Come NightWalking with me in Taos, NM, in August 2018

Today is an exceptionally cold day in Austin, Texas. At noon the temperature is 27 degrees F (-2.8 C). It rained last night, then froze, sleeted this morning, and now it’s snowing. Schools are closed, and many people are staying in, staying warm, staying safe. People in cold areas may laugh, but most Austinites don’t know how to drive on ice. We don’t have snowplows. Sand on bridges is about it. So we call everything off and stay in.

Today (besides staying cozy in my pajamas and sipping hot bone broth), I’m daydreaming about an event I will attend this summer, August 10-12, 2018, when it will probably be over 100 degrees F (38 C) here. I’m going up into the southern Rockies where it will most certainly be cooler, to Taos, New Mexico, a legendary town in the high desert mountains. Continue reading

Blog stats for 2017

Happy 2018! I’m back from a few days in the stunning big-sky big-earth desert/mountain landscape of Big Bend National Park, with a brief boat-and-burro-ride into Boquillas, Mexico.

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Nature sure helps put my monkey-mind concerns into perspective. Hikes, hot springs, camp food, company, solitude, and nourishing views, views, views.

On the return trip of about 9 hours, I drove into a spectacular cold front featuring a wall of low clouds made of freezing mist that I could see miles ahead of me. Continue reading

A round holiday feast

I’m tired of turkey and all the traditional Christmas and Thanksgiving meals where a big slab of meat is the centerpiece. This year I decided to do something different: most of the foods are round in shape. (Okay, look, I’m an Aquarian, and I’m allowed to be quirky. I thought it would be fun and different and still delicious.)

Here’s the menu:

  • beet-pickled deviled eggs
  • salad with mixed greens, pickled beets, feta, and walnuts
  • baked brie with roasted cranberries, served with round gluten-free crackers
  • meatballs with marinara sauce
  • roasted brussels sprouts with fig balsamic vinegar
  • mashed potatoes (not round but my daughter’s favorite, and I rarely cook for her any more so a special addition to the menu)
  • arancini (risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella, breaded and deep fried (something else I almost never do)
  • chocolate truffles

It seems like a fun meal to make and share, and if you’ll notice, it has a lot of red, green, white, and golden foods, so it’s seasonal, it’s seasonal! And there’s a lot that you can do in advance, so it’s not so stressful the day of the feast.

I’m starting a few days ahead of our mid-day holiday meal for 7-8 people. First up: steaming eggs, a way of making hard-cooked eggs cook evenly and peel easily no matter how fresh they are. You can store these in the fridge for up to 5 days. http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/04/steamed-hard-boiled-eggs-recipe.html

IMG_0534Next, I made a brine for pickling the hard-cooked eggs, starting with store-bought pickled beets. That is a food I really like, and yet I often forget pickled beets exist. (Some day I’m going to grow my own and pickle them myself.)

The eggs sit in the magenta-colored brine. These were brined for 2 days. The longer they sit, the pinker and tangier they get. I will devil them the morning of the feast. (The ingredients for deviling include mustard and curry powder, giving the stuffing a bright golden color.)

I bet the brine can be reused for another batch of hard-cooked eggs.

IMG_0536In my search for interesting ways to use a bag of raw cranberries left from Thanksgiving, I found a recipe for baked brie with maple roasted cranberries (both round) and knew I had to make it to see for myself how the creamy, gooey richness of the brie and the tartness of the cranberries combine. It sounds utterly delicious and unbelievably simple. Roast cranberries coated with maple syrup until they get juicy and start to burst, 15-20 minutes. (I’m excited about doing this!) Pour roasted cranberries over the brie and bake for another 7 minutes. I will make it just before guests arrive and serve with gluten-free Nut-Thins. Adorned with rosemary sprigs, it brings the red and green.

Those are the appetizers. Since I bought two jars of pickled beets, I am going to make a mixed greens salad with beets, feta, and walnuts.  The pickled beets I bought are tiny, barely bigger than large olives, so they fit with the round theme as well as being mostly red and green. The beets, feta, and toasted walnuts go on top of some mixed greens, with a vinaigrette dressing using the fig balsamic vinegar I bought at the Austin Fermentation Festival in October. (I’m crazy about this stuff!)

Now onto the meat. Christmas dinner usually features some amazing, photogenic, expensive chunk of animal flesh: a turkey, duck, goose, ham, roast, leg of lamb, etc. It is the centerpiece on the table, and everything else revolves around it. And sometimes it’s not even all that tasty.

Instead, I wanted something yummy yet humble, and round, so I decided to make lowly meatballs. Mixing ground beef and ground pork with seasonings, these can be made ahead of time and then reheated. Here’s the Paleo meatball recipe I’ve decided on. I will make them a day or two ahead of time, reheating them in a slow cooker, serving with a store-bought marinara sauce, sprinkled with minced herbs.

