July 30, 2012

Miss Peach And Her Peaches

miss peach and her peaches

The peach tree was laden down with the softest, peachiest peaches you can imagine. Although a small tree, she took the burden of the bountiful crop. It was a Sunday, a good day for making pies. Miss Peach, took her wooden bowl and filled it up with the sweet, downy fruit. It was a better idea than reading. After all, she's only six. And reading is far too serious for a summer day with school already just around the corner. Master Peach agreed.

 For one's first pie, success is important. So, grandmother Peach decided to give a go as a crumble. When one doesn't eat certain things, other things will have to do. A crumble of almond meal, butter and cinnamon will give it a Spanish flair!

 Master Peach thought it much more interesting to throw rocks in the pond. 

Getting ones hands in the crumble and spreading it around is a fine mess. 

Ms. Peach's finished product ready for the oven. 

July 26, 2012

The Country Girls' Approach to Saving Small Lives

Caroline and I are both Colorado country girls.

She lives in the mountains at 8,000 ft with a magnificent view of the Continental Divide and I live in the countryside at 5280 ft next to a creek that spills into two ponds.

She is a vegan Kundalini yogini and I am not. I eat everything that's good, all over the world, and bend my left elbow more than any other body part. Yet,  I am as interested in saving the world as she is and believe that all sentient beings deserve kindness including the most minute. It is said that even fleas and spiders experience fear and have a desire for happiness, just like the rest of us, so why not follow that creed when it comes to the small creatures that scare us?

Women have historically been afraid of mice. They bring a shrill like no other creature, other than perhaps a snake. Mice are harmless and they don't even bite, but they scurry in such a way that unnerves, darting here and there as if they were about to be baked in a pie.

They are curious creatures and like to flatten themselves and squeeze into tight spaces. They can sniff out the slightest crumb that one has left in a bag, or a suitcase, nibbling their way through expensive leather and make beds out of your favorite heirloom garments. They can pop up anywhere, out of an old hat or that worn-out basket left behind. It's safe to say, they are clever, clever creatures. And social.

I can be sitting at the kitchen table at night, and see one out of the corner of my eye have the audacity to come from some crack under the sink straight at me. Now of course, it's not me he/she wants, but the six course crumb meal I have prepared for them unknowingly under my feet. After a while, I think they pick up on the fact that we country girls perhaps are as harmless as they country mice.

What to do? For soft-hearted women, a mouse trap just won't do. It's excruciating to think of the brutal whack and then the mutilated body. One must resort to live traps. A bit of peanut butter goes in the end, the mouse follows, the little trap shuts and the rest is history. But it doesn't come without a story.

Caroline comes by for an impromptu dinner. We have a nice chat down by the creek while there is still light. We talk about the differences in living by mountains as opposed to water. We appreciate the pink clouds and the rushing stream, then head back to the house for a bite to eat. As I am preparing the meal, I keep hearing this clacking noise.

I said, "It's the mouse trap!"
She said, "go get a bucket with a lid!"
I said, "I don't have a bucket with a lid!"
"Well how do you suppose you were to keep it alive?"
I said, " You just take it like this, drive down the road and let it out."
Caroline says, "No you have to have a bucket with a lid that you poke holes into. Then you put a paper towel in there and some sunflower seeds."
"You have to be kidding me, " I said,  "I have no such thing."

I find a bucket but it has no lid. Luckily, I rummage around quickly and find a container—with a lid—and poke some holes into it, but it's small. There is nothing like the anxiety of thinking you are going to release the trap into a small space with a flimsy cover knowing that the mouse is going to bolt most likely down ones dress or around ones feet. The very thought of it sends a shrill and a dance in one spot! The very thought! "Not in the house! Please! Take it outside!" I prepared the container with slivered almonds and a paper towel. 

Valiantly, this lovely sweet lady, fearlessly and calmly releases the mouse into the container. He did not jump down her dress or escape. Even though there was a slight squeal from her lips, the lid went on fast and secure. We left our captive to brood out of doors and settle into his new temporary home. At least it was clear plastic and he could see out.

After some relief and altruistic success, we came in to have our supper. The night came on, we laughed and talked and then the time came to leave.

