what’s cooking?

Did I ever mention that cooking is something I truly enjoy? Believe it or not, it’s one of the activities that keep me grounded and give me a great sense of satisfaction. The only exception is, when I entertain.

I’m still working on letting go, accepting what is and surrendering to the process when I take care of other people. I have this unhealthy habit of taking too much responsibility for other people’s experience. Call it control, a constant effort to look good, a heightened sense of perfectionism, or all of the above. Whatever it is, I’ve been watching it for years and I’m happy to report . . . there is progress in the making.

I didn’t use to enjoy cooking. Either way, I was pretty terrible at it. Once I started experimenting though, I discovered that one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy cooking was because I’m not that great at following recipes.

I’ve played by other people’s rules all my life. Do I really need to do the same while cooking? That’s what happens when you try to be “good” most of your young life. You reach adulthood and, one day, you realize that today is, as good a day as any, to rebel.

It didn’t help that my mother, who was a great cook, often took a critical stance at my first attempts in cooking. I figured, if she doesn’t like what I make, then, I don’t have to cook. And, I didn’t – which, of course, brought about a whole other wave of criticism. Oh, well. Being the old fashioned Greek lady that my mother was, she must have had nightmares of her daughter ending up a spinster. Who would ever marry anyone who was a lousy cook?

And so it went, until I got married to a guy who loved to cook and eat. Not only that, but he was vegetarian. What do you mean vegetarian? I never loved to eat red meat but, no self-respected Greek of my time was a vegetarian or had ever heard what a vegetarian is. And, here I am, marrying one. That ought to be fun . . . and so it’s been fun for the past 27 years.

For those of you who have seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” let me tell you. When we went to see it, we almost got kicked out of the theatre, that’s how loud we were. We laughed to no end. It was deja vu! The memory of my mother’s reaction, to learning that her son-in-law was a vegetarian, was classic.

Today, 27 years and approximately 19,000 meals later, I can honestly say that cooking has become an activity I enjoy. I’ve even found cookbooks I love using as inspiration. I follow recipes, now and then, although there are very few recipes I don’t alter. I love that I can be creative, experiment and have something yummy and nutritious to share in the end.

For me, keeping it simple and authentic is the way to go. Who needs too much intervention when all this fresh stuff is here for our enjoyment? I love fresh herbs and vegetables; the more flavor and fragrance, the better.
I’ve also decided that, cooking, more than baking, suits my style. If I’m going to have dessert, it better be divine and that’s what, the French Bakery in our town, is for.

I’ve found that being myself is all I can do these days and the people around me agree. I think I’ve found my tribe . . . but more on the subject of “tribes” later.

Stay tuned. . .

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of gardens and wood fairies

I grew up watching my grandfather growing roses, tending grapes and fruit trees. In the summer, he would wake me up early in the morning so we could pick figs from the trees in our back yard for breakfast. Around noon, after the day’s chores were done, the children would lie down, under the shade of one of the fig trees, to rest, while our mothers would sit nearby and gossip or knit – seeking respite from the heat. Often, they would tell us stories about wood fairies and how they could steal the mind of the unfortunate mortals sleeping under their favorite trees.

My childhood wasn’t easy but there was magic in the air. It was that magic that sustained me; the deep connection to the land and the myths and vibrations of old.

The days I spent trailing my grandfather, as he tended his garden, have fueled my love for all things blooming. Lately, these memories have been circling my mind; strumming at my heart chords. It’s been a long time and an ocean between the child lying under the grand fig tree, dreaming of wood fairies, and the woman I am today.

My grandfather died when I was fifteen. That’s how old my daughters are now. The fig trees, the grape arbor and the rose garden are long gone. These days, I tend my own garden and although New England isn’t very friendly to fig trees, the magic still holds. The garden takes hold of me; I dream of it in the winter and, come spring, it’s the first place I go to, tea cup in hand. It keeps me connected and grounded; dirty fingernails and all.

I began fancying myself as a gardener in my late twenties. My initial efforts failed miserably. Secretly, I was happy that grandfather wasn’t around witnessing his apprentice making a mess of things. I kept trying and failing and each time I learned something more.

I learned about soil and light and native plants. I learned about timing and letting go. I learned to collaborate. A garden exists in spirit form and manifests through the gardener, in due time. It’s always a work in process and transformation, based on nature’s cycles and rhythm. With each passing season, I’m watching my sense of perfectionism softening its grip. I’ve learned to be happy with my lot. Other people’s gardens can serve as inspiration but, in the end, my garden and I have our own things going and it suits us fine.

