Saturday, September 29, 2012

Waking up from Routine

Photo by Ann Grinnell

I am a creature of habit. I love my routines. But lately I have been thinking about the dual nature of any practice that becomes rote. Routine is often positive --a weekly yoga class, a meatless Monday dinner, reading to a loved one before bed, a morning run. But even the best and healthiest of routines put us into a kind of autopilot. The repetition and the safety and the eventual thoughtlessness with which we ascribe to routine can prevent us at times from being in the world. I mean really being in the moment with all the senses engaged. Routine can make our worlds small, the focus narrow.

For the past few months I have been waking up early in the morning (against my instinct to hit snooze for the fourth time) to write for a while before my day of DOING THINGS begins. I sit in the same place, in the same way, with a cup of hot water and the shades pulled up and I watch the morning, the subtly shifting but mostly unchanged scene outside my window. After a few weeks I decided to sit outside instead of looking at the outside. It was a transformative experience. I felt--pardon the terrible cliche--alive. Instead of seeing the wind in the oak trees I felt the wind on my face. Instead of noticing a bird on a blooming sunflower I heard and watched two little finches flirt and fight over the leafy perch. Instead of noting the morning fog I smelled the Pacific, felt the salty damp on my skin. 

It's gotten me thinking--what do I miss each day by being a slave to even the healthiest of my routines? What passes me by? What and who do I take for granted? What do I miss by sticking to what I already know? 

I don't mean to say that we should forsake routine altogether in the name of potential experiential bliss.  But I would like to suggest that most of us could benefit from occasionally lifting our heads, and opening our senses to the unfamiliar. 

Erica greets the unknown
So often we think of health as something achieved by a careful calculation of nutrients taken in, calories expended, and vices moderated or avoided altogether. With all that calculating we forget sometimes to factor in pleasure, the wonder that can come from a spontaneous adventure, the unpredictable and hilarious turns that an unplanned night can take, the nourishment we receive from honestly connecting with another person. 

As always this is one woman’s opinion. But after a couple of months of deciding to say yes to just about everything and of relaxing my sometimes rigid rules and routines, I urge you to change it up. Don’t wait for the new year to try new things or to resolve. Start today. The changes can be small. Go for a walk alone without your headphones; sit in a different chair at your kitchen table; tell a loved one exactly why he or she is loved; eat your meal without reading or watching a screen or listening to music; get in the car, pick a direction, and explore like a tourist even in your own town; stay up to watch a meteor shower; get up to watch the sun rise; see and taste and smell and touch everything; become acutely aware of even the tiniest gifts--the sweetness of a breath taken in and let go. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

End of Summer Lasagna (no noodles): Zucchini Trilogy Part 3

Apologies for the delayed post. For whatever reason, this post about the medium sized zucchini was the hardest for me to decide on. I flipped through every cookbook I have and went into the archives of several blogs looking for inspiration. I considered making this inventive cobbler which I am still going to try, and I also considered some iteration of this but I have yet to buy a spiral slicer (next on my "to buy" list for the kitchen). I settled on pasta-less lasagna. The mornings and evenings have turned cold here and I find myself less drawn to chilled soups and salads for dinner. I want hot food but I still don't want the heavier pastas and stews of winter. This lasagna, using slabs of zucchini and eggplant in place of the noodles is a nice middle ground--hot, comforting, gooey with cheese but light and fresh and full of the summer garden harvest. I didn't include a recipe for the pesto here because I never really measure when I make it. Basically I throw salt, a clove or two of garlic, a raw nut of my choosing (walnuts this time) and big handfuls of herbs (basil & lemon balm in equal measure) into the food processor, hit "on", and pour good olive oil into the feed tube until I get the texture I want. From there I salt, pepper, and re-herb as needed. It requires, as most cooking does, the happy job of multiple taste tests.

Noodle-less Zucchini & Eggplant Lasagna
2 medium sized zucchini
1 medium eggplant
10-15oz whole milk ricotta
1 egg
zest of one lemon
parsley, thyme, oregano, mint or any other fresh herb you have on hand
red pepper flakes
olive oil
mozzarella and/or parmesan to top
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the zucchini & eggplant lengthwise into 1/8-inch thick slices. Arrange in a single layer on your counter, cutting board or a sheet tray and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.

In a bowl mix ricotta, lemon zest, egg, and chopped parsley, mint, oregano & thyme (or other herbs), and red pepper flakes until well combined. Salt and pepper to taste.

Lightly oil a lasagna pan and cover with a single layer of zucchini. Top the zucchini with a generous layer of the ricotta mixture.

Cover  the ricotta with a single layer of eggplant. Top the eggplant with a generous layer of pesto. Repeat the layering steps alternating zucchini, ricotta, eggplant, pesto until you reach just below the lip of the pan.

Sprinkle grated mozzarella and/or parmesan over the top and cover the pan with foil making sure the foil is not resting directly on top of the cheese.

Bake covered for 25-30 minutes. Uncover the lasagna and bake another 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and brown. Zucchini and eggplant should be fully cooked but, in my opinion, still a bit firm.

Let rest uncovered for 10 minutes, slice, share, enjoy.

Health benefits of lemon balm & basil
Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is antibacterial and has been used topically to dress and heal wounds for centuries. When ingested it is said to help with digestion, relieve nausea, and help with troubles of the liver, spleen, kidneys and bladder.

Basil is a member of the mint family. It helps stimulate appetite and digestion and it is a tonic for frazzled nerves. It is a natural breath freshener and can help counteract flatulence, constipation, nausea, and stomach cramps. It is a mild antibacterial and anti fungal so the leaves can be used topically to alleviate itching skin and insect bites.

Bonus: They are both delicious!!!