Archive | June, 2011

Hiking Heaven!

27 Jun

 

Mother Nature's Beauty!

I wanted a break.  A little get away.   I like to be active.  So with some planning, I decided to spend a weekend hiking.  But since I was searching for a little reflective time, I though about hiking with a bit of a spin.  Something new and different.  After a little research, I learned that my home state of North Carolina, had waterfall hikes.  Lots of them.  That sounded just about perfect!

Water in most every culture represents life.  Health.  Strength.  Power.   Water is one of the four classic elements, along with earth, fire and air.  So I incorporated water as a major element into my hiking trip.  Waterfalls are beautiful, natural and majestic.  Mother Nature at her best!  It is June, so the idea of escaping the humidity of the piedmont for the cool crisp air of the mountains was too much to resist.  So up to the mountains I went.

Planning a hike is key.  Plan the hike, grab a good hiking buddy, and pack some nutrient dense foods.  What is good portable foods for a hike?  Let me tell you about the food that I put in my backpack.

  • Apples
  • Apple cutter
  • Peanut butter
  • Granola
  • Water
  • Grapes
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Mixed Nuts
I used portable food.  The grapes are hydrating, the nuts and peanut butter have protein, apples have beneficial fiber, and crackers provide a little crunch.  These foods provide energy.  The bottled water is really important too.  Hiking is strenuous and its important to replenish the body with water.  Although I prefer water, a sports drink is also a good choice.  Let me tell you, after some time on the trail in pursuit of a waterfall, grapes never tasted so good!
I had a solid hiking partner with me, which is another key to a good hike.  When hiking, you want to be with someone who has the same “energy level” if you will, that you do.  Pace is important when hiking.  You don’t want to start a 4 mile hike at 2 in the afternoon if the pace of your hike will be leisurely.  When hiking in the mountains like I was, consider the incline.  It was steep.  Hiking with a partner to share the scenery with is wonderful.  So pack the camera since you have some one to snap some pictures of you in beautiful locations!
Take a break.  Recharge your batteries.   Grab a buddy and go!  Decide what you want to do.  Pick an energetic activity.  Do a little research.  Pack up some great portable food.  Enjoy Mother Nature.  Take some great pictures and have a ball!

 

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Whose sauce is this?

23 Jun

 

 

 

True confession.  I love vodka cream sauce.  Emphasis on the cream.  And it took me forever to find a recipe for home-made sauce that I loved.  I have shared it here on this blog.  Had I known that finding just the right recipe was closer than I ever thought, my quest would have been much shorter.  Who knew that I would find the perfect recipe from my sister?  I should have known.  My sister has always been a steady source of wonderful things my entire life.  She has been my confidant, my cheerleader, my wailing wall, my late night phone buddy, and my best friend.  My mom grew up without a sister and said that when she had a girl, she knew she wanted another.  She wanted her daughter to have a sister.  And mom knows best..my sister (and her family) are a huge blessing in my life.  I am forever grateful for her.  And never more so than when she shared her vodka cream sauce recipe with me. Not really, but props to her!.

But there has been a modification to this previously perfect recipe.  Recently when my sister was visiting (we live in different cities), we went to lunch at a wonderful authentic Italian bistro.  It is a small place with all home-made pasta and sauces.  Great wine.  White table clothes.  It’s the type of place that you want to pull out your elastic waisted pants to go!  The food is that good!  They should put a “warning-food coma may occur” sign on the door!  Sometimes when I have a dish that I love, I will order it out. I like to see other approaches to the same dish.   The lunch date with my sister was the perfect opportunity to do this.

I ordered home-made tortellini with vodka cream sauce.  I just HAD to taste it! (and I knew my sister would not be able to resist poking her fork across the table into my plate).  The vodka sauce resembled ours (see how I took possession of her great sauce? I am shameless!).  It was a similar color to the sauce that we made.  It was the same consistency.  Clearly we were on the right track with our home-made sauce.  The vodka cream sauce was every bit as good as our home-made version, but there was a secret ingredient that we loved. Could we identify it?