"Please don't make me take the mouse."
"What?" I said, "You have to take the mouse! He has to be driven 5 miles away and you are driving 5 miles away! Otherwise, you know they find their way back!"
She said. "I know, you're right. I must follow through. Get the flashlight. We have to see if he's still alive. "
"I don't have a flashlight."
"What if you have a burglar?"
"What am I going to say?? Go away! I have a flashlight!!??"

I found one curiously on my phone, and we ventured into the night to find our captive.  I was worried that perhaps I had not put enough holes in the top. Was he breathing? I shined the light. He barely moved. Oh, I thought. Not enough air. Then we picked up the container to put in the car and he looked at us sleepily. He had made a cozy bed in the paper towel just like Caroline had said. His nuts were gone and he looked at us.. shall I say... affectionately?

It was enough to want to keep him as a pet.

Goodnight Caroline! Goodnight mouse! Drive safely up the mountain!

Not only a life saved...but transformed. I hope he likes the mountains as well as the creek. I wouldn't be surprised if he follows Caroline home. She's so brave. It made me think about bravery. Bravery comes when your commitment to do the right thing is stronger than your fear. Sat Nam Karuna.

July 7, 2012

Living Between Curious Worlds

The creek is high, rushing and coffee colored. Surrounding trees are full and green, happy with a full drink of water from yesterday's rain. The Flatirons sit pretty in the distance looking down on the plains with barely a glow of early morning light coming from a vast, cloudy, yet blue Colorado sky. Birds and hidden animals take delight in the moist air and cool temperatures, and so do I.

Left hand creek after a storm. The Queendom. Longmont, Colorado. 

Rain has washed over recently burnt hills bringing with it a mix of tree ash and eroded earth down valley carrying it to who knows where. This is how the great west was formed. The Grand Canyon, the Great Sand Dunes, magnificent earth sculptures moved around, carved and pushed up against fourteen thousand foot peaks from primordial wind storms, ice, great rushing rivers and forest fires started by lightning strikes. Not far away,  parched areas of land, a veritable tinder box stretching for thousands of acres, has burned out of control for a few weeks covering 136 square miles, stripping everything in its path. Precious Rocky Mountain high air quality; poor.

But this morning, the wisdom of nature has righted itself. I sit appreciating this as I listen to the roar of the creek and all that is beautiful about Colorado and the great western United States.  It makes leaving the bosom of Italy, the quaintness of Europe, a more civilized way of living life, easier.

The center of the Universe. Cibreo Caffe'. Florence, Italy.

Just days after leaving the taste of fresh figs and just-made ricotta, my mind and palate linger in the memory of daily walks to the market. Seasonal fruit bursts with color and true taste. My basket is full of deliciousness; hearty bread, flavorful proscuitto, mozzerella di buffala, sweet pomodorini, pungent green extra-virgin olive oil, mineral rich Sicilian salt and bright yellow zucchini blossoms to stuff. I dream of the swirls of spicy oil that I will anoint a dish of fresh tomatoes and basil and ponder what crisp white wine will be good to serve at sunset. Will I choose Falanghina or Fiano to delight my guests as we hug the Amalfi coast offering up a taste of place as the wind blows?

Fresh figs and ricotta. Casa Parlascio. Florence, Italy.

Sitting just a few short days ago in my fourth floor apartment that looks at the back of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, I marveled at it's perfectly cut stones, large Renaissance windows and tall handsome tower. Swallows dance at dusk and the light pours in softly on my cheerful tablecloth. The Japanese tea pot sits empty, having poured it's last cup of tea into a grey-glazed handmade cup that fits a bit 'wabi sabi' into my hand. These are images that soothe my soul. The paintings on the wall speak. The textiles tell stories of where they came from and I feel shy that I love these inanimate things. I know I will miss them, the stone Buddha, my nest in the sky, how it holds as a place of rest and creativity for me, my friends and family.

Casa Parlascio. Florence, Italy.
Casa Parlascio. Florence, Italy. Photo Graham Markel
This home is a refuge. A place where I live half of my life, a pied a terre, to go from here to there for my culinary programs in that part of the world. I look forward to the wood-fired ovens of Tuscany. To sailing the Med, on her cobalt and aqua marine seas basking in Neapolitan goodness and island splendor. To Sicily, for mandarins, almonds, antiquity and wildness. To Morocco and the Atlas mountains for the Berber way of life and Marrakech for exotic, playful, artistic feasts.