Our moods are interconnected. Sometimes I like things simpler than others. As I change and transform, so does my garden. There are certain things that don’t change; my love for fragrant blooms, herbs and roses. I learned what plants invite hummingbirds in my yard. I recognize the sounds they make and I know when to be still and watch them.

The other day, I started doing some fall clean up. I’m still hesitating cutting back the shasta daisies and the peonies. Their dry stalks are reminders of the glory of spring and high summer. I’m not ready to let go . . . just yet. The basil is gone but I brought some parsley and mint inside for the winter.

The garden is preparing for darker, colder days ahead and so am I. Each season comes bearing gifts but I have spring in my mind. Soon, I’ll start dreaming again.

 

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what does chocolate have to do with it?

Here I am at Marty’s in Washington Depot, a cup of hot coffee and a morning glory muffin next to me. It’s raining pretty heavily, puddles of water already forming on the sidewalk. There’s the steady hum of the fans above, the chatter of a handful of people ordering coffee and joking with the owner, light jazz coming through the speakers.

On my way here, I drove by the post office to mail a letter and decided to circle back by the Middle School, on my way to Washington. The school is in session and the streets were quiet. I drove by slowly, looking at the school when, suddenly, it hit me.

My daughters are in High School now. Gone are the days when I used to drive by the Middle School, thinking of them, wondering what class they were in and sending them smiles. OR, when I’d walk in the building for committee meetings or to help with this and that. I used to see them in the corridors, on their way to class and they’d smile or stop to say hello but . . . no PDA . . . please! There was a host of middle schoolers watching, after all:-)

As all this went through my mind at the speed of lighting, I felt tears coming up. It was the first time, I let the tears come, since the girls started High School.

August was a whirlwind. We survived Irene and the four-day power shortage, went away for a four-day vacation and came back to . . . more rain! The floods that ensued caused the first school closing of the season All that while trying to adjust to a new schedule, a whole new set of demands and expectations, preparing for a workshop I was giving and trying to orchestrate home repairs and renovations. No wonder! There has been no time to stop and reflect.

This is how I tend to be and I suspect that’s how it is for many of you;  at the moment of a crisis or transition, I tend to brace and dive in. I do what I have to do, putting one foot in front of the other and making sure everyone is taken care of. Then, eventually, the “storm” passes, the initial impact is softened and the craziness becomes a distant memory. I find myself alone and quiet, settled into the new rhythm and ready to be with myself.

It’s at that point that whatever emotions were kept at bay, so I could function, often come to the surface; demanding to be dealt with. So, today, I finally felt the impact of having my daughters, my babies no-more, entering a new phase. I often joke that with twins, there is no dress rehearsal. No previous experience to fall back to.

Our relationship is strong and loving, yet things have also changed. For, as much as they love and respect me, they’re establishing boundaries and flexing their muscles. As a constant presence in their life, I’m here to rebel against and run to, often, at the same time. Confusing, to say the least . . . for all of us.

I have to constantly try and recall what it meant to be fifteen . . . while reminding myself that they’re not me! Their temperaments and individual traits may remind me of myself or my husband but they’re not us. They’re unique individuals.

So, here I am today, my coffee cup empty and my muffin indulged:-) I’ll have  brownies for them when I get home. They’ll be really happy after a long day at school and field hockey practice. They’ll give me a big smile and a hug before they grab the bag from my hands. For a brief moment they’ll regress back to being two kids with chocolate all over their mouths and a huge grin of utter satisfaction.

Don’t you love chocolate?

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being at home

“The beach is truly home, its broad expanse of sand as welcoming as a mother’s open arms. This landscape, which extends as far as the eye can see, always reminds me of possibility. It is here I can listen to my inner voice, shed inhibitions, move to the rhythms of the waves, and ask the universe unanswerable questions.” ~ Joan Anderson from “A Walk on the Beach”

Having been born in a small country that’s surrounded by water, I spent much of my time, as a child and young adult, by the sea. I deeply appreciate Joan Anderson’s words.

The beach is truly home for me, especially in the early morning or early evening hours; when the tide is coming in or going out and the light is gentle. The crowds have retreated or not arrived yet, and only a few people are around, breathing in and out with the waves and enjoying the peace. My soul mates – of sort.

I recently returned from a four day stay in Block Island, RI. This time we stayed at a B&B near the center of town so we didn’t take our car with us. Block Island is small and walker / biker friendly. Having to walk everywhere, made me see things, I wouldn’t have observed otherwise, and gain a deeper sense of the place.

