Begin Within Monthly Journal
& Favorite Easy Meals
June 2015; Letter 7
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Notes to Self
One of the coolest things about having this blog is that it serves as my own online recipe organizer. Nowadays, instead of searching through my big, messy notebook- and deciphering my handwritten notes (often layered upon each other over the years)- I just go my own healthy recipe archive. It is also a place for me to organize my thoughts on natural health solutions and cures and other things that interest me. Then when I want the info to share (or for personal reference), I know just where to find it.
Of course, another great benefit is being able to share and connect with other people. It’s been fascinating and fulfilling to hear from people who read the blog about which recipes they made. I never would have been able to guess which recipes they’d choose— nor which ones would be the most popular in terms of total visits and ‘shares’.
These are a handful of the most read pages at BeginWithin.Kitchen to date:
Cooking By Feeling
Sometimes when I’m cooking, I am reminded of myself as a little girl. I decide to add something to a recipe and a little voice inside my head asks, “How do you know to do that?’. Or, someone else asks me how I come up with new recipes... how do I know how much to put in of each ingredient... how do I know what will work together?
I remember asking my mom similar questions when I was little, and she would always reply, ‘from practice’ (or something along those lines). And it’s true. So much of what I know about cooking comes from the countless hours I’ve spent in the kitchen— the experiments, the failed recipes, the successes too. After 20 plus years of cooking almost daily, one develops an inner sense. More often than not I find myself checking the oven seconds before the alarm goes off (sometimes wondering if I forgot to set it just as it begins to beep). I can tell when something is getting ready just by the smell. What began as a technical recipe-following experience in the kitchen becomes ‘cooking by feeling’.
After a while you know about how much a teaspoon, a tablespoon, or a cup is, so you ditch the measuring spoons and cups (just more dishes to wash!), and you use your hands and eyes to measure. (Though I do take a step back and confirm measurements when I’m preparing to post a recipe to the blog.)
The truth is that most recipes are very flexible. In many cases you won’t even notice slight variations in quantities. The main exception to this is baked goods, but even those are more flexible that you might think. When working on a new recipe, I frequently take two or three related recipes that look interesting, extracting the parts that appeal to me the most and combining them into my own. Then as I make it again and again, I tweak it here and there until I get it ‘just right’.
You can learn to ‘cook by feeling’ too. Put a teaspoon, and then a tablespoon, of salt in your cupped palm. Memorize what it looks like. Every time you pour 1/4 cup, a half cup, a full cup of something, notice the feel, how long it takes to pour it, and the approximate quantity. With time you’ll come to trust it. For me, an inch is about the end of my thumb, from knuckle to tip. I use that for estimating the thickness of cuts. You’ll find your own shortcuts, and after a while you will be able to dispense with the measuring devices too.
Also, don’t be afraid to stray from recipes. That’s how they evolve into ‘yours’. Now and then try cooking a familiar favorite by memory and see what happens. If your intuition tells you to try some new addition or change, go for it. If you leave something out, maybe it was for the better anyway. The worst that can happen is a lesson learned, the best is a new and delicious discovery.
To Read, Watch, Click
As usual, I’ve been reading a lot. Ideally I’d spend half of every day with a book. That doesn’t happen the way my life is set up right now, but I do try to read a little each evening and then most of the day on Sunday.
I recently completed On Death and Dying by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, which has become rather famous over the years. Now I know why. The book is much more than a dry recital of the ’psychological stages of dying’ (which is what it has become famous for). Actually the text doesn’t even set it out in such a simplistic way. It’s mostly full of conversations with actual patients who have (had) terminal diseases, with a great deal of compassion for them and an honest interest in hearing about their experiences with the hospital, with their loved ones, and their many beliefs/fears/hopes related to life and dying.
On Death and Dying also makes some very good points regarding how we die. We used to go out of this world in relative comfort... at home, surrounded by our loved ones, eating favorite foods, with time to plan and tie up loose ends. (This applying to those dying of disease or old age, of course. None of this, including the psychological stages, applies to those who die suddenly.) These days the majority of people will die in a hospital, many quite alone, eating hospital food, drugged to the max, surrounded by busy hospital staff and medical devices.
