Sunday, September 21, 2014

Zen photography

Under the shade of a canopy of trees at the US National Arboretum

This spring, I took a 4-week workshop called Zen Photography that blended mindfulness and the art of photography.  Our zen master, Tuan Pham, is an award winning amateur photographer.  He used meditation and exercises such as one-eye seeing and relaxed awareness to teach us wise attention so we could look at the world around us with awakened awareness.  Our classes included drawing and other creative exercises along with time spent taking photos in the US National Arboretum.  Each class ended with a slide show of our best shots from the previous week.   The course ended with a family day where everyone got to participate in mindfulness and creative exercises to see what we had been up to.  There was a final exhibition of all of our favorite photos taken over the weeks.

The course focused not so much on the technical aspect of taking photographs, but on how we see things and how our thinking minds influence how we see.  We were challenged to try things to get out of our comfort level and stretch ourselves.  I experimented with taking some photos that were outside of my usual style and was pleasantly surprised by the results.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Reflection - one of my classmates during a moment of stillness before going off to take photos

Water series - reflections in the water

The inside of an iris growing in a neighbor's garden

Close up of the ice cubes in a glass of iced tea

The end - a dog enjoying a rest in the shade at the arboretum

I really enjoyed the course and feel that it helped me view my surroundings in a slightly different way than before.  It is being offered again this fall and I've signed up to take it so that I can expand on what I've already learned and to apply it to my photography as well as all my other creative endeavors.

I hope you pause from time to time to take in the scene around you with fresh eyes and enjoy the beauty in the everyday.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Kitchen adventures: salad spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce (vegan and raw)

Salad spring rolls with peanut dipping sauce

The memory of summer is fading fast here, but there are still warm afternoons where you might want something light for lunch or dinner.  These fresh spring rolls come together quickly and can be made with whatever vegetables you like and have on hand.

Spring salad rolls with peanut dipping sauce

Dipping sauce
¼ cup peanut butter or other nut butter
3/4 cup very hot water
1 tablespoon Braggs amino acids or soy sauce
2 teaspoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
2 tablespoons olive oil
chili pepper, ,pepper sauce or chopped fresh hot peppers to taste

1. Stir together the peanut butter and hot water in a small bowl until smooth.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk until thoroughly combined. Set aside at room temperature while making the rolls.

Salad rolls
makes approximately 12

12 cucumber spears
1 cup grated carrot
1 cup packed mung bean sprouts
1 ripe avocado, sliced lengthwise into 12 even pieces
12 lettuce leaves or 2 cups shredded Napa cabbage
1/2 cup grated radish
¼ c. fresh mint, Thai basil or cilantro, coarsely chopped
tofu strips, plain or marinated in Braggs amino acids or soy sauce, garlic powder and olive oil
12 rice spring roll wrappers

1. Place each ingredient in a separate bowl or plate.
2. Fill a wide, shallow bowl with warm water. Place one spring roll wrapper in the bowl and let it soak until limp, about 5 seconds. Lay the wrapper down flat on your work surface. In the upper center section of the wrapper, place 1 piece of lettuce or small bed of about 2 tablespoons shredded cabbage. You will want to leave at least 1 in. at the bottom of the wrapper uncovered; no need to leave any space at the top. In a compact vertical line, arrange a cucumber spear, avocado slice and tofu strip, small amount (approximately 1 generous tablespoon) of the carrot, bean sprouts  and radish plus a sprinkle (approximately 1 teaspoon) of the mint, basil or cilantro.
3. Fold the bottom edge of the wrapper on top of the filling. Then tightly (but gently) pull the left edge of the wrapper over the filling and the folded bottom edge and then fold the right edge of the wrapper over. It may be helpful to put pressure on the filling with your fingertips to make it as compact as possible while rolling.  Keeping the filling as compact as possible, roll the filling in the wrapper. Press the edges of the wrapper together to close. Repeat until all 12 spring rolls are assembled.
4. Serve with peanut sauce

Any leftover sauce makes a great salad dressing.  

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Kitchen Adventures: A secret to fluffy vegan pancakes

Fluffy vegan pancakes

I have been doing quite a bit of experimenting with vegan baking with some success...and some results that were more suitable to the compost heap.  Getting the texture right and enough lift in vegan baked goods seems to be my biggest challenge.  I've had my fair share of flops, but I keep working at it to get things just right.

I've been struggling to get a nice fluffy vegan pancake.  Substituting flax meal and water for the egg in traditional recipes changes the chemistry and you don't get quite the same rising action.  I also tend to put some type of vegetable in just about every dish I make which allows me to reduce or eliminate the oil and add a little more nutrition, but it effects the density and height of my flapjacks as well.  I have found a little yeast is a magic ingredient that seems to give just enough extra loft to make my pancakes as fluffy as I like.

