January 2008


It takes a lot of good strong qualities to be more creative and self-expressive but the big one that hit me in the face recently is Courage.

I was doing some painting last weekend, just playing around, and I noticed that it was all coming out pretty pristine and controlled.  When really, the stuff I like is more along the lines of the “My Kid Could Paint That” images at the bottom of this post.  (Aside: I love the name of her blog, “A Beautiful Mess”.  That’s what I strive for). 

Look at the two at the bottom.  Amazing stuff right?  And it’s funny that I’m grooving on the art of a kid but that really fits because it IS my inner kidlet who should be driving the painting. 

But I remember how that all turned out for me.  In grade two we were coloring something and Mrs. Isenor came by my desk and said “Corilee! You’re drawing outside of the lines!”  She got shouty about it and everything.  She was pretty pissed.  And did the shame and humiliation ever drive THAT learning home for me.  Thanks Mrs. Isenor, you earned your pay that day.  So here I am a *number* of years later doing my darndest to unlearn that lesson.

I don’t want to draw inside the lines.  I want to upchuck my emotions in technicolor all over the page.  I’ve been playing with hot pinks lately, what do you think?  But it takes guts to be willing to see your guts.  Talk about playin’ your edge.  No arm balance was ever quite that scary for me.  What’s the fear of a smushed nose compared to, well, seeing your fear in all it’s glory on the paper?  Now that takes courage. 

We’re all creative and self-expressive all the time.  You might say, nope not me, I don’t have a creative bone in my body.  And when you say that you’re probably thinking about painting some perfectly photo-realistic picture or glass blowing.  You’re right, you probably need some training to pull that off.  But you’re still creative and self-expressive all the time.

When you tell your buddies a good story, there are a million ways you could form the story.  You picked one, you picked one with each word that came out of your mouth.  Now that’s creative.

When you decided what to wear this morning based on your mood, the weather or what would hide your lunch spills – pretty creative.

When you put something up on your wall because it makes you feel good and not because of some idea of what best matches your couch, that’s creative too.

And it’s important.  Our lives are richer and a heck of a lot more fun if we look for more opportunites to express ourselves and be creative.  And it doesn’t really matter what it is, as long as it’s something we groove on.  Something that gives us a little scrap of joy.

But we always get stuck on the idea that whatever we “produce” won’t be “good enough”.   But that’s crap.  It’s about the playing not about producing.  It’s about expressing who we are and where we’re at at any given moment.  We get so hung up on Perfection.

I learned something about that when I did a raku class.  It’s a pottery technique and uses a special clay that’s full of sand and small rocks.  When you throw a pot on the wheel you’re convinced it’s going to wear off your fingerprints.  But the rough clay is used so that the pot has a better chance of withstanding the raku process.

The pots get fired first in the kiln as usual and then they’re dipped in special glazes that contain metals and other compounds.

The fun part happens next.  We took our pots and the class went to some potter’s lawn by the ocean.  We’d take a big bunch of shredded paper, dump it on the lawn, light it on fire and throw a pot in it.

The fire would bring out amazing colors in the glaze – shimmering metalics and rich deep colors too.  Then we’d use long tongs to take the pot out of the fire and throw it in a bucket of cold water to freeze the colors as they were.

Pretty tough process for a delicate clay pot huh?  Sometimes even the strongest looking pots broke. Our teacher told us that raku was first done by Japanese monks a long time ago.  They made cups for their tea ceremonies and the tea helped them stay awake during their long meditation sessions.

And he said that it was the broken cups that were most valued by the monks.  They would put them back together and value them even more than the pots that were “perfect” and unbroken by the raku process.

I think that’s the best way to look at our creative play too.  You just don’t know what you’re going to come up with, so why pre-judge it?  Why judge it at all?  The fun is in the doing.  You think that people looked at Picasso’s stuff and said “oh yeah painting the eyes on top of each other, wow what perfection.”  No, they thought he was nuts.  But hey, judgey people don’t need to see your doodles, scribbles or macrame.  You’re just telling a version of a story.  So what’s yours? 

