Thursday, November 26, 2009


Happy Thanksgiving!

Last week I was a guest on What's the Point?, a show on WHUS, the University of Connecticut radio. The show was dedicated to gratitude, and we spent the entire two hours discussing ways to cultivate more gratitude, and the positive, lifelong gifts an attitude of gratitude offers.

Today, one of the greatest gifts I received was cooking with my mom. We really jived together, cutting and dicing and washing and drying - it was magic. The phone rang all day with friends calling to wish us a happy Thanksgiving. We felt so appreciated and loved. Of course, stories of my grandparents came up, and we reminisced about past traditions. One in particular we found interesting. My grandmother would always cook pickled herring on New Year's Eve - she told my mom that pickled herring ensured a healthy and happy new year. According to my mom, this belief came out of nowhere since my great grandparents never served pickled herring.

I've always wondered about tradition for that very reason. Fortunately, my parents adopted the "traditions" that were healthy and served us in the 20th and 21st centuries. We didn't adhere to tradition for tradition sake or out of obligation, thankfully.

Last Thursday I read Canticle of the Creatures written by St. Francis of Assisi - a prayer of Thanksgiving to God for the blessings in nature, including God's creatures, and Brother Sun and Sister Moon. I offer the prayer as I read it on the air. May we all focus on the blessings in our lives and allow that focus to open our hearts, forgive others, and create peace in our lives and in the world.

Canticle of the Creatures by St. Francis of Assisi

Most High, All-powerful, All-Good, Lord!
All praise is yours,
All glory, all honor,
And all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong.
No mortal lips are worthy
To pronounce your name.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made,
And first, my Lord, Brother Sun;
Who brings the day, and light you give to us through him,
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars;
In the heavens you have made them,
Bright, precious, and fair.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air;
And fair and stormy, all the weather's moods, by which you
Cherish all that you have made.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Water;
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire;
Through whom you brighten the night.
How beautiful he is, playful, robust and strong.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother;
Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces
Various fruits and colored flowers and herbs.

All praise be yours, my Lord,
Through those who grant pardon for love of you;
Through those whose endure sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace.
By you, Most High, they will be crowned.

All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death;
From whose embrace no mortal can escape.

Happy those She finds doing Your holy will!
The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord,
And give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility.

Om, shanti, shanti, shanti

Friday, November 13, 2009


This past year, I have devoted my time in the kitchen to strictly vegan cooking, and that has proven to be a wonderful gift to my body - I'm feeling healthier than I ever have in my life. The cookbook will feature vegan versions of most recipes, including desserts. This will be an interesting feature of the book, and I wonder what my great grandmother would think. I know she would be pleased that I'm doing what feels right for my body and life in the 21st century.

Healthy desserts was the focus of the last week of my cooking classes, and I set out to prepare 6-7 desserts over a couple of days. When it came time to start baking, I had two thoughts - 1). I don't bake much because I have never enjoyed sweet foods or desserts - granulated sugar and the like is just too sweet for me, and I've never really enjoyed ice cream. (I know what you're thinking at this point, and that's okay). 2). My firm belief in the detriment of western desserts loaded with butter, processed sugar, corn syrup, and all- purpose flour, led me to stay clear of desserts in general.

So, there I was in the kitchen with a bias against desserts needing to teach others how to bake them. Onward and upward is my motto, so I put my thoughts aside and proceeded with the vegan desserts: chocolate chip cookies, coconut cookies, "white" cake with a lemon sauce and poached pears, pumpkin squares, and baked buckwheat with apples and blueberries. (My inspiration for these recipes come directly from the cookbooks written by Christina Pirello - check her out.) To my surprise and delight, the desserts turned out wonderful. I was pleased, and the students enjoyed them.

I decided to read the section in one of the cookbooks where Ms. Pirello writes about the need for desserts in our life and the need for regular sweetness - those are my words. She was talking literally and figuratively, and I connected with her words immediately, knowing there was a significant message for me. Her words were in the back of mind as I baked, but I didn't spend time reflecting on them until the class was over. Actually, when I started really understanding her words was somewhere in the middle of this week, around Monday, when my husband and I had finished the coconut cookies, the chocolate chip cookies, and were half way through the cake and pumpkin squares. We haven't had that much dessert in the house since our Christmas party 5 years ago.

I noticed how much I was enjoying having these sweet and healthy treats in the house. Well, it's been 8 days since my class, and I decided to weigh myself today. Now, there is actually more to this story that I will write about at another time, but let me just say that the stars have been aligned in this direction all year. I got on the scale, and this past week, I lost 7 pounds.

Now, I'm not consciously trying to lose weight. I do watch what I eat, and I eat exceedingly healthy foods. I walk and do yoga, and I spent an entire week eating desserts everyday - sometimes for breakfast in place of my usual buckwheat and blueberries, and I'm 7 pounds lighter. I get how that happened, and I'm hoping you do, too.

I told a friend today how much I enjoyed having those vegan sweets in the house. Synchronistically, I made a wonderful connection this week with a woman who owns her own business. I'll be teaching monthly cooking classes at her place beginning in January, and that is just pure fun for me - more sweetness.

We really do need sweet stuff in our lives, and healthy desserts remind us of the joy that's available to us when life is in balance. Tonight, I passed by a local health food market and bought organic pumpkin for more pumpkin squares. They're just delicious - whole wheat pastry crust, pumpkin with cinnamon and amasake, topped with pecans. Yum!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Never Alone

The last few weeks feel like a blur, and suddenly it's November 8th. I have been consumed by my cooking classes - researching, preparing handouts, dishes, shopping, and cleaning. My students were the best - so enthusiastic, willing to try new foods, and always gracious.

The cooking classes have been the backdrop of my life these past 5 weeks, and I'm grateful for the peace and tranquility I have felt as I cooked and prepared the various dishes. I appreciate that every recipe needed my undivided attention because that brought me fully into the present moment, and that helped me to relax and enjoy the process a bit more. I also felt my great grandmother and other ancestors with me, and that too, was deeply comforting. Standing in my kitchen, I was never alone.

That's the beauty of cooking and sharing a meal. Generally, these acts provide a common ground on which family and friends can connect. I felt that with the students as they came week after week to my home. We connected on deep levels, but through the medium of food. The feedback from the students varied from feeling deeply inspired to continue to learn and do more cooking to feeling truly grateful for the new information and experience of such vibrant, healthy food.

As I consider my recent experience of feeling so connected to those I love while preparing for my classes, my reason for writing this book is reinforced in my mind and heart.

Life continues to be very full. There will be much progress made on the recipes for the book in the next several weeks. I'll be keeping you posted.