Monthly Archives: January 2012

lemon lavender polenta cake

Lemon Lavender polenta cake

(on livers, and letting go a bit)

I was standing in my friend Alysa’s back yard smelling the desert air– with snow falling up in the mountains, and rain clouds billowing their way across the valley, the smell was electric, and cold, and wet. She’d gone to work already. I was packing up, getting ready to head back to LA, and I was overcome with a sense of nostalgia.

This nostalgia, I’m used to it. I fall in love with places and then move away, leaving communities and friends and patches of earth that I’ve grown very fond of. I miss the streets of London and the hills of Scotland and the desert mountains and the Mediterranean sea and not just the places but everything that comes along with them. No matter how clean a break I try to make, there’s always a part of me that will miss wherever I was. Sometimes it feels like I’m even missing where I AM, because I know that it won’t stay there forever.

Alysa has a Meyer lemon tree. The boughs were so heavy with fruit that they were bent over with the weight, almost touching the ground. I picked a few. And then a few more. And before I knew it I had a bag full, and it occurred to me that I wasn’t just gathering fruit from a tree, but gathering a moment in time, and a specific place in that moment. I thought about how being connected to our food source isn’t just about knowing who our farmers are or what chemicals are sprayed, but on being connected to a place on the earth. And that each time you eat food from a specific place you’re taking that part of the earth into your body too- the raw minerals of it, but also the more subtle things about it like the wind and the light and the smells and the general mood of a place. I wondered about what happens to us on a subtle level if we eat fruit from Chile and meat from Wisconsin and Avocados from Mexico…

But immediately after that, it occurred to me that if you can unintentionally eat lots of different places, you can also intentionally put a place into your food, just as you can put your emotions or intentions into food. Maybe somehow eating food of a place means a part of you will be there always*. And then maybe, if there’s a place you have a special connection to, then eating of that place can connect you to it, regardless of where you are. I’ve had this happen, you know– a few weeks ago, when, I was gathering branches from one of my favourite trees, up in the Santa Rosa mountains. When I got home, I set about to process them, remove the needles, steep some in olive oil, others in honey, and by the time I was done, I was in such a dream-like state that I could have sworn half of me was back under the tree I’d harvested from, sitting against its trunk, feeling the cool breeze in my hair, smelling that mountain air.

Sometimes the weight of missing things is quite heavy. I see it primarily taking hold in the liver; it’s an inability to let go completely. Sometimes it’s as though it’s all of time that is being clung onto, and then sometimes it just feels as though it’s moments and places. Sometimes a liver will let go and relax a bit and allow things to move on, and then like a frightened cat, it will seize up again. ‘Liver, my friend, you’re not fooling anyone’, I say to myself, absent-mindedly. Time carries on. Movement carries on. Change, it happens. As does sadness, and missing things, and death, and age. But liver reacts to emotions, not to rational thinking. A tense liver can’t perform its functions properly- to filter things and break things down and make sure everything is running smoothly. A tense liver gives you headaches. A tense liver isn’t really something to strive for.

I arrived home in the late afternoon. The light had started to go orange again, and as I flung open the doors and windows to let in all that light, the afternoon breeze picked up and I was struck in the head by a cloud of the scent of lavender.

It’s one of the first plants I put in when I move places. Because, as far as I’m concerned, having a lavender plant by the front door is excellent luck. Having a sage plant right next to the lavender makes for protection, good health and delicious tea. But that afternoon, the lavender was licking my senses. And I smiled; nobody can be a nostalgic grouch when there’s lavender on the table. This, my friends, is a little known fact of kitchen witchery. Because lavender tickles things. Not just things, but livers. Your liver. My liver. It’s like rosemary’s playful younger cousin- where rosemary is a little old Italian lady who smacks you on the bottom with her broom, lavender has purple hair and colourful skirts and a sparkle in her eye and just when you think you’re going to explode a blood vessel because you’re holding onto things too tightly, she reaches out and tickles you, and you start to forget why you were holding on to it all in the first place. It’s not the weight of the world in worry and sadness- there are different herbs for that. No, it’s the weight of the world in tension. It’s a clenching on the right side of the body. It’s fear of loss of control, and nerves that are tightly wound because of it. Sound familiar? Maybe you need a tickle too…