Our walks to town / beach and back became walking meditation. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other, breathe and let my senses open up to the environment. The salty air, the cool breeze, the sound of the wind through the tall grass on the edge of the salt water pond, the smell of beach roses, the seagulls calling, bikers, walkers, children and a feeling of peace, of letting go and letting be.

The bed was near the window overlooking the fields. The cool, salty breeze would come through the window all night. I found myself waking up at 6 am to bird song and the morning light changing the view in front of my eyes. All I wanted was to get up and go. Neal and I would get up, put warm clothes on and off to the beach we went.

The tide was still low, the sand wet and cool. The sandpipers were hard at work already, chasing the waves, going back and forth with the rhythm of the tide, digging in the wet sand for their breakfast. They went in groups and moved in perfect harmony.

There were only a handful of people walking. Some would smile and say hello, others not. I got the feeling that we were all there to experience this moment, in our own way and let each other be. How refreshing.

Soon after the first day, I felt time stretching and slowing down. Waking up early and starting with my day, walking everywhere and being open to all details, made every moment more vivid, lively and important. My spirit was being restored and my energy and inspiration recharged.

One windy afternoon, we went kayaking on the saltwater pond. On our way out, we had to paddle against the wind. We were the only ones there. All was quiet and peaceful. Paddling against the wind required more effort but as we turned, the wind was at our back, bringing us ashore, gently.

Everything in life seems to be part of a cycle. In and out, back and forth, up and down, darkness and light. Sometimes we paddle against the wind, doing the best we can, resting here and there or struggling to stay afloat.

Eventually we arrive at our destination, turn our backs to the wind, and it’s smooth sailing from that point on. We’re brought back to shore, safe, and filled with a sense of achievement and exhilaration, our stamina restored. We learned something more about ourselves during the journey and pretty soon we’re ready to go at it again.

It’s all based on rhythm, our breath in and out, the tides, day and night, and the seasons. A garden sprouts and blooms, then withers and dies. It goes underground only to return glorious and more beautiful than ever in the spring. The cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Then, there’s the space in between, where we can rest and recharge. I guess, that’s what these four days were for me. The space in between!

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stargazing

On the fourth day, after Irene struck, we got our power back. It was a moment of celebration and relief mixed in with survivor’s guilt. We finally had access to the news and were able to see the images of devastation Irene had inflicted. I couldn’t get them out of my head.

As the surge of excitement subsided, I realized how tired I was. Yet, things had to be taken care of. The refrigerator, for once, needed to be purged and scrubbed. The floors needed to be vacuumed and the laundry sorted. I made a pot of Earl Grey tea and sat on my favorite chair on the deck to enjoy it. A hot cup of tea! Heavenly!

I took a few deep breaths and looked around. The pots of herbs and flowers on the deck had somehow survived Irene’s wrath. They were battered but not destroyed. The hummingbirds were zooming around me, trying to let me know that it was time for them to feed and, somehow, I was in their way.

The rain that fell over the weekend was strong and relentless.  I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed such a rainfall. The winds were strong. Yet, here are these pots of basil, parsley, nasturtiums and salvia. They’re still standing and blooming, maybe not brand new and glorious, but proud survivors.

As I reflected back to the four days without power, I realized how time seemed to move slower than ever. Unplugged from all technology and forced to live in the moment, I was made to pay close attention to everything that I was doing, without taking anything for granted. Using water, eating, trying to maintain a certain order in our environment, reading under a candle, being with my family or sitting quietly . . . nothing was routine anymore.

Every little thing was to be examined, paid attention to and observed carefully. In other words, I had to be mindful on how I moved, utilized my resources and related to other people.

In the early hours of Monday morning I woke up and looked out my bedroom window. 80% of our town had no power and it was really dark outside. I was astonished at the number of stars I could see. Standing there all alone, in the dark, looking up in the middle of the night reminded me of the wonder I used to feel as a child.

One of my daughters was awake too, so I asked her to come outside with me. We wrapped ourselves in blankets and stood in the middle of the yard, stargazing. The expression on her face, the deep breath she took when she looked up . . . that moment was a gift.

The next evening, all four of us drove to an open field and lied down looking at the stars and trying to name the constellations.

There is always work to be done and yes, this is a crazy world we live in, filled with uncertainty and rapid change. Maybe that’s why we need to look up as often as possible, connect to all that’s great and powerful and allow our spirit to be restored.

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