My favorite books are those that open my mind to new ideas, new experiences, and that help me to see the world in different way. This book definitely did that and I would put it in the ‘everyone should read’ category. Even those who are young and healthy now will benefit by being better able to help their parents and older friends and family deal with death, even just by being able to be there and near them with nothing to fear. As they say, there are are only two things in life you can't avoid (death and taxes).
In addition to reading, my husband and I also watch a lot of movies and TV series. Even here in Argentina we can get the latest. I use iTunes primarily because it allows us to download rentals, which means there are no issues with streaming them while watching. (Our internet is pretty good but can be erratic sometimes, and it’s pretty annoying when the movie you're trying to watch keeps stalling.)
Although we watch a lot of movies, very few are great films that are truly memorable or moving. We did watch one recently that was both. I don’t think it was ever very high on anyone’s radar. It stars Kristen Stewart in a very different role than the norm. She is very good, and the prisoner is amazing. It never crossed my mind that he was an actor, which I think is the hallmark of a very good one. It’s not light fare, but thought provoking, very well done, and weeks later I still find myself thinking about it. The movie is called Camp X-ray.
Also, here’s a site that is always worth recommending. I don't follow a lot of blogs on a regular basis, but for some reason I am always drawn back to Joshua Kennon's blog. I found it via one of my investment newsletters where it was recommended for some of the excellent articles he has written about compounding dividends and long terms investments.
Those words might not make your heart flutter, but I keep going back for the variety of other interesting topics he discusses— all things socio-economic and business-related, travel, cooking (though usually not very healthy or vegetarian), how to think (not what to think, but how to use techniques for clear thinking), and more. Joshua is a very smart and interesting guy, happens to be gay (he and his long-time partner were high school sweethearts), and is very successful by most anyone's terms.
Here’s a recent article, and you can check out his site for much more.
On The Eternal Soul
As you can see, I’m going to do a little less philosophizing this month and keep it simple. I’m actually feeling quite philosophical these days, but am in a sort of ‘processing’ mode, not quite ready to share. I’ve been reading A Course in Miracles, which is incredibly dense and long but also rather mind-blowing.
Partway through the A Course in Miracles ‘text’ I was betting bogged down in the sometimes opaque language and symbolism that is used. Taking a little break, I came across a very helpful book titled, The Disappearance of The Universe by Gary Renard.
It is an entertaining page-turner that also explains a LOT about A Course in Miracles in layman’s terms. After reading it, it was easy to finish the 'Course', and even fun to do so because it all made so much more sense.
Now I have begun the exercises in the ACIM 'Workbook for Students', which consists of one simple mental exercise a day for a year. The entire thing is basically a self-study program in mental discipline with a strong spiritual edge. Although the text uses words like God and Christ, it is not at all religious. Other words could be substituted for those who have an aversion. (I’m still getting over my own knee-jerk reactions.) For instance Christ symbolizes the Inner Self, or the true self, the one that is beyond this world and connected to all things.
Maybe even that sounds kind of crazy to some of you. Interestingly, the majority of the cultures in this world believe in reincarnation: that the same soul is reborn into other bodies. And I don’t mean believe in a ‘um sure, I believe in God’ sense, the way that many people might say they believe in ‘God’ even if they’ve never given it much thought beyond what the Church tells them. Nor do I mean it in a different-for-everyone sense— if you asked 20 people to define what God meant to them, you’d get 20 wildly different answers.
Millions of people believe in reincarnation because they are certain that people return to this world in different bodies.
It turns out that children are one of the best sources of the direct experience of reincarnational memories. Often they begin to talk about past lives around 3 years of age and continue to do so until around 6 or so. After that it usually tapers off and eventually disappears altogether.