What happened next was a bit magical. I picked a few lavender sprigs, and they found their way into the drizzly sauce of the lemon cake entirely (ok maybe not entirely) of their own accord. Lemon juice and lavender bubbling away in a saucepan, while a lemony polenta cake cooks in the oven. It smells of the past, of the Southwest, and of distant hills somewhere in the future. It confounds your senses, and tickles your smile reflex, and although you’re supposed to wait for it to cool to eat it, if you can manage such a thing then you’re stronger than me, and stronger than Jam, because we devoured a quarter of it standing up, at the stove, before dinner. And what occurred to me, as I was standing up at the stove eating things from one of my favourite places and from the spot right outside my front door, was that clutching on to everything for dear life might be missing the point entirely. Maybe it isn’t possible or preferable to have a clean break.Maybe the whole point isn’t to not miss places, but to experience them with every fiber of your being, and then when (if) you move on it will be without regrets. Maybe the pain doesn’t come from being away, but from trying to hold on to what is no longer there. From the tension created by trying to be everywhere at once instead of exactly where you are, wherever that might be. And with that in mind, with the nuances of my garden hanging out with the lemons from the desert, I understood: you can be somewhere and let go at the same time. Love it without holding onto it. And each time you do, you get just a little bit bigger. Maybe even a little bit wiser. And that, to me, right now, is what it’s all about.

Lemon-lavender polenta cake

(not adapted at all from Nigella Lawson’s recipe except for the addition of an extra lemon and the lavender)

200g soft unsalted butter

200g sugar

200g almond flour

100g fine corn flour (masa)

1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2  tsp salt

3 eggs

zest of 3 meyer lemons

For the drizzle:

juice of 3 lemons

125g sugar

2 tsp chopped fresh lavender (or 3 tsp dried lavender)

 

Preheat the oven to 350.  Mix together the flours, salt and baking powder. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing thoroughly, then one egg. Repeat until all the flour and eggs are gone, then scrape the batter into a 9′ pan, and bake for 35-40 minutes. It might not look entirely set in the centre, but the edges will have started to pull away from the sides of the pan.

In a pan on the stovetop, bring the lemon juice, lavender and sugar gently to a boil. Remove from heat immediately. Prick tiny little holes over the top of the cake with the point of a sharp knife, and drizzle the syrup over the cake (strain it first if you don’t want lavender bits everywhere). Try to allow it to cool before eating….

 

*Which reminds me of the stories you hear about the land of faerie: never, ever eat anything while you’re there, or you’ll never be able to leave.

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A New Day’s resolution, and abhyanga.

As I said, these last couple of posts went up the wrong way around. Nonetheless, Happy New Year, lovely readers. Here are some photos from our Christmas week out in the desert.

I’m not really one for New Years resolutions- for the past year or so I’ve been practicing something I’ve come to dub ‘New Day’s resolutions’. As in, why the hell wait until January 1st to start something you’ve always wanted to start, or change something you’ve always wanted to change. Also, there’s the overwhelming-ness of having a list of things to start doing. New Day’s resolutions (NDR from here on, because typing it repeatedly gets annoying) are only allowed to be implemented one at a time, and only when the previous one is such a part of daily life that you don’t need to berate yourself into doing it, can you start a new one. As you can see, I’ve gotten pretty specific with the rules of these things…

