Archive for October, 2014

Porridge Plantains

October 18, 2014

Today I had a lesson in Cameroonian cooking.

I’ve been following a blog (Immaculate Bites) posted by a young Cameroonian woman who puts out recipes from a variety of cuisines – African, Caribbean, some middle eastern, some from the southern areas of the USA. I’ve made several of her dishes and enjoyed them.

Today’s preparation was not one of her recipes, but rather one taught to me by my husband. It is a traditional dish, called Porridge Plantains, that we could not prepare until now because we needed some ingredients brought to us from Cameroon, by a friend who visited home over the summer. Specifically, a dried vegetable called bitter leaf, and a particular bullion cube that I have not so far seen in the USA.

The preparation is quite easy – provided one has the few ingredients to hand. We had plantains, but they were too ripe! So we made a quick trip into town to Wal-Mart. With the assistance of a store employee, who brought out a new box of plantains, we acquired a supply that were green and firm and perfect for boiling. Home again, the plantains went into a pot with soaked bitter leaf, the bullion cubes, a little salt, some smoked meat, and red palm oil, to be cooked down until the broth had soaked thoroughly into the plantains and they were soft in the middle. Out of respect for my limited tolerance for HOT spice, my husband only added habanero pepper at the end, to his portion of the meal. See below for the challenges of preparing that pepper!

Porridge plantain is served at every special event in Cameroon. We had not yet prepared it, not having the special ingredients. So today was our very own “special event”, as I tried for the first time – and my husband enjoyed after too long a gap – a taste of his home.

Porridge plantain has – for me – an interesting and enjoyable flavor, complex, slightly bitter but not excessively so. I think it helps that I love spinach and am one of those people who like anchovies. I’m sure it also helps that I was raised with a rule that I must take a taste of every food prepared. I did not have to eat a whole portion, but I could not skip tasting the – mostly middle-eastern style – foods my mother prepared. By the time I reached Vietnam (at age 13, way back before anyone in the USA had even heard of the country) I was prepared to try the radically different foods I encountered there.

In the years since, I’ve not only enjoyed eating a variety of cuisines, but have also enjoyed learning to prepare them. Preparing pepper sauce for my husband, now, is a challenge of a different sort. He likes the small, orange, extremely hot habanero peppers, cooked down and turned into a sauce that he adds to just about everything. I’ve started preparing the sauce for him – and just about been run out of the house as the cooking peppers put so much “bite” into the air that everyone starts coughing. In warmer weather, with the windows and doors open, it wasn’t a problem, but now that temperatures have dropped, we have become shut in with any irritants in the air. We’ve found a solution – cooking the peppers on a propane-fueled outdoor grill set up in the shelter of the portal attached to the house.

To everything there is a season. For everything there is a seasoning. Some like it hot, some like it sweet, some like it sour (that’s me). How dull it would be if we all liked only the same tastes, activities, hobbies. I wish, for everyone, an openness to experimentation and learning, and the pleasures that come from new experiences. Who knows, I may yet learn to not just prepare but actually to eat habanero sauce!

A habanero chili

Unmixed Blessings

October 11, 2014

We talk easily about mixed blessings – recognition that desired events are not necessarily without their down sides. But if you are one of those who believes that what happens, happens for a reason, then everything that happens is perfect, and an unmixed blessing.

Thistles bloom in my pasture – lovely purple flowers that turn to face the sun in the mornings. Cows eat the prickly leaves and stems with impunity. Two of my horses dined on these maligned plants with evident pleasure. Blessings clearly are a matter of perspective.

Some people who know me only slightly are now having to deal with their own reactions to my recent marriage to a man of a different race and religious background from my own, from a culture quite alien to theirs, and who is enough younger than I am that I’m told I can now call myself a cougar. I don’t choose to do so, as I suspect that – like almost all terms for women when compared to similarly situated men – there is a negative implication to the word. The mere fact that we do not have a term for older men with younger women tells me cougar is not offered with respect or admiration.