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Roasted brussels sprouts make a wonderful dish. It’s probably my favorite roasted vegetable, but please don’t hold me to that because roasting makes most veggies fantastic. I’ll cut the b.sprouts in half, roast them in bacon grease until they start to brown, and serve coated with the fig balsamic vinegar, sprinkled with Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Mashed potatoes have nothing round about them until you plop a big circle of them onto your plate. Lela’s favorite dish is very traditional: peeled, with butter and milk, salt and pepper. No cream cheese, sour cream, buttermilk, chives, Ranch dressing, bacon, or breadcrumb topping. Plain, plain mashed potatoes.

Screen Shot 2017-12-21 at 8.12.33 PMI’ve read a lot of recipes for mashed potatoes. Turns out there’s some science behind the best. I’m using Yukon golds for creaminess with a couple of big russets for fluffiness. This recipe knocks some traditions on their heads: cooking unpeeled whole potatoes and heating the dairy before adding it. I will use this gadget, which mashes and rices potatoes. I can cook the potatoes a day or two ahead of time, slipping the skins off when they’ve cooled a bit but are still warm, mashing and adding melted butter, and then refrigerating them. When dinner time approaches, I will heat the milk with more butter in a saucepan and add the potatoes to reheat them.

So far, the things I have to do the day of the dinner include deviling the hard-cooked beet-pickled eggs (15 minutes), reheating the meatballs in a slow cooker (60-90 minutes), roasting the brussels sprouts (40 minutes), reheating the mashed potatoes on the cooktop (15 minutes), roasting the cranberries and baking the brie (30 minutes), and throwing the greens/pickled beets/feta/walnut salad together (5 minutes). Many of these tasks can overlap.

Screen Shot 2017-12-21 at 8.53.30 PMThe biggest challenge will be making arancini. It’s the most complicated dish I’ve ever attempted, so wish me luck with it. It seems to be something that Italian home cooks made rather than a food that restaurants serve (at least I’ve never seen it on a menu), simply because it is so time-consuming. And wonderful! Appropriate for a feast! Can’t wait to bite into a crispy deep-fried ball of risotto with gooey melted cheese in the middle! I’ve never eaten one, but once I stumbled across the recipe, it was something I knew I had to make. Because where else am I going to get to taste this dish without going to Italy and making friends with a home cook who makes it?

I found gluten-free panko bread crumbs, got sushi rice as directed, and made chicken bone broth with plenty of gelatin in it. I plan to use refined (flavorless) coconut oil for frying, a healthier choice than vegetable or canola oil.

I’ve made risotto many times, and basically this is risotto blended with bechamel sauce that can be made ahead of time and chilled for an hour to stiffen it. Then I will take some cold sticky rice, place a chunk of mozzarella in the middle, shape it into a ball, roll it in flour-and-water, coat it in breadcrumbs, and deep fry it, resulting in an orange-colored ball (the name means “little orange”) with a crispy crust and creamy cheesy interior, repeating until the rice is used up.

It’s about 3 hours of cooking time total, and it can be made ahead of time and reheated in the oven at 350. I’m doubling the recipe to have leftovers.

Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 6.27.52 PMWhat kind of round dessert follows this feast? Why, chocolate truffles, of course. These will definitely be coming from a store.

Many thanks to all the great cooks who posted their recipes online.

After Christmas, I’ll be ready to eat simple food for a long, long time, grateful that “the food season” only lasts about a month.

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How it turned out:

  • I’ll brine the eggs in beet juice (or better yet, try beet kvass!) for 24 hours instead of 48 to just get a ring of pinkness
  • I will get a bigger wheel of brie. Baked brie with maple roasted cranberries is an easy and awesome dish to take to a potluck if you can keep it warm.
  • The salad was delicious.
  • The meatballs were delicious and very easy to make. This is a recipe I’ll return to again. What if I always had cooked meatballs in the freezer, just ready to thaw in some marinara sauce? Why, that would be wonderful!
  • The roasted brussels sprouts were great. So easy. I make these often for myself.
  • The mashed potatoes were a big hit, and I’m getting a potato ricer because I want to see if it’s easier than the tool I used for getting lumps out. I also used a mixer when I reheated them.
  • The arancini had a fabulous texture! They were about the size of a baseball, and I’m not sure if that’s traditional. I bit into one, and the outer shell was crispy and crunchy. However, the inside was disappointing. The rice mixture was bland. I will add tangy or savory ingredients, like mushrooms, bacon, garlic, wine, basil, and rosemary, to the rice next time to give it more flavor. The cheese was bland as well. Next time, I will dice the mozzarella into smaller pieces (maybe 1/4th inch cubes and mix it with some good parmesan or another sharper cheese.
  • I didn’t get truffles because I couldn’t find them on my last-minute trip to the store, but we were so well-fed, we didn’t miss them a bit. It was a nice idea, though.

Post-concussion self-care

I’m getting referrals for craniosacral therapy for people who have had concussions, and I want to help these folks heal. Not knowing what a doctor may have told them, and knowing how busy most doctors are, I’m providing information here that may help those with injured brains recover more quickly. If your doctor tells you something different, listen.

