Wednesday, April 29, 2009
My post about Pants Making triggered my memory to a book by Vivekananda called Man-Making, so I re-read his work. And I fell in love with him all over again.
I can't not read Vivekananda's words without roaring like a lion inside, feeling so good being human. Here's what he said about yoga: just one more reason to be a diligent practitioner...
"Think of this. Compare the great teachers of religion with the great philosophers. The philosophers scarcely influenced anybody's inner man, and yet they wrote most marvelous books. The religious teachers, on the other hand, moved countries in their lifetime. The difference was made by personality. In the philosopher it is a faint personality that influences; in the great prophets it is tremendous. In the former we touch the intellect, in the latter we touch life. In the one case, it is simply a chemical process, putting certain chemical ingredients together which may gradually combine and under proper circumstances bring out a flash of light or may fail. In the other, it is like a torch that goes round quickly, lighting others.
The science of Yoga claims that it has discovered the laws which develop this personality, and by proper attention to those laws and methods, each one can grow and strengthen his personality. This is one of the great practical things, and this is the secret of all education. This has a universal application. In the life of the householder, in the life of the poor, the rich, the man of business, the spiritual man, in every one's life, it is a great thing, the strengthening of this personality."
Monday, April 27, 2009
My eyes had been trained to look for that little green "AB" (agriculture biologique) label on supermarket products. This signified to me that officially, the product was certified organic. The label isn't just handed out, the farmer must prove rigorously, microscopically that he/she is doing things the organic way. Good: as it should be. Since France has the most exacting organic standards of all of Europe, I saw this little AB as something to count on for product pureness.
But! There's been a change since January 2009! I'm starting to see a little logo on product with a shaft of wheat "Agriculture UE" it reads.
Yes, Europe is now united and naturally, they want to unify organic standards. So cool, all of Europe will now be up to par with France. No. The rules have changed, become more lax. Here's what's different under the new European Union organic certification: It's acceptable for a farmer to treat his animals with hormones and antibiotics. It's now okay to plant organic crops next to "conventional" crops (as if pesticides/herbicides and other junk doesn't just waft over towards the organic food, and not to mention the after-harvest co-mingling). It's now cool to have GMO's present if kept under a certain percentage of crop total.
Honestly, as a consumer, I'm disappointed in the change. I don't like GMO's. I don't want a chemical's vaporous hand to have caressed my vegetables or fruits, I don't want there to be a remote possibility that I'm ingesting antibiotics or hormones.
Ah, yes...but wait. The French feel the confusion as well. They aren't a passive flock of sheep: they're ungovernable, if they don't like something, they protest, there's action. They've created another label: Nature et Progres. It's a mark of true purity, no doubt involved for a customer.
There's also the Demeter label that goes a step further, verifying that the product was grown organically, biodynamically, respecting planetary forces, in total respect for the earth, basically "cosmic" products that I'm really drawn to.
I'll no longer be looking for the AB symbol, or the shaft of European wheat. Instead, I'll call that Professor Lefebrve who took me to that Biodynamic farm where I bought a huge cosmic squash, but no longer remember where. I'll seek out the Nature et Progres label, even if I have to go across town to VieBio, in spite of Daniel's boycott of the place for once over-charging us two Euros. I'll be waiting in the always long line at G'Sundheit Health Food Store where items are rung up by hand, but where Demeter products line the shelves. This isn't one stop shopping like Daniel and I did before at Supermarches Match where the "Bio" products have their own half-aisle. But these supermarket products are posing as quality groceries, bearing the price tags of quality, but leaving the customers in doubt with ingredients now allowed that simply compromise the organic spirit.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Carrying box of turpentine, brushes, rags, across meadow of dandelions, butterflies, stinging nettles, until we reach the concrete slab that bridges the Ill river. Canvas on easel, folding chairs opened, black purse open with notebook and Nabakov, camera. I realize I'm dressed for yoga. Black stretch pants, turquoise t-shirt under turquoise cashmere sweater. Time for meadow yoga.
