Sunday, March 29, 2015

Tidying Up

Mixed media play from my current sketchbook

“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”   Don Williams, Jr.

Spring is here with its promise of new beginnings.  Changes brought on by a new job have turned my routine upside down, and I've been having a difficult time finding a new rhythm.  My discombobulated schedule has really thrown me for a loop with not enough time to write blog posts, experiment as much in the kitchen or dabble in other creative endeavors.  However, it has been good for me to take a step back and take a good look at my lifestyle and do a bit of an overhaul. 

While growing up, we moved nearly every two years with my father's work  in the military.  To ensure that we wouldn't go over our allotted shipping allowance for household goods, pre-move, my mother made sure we went through drawers, closets and shelves to evaluate if each of our possessions would come with us to our new home.  Was it still useful to us, had we outgrown it, was it in good working order or a prized possession with deep sentimental attachment?    I was always happy to put things in the donate pile because I hoped that someone new would be getting as much joy out of each item as I had in the past.  In the same way, our move would necessitate having to evaluate if an activity that I had been engaged in at our previous residence still held enough interest to get me to seek out a group or teacher in the new location.    

This cycle of moves and purges continued even into my adulthood until it stopped 15 years ago when my husband and I bought a Victorian house that needed lots of love and care in a suburb of Washington, DC.  Although I still do a spring and fall house cleaning and am considered to be fairly neat and organized, it's not quite the same.  I've held onto some things in case I might need it for some project that I often never seem to get to or continued on in an activity out of habit whereas if I were doing a physical move, I undoubtedly wouldn't have held on to either. 

As our renovation work continues in our old house, my husband informed me that our guest bedroom a.k.a. my craft supply/dance costume storage/off-season clothes space had to be emptied so he can began work on it this summer.  It took me a few minutes (okay, days…oh, alright, a couple of weeks) to wrap my head around how I was going to make my nicely organized things fit into other areas of the house without making everything look a cluttered mess.   To help with my dilemma, to  my rescue came a book club pick from my favorite creative lifestyle blog:  Tranquility du Jour:

The concept is simple - pull out everything you own, one category at a time and reflect on each item.  If it brings you joy, it still has a place in your life, if not, then let it go.  Taken as a whole, it seems a dauntingly overwhelming task, but done as prescribed in the book, it is manageable and enjoyable once you start to see the outcome.  Over several weeks, I have spent an hour or so on weeknight evenings:  one night it was socks, another it was workout wear, etc.  I have whittled down my wardrobe and folded it as prescribe to all fit in my closet and drawers with room to spare for my displaced items from the soon to be under construction room.  So far, I've donated  about 10 large bags of clothes, craft supplies, kitchen and household items, 9 boxes of books and magazines and shredded a stack of old paperwork that was 3 feet high.  I still have to complete going through a few more categories including the more sentimental items like photos and my dance costumes, but I can feel the effects of what I've accomplished so far.  Things are easily visible and accessible so I can enjoy them plus there is space when I decide to add something new. 

With the physical clutter much reduced, I surprisingly feel less mental clutter and the creativity block that had settled over me starting to loosen.  Now I am ready to tackle crafting a new routine that allows me time to pursue the creative endeavors that still bring me joy plus enough room to cultivate new passions.    

Thanks for reading!

Rhubarb leaf buds

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Kitchen adventure: sweet potato cake

This month has been cold and dreary so baking is one of those comforting activities that I enjoy to keep warm inside.  I've been experimenting with more vegan baking, and have had some good successes along with a few less than stellar results.  My husband's birthday is in February and he likes carrot cake.   I decided to bake a sweet potato cake to honor the day.  It's a similar twist to his favorite with lots of fragrant, warm spices and a soft, but dense texture.  There's plenty of nutrition packed in this sweet treat with lots whole grains (wheat and flax), nuts and apples as well as the sweet potatoes.

I was inspired by this recipe from Sweet Potato Soul.  I met Jenné in NYC when she taught a segment at the Main Street Vegan Academy which included her teaching us and making tacos for lunch - amazing!  Check out her many recipes and videos for more inspiration in vegan cooking.

Sweet potato cake with coconut cashew cream icing

2 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp flax seed meal
3/4 cup warm water
1 1/4 cup sugar 
1 apple, grated (or used 1/2 cup crushed pineapple)
1 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cup shredded sweet potato
1 cup nuts, chopped
1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut

14-oz can of full fat coconut milk - put in refrigerator upside down
1 cup raw cashews, soaked in water and drained
2 tsp vanilla extract or 2 in piece of vanilla bean
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp lemon or orange juice (juice of 1/2 of lemon)


  • Open the can of coconut milk right side up and scoop out the thick cream layer, leaving the liquid in the can. Place the coconut cream into a high speed blender.
  • Add in the soaked cashews, vanilla, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup.
  • Blend until smooth using some of the coconut milk to thin as necessary
  • Put the icing in the refrigerator to firm up until the cake is ready. 


  • Preheat oven to 350º.
  • Oil a tube pan 
  • In a small bowl, sift together dry ingredients (flour through salt) and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together flax seed meal and water and let sit a few minutes until thick. 
  • Add the sugar, oil, vinegar and vanilla and beat well.
  • Add the grated sweet potato and apple and  and mix until combined.
  • Add dry mix and stir until moistened, but do not over mix.  This is a very thick batter, but if the mixture is too dry, add a few spoonfuls of almond milk or orange juice.
  • Fold in nuts and coconut.
  • Pour into prepared pan.
  • Bake for 45-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  • Let cool in pan 10 minutes.
  • Use a knife to loosen edges of cake from pans.
  • Let cool fully on a wire rack.
  • Once the cake has cooled completely, frost and serve.
  • Store cake in the fridge to keep the icing nice and firm.

