Saturday, January 26, 2013

Warming up with a Hot Breakfast

In this post, I will continue my winter food series by sharing my favorite hot breakfast recipes.

But first, a brief weather update:

It's still COLD here. As I write, the full moon is beaming brightly in the COLD, clear winter sky. I think "Cold Moon" is the logical name for this month's moon.

One morning this week, I noticed numerous "trails" had developed on the river. After reading the delightful picture book, Snowmen at Night to my students, I can't help but imagine a party of snowmen sliding around on the river at night while we sleep. That's exactly what it looks like.


Yesterday morning, the sunrise was especially colorful, and the sky and river both had a "trail" motif going on.


Although I try to "be here now" as much as possible, this evening I decided it was time for a vacation from the cold. Since an actual vacation is not on the agenda, I went on an "imagination vacation," turning our living room into a tropical beach with the help of a new candle and ocean waves DVDs. It worked for me! I even fell asleep on the warm "beach" (next to the wood stove) and didn't wake up with a sunburn! I didn't break out the basin of sand this time (to sink my toes into for the complete experience), but maybe next time.


Moving on to breakfast...

Oatmeal and hot porridge really hit the spot on frigid mornings. This first recipe is named after my daughter, who at some point stopped liking raisins. It's very simple, quick, and nourishing. I like creamy oatmeal and usually use almond milk for all or at least half of the cooking liquid, but you could use water instead for a thinner consistency.

Oatmeal Jazz

Ingredients:
  • 1 3/4 cup milk (or nondairy alternative) or water
  • 1 cup rolled oats (old-fashioned or quick)
  • 1 apple, peeled and shredded or finely diced
  • Handful of raisins (or other dried fruit)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • Pinch of allspice and/or ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
  • Ground flaxseed meal (optional)  
  • Optional toppings: chopped fruit, sliced almonds, shredded coconut, carob chips, granola

Stir together milk or water and oats in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and add apple, raisins, and spices. Stir frequently for 3-4 minutes (slightly longer if using old-fashioned oats). Stir in vanilla, and sprinkle with flaxseed meal before serving. Add toppings of choice, if desired.

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For an even quicker, easier oatmeal breakfast, you can make-ahead mixes of Canning Jar Oatmeal-to-Go. I gave my daughter (now in college) a case of these for Christmas and also keep some on hand for the rest of the family. They're very convenient! Click HERE for the recipe. For the dried fruit, I have had delicious results with peaches, apples, and mango (alone, not in combination). I usually include raisins as part of the dried fruit component. Just remember that after you add the boiling or very hot water, the jars will be very hot to the touch! I usually pack them in my work bag surrounded by a spare pair of mittens. A fleece cozy or kitchen towel would work, too.

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Next is Three Bears Porridge, a longtime family favorite. It takes a little longer to prepare than the oatmeal recipes, but it's really good:


Ingredients:
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups milk or nondairy alternative
  • 1/2 cup bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped dates or other dried fruit
  • 1 small apple, diced
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal or wheat germ

Scald the water and milk in a saucepan. Add the bulgur, oats, cinnamon, raisins, dates, and apple. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover. Let simmer for about 15 minutes or until it's done to your liking. Before serving, stir in the flaxseed meal or wheat germ.

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Moving on to two of my favorite egg-based breakfast recipes: Vegetable Mini Frittatas and Breakfast Spinach Quiche.

Click HERE for the Breakfast Spinach Quiche recipe. I follow the recipe as written and sprinkle a little paprika on top before cooking.

Vegetable Mini Frittatas

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup other vegetable(s), diced (halved grape tomatoes, chopped bell peppers, chopped asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, or even small-diced home fries)
  • 8 large eggs (or about 2 1/4 cups Egg Beaters)
  • 1/4 cup milk or nondairy alternative
  • 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Grated Parmesan and/or cheddar cheese, as needed (I like to sprinkle on a little reduced-fat cheddar and use the Parmesan sparingly)
  • A few dashes of Tabasco
  • Paprika

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly steam broccoli and other vegetables (i.e. asparagus, mushrooms) until barely done.