Camel Safari with friends. Sidi Kaouki, Morocco. Photo Ashley Mulligan
And then, within a day, I take a big leap back home to the other half of my life, to purple mountain's majesty and amber waves of grain. I have family, grown children, gorgeous blonde curly headed grandchildren, a nurturing, patient boyfriend, and wonderful friends who speak the same language. I have biography here. Years of living, drama, loss, happiness, life lessons, study, and love. I come back to a country that is built on liberty and justice for all (yet spends billions in an election year rather than on what matters). The good ole U S of A.

Crestone, Colorado
Home on the range close to my house. Boulder, Colorado.

I imagine the tension, anxiousness and possible peacefulness of what it would be like to slow down to the point of staying in one place. I know that a life spent roaming around and around and around is stimulating and meaningful, but it's also addictive. I wonder sometimes how long I will keep it up as if, then what? What does it mean to stop? I can hardly imagine what old age will be like.Will I be a wise old woman who likes to tell stories. Will I take up knitting or writing. Will life become static and boring? Life is not static anyway, anywhere, as long as we are alive and engaging our minds.
 So the question remains open.

Ventotene. Italy.

It's a privilege to travel. It is my work and has become what shapes my life. Back in the Queendom of Colorado, at the home of a good friend, I find the part of me that loves high altitude living. Recently the temperatures were extreme. High and dry, the mountain air sucks every bit of moisture from your face, the ground, the creeks, even snakes climb trees looking for shade. Then it breaks into it's opposite. Flash floods. Cool. Cloudy days that bring relief. My mind turns towards shopping for food at the market and what one eats in this climate and I become nostalgic for Italy, Morocco and India. Cultures who's lives revolve around family and real food put more attention on growing good food. I love the traditional dishes that speak of locality, identity, age old wisdom of how to eat in a certain season, what spices to temper in which oil, what flavors naturally go well together. I ask myself, how will I relate to every day life in the Rockies as opposed to Rajasthan, or Sidi Kaouki, Vallelunga or Ventotene?

Tagine. Jnane Tamsna. Marrakech. Photo Ashley Mulligan

 Luckily, the fresh corn will be plentiful and the apricots and peaches native. I will have to use my senses and experience to eek out the best of what grows naturally here and prepare it in ways that I have learned to make sitting down for meal an exquisite part of the day. I am beyond grateful that I have known and been exposed to some of the more brilliant slices of the world.

There is no doubt that I experience groundlessness, a lack of settling in, moving from place to place. But in each place I find home. Home is within my perception, my experience of taking in whatever the moment is offering. The most important quality for traveling is curiosity. It implies an open mind. Patience is a close second and tolerance makes it the holy trinity.

It takes a few days to transition and in these times of change, I see myself and the world more clearly and appreciate the differences and similarities, the white tailed deer scampering across the field, the broken windshield wipers, the small irritations that have no gender or place, the opportunity to have choice and be free, the smile of an old friend, the heron on the pond, an inexpensive long talk with my sister, a peaceful place to lay my head, a beautiful landscape. It's an opportunity, right? To see through what we usually don't see when our minds are preoccupied and the landscape is only a backdrop. Getting big enough to include it all and be patient with myself in the transition process is key. And it makes life curiouser and curiouser.

photo by Ginny Jordan here at the Queendom

Photos by me, unless otherwise specified.

July 1, 2012

Undoing it in Kerala, India. Eco on the beach.

Marari Beach: CGH Earth Experience        

      There is a cow grazing outside of my door with a calf on her teet. The cows have been grazing all day with a slight tinkle to their bells, giving that bucolic sound so sweet for a nap. 

The fan spins and blows the air in my room, and I can still hear the crickets outside. It reminds me of my childhood summer holidays on the south coast of Alabama, where the day began and ended with telling stories. In between, we caught crabs for making gumbo and enjoyed long stretches of white sand beaches. We loved the heaviness of the humid air. It helped us to relax and made cutting into a watermelon that much more inviting.

Here in south India of all places, I have found a slice of the good life, like something from my childhood. A place that gives me simplicity, authenticity, good food, and the solitude I need without being totally alone. I wanted to write, commit to a meditation practice, and be near the water. And so I fell into the arms of a CGH Earth Experience, not knowing what I would find.

