Friday, August 29

Eight Easy Speeches

I love watching good political speeches. At the same time that the audience is inspired, you can see inspiration lifting up the speaker, as they remember why they are in this--the passion, ideals, compassion, optimism, and vision. Alongside the politics and the occasional schmaltz, there's something so powerful--and inspiring--going on. So I'm posting the best speeches from the Democratic convention here. Some are more brilliant than others--I've embedded my favorites and linked to my second favorites. Take your pick.

Ted Kennedy

Michelle Obama

My heart is an arrow

My heart is an arrow
straight and true.

My heart is a compass
pointing the way.

My heart is a path
clear and bright.

For so long, I have wandered
as if I was lost.

I followed ghosts
through a fog of regret.

Yet I was never lost. Even in that walkabout
my heart knew the way.

It waited, always
quiet, and strong, and bright.

And when my eyes fell on that arrow, that compass, that path,
I would think, ‘No, not that. Not yet.

‘I should not believe
what I have always known.’

Now, I am at one
with my heart.

I will walk down this path
through which the future flows.

I will be the compass
pointing towards love.

I will be the arrow

Thursday, August 21

Moon Nights

My life here is quiet and regular. As I've embraced that, it has become a very happy and peaceful life. In the process, my spiritual experiences seem to have receded. While I was ambivalent about this, it was not at the forefront of my thoughts. As time has passed, I've grown comfortable with this new state. It fits with a message I got some time ago, that the 'fireworks' around a (spiritual) experience are not the substance of the experience, and that an experience may be important and yet not come with those fireworks. Also, I trust that if and when I have a need for that in my life, it will come back to me in the suitable form for that time.

Recently I have felt a nudge to do something more. Gordan and I have had this desire for some time, in particular to do things regularly that were meaningful to both of us, but without a clear sense of how to translate it into practical action. I did read "The Pagan Family" for ideas, reading my favorite parts out loud to Gordan. We'd forgotten about the subject over the last two months, and then I brought up the question again on Friday. The answer came to me immediately this time: observe the full and new moons.

This was perfect for us. It's not a daily practice; that would be too much. Yet it's fairly frequent and regular, so that it can be habitual. It's personal, and very open to creative interpretation. I did some further reading and found that moon phases, primarily full moons, are celebrated as Esbats by Neopagans. I checked the calender to see when the next full moon would be: Saturday, the very next day. It felt like a somewhat hectic sign of connection.

What would we do? I was not sure. It came together, some of it feeling a bit silly, and began to refine itself. We buy moon-like flowers. We have a relatively opulent dinner. (Saturday was a hot, slow day, so 'opulence' was greatly modified.) Perhaps a dessert of sweetened ricotta, an old fashioned cheesecake. We may read something--perhaps afterwards is best. This time, Gordan read a prayer to the moon, that it may be kind to sailors.

Gordan went to bed early. I finished watching 'Philadelphia Story'. Then I went out and stood on the porch, in the bright light of the full moon. It seemed to vibrate in front of me, brimming over with the light of the sun. Everything felt alive and bare in the illuminated night. I knew that this is what a full moon celebration is really about: standing in the light of the moon, standing beneath it, with nothing between us, looking up at it. I thought briefly that the moon is in me, as we have always evolved under the moon, its presence is a part of us, we are made in its image or in its light. I asked the moon, so known for its changes, to help me in my changes and cycles as I become who I am. There was a sense that these changes are now linked with the waxing and waning phases of the moon.

I am going to take the approach that the full moon lasts three nights. The second night, as the most perfect full moon, is the peak. But the first and third nights are also full moons, and times for celebration. We are now nearly halfway to the new moon, which is on August 30th.

Now that I think of it--at some point in the middle of 'Philadelphia Story', Katherine Hepburn's character told one of the male characters about a Chinese poet (Li Bo) who drowned trying to kiss the reflection of the moon. "He was drunk, of course."

Monday, August 18

Speedy Foray Into Speed Cleaning

I mentioned recently that I was going to try the "Speed Cleaning" approach to housecleaning. They have a set of rules which outline their method. But this is how I think of the changes I'm making:

  • Gordan and I will (usually) both houseclean together, at the same time, for the main weekly housecleaning. I'll still do a miniclean three days later, flylady-style... (this is where the kitchen counters and stovetop, and bathroom sink and toilet get cleaned). There's a neat approach where housecleaning roles are divided into four: kitchen, bathroom, dusting, and vacuuming. With two people, you both start out doing the kitchen and bathroom respectively. Whoever finishes first then takes on either dusting or vacuuming, whichever you find to take longer. That way your cleaning time is more closely matched.

  • Clean in a circle, usually from left to right, and from top to bottom; then clean the floor.

  • We're going to clean with aprons and trays full of the appropriate tools. This is an important part. The idea is that with your primary tools in your apron, and your secondary tools in your tray, you never have to take time away from cleaning or your clockwise circuit around the room. But it takes time to track down some of these tools. Gordan convinced me to just order the more obscure tools from the website. I did find an apron pattern that seems to be based on the speed cleaning apron, but I don't want to wait until I've sewed an apron or two to be able to do this.