Whisk together eggs, milk, oil, and baking powder. Season with pepper and Tabasco.

Lightly spray a 12-muffin pan with oil. Spoon out the vegetables evenly into each muffin cup. Ladle the egg mixture over the vegetables. Sprinkle with Parmesan and/or cheddar cheese, and then dust with paprika. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

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Finally, here is my home fries recipe, adapted from the Cabbagetown Home Fries recipe in Julie Jordan's Cabbagetown Cafe Cookbook:

Ingredients:
  • 6 potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
  • 2 onions, chopped into large pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3-4 Tbs. butter and/or olive oil (I use a combination of olive oil and Earth Balance)
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • Freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste (I omit salt)

Boil the potatoes in water to cover until just tender, about 30 minutes after the water boils. Dice into large cubes. Or to save time, you could dice them first to drastically reduce the cooking time.

In a frying pan, melt the butter and/or olive oil. Add the onions and garlic, and saute until the onions are translucent. Add the potatoes, spices, and black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the potatoes are lightly browned and starting to get crusty. Add an additional tablespoon of butter/oil if the potatoes start to stick. Taste and adjust the seasonings.



Saving the cinnamon roll muffins for another time!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Embracing the Gifts of Winter

Brrrr! We are in the midst of a deep freeze here in the Northeast. It is FRIGID with overnight temperatures in the double digits below zero! The surface of the river is frozen again, and - although it's bone-chilling weather to be outdoors - it is a sight to behold when the sun rises.


On my way home this evening, the sky was the most vibrant shade of baby blue I've ever seen, and the setting sun floated in a large sea of orange-yellow surrounded by blushes of rose and feathery wisps of violet. The textures and colors looked like a stunning watercolor painting. This gorgeous sky made a breathtaking backdrop for the trees silhouetted on the hills. I was tempted to stop the car and retrieve my camera from the trunk but decided to savor the view with just my eyes.

It was a welcome departure from the gray that dominates our world in the winter.

People around me have been questioning why we subject ourselves to winter's stronghold for a third of our year. Yesterday the biting wind gusted as I sat in the car icing my foot while my husband filled our five-gallon water jugs at a popular local spring, and I contemplated this very question.

As humans, we can choose between adapting or migrating. Why do we stay here? It seemed to all come down to family, roots, familiarity. However, I think there's more.

For three years of my life, I managed to avoid winter by living in Florida. It was wonderful to be able to go to the beach when friends and family in the Northeast were busy shoveling snow. I decided that March orange blossoms emitted the most intoxicating scent I'd ever experienced. It was great not having to scrape ice off the car windows in the morning in order to go anywhere.

However, as a native of upstate New York, it felt more or less like summer all year long since I was not attuned to the more subtle signposts that marked the seasons for native and securely transplanted Floridians. Summer was the indoor season when people moved briskly between air-conditioned cars, houses, and buildings, just as we find comfort and refuge in our heated cars, homes, and workplaces during winter up North. Perhaps if I had stayed longer, I, too, would have adapted to the Florida seasons and perceived more fully their nuances and rhythm. However, it felt to me as if something was missing from a soul-nourishing rhythm; winter as I'd always experienced it was a fundamental part of the structure and rhythm of my life.

This week, I have been tempted by the idea of relocating to a warmer climate. Perhaps we will someday if and when the time is right. However, since we are here now, it seems worthwhile to remind ourselves of the gifts of winter.

I appreciate the inward movement of winter. Although outdoor winter sports occupy many people's free time, in general winter is a time of reduced activity and going within, for the days are shorter and there is less time to be active. People retreat into warm houses, some animals hibernate, and seeds rest in the earth. It is a time of stillness and silence. The symphony of sounds produced by the natural world (birds, frogs, insects, etc.) throughout the warmer months has been silenced. It is time to go within - to dream, reflect, create, and plan. To read books and watch movies. It is a time of deep rest and renewal. We can catch up on our sleep.

