Something from the Oven

Cooking with heartThere was an advertising phrase that went, “Nothing says loving like something from the oven…” however, I think the advertising agency had it backward. It’s the love in the preparation that does this. The oven only helps, as do the ingredients, preferably as clean and fresh as possible. Love helps us to choose them, as well as to guide the utensils used in the preparation. Furthermore, the focus of the mind is an important ingredient as well. If I am angry or upset when I am preparing food, it could affect the way it tastes as well as the way it is digested. Though I can’t prove it, it’s my belief that thoughts and feelings can be powerful in their effect on food.

A study of this potential would make an interesting experiment for a science project, though it could be difficult to set up. I do really enjoy cooking. Though I’ve never had any courses or training for it and am completely self-taught, I get great praise from those who taste my cooking. I remember one person saying, “This must be Tasha’s kitchen because it smells so good.” Another time, I had prepared a tropical entrée made with bananas with other ingredients, baked inside their skins. When I stopped one guest from cutting into his, he said, “Oh, I thought if you had cooked it, I could eat it.” I laughed and thanked him.

One of the most cherished comfort food desserts is bread pudding. According to the internet, sometime in the 11th or 12th centuries, a frugal cook somewhere in Europe needed to use up their stale bread and began thinking up ways to do it. Perhaps instead the cook needed a dessert and had only stale bread, eggs and milk to go with it. Be that as it may, bread pudding has become a staple food. Once called “Poor Man’s Pudding,” it is said to be served in upscale restaurants as well as homes all over the world. Many of the recipes for it call for some form of fat. My recipe omits this ingredient and I don’t think the calories or the taste of it will be missed. Feel free to experiment, I still do. You can butter the bread first if you wish to include it.

The recipe I have evolved from making it often is simple, and we eat it all the time. You do not have to wait until the bread is stale, though of course that is a good use for any you might have. Preheat the oven to 350. Grease a 1 ½ or 2-quart covered casserole. Put a pan of water the casserole will fit in into in the oven. Begin with 2 cups torn up bread—around 4 to 6 slices. I use a raisin bread and it’s on the small side. Sprinkle on ½ cup sugar and ½ to 1 cup raisins if not using raisin bread. Beat up 2 eggs and 2 cups any kind of milk. Add 1 plus teaspoon vanilla and 1 plus teaspoon cinnamon and beat again. Pour over bread and stir to combine well. Place covered casserole in the oven in the pan prepared with water. Bake 1 hour, remove cover and bake to brown for 15 or so minutes. If you can resist diving into it, the pudding tastes best the next day when flavors have developed.

I have no recollection of having been served bread pudding in my childhood; I have evolved this recipe from following one in a cookbook of recipes based on the Cat Who mystery series by Lillian Jackson Braun, both of which which I highly recommend.

 

Dealing with Anticipation

Flower -1 bud  The appointment for my hip surgery was made more than three months ago. Now its time has come. While I feel positive about the outcome of the experience, I also feel a tiny bit apprehensive. Everything I have heard about the surgery from those who have had it done has been good. I even ran into someone who had the procedure done by the same doctor I have and she said hers had gone wonderfully and she was very pleased.

However, my mind has been twirling around the upcoming surgery for all the months I have been waiting. My thoughts have revolved endlessly about what I will be unable to do and for how long, as well as what I will need to have prepared and so forth and so on. Now as one who tries hard to be in the present moment as much of the time as possible, this has been a real teaching situation. Present moment mindfulness is not something to be practiced only during meditation. It is a frame of mind to be kept in place all through the day.

I once met a man who said, “Whenever I think about what is upcoming, and dread it, it always seems much worse than it turns out to be.” The fear of the unknown is what drives the dread. The silly part is that anticipation has no actual basis in fact, and therefore it  is inaccurate. Only when the experience has arrived can it be truly judged. Otherwise its truth is obscured by what we feel rather than whatever the facts may be.