We tasted, we licked, we talked, we rolled our eyes up to the sky deep in thoughtful consideration as we pondered the surprise flavor.   And I think we did it.  Our discerning palate and fine intellectual discussion rendered the information we were seeking.  The secret ingredient was roasted red peppers.  Even though we could not get a firm answer from the chef, and believe me we tried, my sister and I were in agreement.  And we decided to toss this secret item into our next batch of vodka sauce.  We both thought it added a very nice delicate layer of flavor to the sauce.  We also discussed how to add the ingredient.  To puree it prior to adding it, or just give it a rough chop?  We decided to do both.  Puree some and chop some.  And we decided to add it more toward the end of the cooking process.  So here goes!

The results were fabulous.  Two thumbs up from the six kids around my dinner table. But this is how it happens….great recipes.  You develop them, share them, then continue to seek to improve them.   True, though, that at some point they are perfect.  My mom’s meatloaf is a case in point.  But I still enjoy trying other versions of the same dish regardless.  But of course, I just enjoy eating…especially with my sister!

Quick sand

19 Jun

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance”.  William Shakespeare

Lies.  We have all told them.  We have all gotten caught.  We have all justified why we have told them.  We try to explain them away.  We try to minimize them by giving them cute little names, like “little white lie” tossing that out there with a wink and a giggle.  But lies have a way of changing, growing, clinging like a nasty vine that we can’t get rid of.  And hopefully, we all learn our lesson early on, mature, and face the truth.  Sometimes we say the “ugly truth”, but in my opinion, lies are always uglier!

What is a lie?   One interesting definition I found stated that a lie meant “to stay in hiding”.  Wow!  I think that is powerful!  Lies keep us in hiding.  Hiding from what? or whom?  Probably ourselves.  I think lies keep us from who we are or who we can be.  When I think of a lie, for some reason I think of that big nasty plant in “Little Shop of Horrors” that grows bigger and devours everything in its path.  A lie has a deep cruel voice.  But it can disguise itself.  For a while.  Sooner or later it rears its head though.

Another definition I found stated that a lie is “to speak falsely or utter untruth knowingly, as with intent to deceive”.  I think that we do lie with the intent of being untrue.  I do not think that a lie can be an accident.  Intent is everything in my book, and the true deep down core of integrity.  We can make a mistake if our intent is good, but a lie comes deliberately.

What makes us lie?  Well, when I think back to moments when I have wanted to lie, it seems that the driving force at times, for me at least, has been fear.  Fear of being wrong, fear of punishment, fear of being “less than”, fear of failure, or of appearing weak.   So the temptation is there  to sugar coat, omit, or embellish.   But if we can resist that temptation and fears are faced, it does not take long for strength to emerge.  A lie may seem like a path to strength because we can manipulate someone with it, but true strength really comes with truth.  This is a lesson well worth learning and growing from.  But it is very difficult, challenging.  And sometimes we are afraid to challenge ourselves!

We all know people who lie.  Sometimes we minimize it by saying “oh well, consider the source”, meaning that we know untruth is being told and kind of accept it.  And we all have people in our life in one way or another that can be classified as just this kind of “source”.   It has many forms.  A story that is blown out of proportion.  Something told to make someone seem more successful than they really are.  Or embellishment.  Adding something to make a person seem better, more of something.  There is also plain old omission, a critical piece of information deliberately omitted.   Lots of forms, but still deliberate and deceiving.  And lies lead us down the wrong path.  Good decisions cannot be made with misinformation, especially when deliberately misled.

Funny thing, though, is that people I have known that lie or “deliberately mislead” seem so steady, steadfast, firm.  Good eye contact, a firm voice, and other people cited to provide credibility.  But lies are shaky, and provide a shaky foundation. Like quicksand.  One cannot stand firm on a lie.  You sink.  Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly.  But quick sand is never stable.  Neither is a lie.

And lies add stress.  We all know that stress is bad for the body.  It can raise heart rate, change our metabolism, increase anxiety, and alter our bodies ability to perform its functions properly.  Stress can also increase our wrinkles, our frown lines.  More importantly, lies can diminish our integrity.  That, like a reputation, can take a lifetime to build and a moment to ruin.  Who wants to live like that?  Sounds like a crummy quality of life to me.

We are not perfect though.  But we can strive for integrity and the firm ground of the truth.  Make it a goal, a life value.  It may not always be pretty or easy, but I am certain that it’s always right.  Truth lends itself to a healthier life style.  Freedom.  Release.  Every day is a new day.  A fresh start.  If the day before had a little quick sand, start today with the resolve to stand on firm ground and to stop hiding.  We can make the decision every morning that this day will not be a quick sand day!