We have to generate our own light and warmth during the cold, dark months. We light candles, which are symbols of our inner light. We appreciate light because this is a time when it is not in abundant supply and cannot be taken for granted. Gatherings tend to be smaller and more intimate and cozy. Like animals who remain here in the winter, we learn to adapt to our surroundings. It is a time for dreaming about and envisioning the new gardens we will grow in the summer - both literally and metaphorically. We find various ways to create light and warmth in our lives and to extend our light and warmth to others. Our routines and traditions are motivated by the need to take the chill out of winter days and nights.

Each year, I read a picture book to my kindergartners called Winter is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer. They are always perplexed and amused by the title, but then we read about how our world becomes warm in the winter when hats grow ear flaps, hands wear woolly sweaters, and pajamas grow feet. There are hot breakfasts, roaring fires, hot soups, thick blankets, and hissing radiators. Winter is a season that produces our coziest memories. This is a special, beautifully illustrated book that helps us appreciate winter's finer and warmer qualities. It brings me back to warm memories of my childhood home: Sitting on top of furnace vents in the floor under a little blanket tent, or standing over the vent so the warm air would make my long flannel nightgown puff up. Children are creative beings who know how to make the most of the moment!

After reading the book, we create a collaborative class book, "What Makes Winter Warm." Each child contributes an illustrated page about his or her favorite way to make winter warm. Here are some of the ideas they came up with:
  • bubble bath
  • skiing
  • fireplace
  • pet dog sleeping on my lap
  • macaroni and cheese
  • mittens
  • hot cocoa
  • grilled cheese sandwiches
  • sitting by the heater
  • warm blankets on my comfy bed
  • snuggling together for bedtime stories


These are all happy memories that make them smile. (Notice the smiles in their illustrations!) Children do not complain about winter. They love it!

As I entertained thoughts of fleeing to a warmer climate on this frigid day, I decided to make a list of some of my favorite ways to stay warm in the winter:
  • sitting by the wood stove
  • heated car seats
  • my favorite hand-knit alpaca gloves with fingertips that fold down
  • a thermos of hot herbal tea to sip throughout the day at work
  • the aroma of homemade soup and bread
  • curling up with a good novel
  • snowshoeing in the quiet woods
  • a warm shower or bath
  • outdoor fires under a clear sky, breathing fresh air
  • hot oatmeal and porridge for breakfast
  • doing dishes by hand in warm, soapy water
  • watching movies under warm blankets

These are the little things that are woven into the fabric of our lives. They enrich our lives with a certain rhythm and structure and build cozy, comforting memories. These are the things to focus on when the temperature drops below zero. Since this is where I am right now, I might as well embrace the gifts of winter!

What brings you joy and warmth in the winter?

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Soup's On!

This is the time of year when I am grateful that I sponge-painted our walls bright shades of orange, yellow, and turquoise a few summers ago. It brightens up the gray, Northeastern, winter days. The snow has melted, so snowshoeing is out of the question at the moment. Plus, the tendinitis in my foot is flaring this weekend, and I'm housebound doing the R.I.C.E. regimen.

While going through my January photos, I noticed there are more food photos than at other times of the year. When the weather outside isn't particularly inviting, cooking is one of the ways I find joy during the winter. It's how I unwind. I mentioned in a previous post the joys of my weekend "cooking retreats." I'm doing one this afternoon as the wind gusts outside.

I'm thinking that I'll do a Sunday cooking series for the next month, focusing on different types of recipes each time - because that's what I do here on the river at this time of year! Today I'll start with soups. Nothing warms up a chilly winter day like homemade soup!

