mushroom hunting-ish

I like to hang with my friend Kathleen at least once a week, because she’s so good for my soul. That whole having-a-job thing really puts a cramp in that plan, but we keep trying. On Friday we met at Lake Mendocino with a mushroom identification manual and a dream — to identify even ONE of the dozens of varieties of mushrooms that popped up after a recent rain, and maybe to find just ONE edible bolete.

I have never seen so many mushrooms in one place in my life. I could feel that FREE FOOD blood pumping through my veins — y’know, the one that makes you feverishly stack up twelve flats of #2 tomatoes at the farmer’s market because the farmer is practically giving them away, thus damning yourself to two solid weeks of canning? Oh… is that just me? Hmph.

Unfortunately I had no idea what I was looking at. In my great unwritten list of Essential Life Skills, edible mushroom identification ranks very near the top, but I haven’t yet pursued it, mostly because I’m afraid of, well, dying. Or even worse, vomiting.

Isn’t this an amazing fairy ring? The children were enthralled.

In the end Kathleen and I were too timid to even touch most of the mushrooms we found, much less take a bite out of one, and the manual we were using was nearly worthless, and then it started pouring, so we gave up for the day with the promise that we would find a better book and make a real project of it.

Oh, I guess we did positively identify the edible puffball mushroom, but the kids had too much fun popping ‘em.

I returned with Jeremy and the kids a few days later and gathered some vaguely edible-looking mushrooms — and just what makes a mushroom “look” edible? I guess if it wasn’t wearing a little hat that said TOXIC, it looked all right by me. I can feel the mushrooms hunters clutching their heads as they read this, but have no fear — we ran them past Dr. Google before eating any. And everything we collected was a false something-or-other, so we threw them all away. DAMN YOU GOOGLE YOU’RE NO FUN AT ALL.

(All jokes aside, even if we were able to identify an edible mushroom, of course we would have eaten just a small piece ourselves to be sure, and not given any to our children. We’re not idiots, we just look like it.)

I was most hopeful about this mushroom, which looks an awful lot like a meadow mushroom, AKA a pink. Thanks to Hank Shaw I was able to identify it as a xantho instead. Boo.

handmade holidays (LOL)

So here’s where I confess that I’m a total fuh-REAK!!! about the holidays. The music. The lights. The candles. The cookies. The trees. The ornaments. The Santas and reindeers and baby Jesuses. The choirs of angels. All that shit. I love it all, even though I’m an unrepentant heathen who firmly asserts that the reason for the season is the Earth’s axial tilt. It makes no sense. I know. I know! But I can’t help it.

The problem is that our family is rarely more cash-strapped than at the end of the year. Okay, so maybe the convergence of gift-buying season and being semi-broke is actually fortuitous. But it feels like a problem when there are twenty-five people on my list and those are just immediate family and my kids’ teachers. Every single year is a disappointment — for me. Because I start out with ambitions! I have little money and a strong anti-consumerist ethic so I’m going to make things! All the things! And they will be beautiful or delicious and meaningful and everyone will be happy and I’ll feel great. But then reality hits, reality being my full-time job, lack of money, and laughable crafting skillz.

This year I decided to be slightly more intelligent with my plans. I determined well in advance exactly what I wanted to make for everyone — just one thing, NOT EIGHT — and then I worked out how much the materials for each item would cost, how long it would take to develop, and when I’d work on it. I even set up calendar reminders for each gift. Do I sound like a completely neurotic freak yet? Are you thinking, “Dude, nobody cares about your stupid homemade barbecue sauce”? Well, have you even tried my mango-habanero barbecue sauce? No you have not, because I’ve never adequately managed my time or resources to complete such a gift.

I ran out of things to say about this, so here are some photos of our tree-cutting trip.

not a “before”

For a while now I’ve been engaged in a small experiment.

I began by finding my maintenance calorie intake — that level at which I neither gain nor lose. For me that’s around 2300 calories a day, depending on activity. Typical activity includes eight hours a day of standing and moving about the kitchen, a Zumba-like dance program three times a week, strength-training twice a week, short dog walks most days, and occasional bouts of HIIT — a mild to moderate activity level.

After finding my maintenance energy needs, I begin to subtract. I start with 100 calories a day — one egg at breakfast instead of two, fewer spoonfuls of rice at dinner, more restraint around the chocolate. That isn’t too challenging so I bump it up to 200 fewer calories. Then 300, including a little more activity — staying around 2000 calories while adding a daily walk. By this time I’ve lost a little scale weight, maybe five to eight pounds.

The fatigue hits right around this point, and the brain fog. Exercise declines, irritability increases. Sleep is affected, and I feel a little depressed. I’m eating erratically and maybe starting to obsess a bit. I also feel hungry — not stabbing pains by any means, just a little more motivated. The pounds return, and so does my energy, mental clarity, willingness to work out, balanced moods and good sleep. My eating habits normalize, which is to say that I have an easy relationship with food. I consume mostly whole foods and don’t stress about occasional treats.