Sizzling Steak!

16 Jun

Well I did it!  I took expensive steaks and grilled them.  It is always a tiny bit intimidating to take an expensive ingredient or cut of meat,  for me at least,  and have uncertainty with preparation.  But I like to face my fears,  and I was hungry for steak.  So I thought to myself “Go for it!”.  And I did.

First I thought about some of the best steaks that I have eaten in the past.  What made them so good?  I like my steak medium rare, so having a steak hit that temperature mark must have been a factor in enjoying steak in my past.  I am a temperature eater for sure (I am going to be one of those funny little old ladies that will drink my coffee steaming hot when I am out at my “Early Bird” dinner at 4 pm).  Temperature  matters to my enjoyment of food.  So I had to figure out the correct temperature for medium rare.  A little research helped me with this. And I have a great digital food thermometer in my kitchen, ( a good investment of a couple of dollars, by the way) so I knew that I could get the temperature spot on. What else mattered with a good steak?

I thought about the texture.  I enjoy a creamy textured steak as opposed to a grisly or chewy one.  So I had to find steak to cook with little marbling.  I know marbling makes a steak juicy, but I would figure that one out later.  I pulled out granny’s old cookbook to look at a diagram of a cow to figure out what cut of beef to look for.  Granny’s cookbook was the perfect resource to look at cuts of meat because it described cuts and tenderness in an easy format.  Check!  That’s done.  I was armed with enough ammunition to hit the butcher.  I was confident that I could make at least a decent choice for a cut of steak.  So what’s next?

Flavor, of course!!  The flavor of a steak is paramount.  Therein lies the dilemma and the great debate:  Marinate or dry rub?  I am a fan of the dry rub for steak.  There are lots of commercial rubs in the seasoning aisle.  Trial and error is the ticket with these.  Look at the list of seasonings on the bottle to assess whether any of the commercial seasonings are right for you, for your palate.   And a lot of these are packed with flavor.

I like making my own seasoning for any dry rub that I use.  It’s a curse of being a foodie.  Make most everything from scratch and smell everything!  So I continued toward  my goal of making the perfect steak.   I was on a flavor journey.  I opened my spice cabinet and started grabbing.  With wild abandon!  I didn’t have to use everything I pulled out, but I wanted choice!  I wanted my salivary glands to direct me a little bit here.

I started with salt and pepper.  Those are critical basics for any seasoning combination.  For a steak, I leaned toward a bolder taste.  More black pepper was a good start.  Garlic too.  And I used a heavy hand with it!  I used a little paprika, parsley, chopped onions, and some dried red pepper flakes.  You don’t want to use too much on the steak though, you want the steak flavor to shine through.  I toss my seasoning together and keep the unused rub in the spice cabinet for the next time.

When I applied the dry rub, sometimes I started by rubbing the steak with a little olive oil and Worcester sauce for flavor.  I didn’t use too much, just a light sheen.  Then I grabbed a handful of the rub and massaged that steak!  Even though food safety is of utmost importance when preparing anything, I let my steak sit for 20 minutes or so at room temperature with the rub on it.  Then onto the grill it went!  Now my goal was to get those grill marks, smell that amazing aroma wafting from the grill, and let those taste buds twang!   I pulled my steak off, put a few pats of butter on it (make sure it was juicy), and tented it with tin foil for a few minutes.  Meat must rest prior to serving.  This lets the meat “relax” and become more tender.  And you know what?  It turned out pretty good!  When I make something for the first time, I always think a bout how to “tweak” it for the next time.  But for now, I have one delicious steak under my belt, and look forward to the next one.

Little secret:  My secret ingredient for a bold dry rub  is a bit of instant coffee granules.  But don’t tell!

The Blues

13 Jun

 

 

Family fun!

 

Ever get the blues?  Just a little bit down?  It stinks, doesn’t it?  But it happens to everyone.  For whatever reason you can just feel low energy and drag a little bit.  It can be from a comment someone made that might have been offensive, making a mistake at work, or simply missing a friend.

I am not talking about clinical depression here, which is very serious, a medical condition, and typically requires medication and counseling.  Clinical depression is not just “the blues” but is debilitating and needs medical intervention.   It is nothing to be ashamed of, and I would encourage anyone dealing with more than just a “blue” moment to get medical attention immediately.  Clinical depression is a true chemical imbalance in the body, and is not something that you can shake off like you can a little case of the dulldrums.  Medical help needs to be sought quickly for clinical depression.  Certainly not to be taken lightly!