Note: If any of the links in this post don't work, please let me know, and I will take care of it. :-)

This afternoon I'm making Classic Tomato Garlic Soup from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special, along with Herb and Onion Bread from Vegetarian Epicure. The house smells heavenly! This is the soup I make for family members when they are sick. My husband is fighting off the bugs with which he must have come in contact during a songwriting residency at my school this week. (He is not as practiced as I am at bouncing swiftly to the other side of the room when a child approaches about to cough or sneeze.) He craves this soup when he is feeling under the weather. It's loaded with vitamin C and lots of love!


I found the basic recipe for Tomato Garlic Soup online HERE. However, I double the amounts of garlic and paprika, and instead of using tomato juice, I purée two undrained quarts (or two 28-ounce cans) of tomatoes in a blender and also add a cup of vegetable stock or water. This year, I use tomatoes canned from our garden, which makes the soup even more divine. A soup recipe can't be much simpler than this one. It's nothing like the thick Campbell's Tomato Soup of my childhood, and people who have an aversion to that kind of tomato soup tend to love the Moosewood recipe. I garnish the steaming bowls of soup with chopped parsley, a little Parmesan cheese, and homemade herbed croutons, which are part the original recipe in the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook.

To make the croutons, I cube four slices of bread (usually end pieces saved in the freezer for such occasions) and toast them on a baking sheet in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes. Then drizzle over the toasted bread cubes 3 tablespoons of olive oil mixed with a pinch each of thyme and marjoram. Let them crisp on the baking sheet before garnishing.


Next up is my favorite soup: Santa Fe Chowder, also from the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook. I love the creamy consistency, the amount and variety of vegetables, and the southwestern spices.


Click HERE for the recipe. I follow the recipe as written but sometimes substitute a tablespoon of (seeded!) canned chipotles in adobo sauce for the green chiles, which gives the chowder a wonderful smoky flavor. I use reduced fat cheese and almond "milk" and garnish with minced fresh cilantro.

My husband's favorite soup is yet another Moosewood recipe: Choklay's Tibetan Lentil Soup from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special. (When making a list of our favorite soups for this post, I didn't realize that all but one of them originate from this cookbook. It's a good one!) It is delicious over brown or basmati rice.


I found the recipe online HERE. I read somewhere that you could purée half the soup in a blender to thicken it. Although I've never done that, it sounds intriguing. I like thick soups.

My children's favorite soup is Golden Cheddar Cheese Soup from Moosewood Cooks at Home. Click HERE for the recipe. Sorry - no picture for this one. It is a creamy soup that is quite similar to Santa Fe Chowder, minus the southwestern flavor.

In a previous post, I provided my recipe for Split Pea Soup, which is another favorite in our household. I serve it over brown or basmati rice with cornbread.


And finally, I offer a favorite recipe of friends and clients during my brief stint as a personal chef many years ago. Yet another gem from Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special: Butternut Squash Soup with Sizzled Sage. I made this soup for a friend of mine from the library when it was his birthday. (The magical world of shelving books is a whole other post that I must remember to write one of these days!) He said it was the best soup he ever tasted in his life and always reminds me when his birthday is rolling around, hoping I will make it for him again. Click HERE for the recipe.

You might consider pairing these soups with a loaf of homemade bread, like this easy (and not very time consuming) Herb and Onion Bread that smelled incredible this afternoon baking in the oven as the tomato soup simmered peacefully on the stovetop.


I hope some of these comforting soups will warm you up on a winter's day!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Diversity, Tolerance, and Snowflakes

Email followers: After publishing this yesterday, I reworked it considerably and republished it as a new post. It also snowed all day, which gave me new photo material. :-) 

At some points in the school year, learning themes sync up so perfectly that the rich threads connecting them simply beg to be elucidated. This is the case right now as our study of snow overlaps with our Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. unit. Diversity and tolerance are the major themes that run through both units.

This week, I watched on DVD Wilson Bentley: Snowflakes in Motion, an hour-long movie about the life of Wilson Bentley, a Vermont farmer who became fascinated with snowflakes at a young age and was among the very first human beings ever to photograph a snow crystal, after years of trial and error. His passion for snowflake photomicrography made him a pioneer in the field. He took pictures of more than 5,000 snow crystals and asserted that no two snowflakes are alike; each one is unique. Wilson Bentley celebrated and shared the beauty and diversity of the thousands of snow crystals he photographed so the public could appreciate them - and so their brief existence did not go unnoticed. Here is a short video that shows several of the images he captured:

 
Email subscribers: Click HERE to view video.