I found, first of all, a warm greeting and a detailed description of what I would find and what I wouldn’t. The things I would not find were a relief. CGH Earth is not your average resort hotel. Just ask the guests, of which 80 percent of them return every year.

I was taken to my thatch-roofed bungalow, complete with an open-air, yet private, shower and toilet. There are many ways to be one with nature here—it's at your fingertips at all times. 

At least where I come from in the United States, the idea of green architecture, operating with sustainability in mind—recycling, organics, and so forth—was a concept developed only 30 years ago. Here, it has naturally been a way of life. Taking those ideas into a resort setting—bringing consciousness to water consumption and the unnecessary washing of sheets and towels, creating shopping bags out of recycled newspaper—fits hand in hand with the local profile of keeping Mararikalum (Malayalam for “Marari Beach”) unspoiled. Here, you will find no beach umbrellas, just a fishing boat or two, and the occasional fisherman eyeing a catch with his finely tuned intuition and skill of how to read the water.

What goes on behind the scenes is even more impressive. The entire property is sustainable. From bio-gas produced from kitchen leftovers, to recycled waste water, these practices put back what nature has given us and continues to cycle. Nothing gained (wasted) and nothing lost (re-used).

Here, signs quietly speak to me wherever I go. When I'm in the bathroom a sign might say, “If you need more amenities, tell us and we will bring them straightaway. We are trying to avoid plastic. “ Or, “we don’t spray for bugs or mosquitoes, but we do bring around ‘church smoke’, which smells quite good (frankincense). We prefer not to use chemicals.” The more exotic trees are named in English and Latin.

Only the most valiant eco-warriors in America are able to preach and practice these methods, and most people think they are extreme. To find this in a business setting is encouraging. The need to pay attention to this way of life is imperative, especially in the public sector. Our oceans are suffering immensely due to unhealthy trawling practices that wreck our reefs to the point of no return and the amount of garbage that makes it’s way to the sea is making a cesspool in the pacific. “The nature of our future depends on the future of our nature.“ This is the first sign that greets you as you walk to your bungalow. It made me stop and think, a heightened sense of awareness and appreciation arose knowing that these practices are in place.

CGH Earth holds hands with the local culture and integrates it well. Most of the staff originate from no further than 50 miles away. They call on the locals for guides and transportation and sightseeing, even though they could offer it themselves.

Sanity breathes in and out on the property. Nothing is static. A smile and a greeting by name is on every meeting. “We treat our guests like a god.” It was not necessary to tell me, as I felt it was also natural. I’m convinced the Malayali are like that: soft, gentile and sweet as jaggery. Even the breeze is gentle and the sea, warm. All was elementally ambient. 

I took a cooking class in the organic outdoor kitchen garden. Young Chef Rinto took me through the garden. He was playful and delighted in quizzing me on things that he thought that I wouldn’t know, even though I surprised him with a few. I found his questions engaging. As the night noises grew louder and darkness fell, someone came around with the ‘church smoke’ and set us up for the evening. It works, I tell you and I was grateful.  It was wonderful to get my hands on the food, as well as eat a splendid meal. 


Raw papaya and basil soup
(We picked the papaya and the basil.)

Plantain curry in a yogurt sauce
(Plantains were growing also.)

Whitefish with a ginger, green chili, coconut paste cooked on a banana leaf
(Just caught fish from the morning, green chili, coconut.)

Red spinach and cabbage thenga with grated coconut
(We picked the red spinach and cabbage, and grated the coconut. We did not however, climb the coconut tree to get the leaves.)
A steamed rice flour dumpling with jaggery and grated coconut inside, called Kozhukatta was for dessert.

It was simply delicious and not even hours old. This meal is indicative of how specialized a stay in Marari Beach can be and a good way to start my self-imposed Ayurvedic diet.

For the next five days, I surrendered to Ayurveda. There is a time and place for everything and the moment for me was now. With a traditional Ayurvedic center located just two steps from my bungalow, I raised the white flag. After eating my way through North India with a group of ten, and half of the South by myself, my body was telling me to take it easy. Here at Marari, I could unplug.