There is an acronym for fear that reads: “False Evidence Appearing Real.” This is a good description of fear. The so called evidence is usually a product of our active imagination, warnings by people who are trying to be helpful, past experience that may not be applicable here, or feelings of inadequacy. When we think about what is upcoming if we can recognize this for ourselves we can think about it in a more positive way.

As a child I used to enjoy anticipation. I would think about going to the circus, something that happened once a year, with great joy. I looked forward to going to the library to get a pile of new books to read. An avid reader, I often devoured a book a day whenever I could manage to get the time to do so. School vacations were a great source of anticipation. Before they arrived they always seemed to stretch out invitingly and even when they were over there were more to be looked forward to

There was one form of anticipation that was unpleasant. That was when I had done something I shouldn’t and my mother would say, “Wait ’til your father gets home!” Even though he was a kind man, I knew whatever punishment was coming would be more severe if he administered it. My anticipation of the surgery is not with dread, however, but with joy. I look forward to more mobility, less pain and a better sleep at night. Meanwhile I am trying hard to stay as focused as possible on the present moment.

 

Remembering to be Thankful

Laura Dove A         While at Thanksgiving we are reminded to be grateful, that is surely not the only time to do so. it is vital to remember to be thankful frequently each and every day of our lives. For some time now I have begun and ended each day with this little prayer: “Thank you for this day and for all my days.” As often as possible each and every day I remind myself to acknowledge my gratitude for any good experience and even those that might not have been so good, because of the knowledge gained.

Recently we were saddened to hear of a friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly just as she was starting a new life with her spouse. Within the past few weeks we have heard news of other friends who are ill or whose lives have been disturbed or changed for the worse. Each time I hear such things, while I say a prayer for those affected, I am also reminded to be grateful for my relatively tranquil, happy life. In this present moment I have so much to be thankful for. When I survey my daily life, even with all its ups and downs, I am reminded to express that gratitude.

My late newspaper editor used to say, “Health is wealth.” How right he was. What are a few aches and pains compared to long term, probably painful illness or worse, an approaching end to life? What’s a broken washer compared to the loss of a parent or of a dear friend? It is so easy to take one’s blessings for granted, to think of them as ordinary or just a part of life. There is an old saying, “I complained because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet.” While I am thankful for what I have, I am also grateful for what I do not have to endure.

There is such joy to be had in a tasty breakfast of a Sunday morning shared with one’s partner. Were this scene to end suddenly and abruptly I would deeply regret having lost even a moment of our time together through inattention . There is no way to know ahead when one’s end will come, when all of a sudden there will be no more time. I have read of a Native American tradition to greet each day with the phrase, “This is a good day to die.” Some might think this is a morbid attitude. To me it says, “Pay attention, live fully in this and every moment.”

Quite simply, though we don’t like to think about it, we begin to die the day we are born. With the increase in medical knowledge the life span of human beings has been greatly extended, still one day life will end for us all. One of the benefits of mindfulness meditation is that when it is practiced, it becomes easier to pay attention. I am grateful for this practice and to the teacher that taught it to me. It behooves us all to remember that every moment we have whether uncomfortable or comfortable, sad or happy, sour or sweet is a precious gift to treasure and to be thankful for.

Judge Not or be Judged by your Judgment

Rocks and Flowers with ShadowsMy parents taught me much by their example. My father served in many capacities as a volunteer. He was generous with his time, talents and energy. He read for a radio station that served the blind; for many years he held the position of treasurer for a non-profit orchestra; and he helped out in various capacities at the church to which he belonged.

My mother was a careful provider and very thrifty. She was also a fine artist who valued creativity and encouraged it in others. She tried hard to do the right thing as she saw it, and did the best she could to take care of her family. However, both my parents also provided me an example of something else that I had to unlearn: they frequently passed judgment on others.

My father would point out mistakes of any kind with unkind statements like “You ought to know better than to do that,” or “How could you be so stupid as to…” usually in a scornful tone. My mother was very apt to point out faults in the appearance of others. I believe she had learned this from her own mother who was extremely focused on how she as well as her family appeared.