After watching the Wilson Bentley video, I fell asleep thinking of the aesthetic and transcendent beauty of snowflakes and how each snow crystal is an exquisite mandala. I woke up in the morning excited to introduce the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to my students by exploring the diverse beauty (beautiful diversity?) of snowflakes. I couldn't wait to show my students images of myriad, unique snow crystals, balanced with a discussion of the properties shared by all snow crystals. The next day, we would consider both how human beings are diverse and what we all have in common. I've never linked our January learning themes like this and couldn't wait to give it a try. It brought to mind the following, previously shared quote from "Mister" (Fred) Rogers:
"As different as we are from one another, as unique as each one of us is, we are much more the same than we are different. That may be the most essential message of all, as we help our children grow toward being caring, compassionate, and charitable adults."
Reconciling our uniqueness with an appreciation for the uniqueness of others is important work. This is described by some as "tolerance" and others as "acceptance." It is about respecting our differences. Here is another quote from Mister Rogers that came to mind after being dazzled by the images of several dozens of snowflakes in the video - and impressed by the painstaking care with which Wilson Bentley photographed individual snowflakes so they could be seen by others:
"As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has - or ever will have - something inside that is unique to all time. It's our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression." 
Watching the Snowflakes in Motion video, I was struck by the idea of how much joy, fulfillment, and meaning Wilson Bentley's dedication to snow crystal photography brought to his life. This passion stemmed from his love and appreciation of the natural world that began when he was a child. I related strongly to his discovery of tremendous beauty in dew drops, frost, and other evanescent natural phenomena that are so easily overlooked. When you do look and notice, you can't help but wonder how you never noticed before! Beauty truly is everywhere if you keep your eyes open and slow down enough to perceive it. In Wilson Bentley's own words:
"There is a need of a greater love for, and appreciation of such things, of the beautiful and wonderful in nature... There are oceans of enjoyment, soul satisfying pleasure to be had in Nature's art and beauty, as shown freely to us in the common things all about us."
Yes, yes, YES!


Yesterday, I was with my students on the playground and was drawn to a willow tree towering above us on the other side of the fence. Its slender, golden branches swayed gently against a vivid, blue sky. It looked like long hair blowing in the wind and was so beautiful. I felt the rhythm of my breathing become deeper and more relaxed as I tuned in to the here-and-now channel. Then I noticed some small evergreen branches that had fallen to the ground. I picked them up and inhaled their fragrance deeply. A few children noticed me holding and admiring the evergreen branches and came over to look at them. They noticed "baby pine cones" growing on the branches. And then they looked for evergreen branches on the ground and brought some inside for our nature table. Word of the "baby pine cones" spread, and there was a flurry of children around the nature table, trying to catch a glimpse of them. That was the most authentic and gratifying lesson I facilitated all day long.

Back to snowflakes...

My kindergarten students get so excited when snow is in the forecast and when they glimpse snowflakes falling from the sky. They also love magnifying glasses. To help them observe snowflakes, I plan to provide them with frozen swatches of dark cloth and magnifying glasses the next time we are outdoors when it snows. We also will cut paper snowflakes and notice how each child's snowflake is different.

Similarly, we will learn about skin pigmentation and notice that nobody's skin is actually white or black; we come in all different shades. In past years, I have had children mix paints to find their own skin tone, or compare their skin tone to paint cards and determine the closest match. We come up with descriptive names for our skin tones after getting ideas from picture books, such as The Colors of Us by Karen Katz, Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra L. Pinkney, and Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly. Some years, we use "multicultural" skin toned paint, construction paper, or crayons to create self-portraits, using different colors and textures of yarn for hair.