As it so happens, I started a NDR that happened to coincide with the end of the year, and it has to do with nourishment. In brief, I am going to sleep more, worry about things less, and eat more fatty nourishing things (those of you who know me are going ‘what the hell? Rebecca needs to sleep MORE and eat MORE fatty things?’). I think it’s just something that we nurturing healing folks forget quite often- to rest, recharge, and make sure you are nourished before putting all your energy into helping others. Selfish? I don’t think so. A burned out, stressed out healer isn’t really worth much…

One of the things I’ve been doing lately to nourish myself better is a hot oil bath. It’s an ayurvedic thing that I first heard about while I was in India. Oil baths are reported to heal or ease a number of ailments, including stress issues, inflammation, joint pain, dry skin, and sleep disturbances. I’ve done it on occasion in the past, and have been doing it regularly for a few weeks now, and so far I’ve noticed a significant difference in my sore joints (a number of injuries), dry skin (it’s Winter), and sleep issues (the more stressed I am, the less deeply I sleep- I think this is common for most of us, no?).

You can do it with castor oil. This is my favourite, but I don’t recommend this to be honest- the first (and last) time I did it, it took me about 3 weeks to get the oil off the bath, let alone out of my hair. If you’ve got a drainage system that can handle using soap nut powder, then that’s the best way to get it out. But I live in a house that was built in the 20′s, and soap nuts ain’t going down my drain. I’ve tried using Dr. Bronner’s to wash it out, but it didn’t work. I was greasy for days. And don’t get me started on the shower. But sesame oil works really nicely, as does coconut oil. Both of which come out with regular old castille soap. You can also use infused oils- I love the ones from Banyan Botanicals, though they do get a little pricey, and regular oil works really well on its own.

Here’s what you do:

Abhyanga: Oil bath

You’ll need

1 old towel that you don’t mind being greasy and gross forever

about 16oz oil of your choice- I recommend castor (see above warning) or sesame

(optional: candles to light in the bathroom, you know, to make it more relaxing and pretty and stuff)

 

1. Warm the bottle of oil by submerging it in a pan of very hot (not boiling) water, for about 15 minutes.

2. Lay out a towel, remove all bath mats that you actually like from immediate area.

3. Starting at your head (and making sure that the oil is quite warm but not too hot), pour some of the oil onto the top of your head and hair. Massage it in, over your face and scalp, concentrating on sore, tense areas. Do this for about five minutes.

4. Add more oil, and brush it down over your body. Spend a few minutes massaging it into each area, then add more warm oil, and repeat. Eventually your entire body will be covered with oil (including the soles of your feet and in between your toes).

5. Lie down on your towel, relax for 15 minutes.

6. Shower it all off. I recommend Dr. Bronner’s soap.

7. Make a hot cup of tea, and relax for the rest of the evening. You’ll FEEL super relaxed, so it won’t be hard.

 

DISCLAIMER: If you have a physical practice of some kind, please take it easy the next day. I blew out my LCL the morning after an oil bath because I was so much more flexible than before!

Also, this process can be addictive.

 

So. Here’s to a New Year, a new day, and taking better care of ourselves. How about you guys? Any resolutions for the New Year? Any for the new day? Please share!

 

 

ponderosa pot de creme

Ponderosa pot de creme

(Because sometimes the herbalist needs some nourishment)

Around 330am on Thursday morning, I was awoken by a commotion in my neighbours’ apartment. Ten seconds later, to the sound of footsteps thundering down their stairs and their front door flinging open, I sat up in bed and said “Jamie, there’s a fire.” Then came the banging on the front door, and Pam shouting “YOUR CAR’S ON FIRE”. Jam leaped out of bed and vaulted down the stairs and out the door. I grabbed clothes first and followed suit. Turns out the extra minute didn’t really make a difference- my car was engulfed in flames. I watched, in shock, as Jam helped the neighbours move their cars out of our shared driveway (very quickly, and very carefully, as there’s nothing like approaching a flaming car that is going through a number of small explosions), away from the burning mass.

The crowd on the sidewalk grew larger.