 

 

You simply haven’t done Pigeon Pose until you’ve done it with a 35 pound preschooler on your back.  It makes for a great stretch.  He is available to rent as a yoga prop, by the way, but his attention span is short and he requires constant feeding.  So if that’s not an option, breath some life into your Pigeon Pose with these variations.

Let’s say you’ve got your right leg forward for each of these descriptions.   

– With hands supporting you on the mat, twist your right shoulder to the right.  If you want to go deeper, bring your right hand behind you and reach to the back of your left thigh.

– With your left hand firmly on the mat, lift your right arm straight above your head.  Feel how it changes the stretch.

– Walk your hands forward bringing your face to the mat.  Walk your hands to the left and hold.  Pause for a few breaths, then walk them to the right and hold it there.

– Roll onto your left shoulder and bring your hands to a prayer position and hold.

If Pigeon is intense for you anyways, make sure you’re well warmed up for these variations, because you’ll feel the stretch in a whole new juicy way.

Can the urge for certain foods be in your genes? I asked myself this when I had an urge and went looking for cabbage recipes.  Not new age coleslaw recipes, but cooked cabbage.  The old school stuff. 

Where did this craving come from?  My mother *never* cooked cabbage and avoided lots of the unsexy veggies like turnip and rutabaga.  But see, if I look at my great grand parents, nearly half of them come from Germanic or Eastern European countries.  Those folks ate cabbage, baby.  But none of those folks are on my Mom’s side and since Mom was the primary cook in our family, none of those dishes really filtered down.  

But I think the urge has been boiling in my veins and it’s taken this long for it to come into my consciousness.  This is the food of my people.  It’s in my genes to cook up the ol’ cabbage when the temperature drops. 

The key is to make a carmelized version because anything is good with enough sugar and salt right?  And combined with good sausages or ham, you get a bevy of fabulous flavour.  The combination on a lousy winter day is great.  You’ll look at this and say, Wow it’s kinda high in fat isn’t it?  And I say, sure you won’t eat this in August – it’s sustaining winter food. 

Also, think of all the cabbage you’re eating, it has nearly zero calories and will save you from cancer, so get eating. I’ve borrowed heavily from this recipe, but halved it and tweaked it so it’s quicker to make on a weeknight. Here’s my version:

Carmelized Cabbage with Sausages

Melt 1 TB butter in a pan while you chop a medium onion.  Add the onion to the pan and sprinkle with 1 TB sugar and 1 tsp salt.  Add 2-4 sausages depending on how many people you’re feeding.  It’s best to slice them lengthwise facedown so they cook faster. Cook on low to medium heat for 15 minutes stirring the onions frequently. 

While it cooks, slice up half a head of cabbage into 1 or 1 1/2 inch chunks.  Cut up a couple potatoes into big chunks and throw them in the microwave for 2 or 3 minutes to get them started.

Once the onions are carmelized and the sausages are well under way, pour in 1/2 a bottle of beer, add the cabbage and potatoes.  Put a lid on the pan and cook at medium while you drink the rest of the beer and wait for the cabbage to get to the tenderness you like.  Stir the whole mess every once in a while to keep things cooking evenly.  It usually takes 15 or 20 minutes.

And then dig in to the food of the people.

 

I’m reading Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, it’s about cooking and eating for one and it just reminds me of all the things I want to eat. I have scribbled notes on my bookmark in green gel pen.  Make Lyn’s Chicken Cacciatore.  Find a Trader Joe’s recipe for Butternut Squash Soup.  It’s the second time I’ve read how good that soup is, but alas no TJ’s in Halifax.  And find a mix for something I can’t read in my awful handwriting. 

 I also have the corners of pages folded over to bring me back to the recipe for Cathy’s Salsa. It’s made with canned tomatoes which sounds perfect for January when my last fresh tomatoes resembled red cardboard from Santa.  Also the recipe for Grill-Curried Shrimp Quesarito with Avacado Raita.  It looks easier to make than it sounds, which is what I’m all about. 