We round out our discussion of human diversity by talking about how we all experience the same feelings; have hopes, dreams, and fears; and live our lives as passengers on "spaceship Earth." The topic of snow is part of a larger study of the water cycle and the changes water goes through, and we learn that we all share the same water that gets recycled, over and over.

As a postscript, I would add that Wilson "Snowflake" Bentley and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. have another, very personal, common thread, and that is my grandmother, who was born on Dr. King's birthday and raised on a Vermont farm. She has been gone for more than two years now and would have been 94 today (January 15th).

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Naturalist Art and Energetic Connection

"I am a conduit giving shape in stone to the visions and dreams that assist us to remember our greater purpose and connection to the whole."  -Andreas Kunert

The images and masterpieces produced by the natural world on its own can be astounding. When human creativity interacts reverently with the rhythms, energies, and forces of nature, the possibilities become quite intriguing on another level.

An example is Andy Goldsworthy, the naturalist artist featured in the documentary, Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time. Working with the subtle energies of the natural world, he creates spectacular sculptures and designs out of organic materials, with the rhythm of time as co-artist. This video shows many examples of his brilliant work:

 
Email subscribers: Click HERE to view video.

In the documentary, it's fascinating to watch his creations dissolve when the rhythms and forces of the natural world act upon them; they illustrate poignantly the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. The fragile and transient nature of Goldsworthy's creations are part of their beauty and truth. At one point in the film, he reflects:
"I haven't simply made the piece to be destroyed by the sea. The work has been given to the sea as a gift. And the sea has taken the work and made more of it than I could have ever hoped for."   

Here is a trailer for the 2001 documentary:


Email subscribers: Click HERE to view trailer.

And here is Andy Goldsworthy's website.

I read that Andy Goldsworthy is considered the grandfather of rock balancing. Over the weekend, I was blown away by a video of a younger artist named Michael Grab who is able to attune to the energies of stones and balance them in ways that seem impossible. Below is a link to a recent NPR story about his work, complete with photos and a four-minute video that you simply must view (all the way to the end!). Viewing the video draws you into the meditative energy of the stone balancing process. I was able to sense immediately the still-point in which he had all the stones balanced. There is something numinous about that moment.

Michael Grab link: A Very, Very, Very Delicate Balance

Click here for Michael Grab's Gravity Glue website.

Watching videos like these convinces me that everyone possesses a certain kind of intelligence - perhaps even genius - waiting to be discovered and nurtured. Perhaps the path to discovery is revealed by what and who inspires us. We owe it to ourselves and to others to honor these gifts and not snuff them out.
"Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love."  -Jelaluddin Rumi

I also had the insight that when you truly connect with the heart of a place or a living thing, you experience the flow of its vital energy - its beauty and/or power. It feels like a sacred intersection where that which you are seeking is also seeking you, and you find each other. It is the place where you embrace - only to realize that you were never separate to begin with. This is where art originates - in one's attempt to express the vital energy of a place or living thing so that others, too, may come to know it and perhaps gain some insight into our own nature and the energy that flows through us.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Artistry of a Freezing River

Winter makes a bridge between one year and another.   -Andy Goldsworthy

Even as we are in the midst of a slight thaw this week, I enjoy watching the changes the river goes through as it freezes. The appearance is fascinating and always changing.

It would not take much imagination for the larger view to be perceived as a beach scene, frozen in time with slightly skewed coloring. The photo below looks so much like waves crashing to the shore. The curves at the shoreline remind me of curves of foamy waves retreating back to the ocean. 


However, a closer view reveals a long, frozen "wave" of pointy ice sculptures.


Interesting how the rhythm and flow at the heart of it all seem untouched and unchanged, despite changes taking place on the surface.

Last week, the moon looked so beautiful and haunting as it rose over the mostly frozen surface of the river. It was 1° and windy outside, though, and I was not able to take a decent picture; my fingers felt as if they were beginning to freeze! So I captured the image in words, instead:

Waning gibbous moon
rises over river:
Slightly tipped bowl of light
spills luminous chain
across frozen surface.