Socks off. Pad out to a spot where the grasses are high, where no brambles or nettles threaten and begin. Humid chlorophyll breaths, sunlight, breeze, heat. I'm on an island, cradled by a bank of warm grasses. Mountain pose: I'm a samourai warrior practicing kata on a lost Japanese floodplain. Forward bend: snail licking a blade, downdog: grass stained big toes, triangle: yellow stain dandelion mush on palm, updog: sun, wheel: red ant crosses hand, baby flies tickling arms, the grasses are now pulverized, mattressing my stomach in lotus. I hear instead of some clown on a CD, a cuckoo bird, crickets, watery squeeks of a river rat, farm roosters, tractors, the wind brushing the weeping willow's locks.
And the village church bell chimes four and I meditate until it strikes quarter past. Rise and fall of diaphragm. Ding! Dang! Dong!
I wasn't planning on doing yoga, but I was glad I had an opportunity to do meadow yoga. I imagined it was my land: wild, isolated, bucolic, with that mill poking out from behind some trees, the land rich for gardening, a spot to meditate in quiet. Sure, I could do outside yoga at Daniel's, but in the driveway? In that small tract of grass just by the road where the hippi neighbors or dogwalkers can stare at me? I know, I shouldn't care, maybe even meet a yoga friend this way, but it reminds me of the neighbors complaining because the stripper in the neighborhood began practicing her pole dancing moves outside. Some things are better done in a rolling, tumbling meadow than in a high traffic neighborhood full of bored, nibby, neighbors. Someday I'll get to do yoga outside where I like it best, even if I have to plant a bamboo forest around the perimeter of a property.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
One evening at Cousin Lukes, we had big handmade pretzels still warm from the oven in one hand, a huge stein of beer in the other. Was it our German themed night? I think it was. They were so good we wanted to make them ourselves. Daniel wanted to send the recipe to Francine, she lives in Corsica and really misses Alsatian food. Pretzels (bretzels) are an old Alsatian standby. So, I don't know that she's made them yet, but now, she's got the means.
We made these as a housewarming present for some friends who've just moved in down the road. They were impressed.
Madame Sutter wasn't. And we were so excited to let her try them! They weren't crusty enough for her. Traditionally, they're harder than we made them.
Here, make them yourself! They're great. Thanks again, Luke!
Homemade Soft Pretzels
Yield: 8 pretzels
Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 package active dry yeast, 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups, 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted, Vegetable oil, for pan, 10 cups water, 2/3 cup baking soda, 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water, Pretzel salt
Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until themixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the doughhook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change tomedium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away fromthe side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the doughfrom the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil.Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in awarm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough hasdoubled in size.Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Line 2 half-sheet pans withparchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surfaceand divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of therope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U inorder to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-linedhalf sheet pan.Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds.Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to thehalf sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolkand water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until darkgolden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.
And for our dear Francophone readers:
Recette Bretzel Mou
350 ml d`eau tiède a 43/ 46 degré celsius
1 cuillère a soupe de sucre
2 cuillère a café de sel
1 paquet de levure déshydraté
625 g de farine
57 g de beurre
2,5 l d`eau
150 g de bicarbonate
1 jaune d`oeuf avec 1 cuillère a soupe d`eau
Mélanger et battre l`eau tiède, le sucre, le sel et ajouter la levure.
Laisser reposer 5 minutes jusqu`a réaction de la levure.
Ajouter la farine et le beurre a la préparation et mixer lentement afin d`obtenir une pâte.
Pétrir la pâte 4 a 5 minutes et mettre dans un saladier huilé avec un chiffon ou un film plastique au-dessus
(la pâte doit doubler de volume)
Préchauffer le four a 232 degré celsius
Préparer 2 plats avec de l`huile et du papier
Bouillir l`eau et le bicarbonate furieusement dans une grande casserole
Diviser la pâte en 8 parts, rouler la pâte avec ses 2 mains de manière a obtenir un cordon de 60 cm de long.
Former le bretzel en faisant un U et croiser et poser sur le papier.
Mettre chaque bretzel un par un dans l`eau bouillant, 30 secondes.
Retirer avec une épuisette lentement et mettre sur le papier.
Brosser le dessus avec l`eau et le jaune d`oeuf.
Ajouter le gros sel.
Mettre au four et dorer, 12/14 minutes.
That`s all les gourmands It rocksssss so good !!!!!!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I found out why Madame Sutter didn't just hand me the recipe for the biscuit roulée, she wanted to show me how to make it! Thanks again, Madame Sutter, and I'm sorry you didn't get a crumb of it, Daniel and I found it just too delicious to be prudent.