There are some incredible stories that have been verified by scientists, in particular Dr. Ian Stevenson who spent the majority of his career researching cases of children with past live memories and trying to verify the things they said. Of course, the most striking cases involve situations where the children knew things they otherwise couldn’t have known— about their own family members who died before they were born; specific historical or technical information that would certainly be beyond a child of such a young age; or about places, people, and objects in different parts of the country/world that they and their families had had zero contact with before.
In the West, people don’t talk much about this kind of thing and as a result there seem to be fewer reported cases. But even I have found that if I am brave enough to broach the topic, most people have a story of their own about a visit from a deceased loved one, or some other ‘paranormal’ experience. Often they have never told anyone about it. I’m becoming quite convinced that what is now considered ‘paranormal’ is really quite normal, and eventually even science will discover this to be true.
If interested, an easy to read introduction to these childhood cases of possible reincarnation (including some in the US) is Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children’s Memories of Previous Lives by Jim Tucker. There are also a gazillion other books not only about reincarnation but also near death experiences, life after death, and other otherworldly tales. If you're skeptical, I recommend you read a few. You might be surprised by what you discover.
In a past issue, I recommended the book, Lessons from the Light by Kenneth Ring, which is a great introduction to near-death experiences and the positive effects they have had on the people who experienced them.
By the way, when I say scientifically verified, that of course does not mean verified in the traditional sense. It’s just not possible to verify certain things (at this stage, at least) and I think as a culture we need to be careful about dismissing out of hand those things that don't stand up to a double-blind study format. The majority of the experiences of daily life can’t be truly 'verified' easily, if at all. You know your child felt angry at you earlier today. But can you scientifically prove that? You see the color red, and so do I. But can we prove we are both actually seeing the same color? We all have feelings and senses and intuitions all the time that we don't stop to analyze. Think of just how much of communication- the simple act of talking to another person- is what we call 'non-verbal' (which could also be called non-verified).
Another example is Vitamin C , which has helped countless people with all types of ailments, and yet no one wants to spend the money to do a large-scale trial to test it. (And why would they, when they can’t patent ascorbic acid and make a billion dollars in the process.) But none of that means it doesn’t work.
How many people have to experience something for us to be willing to listen? And what about when YOU have positive results with a untested remedy, or even a ‘paranormal’ experience of some sort?... Would you doubt your own experience because a person in white coat told you it couldn’t be proved? (Which does happen, I'm afraid.)
After a great deal of reading (and research and personal experience), I have become convinced that we are far more than our bodies, and that the ‘mind’ (which no scientist can pinpoint yet) is not the brain, and it is eternal.
I wonder, if everyone knew they were eternal, how might that change the concept life on earth, along with our limited ideas about death? I imagine, to begin with, there’d be a lot less fear.
Well, once I got going, I guess I did have quite a bit to say this month.
As always I’ll include some of my favorite quick meals below— just a few simple ideas to inspire easy and healthy meals.
Until next time!
June Favorite Easy Meals
A Complete Vegan Dinner
We recently enjoyed this combination of dishes for an easy weeknight meal.
Leftover Pumpkin Soup with Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad (using red quinoa, and with fresh cilantro and basil in place of mint) topped with avocado steamed eggs (not for the vegans) and roasted green beans...
I often forget about green beans (aka string beans). Not that they aren’t tasty, I suppose I just don’t have a huge variety of dishes that I make with them. I think I’ll be buying them more often now that I’ve discovered roasting green beans. As the 'Queen of Roasting Vegetables in the Oven', I don’t know why I never tried it before. Almost every vegetable comes out delicious this way—
Roasted Green Beans
Oven to 400F (175C)
Wash the green beans and cut off any bad parts
Place in a baking tray and toss well with salt, pepper, and olive oil.
Spread in one single, even layer for best results.
Bake 35-45 minutes, tossing occasionally, until thoroughly cooked, browning, and even getting crispy.
Infused Beet Recipes
Now, I just can’t see doing a full blog post about boiling beets. That would probably be my least-read post ever. :)
That said, boiled beets are very versatile and are a delicious way to get your iron. Boiling beets is also the easiest way to prepare them, while also infusing them with delicate flavors.