I'm also drawn to the visually diverse bands that run parallel all the way across the river.  


Throughout the winter, a river might look the same from day to day if you drive by it or observe it from a distance. It often seems the same even when I look out the windows of our home. But if you get up close, there is so much to see! Here are some images I captured last winter of icy patterns along the shoreline.






One morning last winter, it looked like nothing special was happening on the river; however, I went to sit on the bank anyway, and the timing was perfect. I heard a loud, rustling roar coming down the river, and then all the tiny ice plates along the shoreline (see photo, below) began moving and shifting along with an ice formation traveling downriver. It was an incredible ice show!


That was the day I began to think of the rhythm of the river as an artist.

In my next post, I will explore some extraordinary artistic possibilities that arise from the interplay between human creativity and the flow of energy in the natural world.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Zen and the Art of Bread Making

Making homemade bread is one of my favorite pastimes during the cold months.

There is much to love about it, but you can't be in a hurry. The process takes up to four hours, although almost all of it is rising and baking time. I usually make bread when I am housebound for an afternoon. Pajama days (my favorite days!) are perfect for making bread.

The process of making bread is a rich sensory experience and an opportunity for practicing mindfulness. Kneading the bread involves working the dough with your own two hands - pushing and folding it over, again and again - and noticing how the consistency changes until it's just right. The comforting aroma of the bread rising and baking is the stuff memories are made of. And it's all about warmth, too. The yeast requires warmth to come alive and do its job - and then a hot oven for baking. The whole house feels warmer and cozier on bread-making days.

The first time I made yeasted bread, I thought I did it wrong. I expected the kind of light and puffy loaves I always bought from the grocery store in plastic bags. Homemade bread is denser, more rustic, and more wholesome than store-bought bread. I can pronounce and identify every ingredient used in baking bread at home, which is not the case with store-bought bread.

I have a few favorite bread recipes but will highlight my most basic one that I use for our everyday bread. It is excellent for sandwiches, toast, and dipping in the fancy olive oils and balsamics that my mom has introduced us to recently. Over the years, I have tweaked and renamed the original recipe (formerly "Oat Bread with Maple Syrup") from The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas.


Multi-Grain Oat Bread

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup milk (I use Almond Dream or Almond Breeze)
  • 1 1/2 cups rolled oats (do not use quick oats)
  • 1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup or agave nectar
  • 2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 cup seed and grains mixture (I use oat berries, wheat flakes, rye flakes, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, millet, flax seeds, and poppy seeds) *This is optional but highly recommended; you can make your own mixture using whatever seeds you have on hand, or use King Arthur's Harvest Grains Blend
  • 2 Tbs. butter or margarine, melted and cooled
  • 3 cups unbleached white flour
  • 3 cups whole wheat bread flour (you can substitute whole wheat flour in a pinch)

Procedure:

Heat the water and milk together until scalding (when tiny bubbles form around the edges), and pour the liquid over the oats in a large bowl. Let soak for an hour. 

Sprinkle the yeast over the lukewarm oats, and stir. Then stir in the maple syrup, salt, seed and grains mixture, melted butter, and white flour. Be sure to spoon rather than scoop the flour into the measuring cup. The batter will be thick.

 
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and leave it in a warm (100°F at most), draft-free place to rise for about an hour. A "warm place" could be inside the car on a warm day or in your oven; heat the oven for one minute on the lowest temperature setting, and then turn off the heat. I like to put the bowl next to the wood stove.


After an hour, stir down the batter, and add the whole wheat flour one cup at a time, stirring it in well. When the dough is too stiff for a spoon, turn it out onto a well-floured board, sprinkle more flour on top, and begin kneading. Keep adding sprinkles of flour as long as the dough is sticky, but not past that point. Knead until it is elastic and firm (the consistency of an earlobe) and responds quickly to your push.

