Monday, September 17, 2012

     After all the sorting it turned out both sons would be away for the better part of summer and I'd get a trial-run of empty nest. On a spur I perused artist colonies (not only would I like to be a participant but I've harbored a dream that when my children were grown I'd find employment being an artist's retreat chef, nomadically following warm weather!) Alas- I was way past the various application deadlines. Instead, on a lark, I signed-up for a 10 day silent retreat at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne, Mass.
    Several people I know had done this, including my sister who told a story of smuggling napkins from the dining room and finding a pencil stub on the bottom of her purse to write illicit poems with the shades drawn in her room. (There is no reading, writing, music, talking, exercise allowed; only eight hours a day of meditation broken up with meager meals and pre-recorded dharma talks.) 
    Let me tell you: it was really hard, and fascinating and uncomfortable and tremendously empowering. The silence was easy, silencing the "monkey mind*" was not. First off sitting that long is difficult (this is why the ancients invented yoga- to prepare the body to be able to sit.) By the second day I pleaded for chair dispensation and despite pillows propping every bodily curve by the third day my hemorrhoids were trumpeting "get off your arse, get off your arse!"
    And it was shocking where and with what speed the mind travels despite the most concentrated efforts to still it. Unexpectedly I remembered so many people and moments I was filled with a magnificent and rooting sense of history. I had many creative thoughts and just as many undermining ones. Sitting so long, feeling every breath, moving my focus back and forth from the top of my head to the tip of my toes I  became able to discern patterns of thought and to welcome both good and troubling thoughts and to take neither seriously. For short moments I was able to appreciate rather than judge. For even a few spare fleeting moments I was able to not think at all and only feel. 
     Small stones along the short paths through the property's woods became my illicit poetry. I pocketed dozens squirreling them to my room, then built and collapsed and rebuilt towers marking each day of meditation, and each day of not drinking wine achieved (this being a part of my agenda for going- to clean house so to speak.) 
     Meals were simple, bland, starchy vegetarian fare. Oatmeal and toast for breakfast, then for the other meal: brown rice or quinoa with steamed vegetables (or horrible canned tomatoey mushes with too much cumin in them.) Towards evening there was tea and fruit. So longing was I for the kitchen (my real life) that I'd string out the tea break peeling my orange with one long spiraled cut, and then supreming perfectly pithless segments into a bowl. 
     I thought I might never eat another bowl of brown rice ever again, but just the other day I got a hankering. What makes the dish is miso enhanced tahini and spicy mixed Indian pickle liberally spooned atop. I know this is a mash-up of Middle-Eastern and Asian flavors, but I think it works. 

Tahini Sauce:
Mix 1/2 c. tahini (ground sesame paste) with 1/2 c. water. 
Stir till smooth and blended. (Add a bit more water if its too thick- or a spoon of yogurt or buttermilk)
Add: 1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice 
a dash or two of soy sauce
1 - 2 T miso (fermented soy paste)

Spoon a few spoonfuls of sauce over cooked brown rice, (or other foods: salad, cooked vegetables...) then top with Indian pickle (which I buy from Patel Brothers in Jackson Hts.) At the Vipassana center I also dusted the bowl with toasted ground flax seeds.

Leftover sauce keeps well in the fridge.    

* Monkey-mind is a term used in Buddhist and Daoist writings to refer to the wandering mind.   

Monday, September 10, 2012

       Somehow always before
    getting down to work
         a bout of housecleaning comes first. 
          A sweep-out of ash from round the hearth. 
           If I catch-up might I keep up?


I started this blog stoked, inspired after an online food writers blog writing class with Molly O'Neill from  (totally recommend these classes, also joining this online community!) Meant to add monthly posts with religious fervor, then half dozen poetrysciencetalks came and went unremarked, and another half dozen other things. Next pst is next week, the 12th season opener with the theme of "no-thing." A chance I suppose to just be, so hmmm, what food represents that?

Since last posting:

Got to teach Food is Art at Parsons School of Design, a survey class for art students encouraging them to view food as expressive culture. Took me a year to write the syllabus and another year to peddle it.  An email query sent off with a prayer to an acquaintance who passed it on to someone else, like casting a line to the sea. Finally there was a nibble, then a churlish wait to see if I could pull in enough students. It was my dream job come true. I was terrified. Waiting for class to start that first day I calmed myself sipping steaming Miso then hauled a shopping cart of pot-n-pans and hot plates and vegetables across Union Sq. and into the classroom. Boom, there I stood, blathering introductions. The students learned and mostly I learned and we had good fun. Highlights included a DIY extravaganza (relating the artisanal "foodie" movement to various avant garde movements past.) We flipped pizza dough, made ginger syrup, gnocchi, sauerkraut, and pictorial sushi rolls. We had a 'food belief systems' PechaKucha (and contextualized these beliefs with their historical and cultural counterparts.) There was a series of guest lectures including Tatfoo Tan, Fabio Parasecoli, Victoria Yee Howe from Kreemart, and Mihir Desai from foodTEXT(at), and each class culminated in a themed student cooked feast.
Myopically visioned as I am my iphone snaps were of the food rather then student's artwork, but there were among their projects some wry videos (one went viral ) and an engaging series of photos of shockingly repulsive looking monochromatic platters of food.  

During the semester break I took a trip to Michoacan, Mexico to see the winter home of the Monarch butterflies  (a tour run by Jackie Detloff from Conocer in Milwaukee, WI

Quite fantastic hiking a steep path through Oyamel fir. When sunshine bursts through the clouds millions of golden butterflies blot the sky creating a symphony of wind with their flapping wings. An awesome spectacle, but what really caught my eye were the markets, colors and smells in the small towns we visited. 


 A particular highlight was visiting La Pacanda, a small island in Lake Patzcuaro. For centuries the indigenous  Purepecha were fishermen but the lake has become polluted and overrun with algae and they are struggling to adapt. One thing they've done to bring money to their island was to convert an abandoned Spanish garrison into a really comfortable ecolodge with a small restaurant and I had the opportunity to wake up at sunrise and "help" make the days tortillas.

The nixtamalized corn had already been ground at the town mill but we ground the masa finer with a heavy metate (mortar and pestle) then hand shaped the tortillas and cooked them on a wood fueled comal. Mine were thick and misshapen, the sticky dough near impossible to clap into shape. The cooks suffered my zealous enthusiasm with great equanimity!  

Another pleasure: in the town of Zinapecuaro we were hosted by an extended family and I had the honor to be invited into the matriarch, Terre Caballero's cocina for a salsa making lesson.   

Terre's Tomatillo Salsa* (yield: 2+ c.)
1# tomatillos
1/2 medium white onion
1 - 2 seeded jalepenos (how much heat do you want?)
hefty handful cilanto- stems and all
1 t. salt
juice from 1 - 2 limes

husk and core tomatillos. throw everything in a cuisenart or blender. done.  
* this is a raw salsa- resulting in a stunning sharp green pungent delight. It doesn't last more than a few days in a jar in the fridge. You can use any leftovers to cook with. Sautéed chicken or fish are great with it, or use it up by stirring into some guacamole.