The easiest way to prepare beets (not that they aren't also delicious roasted, but this is far simpler)-
Wash and scrub the outside of your whole beets. Put them in a large pot, whole (complete with skins and stem stubs).
Cover with water. Add 2-3 whole, peeled garlic cloves, a teaspoon salt, and other spices of choice. Peppercorns and whole coriander seeds and/or a bunch of fresh dill are nice options for infusing the beets with subtle flavors.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a high simmer, and cook covered for 50-60 minutes until the largest beet pierced with a knife meets no resistance.
Remove and let cool. You can put them in a ziplock bag in the fridge until ready to use. (Keep the garlic too, it's delicious!) Kept in the refrigerator, the beets will last at least a week, if not longer. Or use immediately. When ready, just slide the skins and ends off with your fingers. Prepare as desired.
Three simple ways to use beets-
Beet Bowl for Lunch
Two cold cooked beets cubed, sauteed lightly with 1/4 teaspoon anise seeds, salt, and fresh black pepper in olive oil. Add a cup or so leftover yamani brown rice and heat through. Give a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, and top with avocado slices. Makes one bowl.
Beet & Caper Salad
An easy cold or room temperature salad consisting of 2-3 sliced beets, 2-3 tablespoons drained capers, some thinly sliced raw red cabbage, dressed generously with salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Makes a big meal for one or side salads for two. Super healthy; and the capers and beets were meant to be together.
For those of you who eat bread, or have a good gluten-free baguette on hand (does that even exist?), try a sliced beet hoagie for lunch. Goes well with mayo (or vegan mayo alternative), avocado, and sliced hard boiled eggs. Try with some thin basil slices as well. The Beet & Caper Salad (above) also works great on sandwiches.
I have also enjoyed leftover cubed beets with cilantro oil as a side for my daily scrambled eggs. Cilantro oil is simply fresh minced cilantro with spices of your choice (I like salt, black pepper and a touch of red pepper flakes) and fresh lemon juice covered with olive oil to soak for at least an hour, if not overnight.
And lastly, something a little off the beaten path-
This is not an everyday vegetable that most people see at the grocery store. If you ever have the chance to try a chayote, they are quite tasty. I think of them as a cross between a potato and a pear. Chayote is in the squash family and grows on vines. They go by many names depending on where in the world you are. Here in Argentina they are called 'Papas del Aire' (potatoes of the air, probably because they grow high on vine trellises).
It is not common to find them in the markets of Argentina, but there are people who grow them at their homes here. The mature vines produce a prolific amount of fruit, so (lucky us) one of our friends in town has been giving us bags full of chayotes this year. They are easy to prepare and make a delicious addition to a Mexican meal, or as a side for many healthy dinners. Use them in place of potatoes or squash.
I like to reheat any leftovers for lunch the next day as a side to go with scrambled eggs. (First I scramble the eggs, and then I lightly saute the cold cooked chayotes in olive oil using the same pan.)
Roasted Chayote Recipe ('Papas del Aire’)
Oven to 400F (200C).
Peel 6 chayotes (with a peeler). You might want to use a glove. The skins have small spines and there is a sticky sap just under the skin. Nothing so major that you have to use a glove, but it can make things easier. (Once you have peeled them, they are no longer sticky, but are smooth and a bit slippery.)
Cut off ends of the peeled chayotes. Then halve them and cut out the large seeds (if there are any). Cut the rest of the chayotes into bite-size cubes.
Dice an onion. (Optional)
Place the prepared chayote (and onion) in a baking dish with 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves (minced; less if using dried), 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons or more of olive oil, and toss thoroughly to combine.
Roast approximately 40 minutes in the oven, stirring occasionally, until completely tender, browning and starting to get even a little crispy on the edges.
Remove from oven and add the juice of half a lemon. Add additional salt, pepper and olive oil to taste.
Ask me anything or leave a comment here.