For a change, I could focus on my own mind and body. I set up a meditation alter and made a commitment to get up and practice everyday before dawn. I would do yoga, write, take walks on the beach and take a series of Ayurvedic massage treatments, and go to bed early.
What a relief. Even with a restricted diet, no meat or alcohol, coffee or black tea, I welcomed the change. I could have green tea, local Kerala rice, and a piece of steamed fish in the evenings as well as several vegetarian curries. I even forfeited the fish. A glass of freshly pressed pineapple juice came with every meal for digestion. I could eat three tablespoons of something and feel full. It was if my digestion was on holiday too. I seriously had no appetite at all, so I asked for smaller portions. When they brought me my meal they would laugh and say, “Here is your pussycat meal,” with big pearly smiles. A sense of humor goes a long way. After five days, my dosha (body type and tendencies) felt more balanced and restored. So did my appetite.

From swimming every day, walking, eating well and getting amazing ayurvedic spa treatments, my body-mind started to shift. My mind loosened up and I began losing weight naturally. It was a pleasure to meet the girls in the center everyday. Their warm smiles and hands were alchemical, and melted away hidden blues I wasn’t even aware that I had.

Before each full body treatment came a sitting-up head massage with their special oils, which I found to be as valuable as the main treatment. The head is the gatekeeper of stress and first this commander must be disarmed. In a treatment room that opened directly onto the garden, I was cared for like a baby.
The treatments are designed to bring relief to joints, nourish the skin, and eliminate toxins and stress. Their massage strokes worked up and down the body, increasing circulation to bring new blood flow to regenerate the cells. A few of the treatments included the “steam box,” which was my personal favorite. My body drank the moisture and the oils. My skin never had it so good. And then I was washed with a special plant scrub, my hair shampooed and then patted dry in a fluffy towel. The girls' bright smiles lovingly sent me on my way, and as an adult, I have never felt so young and rejuvenated. I felt radiant.

It will be hard to have other Ayurvedic treatments in other places, now that I know “the real deal.” I have already decided to come back. A lover of natural and alternative medicines to begin with, the value of this gentle way to rebalance, blows away all western reasoning that we should be filling ourselves with senseless synthetic medicines and mood stabilizers. Not only does Marari Beach grow their own food, they grow their own medicinal plants. Growing, brewing, and using the plant infused oils from the premises increases the energetic benefit. 

Most age-old systems will tell you that sickness comes from being out of balance. Treating a symptom does not get to the root. Therefore, popping pills and not changing one’s diet or lifestyle drives the problem deeper. Our organism wants to be healthy, but it needs our help.

What a good idea it would be to bring my daughter here with my two grandchildren, I thought to myself. They would have a wonderful time. I could be with them while my daughter took treatments. The staff seemed to love children, making them feel at home and giving them the ultimate positive cultural exchange. I want to bring other friends too. My sisters would benefit from this special touch. The affection and warmth of the Malayali people is healing in itself.

To have a center of this quality along with the other amenities makes me feel like I can have my cake and eat it too. Freedom to wander, spend time with others, and, most of all, not feel like a patient. I am a person choosing to have a purposeful vacation of tuning in, instead of just sitting with a relaxing drink in my hand. I can take the time to take care of myself in a different way, a way that will have lasting results.

I wanted to do everything listed on the activity list: take a country boat ride down the lagoons, getting a good look at local life. A sunset cruise would have been stunning. Never in my life have I seen sunsets like I have here over the Arabian Sea. A bike ride would have been terrific. But I couldn’t make it out of the hammock. What I want to say, is that I didn’t want to leave the property. There was enough to do here for me. I thoroughly dropped in to myself.

As a cook, what I look for is to find a balance of what is “not too much, not too little.” CGH Earth Marari Beach has offered just the right amount of something and nothing. It is a sanctuary, not only for birds and other creatures—but for all of us. We are safe here. The feeling is, we are more than welcomed and we belong in balance with nature. There is a resonance when nature recognizes itself. When there is no fear, there is nothing to be afraid of. 

At one point, I wanted to make a daily flower offering to my altar, but I was shy to take a flower off the tree, so I didn’t. But when I left the room for breakfast and came back, there was a new flower in my bowl. The girl looking after my room understood right away that she could also refresh the altar. This sensitivity and attention to detail is unique. 

Sunset on the beach is a party for sand crabs and spindly-legged sand pipers. There is life, movement and rhythm as the waves roll gently up on the beach.

The sun sinks behind the horizon leaving me with a rare sense of equanimity. Peace is more precious than pearls and the moment is to be savored.