I hope you'll make this cake for a special occasion.  It's worth the effort.

Thanks for reading!

Cooling racks on baking day

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Expansiveness - year in review

Taken at the US National Arboretum

For more than a few years now, I have completed a review of the successes and lessons from the year before and crafted an outline to help guide me through the new year.   A few of my words from previous years include:  focus, serendipity, mindfulness and last year, expansiveness.  Looking back over my year of expansiveness, 2014 was full of  new adventures in learning through workshops, classes and exploration to nudge me out of creative stagnation and a feeling that I was adrift of my core values.  I am not one that naturally looks back to fully savor past experiences; I'm more of the kind that is always focusing on completing the current adventure while looking ahead and leaning full tilt into the next.  So, through annual reviews, monthly aspiration setting and quarterly check-ins, I am beginning to choose my adventures more wisely as well as embody my experiences more fully. 

For this reason, I have chosen embodiment as my word for this year.  For me, embodiment means to embrace, incarnate and take in with the eye and essence - to enjoy the journey.  Some supporting words will be simplicity, mindfulness (again!), passion and savor.  

I encourage you to explore setting your personal core values, conducting a year in review and guide for the new year. Although most of us instinctively know our core values, we may not be able to articulate them easily.  Having them accessible for reference has helped me make decisions much more easily when testing an opportunity against my values list.  It's less painful to let an enticing, but inappropriate choice go when I can see how it's not going to work with who I am and strive to be. 

Here are the resources I used for both exercises:
Living Your Values free how-to by Steve Pavlina
Unravelling the Year Ahead free downloadable workbook by Susannah Conway
Tranquility Du JourAnthology beautiful memoir and workbook by Kimberly Wilson

Citrus ready for juicing

Finally, I thought I would share some of the highlights of 2014 - my year of expansiveness:

Successful suburban gardening season from start to finish
Photography featured in an exhibition at Annemarie Sculpture Garden and Art Center
Got dressed up and went to high tea at the Mandarin Oriental with fabulous neighborhood girlfriends
Volunteering through One Brick at the Capital Area Food Bank
Attended an intro and two 4-week Zen Photography workshops at the US National Arboretum
Enjoyed performing at local cultural festivals with fellow dancers
Attended a week long Main Street Vegan Academy course
Said goodbyes to former coworkers when they put on a vegetarian farewell potluck (they rock!)
Was greeted by new coworkers with a vegan welcome lunch (they rock too!)
Posted some healthy cooking favorites:  collard green egg rolls and coconut peanut butter bites
Attended fantastic milestone birthday that included a scavenger hunt in an historic mansion
Attended a beautiful milestone birthday/anniversary party complete with jazz band and cabaret singer
Savored neighborhood cookie baking party and holiday caroling events

I hope your 2015 is off to a good start, and I look forward to sharing my adventures during my year of embodiment.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Photo essay: a walk along the river

 Sun setting over the water

Just after the winter solstice, we enjoyed a walk along a branch of the Anacostia River near our home on an unexpectedly warm afternoon.  Here are a few photos from the walk.

 Moss growing on the rocks


A little winter greenery

Enjoying a walk along the river

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Summer garden wrap-up

Bounty from this year's garden including winter squash, bell and jalapeno peppers, heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, raspberries, ground cherries, Asian, green and wax string beans

Winter has settled in here.  It seems as though the start of summer was such a short time ago, Somehow life just got in the way so I'm only now posting my wrap up for this year's summer garden. People often ask how much our garden really produces.  My answers have varied from - enough tomatoes so I don't have to buy tomato sauce until May or enough frozen pesto to get us until the first basil harvest the next year, but I didn't really know for sure.  So this year, I decided to keep track of the weight of the harvest. We found a nice vintage scale and general store weight sets after my digital kitchen scale gave out after about a month.  Here are the totals for the 2014 summer garden harvest,

An antique store find

Summer 2014 harvest (in pounds)

Basil, sweet 1.40 Ground cherry 3.20 Potatoes 8.00
Basil, Thai 0.05 Kale 1.00 Raspberries 7.54
Blackberries 0.27 Lettuce 0.68 Rhubarb 1.29
Broccoli 1.20 Mint 1.23 Soy beans 4.50
Carrots 0.53 Melon 35.86 Squash 32.27
Collards 2.95 Onion 0.95 Stevia 0.23
Eggplant 20.07 Oregano 2.00 Tomatoes 150.87
Garlic and scapes 2.11 Peas 0.73 Zucchini 8.56
Green beans 16.96 Peppers 24.36

Each year I learn a little more about raising an edible garden with the weather and nature making each year a challenge and a surprise.  I didn't have as much success with cucumbers and melons this this year after last year's never ending bumper crop, so it was nice to have a break after a diet saturated with everything from cucumber-melon juice to cantaloupe jam.  This year, we had an abundance of eggplant and winter squash for me to find creative new ways to use.

Here are some of my favorite photos from this year's garden adventures:
January through September in the garden beds
Garden fun preserving the harvest for the winter


In the bed, on the vine and at some colorful harvests
Garden beauties

It was a pleasant journey reviewing this last summer's work on a cold, dreary day.  I'm looking forward to getting back into the swing of writing, creating and sharing with you in hopes that you are inspired to explore something new or revisit a forgotten creative endeavor.

"A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."  ~ Maya Angelou

Thanks for reading!