  • I'm updating my homemade cleansers. I got my previous recipes from the cleanser recipe thread on mdc (namely the window/all purpose and the anti-mildew spray), and they worked well--along with diluted or straight baking soda, white vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide. But the speed cleaning thing got me thinking about both streamlining these, and making them a little more potent and effective, so I requested a bunch of green cleaning books from the library. The very first one that arrived has such great recipes, I may just stick with these. They're from Easy Green Living, by Renee Loux.

    • heavy duty liquid cleaner (replacing what Speed Cleaning calls red juice)

      1/2 cup white vinegar
      1 tablespoon citrus cleanser concentrate
      1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap or castile soap
      1 1/2 cups warm water
      1/2 teaspoon total antiseptic essential oils

      glass cleaner (blue juice)

      1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
      1/2 teaspoon liquid dish soap or castile soap
      2 cups water
      8 drops essential oils

      This is basically the same as my current multipurpose cleaner. I may experiment with other recipes, however, because it doesn't clean our porch doors very thoroughly. So far I've dealt with this problem by not cleaning the porch doors, and I'm looking for a better solution.

      disinfectant (bleach)

      1/4 cup cheap vodka
      1/2 cup 3 percent hydrogen peroxide
      1 cup water
      5 drops grapefruit seed extract (optional)
      15 drops total antispetic essential oils (optional)

      (Do not shake the bottle or the hydrogen peroxide will go flat.)

      tile & tub cleaner (tile juice)

      While the books has recipes for pastes, that may be too much work to make afresh each time. I'll try powdered baking soda, and if that doesn't work I'll just buy tile and tub cleaner.

      floor cleaner

      2 gallons warm water
      1/2 cup white vinegar
      1/4 cup citrus cleanser concentrate
      2 tablespoons liquid dish soap
      1/2 teaspoon antispetic essential oils (optional)

Saturday, August 16

A Walk In The Park

I've put up a new set of photos from a walk in Stanley Park.

Friday, August 15

Completely Unexpected--Cucumber and Yogurt Soup With Mushrooms

We got back late from a movie tonight. Neither of us were hungry--yet we hadn't eaten dinner, or much lunch, and we had lots of ingredients in the fridge that need to be cooked soon or else. Like the cucumber, and the mushrooms.

So we whipped up a light dinner. Cucumber and yogurt salad from Claudia Roden's The Book of Middle Eastern Food, and some crimini mushrooms fried with onions and garlic. To save dishes, and out of curiosity, we ended up mixing them together. And you know what? It was delicious. It really would not be out of place as a starter for a fancy dinner party.

Cucumber and Yogurt Soup With Mushrooms
based on Claudia Roden's The Book of Middle Eastern Food
serves 2 with light appetites or as a starter

1 small onion, chopped to reasonably small pieces, we probably used walla walla
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 pound mushrooms, stems removed and sliced, we used crimini
1 small cucumber, or 1/2 large cucumber
1 1/2 cups yogurt, plain
1 small clove garlic, crushed (optional)
paprika (optional)

Saute the onions, garlic, and mushrooms until they are soft and somewhat darkened. Salt them to taste.

Slice the cucumber lengthwise, and cut into matchsticks (or dice, if you know how!). If you're not using these soon, salt them and put them aside for an hour.

Beat the yogurt gently until it's smooth. Add the garlic if using, and salt to taste. Stir in the cucumber.

Now combine the mushrooms and yogurt soup. You may prefer to put the mushrooms on the bottom and the yogurt on top, or vice versa, or you might stir in the mushrooms.

Garnish with a sprinkling of paprika and serve.

Wednesday, August 13

A Ramble About Books; and a Cooking Oil Pamphlet

I recently read the book "Speed Cleaning". It's not hard to imagine what it's about; specifically the author runs a housecleaning company in San Francisco which was very focused on cleaning as fast as possible. He took a relatively scientific approach, timing different methods, and found the quickest way to clean a house. These rules summarize almost everything that's in the book, although the book itself unpacks them in a way that is easier to fully grasp.

However, they aren't very oriented towards ecofriendly cleaning solutions, at least not by contemporary standards. (The book I read was updated in '91.) I make my own cleaning solutions now, but this system calls for more solutions than I currently use, and I want to learn more about how homemade cleaning solutions work. So I've been browsing Amazon for green cleaning book suggestions, and then requesting them from my library. While looking through the excerpt of one of these books, I came across this great link: it's a "kitchen guide" or pamphlet made up by Spectrum Organics on different cooking oils, especially their respective smoke points, and therefore what their uses are in cooking. Very handy! Keep in mind that once an oil goes over its smoke point it may taste bad and can often become carcinogenic. Here is Spectrum's link to the kitchen guide, and here it is in pdf format.