As a result I grew to adulthood with a judgmental attitude both about any perceived weakness and any deviation from a traditionally attractive appearance whether that of others or of myself. These attitudes of mine seemed normal to me until I began to notice that not only was I being unduly critical but also that my prejudice kept me from seeing those I judged in a more positive light.

Furthermore I realized that this habit also said something about me as well as about how I viewed others. There is a saying to the effect that if you point one finger at someone else you are pointing three back at yourself.

When I began to observe myself as I interacted with people, I also began to understand how unkind it was to look at others in a judgmental way. After this realization I began to learn to be merciful in the way I viewed others, and also the way I viewed myself. As I grew less critical and more forgiving, both of others and of myself I found I now was able to perceive previously hidden virtues where before I had seen only faults.

It is truly said that mistakes are given us as ways to learn, and that the only bad thing about mistakes is the failure to learn from them. I rejoice that I was able to discover and then unlearn these harmful attitudes. I am grateful that instead I can practice a more merciful way of perceiving both others and myself.

By its very definition a judgment closes the mind. It prevents any change in how people and their behavior or appearance can be seen. Being one who always wants to continue learning and growing I try to make sure that in the event I do find myself judging anyone that I immediately look beyond my original thought to become more open minded, less critical, and more merciful in how I am perceiving them.

Intentions, Resolutions and Reminders

Dead Branches and reflections 2

Growing up I was somewhat clumsy and awkward. I was always tall for my age—I stopped growing at the age of twelve and was even taller than most of the boys in my class, who soon outgrew me. My parents also thought I was careless. I wasn’t really, just lacking in experience. I also had poor proprioception. That word defines an actual sense: awareness of where one is in space and how much effort is being put out. I once embarrassed myself dreadfully when my best friend’s mother asked me to help her set the table, by pulling it completely out of the sideboard and dumping its contents on the floor.

While I outgrew the awkwardness and with the aid of yoga even became quite graceful, I still struggle with the proprioception. However I found that mindfulness helps greatly with that. Centering myself, slowing down, and practicing deliberate awareness when I am moving around or even pouring water from a pitcher into a glass, is a must. Over the years I have tried to make this a habit, like washing my hands with frequency, especially lately.

The flu season has made it vital to remember to wash my hands each time I return home, especially when I’ve been touching things like Grocery cart handles, restroom doorknobs and even counters or tabletops. The other day in a restaurant a woman near us was coughing with frequency into her hand as well as into the air around her. We are told that washing hands well is more effective than using sanitizers and better for our health.

I learned this the hard way. Last week I picked up a germ that invaded my sinuses and hit my right eye causing me great pain and rendering me unable to read for any length of time. As a result I have strongly resolved to wash my hands carefully not only when using any restroom but especially immediately upon arriving home. I hope to avoid not only the flu, but any other germs.

Resolutions are better kept when we have a reminder to do so, and a deliberate intention is well bolstered by any negative experience that happens when we haven’t. Hand washing is now an imperative for me, and while I regret the suffering and pain of my illness, I am grateful for the positive reinforcement of my intentions. Powerful reminders are not always pleasant, however they certainly are useful. Making lists helps too. Without a list my intentions, let alone whatever I have resolved to do may be forgotten.

Getting older has its good and its bad aspects. Becoming wiser by virtue of experience is helpful. Becoming more mindful as a result of that experience helps greatly also. On the other hand, becoming forgetful is a nuisance. However, my lists do help considerably. The trick is to remember to write things down and then also to look at the list. When I was a young parent in order to stay on top of things I had to outwit my children. Now instead in order to stay awake and aware I have to outwit myself.

The Dailyness of Doing

Nature's Art 1. 2012-06- While I was growing up, when it came to household chores my mother did not consider me to be capable. This may have been because she expected more of me than I was able to do at a young age, or it may have been that she was so particular that my childish efforts were simply inadequate. She had very high standards. Regardless of the reason, she never encouraged me to do any cleaning or other household tasks even after I was in high school. What this meant was that I never really learned how to clean properly.