I’m liking the book becuase it’s voyeuristic and entertaining to read what people eat when they’re alone.  I can relate to Ann Patchett who said she sometimes goes from white cheese and salsa on saltines right through to a dessert of butter and jam on saltines even though I can’t remember when I’ve last had a saltine.  I used to love making PB & honey saltine sandwiches when I was a kid.  Crumbly and delicious.  I’ve added saltines to my grocery list to remind myself.

And then there are other writers who talk about eating asparagus every day for 3 months in the spring, anchovies *on* everything and eggplant *in* everything.  Those pages are not folded over.

One of the few meals I regularly eat by myself is my post-yoga class dinner at 8:30 pm.  My favourite is rice crackers with slices of cheese and garlicy dill pickles.  Often with a beer. 

The question I ask myself is – do food books written by foodies make me eat more or just eat better?

This first came up when I read French Woman Don’t Get Fat.  She’s all about the quality and not quantity and enjoy what you eat and then WALK AWAY.  And even though I didn’t get a thing from her recipes (Leek soup?  bluck) I buy the philosophy.  So much so that I finished the book, went to Pete’s Frootique and bought $50 worth of foodie foods.  I don’t remember what I bought besides some weird and expensive cheese. But did I find it all so satisfying that I ate less and ate more mindfully?  Or did I eat more because I had 50 bucks worth of tasty food in the house?   I remember it not being as good as I’d hoped.  But I probably just didn’t get the right things.  I’ll have to try that experiment again.

But “Alone” is really about self-care and fulfillment.  Do you just fill the hole in your belly by standing in the kitchen eating cold refried beans from a can, or do you fulfill yourself with a decent meal at a table?  Do you eat alone in a restaurant to be nurtured and entertained?  Or do you skulk in a corner inhaling your food and then slink out as quickly as you can?

My favourite restaurants for eating alone are sushi places.  I love to sit at the bar and watch the chefs make my dinner.  A table is fun too, heck I’d eat decent sushi sitting on a garbage can in an alley. I usually throw whole piece of sushi in my mouth at a time because who wants to denigrate a nice piece of tuna by gnawing through it only to have the rice block break in half and drop into your bowl splashing you with wasabi-speckled soy sauce?  So because of that, dinner conversation over sushi is a little hit and miss with me. 

I remember once being taken to a schmooze lunch by an ad exec and I got to pick the restaurant so I picked sushi of course.  She was cute and blond and picked away daintily at her beef terriaki.  She managed to always ask me a question just as I popped a big piece of delicious sushi in my mouth.  Then she’d pretend not to look at me with mild horror as I chewed happily away, cheeks bulging with fresh raw salmon while the question hung in the air like steam from my tea cup.

But back to self-care, I loved this bit from “Alone” from Jamie Attenberg:

But there is nothing that fills me up like taking care of myself, taking care of my desires.  Often the fullness lasts only for a minute, and then like the pain that comes from a pinch of skin, it is gone.  But it’s better than not having eaten at all. 

 

I wondered by Christine Kane’s blog today and love her latest post about losing and regaining joy in her life.  Here’s a bit:

Then one day, as I passed by a blackberry bush, the wall around my heart cracked open slightly. I absolutely love blackberries. Not for their taste. But for how they look. I stood there and just stared at the blackberries as tears fell down my cheeks. It dawned on me that in my quest to make it as an artist, I had adopted obsession and forgotten delight.

When you adopt obsession, you require hard hits of big things to wake up the you that has become numb. It’s as if food has to be spicier, saltier, and fattier. Music has to be louder and faster. Moments need to be “events” to get you to notice them. It takes more flash to feel good. It takes more bling to be present.

I’ve had those blackberry moments myself.  I get wound up in my stuff and when I do it takes more noise to cut through my head clutter and get my attention.  I think that I’m enjoying myself, but I’ve usually just found more entertaining clutter.  And it’s not long before I’m looking for the next thing.

But it’s always when I take the time to be in nature and my body that I slowly unwind and feel connected again.