I am just talking about a brief stint of feeling out of sorts.  It is great, for example, to have a bunch of family in town together for a big celebration.  It is always fun to catch up with family, celebrate life’s big moments, and get silly with the kin.  Its a blast!  These get togethers usually involve good food, happy events, and relatives that we enjoy but don’t see enough of.  When I get togehter with my family, we play games, take walks and hikes, prepare food together in the kitchen, and enjoy catching up over a meal.  I simply adore times like these.  Following this, though, comes the proverbial “Monday morning”.  Everyone leaves.  It’s back to work and business as usual.  The fun is over.  And sometimes this comes with a tiny letdown.

Again, these are brief letdowns, maybe just missing the family that has just left, and you get a little heart sick because the craziness of the get together was just so much fun!  It’s hard when that ends.  And the blue moment really doesn’t last long, because lets face it, life is good!  But it’s there, and it can linger.  A boohoo moment for sure!  How do you snap out of it?

A great way to kind of come back to reality after a bunch of fun that leaves a little empty spot is to get some excercise.  Physical activity has a great energizing effect on the body, mind and spirit.  It’s a release, freedom, a little surrender.  It feels good to just let go, take a walk, a run, or zip to the gym.  Sure you may have to make yourself go in the first place, but once you get your body moving, you feel the release.  The tension of being upset just seems to drain away, and good happy thoughts roll in.  It becomes easy to leave those sad feelings behind you with each step forward!

Another way to get past the “Monday morning letdown” is to organize all those pictures that you just took from your fun time and share them.  It can make you smile to relive the great memories of the not too distant past by looking at photos.  Last summer when I was at a big family reunion, I brought my computer and at the end of the day, we put the pictures from everyone’s camera into one file.  The last night that we were all together, we watched a slide show of all the pictures and it was wonderful.  We laughed, shouted funny comments, and poked a little fun at each other.  Then we burned all of the pictures from the file to a disk.  Everyone took a copy of that disk with all of the pictures on it home.  Family from Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Philly and elsewhere all got a disk.  Popping that disk in and reliving the memories always cheers me up!

We all get a little bit blue sometimes.  That’s when we need to take the opportunity to either get that body moving or pull out pictures that produce happy laughter and warm thoughts.  Sometimes we can have really great moments when we are quiet, introspective, and take a moment to sit and reflect.  These are the times that we appreciate the gifts that we have in our life.  Memories.  Pictures.  Family.  Love.  These are great things to build, and sometimes a little hard to take when we move from living in a moment to remembering the memory of the event.  But move on we must.  Shake off that dust.  Bask in the beauty and glow of the memory.  It’s all good.  After all, we cannot truly appreciate the sunshine without the rain!  So celebrate the rain, look forward to the sun that inevitably follows it, and be thankful for what both the rain and the sun have to offer!

Tootsie Time Rocks!

4 Jun

Yes, those are my toes!   Man, does a pedicure feel good!  It is a treat for sure.  A pedicure can produce an immediate attitude adjustment.  And going with my sister doubles the enjoyment.  Girl time rocks!  So does spoiling the ol’ tootsies!  Why get a pedicure?  Well if you have to ask….

We totally abuse our feet.  And we shamelessly take them for granted.  Until they hurt.  Then we usually just get a little mad at them, as in “Why do my feet hurt?” while knowing that it is our own darn fault for not being attentive to them.  We walk, stand in heels, go to the gym, and shove our feet into shoes that probably should have been thrown out long ago.  Some of us spend a great deal of our day on our feet too.  Feet get abused so every once in a while they deserve a little down time!

My sister and I were sharing some girl time and decided to have a pedicure.  This time we planned and had an appointment.  Sometimes you have to schedule sister time!  This time we opted for the sea salt scrub for our feet.  We sat back in our chairs, chatted, giggled, and gossiped.  Our feet were soaked, rubbed, scrubbed and polished up.  All good stuff!  This trip for a pedicure was more of a beauty treatment and mental health inducer versus sheer maintenance.  We giggled at my funny little tick when a certain spot on my feet were touched.  My leg jerked involuntarily when a “touchpoint” on my foot had pressure on it.  Even the girl giving my pedicure giggled, but I think hers was more attributed to nervous relief that she hadn’t been belted in the face by my quirky foot flailing!