Imagine love and warmth traveling through your hands into the bread dough! Making bread is a labor of love! Surrender and be fully present to the gentle rhythm. Feel grateful that you and your loved ones have bread to eat. This is an opportunity for mindfulness meditation.

Divide the dough in half, and shape into two loaves.


Put the loaves into greased loaf pans or on greased baking sheets, and cover them loosely with a kitchen towel. Leave them in a warm place to rise for just under an hour, or until about doubled in size. (When I let the loaves rise in a warm oven, I remove them after 40 minutes and then heat the oven to 350°F.)

If the surface feels "crusty," the loaves have risen too long, and the bread will sink when it is put in the oven. In this case, it's well worth it to punch down the loaves, knead them briefly, shape back into loaves, and let them rise again. (An extra rising won't take as long, so keep an eye on them.)

 

Bake the loaves in a preheated 350°F oven for about 45-50 minutes. Check them every now and then. If they're browning too quickly, lay a piece of aluminum foil over them. When done, they should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom crust. 


Remove the loaves from the pans, and cool them on racks before slicing. Unconsumed portions should be frozen within two days. I automatically place one sliced loaf in a gallon-sized ziplock freezer bag and freeze for later use. 


Here are my two other favorite, time-tested, yeasted bread recipes:

Herb and Onion Bread

San Francisco Firehouse Bread with the following modifications:
  • 2 tablespoons yeast (instead of 2 packages)
  • 1/4 cup warm water (instead of 1/2 cup)
  • 1 2/3 cups milk and 2/3 cup dry milk powder (instead of evaporated milk)
  • 3 tablespoons honey (instead of sugar)
  • 2 loaf pans (instead of coffee cans)

If you make any of these recipes, I hope your bread turns out great and that you enjoy the process!

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Walking in a Winter Wonderland (on Snowshoes)

Before heading back to school this week, I dusted off my snowshoes and headed into the woods. There was a lot of dust to shake off because we coasted through last winter with virtually no snow. I nearly forgot how breathtakingly beautiful and pristine a fresh, new snowfall is.


It doesn't take long before the snow on the side of the roads gets dirty and mucky. However, the forest is an entirely different story.


Just as my kayak allows me to explore the river during summer, my snowshoes take me deep into the woods during the winter, providing access to areas I otherwise would not be able to experience. Snowshoeing is much easier than skiing - and great exercise, too! If you can walk, you can snowshoe!


Winter might actually be my favorite season to hike. After a few minutes on snowshoes, the cold melts away, and the warmth of the sunshine feels incredible. The crisp air feels rejuvenating to breathe, and the deep peace, quiet, and stillness of the woods in winter is simply divine. And there are no pesky mosquitoes or flies, either!

The winter woods tells so many stories of animals and their habits. For instance, my husband and I followed some deer tracks that led to where the animal slept for the night before continuing on its way.



I love to see the sunlight pass through the bare trees and illuminate the white snow like a sea of glistening diamonds. The interplay of white canvas and blue-tinted shadows and the contrast between the white snow and the brown trees are visually compelling.

Another mesmerizing effect happens when a sudden burst of wind blows a cloud of fine snow in front of the sun, and the snowflakes sparkle like glitter.


first snow, gentle breeze —
windswept sunlit confetti
glittering cloud dance

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Snowshoeing doesn't require much equipment or investment. Snowshoes aren't terribly expensive to begin with, and all you need in addition to warm outdoor clothing is a pair of gaiters to keep your lower legs dry and ski poles for extra stability and balance.


I had a dream several weeks ago that we finally had made it through a long, frigid winter that felt like it would never end. It was a great feeling, until I woke up and realized that winter hadn't even begun yet! Whenever I pass by my kayak, I gaze at it wistfully and look forward to getting back on the river in the spring. But in the meantime, I'll rely on my snowshoes to help me make the most of this season by transporting me deep into winter's magic and embracing its gifts.

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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss, 2012-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all photos, without express and written permission from this blog’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss (www.riverblissed.blogspot.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.