendation:  Research lavender a little more for your own personal use.  Plant a bush and learn to use it.  The benefits of using natural remedies far outweigh spending money on inorganic materials.

Balch, Phyllis A. (2002) Prescription for Herbal Healing. New York: Avery.
Beaulieu, David (2012) "English Lavender Plants" http://landscaping.about.com/cs/flowerseed/p/lavender.htm