Anywhooo, we must remember that relationships are crucial to happiness and wellness.  The relationship with ourself is very important, but we tend to put that on the back burner.  What I mean by this is that we need to spoil ourselves, take care of ourselves before we can give ourselves to any one else.  Our culture doesn’t exactly support this.  No one gives us permission for a bit of self indulgence.  We must simply take it, and offer no excuses.  We need to be good to ourselves.  Period.

So don’t wait for an occasion.  Treat those tootsies and pamper your self a bit.  Find a good salon, give them a jingle, and make an appointment.  Go alone and flip through a magazine.  Go with a friend and giggle with some girl talk.  Go with your sweet lover and hold hands.   It only takes one pedicure to get hooked on this simple pleasure!  Go for it!  And enjoy!  Start practicing the fine art of self indulgence!

Walls

1 Jun

Walls.  They are a good thing.  They are there to hold something up.  A ceiling.  A roof.  Protection.  They provide a comfortable boundary.  If we were plunked down into a place that was pitch black, our instinct would be to reach out.  Find the walls.  That would be an indication of where we might be.  How large is the black space we are in?  Reaching out and finding a wall would begin to provide comfort, answers, direction.  So walls are a good thing.

As a parent, I want to be a wall for my children.  I want to hold them up.  Safely enclose and protect them.  I want to provide solid boundaries.  When they are uncertain or in the dark, I want them to reach for me and find comfort in knowing that I am there, standing firm.  Providing direction.  Answers.  That is what a good parent aspires to achieve.  Even as an adult, I still look to my parents to be my wall.  We all have weak moments, trying times, and it is comforting to be able to still count on not only my parents, but my whole family, to hold me up.

Good friends do the same thing.  I have learned over the years that biology does not necessarily make a family and that friends can also be counted as family.  So we can depend on our friends to be our wall.   And we should be theirs.  Lift them up.  Allow them to hold us up.  A thick wall.  A sturdy wall. Layers built upon layers, so it is sturdy.

How do the layers get applied to a wall?  Well, I suppose slowly, allowing each layer to become a firm foundation to the next, is a good way to build a solid wall.  Patience, with each layer  being applied with care, would build a good firm base.  A base upon which a new layer could be applied, accepted, hardened.  Ready to accept the next layer.  So its safe to say that a trusted wall can be built over a long period of time.  It can’t be rushed.  Time, patience, trust…the tools of good construction some might say.  So walls are a good thing.  Or are they?

Walls hold things up.  Provide direction.  All good things.  But there can be a flip side.  They can also be a barrier.  Walls can seal or entomb.  Shut off and divide.  Hold back.  Unfortunately some folks better fit this metaphorical description of a wall.  Which is sad.  These are the walls, the people, that we need to keep at arms length.  They divide.  Which is the last thing anyone should want.  That doesn’t sound comforting or desirable, that sounds lonely!  We have all run into people and relationships that have been this type of wall.  And sometimes it takes us some time to realize what type of wall a person or relationship provides.  We might think that a person is there to lift us up.  Support us.  Only to find out later that they are the “other” type of wall.  Rats!  That’s a disappointing discovery.  Now what?

I have had both types of walls in my life over the years, and who can’t say that?  I have learned to cherish, value, and take care of my good walls.  That is my firm foundation.  What I build upon.  And I have made it a priority in my life to be a good wall to my family (a.k.a. friends!).  That takes time, experience, patience.  The tools of good construction!  But when we run into a bad wall, and we all do, is it time to turn and run?  Well, that might be the first instinct, but I say no.  Let it become another layer to the wall.

The old saying “You can’t go around it, you can’t go under it, so you must go over it” comes to mind.  Going over a “bad” wall becomes another firm layer if we let it.  We overcome it.  We conquer it.  And we allow it to become another layer to the foundation.  And as a parent, we can teach our children how to use adversity to build a layer.  Learning comes in many forms.  Going over the wall also means to learn how to put more good walls in our life.  Get over the bad ones, build more, layer more, with good ones.  Become a better wall ourselves.  We strengthen.  We learn.  We use the good the bad and the ugly.  And we move on.  Stonger.  Better.  Another layer for our wall.  I know what kind of wall I am, what kind of wall I strive to be, and that my foundation is very strong.  What kind of wall are you?