These pancakes have zucchini incorporated in the batter

Whole grain pancakes (vegan)

makes about 8 medium pancakes

2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon raw sugar or other sweetener
1 cups almond (or other non-dairy) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup flax seed meal
1 cup whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup uncooked rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
1/2 cup finely grated zucchini, carrot or raw sweet potato
Vegetable or coconut oil for cooking

Dissolve the yeast and sweetener in the 1/2 cup warm water and let sit to get frothy while you mix the rest of the ingredients.  In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients (flax seed meal, flour, oats, baking powder and soda and salt).  Stir in the grated vegetable and toss to coat the shreds.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients (yeast mixture, almond milk and vanilla).  Mix well, but do not overmix or it will toughen the pancakes.  If the batter is too thick, add a little more almond milk.  If the batter is too thin, add a bit more flour.  Let the batter sit for 10 minutes before cooking.

Heat a skillet over medium high heat and grease with a little oil.  Cook the pancakes on the first side until bubbles appear in the batter, then flip and cook on the other side until golden.  Serve with maple syrup and fruit.

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Staycation: a week long artist date

Sunflower in the garden

It's nearly the end of summer here in the US.  The summer garden is nearing its end so it doesn't need constant tending, so we had planned a family vacation for the beginning of September.  However, scheduling conflicts, some wallet draining repairs to our, in general, caused us to change our plans.

I decided to take the time off anyway and indulge in a frugal and creativity filled home retreat of artist dates as taught by Julia Cameron in the Artist's Way.  So I could immerse myself in my creative endeavors, I made a schedule to help me focus to get the most of my time. Those who know me, realize that I'm not a sit back and relax kind of gal,  so here is a peek at some of my staycation and artist dates wish list. 
  • morning meditation, workout and walk with the dog
  • fresh pressed juice or smoothie breakfast
  • email and social media break
  • morning creative activity
  • healthy, mostly raw lunch
  • email and social media break
  • afternoon creative activity
  • walk with the dog
  • mindfully cooking a nourishing dinner
  • quality time with hubby enjoying our stacks of books and backlog of movies

 My wish list of creative activities include:  
  • mixed media artwork for the sketchbook project
  • blog post writing
  • recipe development for future blog posts - done while crafting lunches and dinners
  • canning and preserving the garden harvest
  • closet and bookshelf editing 
  • thrifting for fall wardrobe additions (done)
  • dance choreography for fall dance performance season
  • website updates
  • photo editing
  • excursion to take new photos
  • garden maintenance (done), fall planning and planting
  • day trip with hubby for historic house tours and used bookstore and antique treasure hunting
  • mailing handwritten notes and surprises to stay in touch with friends and family
  • periodic review of my yearly goals for fall through the end of the year
  • girlfriend time at yoga class and brunch (done)
  • excursion to a newly opened neighborhood coffee shop for iced tea and writing time
My retreat is shaping up nicely and I'm enjoying bouts of mindful creativity.  Here are a few highlights of my activities so far.

Rich berry-chocolate breakfast smoothie 

Makes 2 generous servings (vegan and gluten free)

Handful of kale or spinach
A frozen banana or two
About a cup of fresh or frozen berries or additional banana  (I used raspberries)
About 1/4 cup cocoa powder (I used dark, raw powder)
2-3 tablespoons nut or seed butter (I used peanut butter)
Coconut water or nut milk (I used coconut water with pulp)
Splash of vanilla extract
Sweetener to taste (agave, maple syrup or a couple of pitted medjool dates)
A generous tablespoon of each maca powder and flax seeds (optional)

Blend all the ingredients in a high speed blender until smooth.  Add about a half cup of ice if you like a thick milkshake-like texture.  Taste and add or adjust sweetener as desired and blend well.  

Marie Forleo and Chris Guillebeau discuss How to Make Your Life More Meaningful and Exciting in this video which gave me inspiration to get focused and set my intention for my stay at home retreat.

New thrift store adventure at the sweet Charity's Closet Resale Boutique at Savage Mill, MD

This vegan sunshine bowl for lunch kept me fueled all afternoon. A bed of lettuce, sweet red pepper, grated beets, tomatoes, avocado, mung bean sprouts, leftover brown rice with pinto beans and pumpkin seeds drizzled with a tahini, orange juice vinaigrette

I may not get to everything on my wish list, but I have plenty to keep me active and engaged in the activities and projects I relish, but don't always get to spend as much time on as I'd like.  I think this soul enriching break could become a regularly scheduled event each year.

What would you do on your dream staycation?

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