I remember the day I came home to the first apartment my young husband and I had and found my father sweeping the rug. I asked him what he was doing. He said he was cleaning the rug. But I don’t have a vacuum, I told him. You don’t need one, he said, and inquired of me where I kept my dustpan and brush. I had never realized you could clean a rug just by sweeping it.

I had to learn how to keep house the hard way, by trial and error and doing it. The other day as I cleaned the sink in the bathroom, I began thinking about household tasks in general. I realized that when I complete some tasks, I give a sigh of contentment and think to myself: good, now that’s accomplished. There are others I complete and with a sigh of resignation wonder how soon I’ll be doing it over again. Much depends on the task in question; some are more satisfying than others. Cooking, for example is my delight and I have no problem making three meals a day.

On the other hand, when I wash the kitchen floor, although it looks very nice, I don’t feel happy because it doesn’t last. Somehow it gets dirty practically immediately. Although small in surface, it is still a chore to keep clean. The stove presents the same issue. It seems that no sooner do I clean the pans under the burners than when I next turn them on, they’ll emit a bit of burning smoke from another stray crumb.

It is hard for me to take much satisfaction when I finish doing something I know I will have to do again practically immediately. Yet when I do not allow myself to take that satisfaction, I do not feel rewarded. If I do not feel rewarded it is much more difficult to do what needs doing again with any promptness. The good feeling I get from completing any task is an important part of what helps motivate me to repeat it, no matter how soon.

There is only one solution I can think of: to do the task as fully as possible in the present moment. What this means is that while I am doing it, rather than thinking of how soon I will have to do it again, or how onerous it is, I focus exclusively on the performance of it. It helps almost any situation to be mindful during it. As I direct my attention and my energy to the activity of the task, I am not only more efficient, but also more able to find pleasure in it.

Tasha Halpert

 

The Importance of Mental Focus

Crystals5When I began to meditate I noticed that I was much more aware of the contents of my mind. The longer I practiced meditation, the better I became at following my thoughts. This ability has grown for me over the years, and I am very grateful to be able to be aware most of the time of what I am thinking. The reason this is so important is that it enables me to monitor my mental focus.

The importance of mental focus cannot be overstated. Certain habit patterns are built into the human psyche. They are intrinsic, an inborn aspect of our consciousness. They are intended to function as a kind of safety mechanism for keeping us alive. One of these is the “fight or flight” response. As you may know, the human body is programmed to react to any perceived threat with the appropriate input for what it believes is required.

I have read statistics to the effect that much of our modern high blood pressure as well as other stressful conditions of the physical body have come about as a result of this built in response to perceived danger. This particular response was useful in the days when death in the form of an enemy or feral beast lurked behind any bush or tree. It was important when the crocodiles in the river were patrolling for breakfast. It was helpful when the early settlers of any new homeland encountered its dangers.

Now for the most part it is not only unnecessary to modern life but actually harmful. Yet in times of perceived stress our bodies continue that response. The perceived stress could be a need to get somewhere on time or to dodge someone’s criticism as a result of inadequate preparation. It is seldom a response to a true threat of death or physical harm.

One of the main ingredients of this response is that our minds have a built in tendency to notice what is wrong. This can be very helpful if, for instance, you wake up in the night and hear sounds you know are not normal, or you suddenly notice that your child is very quiet and might therefore be up to some mischief. However, as a general rule, consistently noticing what is wrong can lead to a focus upon it that prevents us from seeing what is right and good.

When I practice actively looking for all for which I am grateful, I am much less apt to be focused on what may be wrong. If there is real danger or a need to notice that something is amiss, I know I can and will. However for the most part when I focus on that for which I am grateful, I am much less focused on the negative thinking that can lead to any number of difficulties. The key to success is being mindful of the direction of my thoughts. That way I can reinforce my positive focus or change the direction of my thoughts if I need to.

Photo and Text by Tasha Halpert