Others may label me as they wish. I choose not to identify with their terms. There is nothing of the negative in my present circumstances. They are, rather, an absolutely pure blessing, offering me new opportunities to learn tangible things like a different cooking style, the pleasure of manifesting what I’ve been taught regarding living in the moment, and the experience of the simple joys that come from doing so.

Intellectually I’ve known that Being in the here and now is a possibility not in conflict with making long term plans. Recently I’ve had the joy of experiencing this lack of conflict in an intimate way, as each day fills itself with a blend of work and relaxation within the framework of slowly forming long term goals.

As is evidenced by the scarcity of my posts in the past several months, I’m not as easily able to blend Being with mental reflection on the meaning or form of that Being. More simply stated, I’m too busy Being to think about it. I’m also realizing that I’ve been so busy Being that I’ve not made time to read. A lifetime of reading at least one, often two books a week and here I am not having completed one I started two months ago!

My work requires a sufficient mental acuity that I know my mind is still fully active (no senility here, yet), despite my not using it for accustomed habits. It is a profound change, however, to live so much more immediately and not – as of old – through my mind. Interestingly, the less my mind is “in control’ of my days, the more smoothly they flow. Which, blessedly, demonstrates what my spiritual teacher has been attempting to instill for the many years I’ve been his student – that mind/ego is the enemy of spiritual understanding and true happiness.

Mind is subtle. It diverted me for a time into the illusion that my present happiness was somehow a “reward” for my attention to acting as purely as possible (in the words of my dear grandfather, doing right solely because it is the right thing to do). Fortunately, my spiritual teacher recently reminded me (and others of his long-time students) that happy consequences are just as ensnaring as negative ones.

We are more ready to recognize and try to release ourselves from iron shackles (addictions, self-defeating thoughts and behaviors) than from golden chains (involvement with loved ones, social causes, “doing good”). Indeed, the golden chains are presented as so positive that it is very hard to recognize the way they entrap one. Hard, that is, until one sees that it is one’s mind and ego that take pride in behaving in positive ways, and one’s mind and ego that feel rewarded by positive outcomes.

My present happy situation is… my present happy situation. I did not earn it, I did not create it, any more than I earned or created hardships I lived through in earlier years. Both the negative and the positive are opportunities to detach, to choose not to identify (as I choose not to be a cougar), to simply Be. And to not over-think that being!

When it is time for me to resume reading, I will do so. If it is now time for me to post more often, I will do so. If, instead, both of these activities are to continue to be rare, so be it. The only imperative I recognize now is to be focused in the moment, so that my days unfold as the divine within (or flowing through) me directs.

Such is the new me. Or, more accurately, such is the me I’ve always been, but did not know how to manifest.

Down But Not Out

October 5, 2014

If I continue to wait until I have something important to share, I suspect I’ll never post again! Or if I continue to wait until I feel I have time to write, I certainly will never post again. So I’m here this morning to share the pleasure of sitting in my cottage, autumn sun and crispness flowing in through the screen door as I look out at an unfamiliar view. My property, but seen from an entirely different angle than the one I’m familiar with. A much curtailed view, that lets me concentrate on such small details as a moth fluttering around my dying tomato plants in their giant tubs.

My days, these days, are similarly curtailed – and seem focused on minutia of work, of a much-to-slow recovery from illness, of preparation of this cottage for what may be a rather harsh winter.

Were it not for being so weak, I wouldn’t mind the forced slow-down. When strength is limited, one must become much more selective about where one’s energies are directed.

I do wish I were better able to maintain this careful attention to what matters most when my energies are at their best!

Each time I’m brought to a near standstill by a health “crash”, I promise myself I’ll be a better steward of my attention going forward. Can I say I’m getting more competent because the gaps between crashes have lengthened significantly? The last one was three or more years ago. And the last one as severe as the present one was at least eight years ago.

Hmmm. I think I just acknowledged that I have, in the past nine months, became so forgetful of being in the present that I had to be brought way back to basics. OK, I get it. What felt like being so busy living that there wasn’t time to reflect, was really being too caught up with transitory events to pay attention to the things that matter most.

So here I am, grateful that I’ve been forced to slow down drastically, grateful that I’m not totally immobilized, grateful for the beautiful day and the silence and the moth.

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