I whispered to Jam to go and put some clothes on. He looked down and realised he was only wearing boxers and was shivering.

I pulled my sweater more tightly around my neck.

It took twenty minutes for the fire department to arrive, as there had been fifteen similar fires that night, and resources were stretched thin. When the fire was finally out, the smell of burnt rubber and acrid smoke hung in the air, on our clothes and in our mouths. Some of us (Jam) went back to sleep after a few hours. I sat awake, staring out the window at the light changing, thinking of all the possible ways that events could have unfolded differently.


The few days that followed (until the arsonist was caught, really) were a blur. Not because of the car- it’s just a car, albeit a car that I really really liked- but because of the shock and how poorly I handle stress. An arsonist firebombing your car is a high stress situation. And high stress events send me into a tailspin of Piglet-like behaviour. Sympathetic overdrive could be my middle name (though luckily my parents were much more tasteful than that). Luckily, I’ve been here, on the Piglet feedback loop, before, and so I know how to handle it.

Extreme stress, for me, calls for my own version of Martial Law. Sleep, sleep, more sleep, take nourishing herbs, and do things that make me feel relaxed and happy, while eliminating all unnecessary commitments. Thus, I haven’t been on the computer much, and I haven’t gone out much, choosing to be asleep, up the tree in the back garden, doing yoga, or in the kitchen baking.

Two days ago, I made candied ginger, ginger snaps, and these little pots de creme, all in one afternoon. It was a great afternoon. By evening the dishes were piled high in the sink and I put on some music and did them without stressing about it, and then I went and sat on the stoop and ate a pot du creme, savouring every single indulgent bite. It was good. And it was nourishing- all those egg yolks and the cream are so good for rebuilding a worn out body, and the flavour of ponderosa forest is grounding in ways that delicious smelling forests always are.


I had meant to come back here on the first, wish you all a happy new year, and show you some pictures from the time I’d spent in the desert last week. But if you don’t mind, I’m going to do that tomorrow. And in the meantime, here’s the most delicious thing to grace my lips since I met mr. Ponderosa while visiting Butter in Colorado. Do you have access to Pinus Ponderosa? If not then Pinus Jeffryii bark (since I can’t tell the bloody difference anyway) would make an equally delicious elixir… and if you have neither then maybe just add one tb. of brandy and some vanilla extract instead.


Ponderosa elixir

You’ll need a few big chunks of Ponderosa pine, or Jeffrey pine bark.

Brandy

Honey

Break the bark up into smaller pieces, and then stuff them into a jar. Fill the jar, half with brandy, then top up with honey. Leave it to sit and stew for about 4 weeks, though it will start to taste delicious after a week or so. Strain, and bottle. It’s also delicious in hot chocolate…

 

 

Ponderosa-butterscotch pot de creme

6 egg yolks

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups heavy cream

3/4 cup whole milk

2 tb ponderosa pine bark elixir

 

Preheat the oven to 325, and put about 6 ramekins, or oven-proof cups of some kind, in a roasting dish. Pour boiling water into the roasting dish (but not the ramekins) up to about an inch high on the little dishes.

Melt the sugar, butter, vanilla and salt. Cook over a low heat until the mixture gets really bubbly, and turns a caramel colour. Carefully, stir in the milk and cream. The mixture will bubble and look like it’s very very angry, but keep at it, it’ll smooth out. Add the ponderosa elixir.

Whisk the egg yolks together, in a bowl, and add a ladle full of the sugary cream mixture, whisking constantly. Add another ladle full, then pour the whole lot back into the pan and whisk it all together. Strain through a sieve, and pour into the individual ramekins, in the roasting tray.

Now, put the whole lot in the oven for about 35 minutes. Until you can jiggle a ramekin and the whole custard is solid.

Remove from oven, and allow to cool. They’ll be ready to eat in about an hour and a half. You can decorate them with whipped cream and chocolate shavings, or just eat them as-is.