Tuesday, August 12

Lebanese Black Eyed Peas with Greens

I'm eating these as leftovers, and I'm reminded of how utterly delicious they were. This is simple food, not a sophisticated dish--I'd be quite impressed if anyone can make black eyed peas taste sophisticated. However they are also delightfully easy to cook. Although many people seem unaware of this, you don't need to soak black eyed peas. After around 40 minutes of boiling, they are ready. For this reason, they are a great last-minute-dinner bean. I'm always on the lookout for good black eyed pea recipes.

This recipe is from Claudia Roden's "Arabesque", a book which I love so much that I actually bought it. And that's saying a lot, as far as cookbooks are concerned. I rarely buy cookbooks: I get them from the library and record my favorite recipes into a recipe application. This is because I know how easy it is to end up with too many cookbooks. How can I explain why I love "Arabesque" so much? Roden writes the most evocative and fascinating introductions to her cookbooks. I like the fact that there's one chapter for each of the three regions in this book (Morocco, Turkey, Lebanon), so that one can get a real sense of the flavors and styles of each. Most of the recipes are really quite simple--at least the meze recipes, of which there are so many, and which can easily be turned into a dinner. Likewise, even though the main dishes are strongly focused on meat (fish, chicken, and lamb), most of the mezes are vegetarian; some of them are clearly main dishes, though they're in the meze chapters. I'm particularly enjoying Middle Eastern food lately, and it's easy to blend with Mediterranean food and, with a little fiddling, Indian food. It's fun for Gordan since much of the food he grew up on in Bosnia is essentially Turkish. When it comes down to it, I want to cook just about every recipe in here.

Let's get to the food, shall we?

Lebanese Black Eyed Peas with Greens
adapted from Claudia Roden

1 1/2 cups black eyed peas (Roden suggests haricot beans or chickpeas as substitutes)
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, sliced (we used walla walla)
2 tablespoons oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons oil
2 bunches of greens (ie spinach, chard, we used beet and mustard greens), washed, stems more or less removed, and dried
salt to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon's juice

Boil the black eyed peas for 40 minutes, with the bay leaf. When the beans are done, drain them, removing the bay leaf, salt them, and set them aside. You may want to reserve some of the bean's cooking water with which to moisten the dish later.

Fry the onion in two tablespoons of oil, until it is golden brown and caramelized.

In a fairly large saucepan, fry the garlic briefly in two tablespoons of oil. Toss in the greens and cover. When the greens have cooked down and are a brilliant green color a minute or two later, turn off the heat. Salt the greens. Stir in the black eyed peas and the onion. Taste and add more salt or cooking water if necessary.

To serve, drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and the lemon juice.

We ate this with long grain brown rice--which I meant to "prepare in the Syrian manner" which essentially means to add butter to it. However our butter was old, so we skipped that step.

And for dessert we had an experimental fruit salad:

1 cantaloupe
3 strawberries
a little more cinnamon than I meant to put in
a little more cardamom than I meant to put in
a little more cumin than I meant to put in
a good drizzle of honey
2 tablespoons grand marnier

Stir, allow to rest while dinner is eaten, and then enjoyed.

Monday, August 11

The loving embrace: vetiver, elemi, bergamot

Late at night, I'm still up, daydreaming about painting my apartment and getting more done. I'm inspired to make my surroundings more lovely and hospitable now. I first go to put essential oils on the diffuser. Often, especially at night, I'll diffuse frankincense by itself, because it is just that pleasurable that it doesn't even need accompaniment. Tonight I was considering adding bergamot or rose. But none of these were quite right. What feeling was I going for? An earthy, gentle embrace. Ah, vetiver! I pulled the vetiver out. Should I add bergamot? I smelled the vetiver and bergamot in close succession and decided that one drop of bergamot would be nice. Then I added elemi, to lighten the vetiver--elemi is an essence that does not draw attention to itself, but opens up other essences, makes them more spacious and less heavy or cloying.

The combination is really beautiful and unique, which I think owes a lot to the quality of the vetiver I am using.

One regret I have in my obsession with essential oils--it is hard to really immerse oneself in them. They are such an ephemeral experience. If you use the right amount, they will waft in and out of your perception. If you want to experience them fully and use a lot, they may become overwhelming, or else your senses may simply tune them out. Individual oils are easier to commit to sensory and emotional memory, but it seems as if blends, though they become their own entities with unique influences, play on the edge of our awareness.

What does happen, energetically, when we blend the essences of several plants? I would love to know.

Edited to add: If you try this blend, be careful to use very little vetiver, as it can be overpowering. I'm using 4 drops of elemi, 1 drop of vetiver, 1 drop of bergamot. I'll try it with lemon instead of bergamot soon.

Wednesday, August 6

Middle Eastern Fusion Theme Night

More on the food later, but I wanted to quickly post this list:


Megadarra or Lentils and Rice with Caramelized Onion, from Claudia Roden
Fried Zucchini Slices with Yogurt also from Roden
Salad Greens with Marinated Avocado and Tomato

Essential oils in diffuser:

Ginger root extract