So, here it is:
first you need to make a "sirop"
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup rum or schnapps
3/4 cup water
heat this on the stove for a couple minutes until sugar dissolves (you'll use this sirop later for drizzling)
Then for the biscuit part: (pronounced bee-skwee, nothing at all like savory 'biscuits')
100 grams of sugar (3.5 oz.)
100 grams flour (3.5 oz.)
beat together the eggs and sugar, then sift in flour while stirring. Beat this mixture with beaters for at least ten minutes: it will grow in volume and become custardy.
Butter a baking sheet
Slop out the biscuit batter onto the sheet, spread it out with spatula until it's 1/2 inch in thickness.
put in 350° oven for 10-12 minutes. poke with toothpick for doneness
don't overcook it: it becomes crusty and unrollable (here, Madame Sutter's was a little bit over cooked)
overturn quickly this thin loaf onto a board and roll it up quickly into a log
after a minute or so, unroll the loaf and drizzle with a spoon the prepared sirop all over the surface saturating evenly.
Then slather with jam or cream of choice. Here we used blackberry jam.
Roll it all up and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
This is a greenhouse plant tent that will keep out little germinating seeds nice and warm. Here's the rundown of what's soon to pop up:
2 rows carrots
1 row onion
2 rows parsnips
2 rows cabbage
Looking forward to unzipping the 'tent' and finding spindly seedlings popping up in neat little rows.
Monday, April 6, 2009
On Saturday night, Daniel and I went to the old 12th century church in Selestat, Saint Foy, to hear the professors of the Selestat Music School put on a concert. It was classical music, a little Haendel, a little Haydn, Puccini and so on. Our favorite was this piece by Chopin called Nocturne op. 48 no. 1.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
I have the pleasure to announce a specialty gourmet product almost ready to hit the shelves of fine markets.
Created by my Cousin Luke, author of the "Cooking with Daddy" series, this peanut butter will make you reconsider your stale peanut butter notions. Cousin Luke's Fundamental Peanut Butter is a peanut butter epiphany.
Completely natural, made in small, fresh batches, rediscover peanut butter the way nature intended it. More details to come on launch date/possible on-line purchasing.
p.s. When used to make peanut butter pie, it creates a dessert the family will talk about for years.
p.s.s. I have the pleasure of dining weekly at Cousin Luke's when I'm in America. Here are just a few sample menus of dinners past:
-Breaded tenderloin sandwiches, Homemade pasta salad made
with Madame Sutter's mayonnaise, and Homemade Ice
Cream Sandwiches for dessert
-Roasted leg of lamb, Boiled potatoes, Steamed carrots, and
Irish soda bread, and Mud pie and Peanut butter cup chewy's for
-Shepherds pie, Irish soda bread, and Chocolate Guinness
cake for dessert
- Fried chicken and waffles, and individual apple pies for dessert
Saturday, April 4, 2009
I was wondering why I never see old-fashioned hives anywhere (called skeps). No wonder, they're illegal! They can't be easily inspected, and I guess to get the honey out of them, you have to destroy the hive and end up killing some of the bees. Darn. They're so much more pleasing than the sterile hive boxes.
Above is an image of the modern beehive
This is an image of a beehive in the wild
And this is German Sculptor Guenther Mancke's Round Skep Hive that imitates beehives as the bees form them in nature.
Easy access to hemispherical frames.
He made this for the Melissa Garden, a honeybee sanctuary in Healdsburg, California.
Friday, April 3, 2009
You know it's Easter Time in Alsace when every bakery or pastry shop you pass has little docile lambs with powdered sugar on their backs looking out at you on the shelves between the kouglofs. They're lying down on imaginary straw, all golden buttery, sweet and light. Madame Sutter offered me a slice of a lamala and a cup of coffee. How could I resist. We always slice from the back, although I like eating the head, it's a rounded morsel, like a madeleine, where as the back slices look like ordinary slices of bread that leave powdered sugar all over you. This is the only time of the year you can buy lamalas! I've decided to stockpile them in the freezer to have them all year long.
Seated next to me at the beekeeping school was a young red-haired man who asked about eventually getting his honey certified organic. The instructor, Rob, burst his organic honey bubble by telling him that an organic label doesn't exist for honey and if a company uses it, its bogus.