People who’ve had concussions report these symptoms: pain, dizziness or vertigo, balance issues, gait disturbance, vision changes, sensitivity to light and sound, language problems, confusion, lack of focus, forgetfulness, nausea, sleepiness, and/or emotional problems.

To clarify the language, concussions may also be called mild TBIs (traumatic brain injuries). People can get concussions from an impact, from being shaken (like shaken baby syndrome), or from being near an explosion (IEDs in war zones make this a tragic problem for many veterans).

Continue reading

Hydration: the first step to building health

The first step to preventing dementia is to stay hydrated. The brain is more sensitive to dehydration than any other tissue in your body. This issue is on my mind due to numerous friends’ parents having tragically developed Alzheimer’s and also learning of contemporaries with early-stage dementia. Craniosacral therapy can help, and I’ll write about that in the future. Today: hydration.

This is a topic that your doctor will probably never mention unless you have a severe issue like kidney disease, but your massage therapist certainly will!

You are at your most dehydrated when you wake up in the morning. Therefore, drink water soon after you wake! It’ll help get your brain and your whole system going.  Continue reading

After #MeToo, Aikido.

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Source: http://upliftconnect.com/aikido-conflict/. Many thanks.

Times are changing. The sheer number of women who have come forward with tales of being sexually harassed or assaulted by Harvey Weinstein has opened up a national conversation that is long overdue.`

The many #MeToo tales of sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape shared on Facebook and Twitter have made it clear: this situation is not just happening in Hollywood. It’s common. It is rare that a woman has never experienced such inappropriate sexual behavior. Millions of women — and teen girls, and girl children — have been touched in a sexual way that they did not want. And we’ve pretty much normalized it, except in especially heinous cases such as Bill Cosby and the occasional gang rape or murder or famous person.

Continue reading

How Breath of Fire relieved my hiatal hernia symptoms

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, just someone interested in self-care, anatomy, physiology, and wellness who is relating her personal experience working with her own issues. If you are in a similar situation, the techniques described below may or may not be helpful. Always pay attention to your body’s yes and no.

A couple of years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with chest pain. I didn’t know what it was. I sat up, just feeling it, trying to figure out what was causing it and whether I needed to call an ambulance. Heart attack was my big fear. From the top of my solar plexus, the pain ran through the middle of my chest underneath my sternum and up my throat. It was unpleasant.  Continue reading

Opportunities to assist in Texas, after Harvey

Please share! Two of my Austin friends have set up GoFundMe campaigns after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas gulf coast, and I want to spread the word. The need in Texas is great. However you can help, it’s much appreciated.

Barbara Newitt grew up in Houston, and her 90-year-old mother and her two sisters still live there, together, whereas Barb has been in Austin for decades.

Her mom and sisters lived a block from Buffalo Bayou, a major waterway in central Houston. Their home was flooded. After a medical emergency, four policemen came to evacuate them, somehow got a boat, and the mom, Lydia, was taken to a hospital. One daughter stayed with her. The other daughter was taken to a public shelter. Continue reading

After my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course

On Wednesday, August 9, I got up early, loaded my car, made a home visit to massage one of my regular clients, and drove from Austin to Kaufman, Texas, a 3.5 hour drive.

BTW, my client commented afterwards that it was really a great massage. He even had a waking lucid dream toward the end of the session. I attribute that to his learned ability to relax deeply while staying awake and to me having more presence and being more tuned into him and myself. I knew that for the next 10 days, I’d be stepping out of my everyday life and meditating quite a lot without distractions. I didn’t have my normal everyday thoughts about logistics (travel, meals, timing, errands), which made a huge difference in my ability to really be present. So it started before I even left town.

IMG_0175I arrived at the Southwest Vipassana Meditation Center near Kaufman mid-afternoon. I registered, was assigned a room in the women’s dorm, and surrendered my wallet and cell phone. I had left books, computer, and writing materials at home.

I unloaded my stuff and set up my room, which was small, furnished with an extra-long twin bed and a plastic chair and small table, with open shelves and a place to hang clothing, and a bathroom with a shower. And a big window looking out on trees and clothesline. Very simple and adequate, and yet this particular Vipassana center is considered one of the more luxurious centers worldwide. Continue reading

HeartMath Institute sale!

Just got an email that the HeartMath Institute is having a 20% off sale August 3-17, plus free shipping on all orders over $40 in the U.S.

That means if you’ve been wanting to try HeartMath’s Inner Balance Bluetooth sensor, you can save if you buy it now. It’s one of the items I feature on my Products I Recommend page. The app (for iOS and Android smart phones) is free.

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If this is completely new to you, the HeartMath Institute promotes biofeedback programs from simple to complex that help you raise your heart rate variability (HRV), an indicator of health.

Also, if you are a member of the HeartMath Institute, you can get an additional 5% off your purchases. Since you select your annual fee based on what you can afford to give, this seems like a great time to join.