Rob's point: Bees travel three to four miles away from the hive in any direction in search of nectar, how could anyone possibly know if they touch down on only organic gardens and farms? We simply can't be sure.
But, I think I know what this fellow was getting at with his question: after seeing what some hive keepers do to the honey (cook it until its dead and syrupy), where they place their hives (sometimes next to contaminated waters), how they deal with attacks (chemicals, hormones, pesticides) and what they feed their bees when they rob them of too much honey for higher yields and profit (corn syrup), I wanted to know how I could deal with my own hive in a wholesome, 'organic' way and be able to determine whether I was buying good honey or bad. I was familiar with the "raw honey" labels, but this does nothing to ensure the hive wasn't introduced to toxic junk.
Well, that's when I remembered my anthroposophical friends in Indianapolis asking me to find out more for them about Biodynamic beekeeping. I forgot to ask Rob when I had the chance. So I did some of my own research. (Steiner gave 8 lectures on bees, I hope to find them, read them and perhaps dedicate a blog post or two to them in the future.)
Here's what Biodynamic Beekeepers do right:
1. They let their hives build their own comb. Most beekeepers buy ready-made wax starter foundations for their frames. And these wax foundations on which the bees start their comb are all sized to house worker-bee births, limiting drone births. The idea is that the more female workers there are, the more honey will be produced, but the Biodynamic folks think the bees know better about the female/male balance than we do. And besides, Biodynamic hives produce just as much, if not more honey than conventional ones. I learned from Rob that the drone's only function in the hive was to mate with the queen, but the Biodynamic practitioners recognize that perhaps the males do more in the hive than we humans have yet discovered.
Second point on the wax foundations: these wax forms are made from recycled wax of dubious sources. Did the wax come from a hive treated with chemicals? If so, this starts the new colony off in a weakened state, not to mention we'll be eating the honey built directly on top of this contaminated layer.
2. They don't "exclude" the queen. In vogue with conventional beekeepers today are queen excluders. This is a wire cage that the queen can't pass through, but the other smaller bees can. This keeps her in the "brood boxes" where laying takes place in the comb cells, and keeps her out of the "honey supers" where honey is stored in cells. In Biodynamics, its widely known that the queen rarely starts laying eggs in the honey supers. And also, it's important for the queen to be free to 'mingle,' and in so doing, she balances the honey's energetic qualities. Okay, I believe it.
3. They don't buy queens every year. They let their hives produce a new queen when it's ready.
4. They don't rob the hives of too much honey. The honey portion left to the bees is sufficient to see them through the winter. If it happens to be a particularly long winter, they might mix chamomile, salt, and sugar together and offer that to the bees as backup. Conventional beekeepers often take so much honey (for sales) that the bees don't have enough to endure the winter, so the beekeepers give them sugar water or equivalent so they won't starve.
Like Rob said, we can't call a honey 'Organic,' but I certainly think the Biodynamic methods give us fine steps in finding true hive harmony.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Erich Schiffmann is one of my favorite yoga instructors ever. (After watching his 'backyard yoga' series I said to myself, "please tell me he's real!")
His newest yoga approach is Freeform Yoga, listening to one's intuition, letting the body dictate the direction the practice needs to go: channeling the practice! What a concept! This video is a class example.
Erich is also featured in a new film called "The Compass:from where you are to where you want to be". It reminds me of The Secret. But the info in the Secret can be recycled in my opinion, as long as we can hear what people like Erich Schiffmann have to say.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Daniel and I have finished our book called The Boy and the Worm. We're printing off some copies to send to some publishing houses starting with Steiner Books. If anyone has any suggestions, I would be happy to hear about them, I'm drowning in children's literature publishing options....
So, you can also read the text here at the Ditalini Press and if you feel so inclined, you can tell me what you think.
By the way, if there is anyone that wants to join the Ditalini Press creative writing group, we'd love to have you! We're a dynamic group that has a main topic a month (and minitopics, too, called Writer Bites) to tackle. All the subjects are chosen by group members. So, if you want to join, I'll invite you to become a contributor (hint, hint, Andrea Carroll.) Its a really great opportunity to develop the art of writing and connect with some really inspired people.
I got up early this morning to make Daniel some special birthday pancakes. They were special because of the fun face. He enjoyed it, but I had to remind him that the face was a birthday special, because he forgot it was his birthday.