I feel great! But I’m still fat.

This has been an experiment in slow, sustainable weight loss. I’m patient, gentle, and conservative with my calorie reduction. I focus on consistency in small habits instead of making giant leaps of transformation. I’m not eating starvation-level calories while working out for two hours a day. I don’t eat fake diet substitutes and then binge on junk food. I’m not measuring my body obsessively or calculating everything I consume to the gram.

I’m not even aiming for a particularly unreasonable “goal weight” — I’d just like to return to the size I was before the recovery process. I stayed at that size for ten years, through so many disordered attempts to control my life diet. I thought that if I set up the appropriate conditions, my body would naturally shed any excess beyond that number — the weight my body seemed to want to be. Now I’m beginning to think that unless you’re dangerously underweight, your body probably wants to be whatever weight it currently is. Homeostasis is God to the body.

Was my experiment a failure? Yeah, I guess it was. Over months of effort, I didn’t lose much weight nor did I maintain what I lost. And it seems like madness to keep pushing this process when it’s not functioning as expected. Weight-cycling is destructive. Dieting is destructive. I will stay at this weight forever before I will ever return to disordered eating. If I can’t lose weight through moderate & sustainable practices then I just won’t lose weight. Tough titty.

Maybe other things are going on, hormonal? Metabolic? But you know, I feel really good most of the time. I rarely get sick where I used to catch everything, I sleep well where I used to twitch all night or want to sleep all the time, I feel warm and happy and energetic, I have a respectful relationship to food and, if I allow it, a general sense of peace about my body. Do I really need to mess with these good things? Especially when weight loss efforts lead to an immediate decline in all of them…? This is confusing to me. The pervasive messages of WEIGHT LOSS AT ALL COSTS and WEIGHT LOSS CURES ALL PROBLEMS are just completely at odds with my experience.

Maybe someday I’ll return to this, this deliberate weight loss thing — I do try to avoid too much dogma in my life. But for now I have to think about the wider implications of moving on from it. What does it mean, after all, if I might never be smaller than I am now? Oh boy, I have to think about everything I’m postponing because I’m fat. What a drag.

This week I did a little thought experiment. I took some of those somatic experiencing tools and worked them into my meditation, and really tried to settle into my body and answer this question: if I were not surrounded on all sides by messages of hatred, blame, disdain, concern, fear, anxiety, loathing, and hysteria about weight — specifically the presence of fat on women’s bodies — would I feel that I needed to lose weight? Would I hate my body? Would I “feel fat”? Put succinctly, do I have an entirely independent sensation of wrongness in my physical presence?

When I’m just with myself — not trying to shrink next to thin friends, not in line at the grocery store with magazines screaming at me about cellulite and cleanses crash diets, not reading articles blaming fat people for being poor while simultaneously taking food away from poor people, not skimming the comments after those articles, not consuming media images or absorbing any messages from the outside world — my body feels like a comfort, and not a burden. My physical self is a fact, devoid of inherent meaning. It just is.

What I want to do now is embrace and improve upon that homeostasis. I’d like to be stronger — a lot stronger. I hope for there to be much more intensive homesteading in our future and I want to be able to throw around feed bags and straw bales without a struggle. I’d like to drink more water and work more vegetables into my diet, and incorporate more yoga into my daily practice. I’d like to continue walking the dog up steep hills into my old age, and avoid broken bones. And all of these things are possible, even if weight loss is not.

P.S. In the vein of not waiting to lose weight… I chopped off my hair. Short hair is my happy place, but I worried that I’d feel too exposed, or be fulfilling some fat-girl stereotype. I also thought wildly colored hair could only be the province of the toned & golden under-30 girl, and maybe it is, but fuck it. I did it anyway.

P.P.S. Read this.

30 things: host a fermentation party

(Following up on this.)

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine, who happens to be a chef, and is basically my idol though I don’t think he knows that, because that would be creepy, told me that he doesn’t particularly love social events unless there’s an activity to be done. Cider pressing, wood chopping, garden planting, pizza baking — anything but sitting with a glass of wine and doing nothing. That was such an inspiration for me because I realized right away that I also dislike do-nothing parties, in which I stand around feeling fidgety and uncomfortable while overconsuming alcohol to compensate for my social anxiety — but that doesn’t mean I don’t love being with people, and even meeting & connecting with new people. I’m just overwhelmingly anxious while I do. Which is why I fight with my friends all the time about my lackluster social life.

I decided then & there that I could be a more social person and maybe even host the occasional social event if there could be a hands-on activity. So when I put together my 30 Things list I decided to include a fermentation party to really force myself to do it.

I realize that “fermentation” and “party” are two words that do not necessary match, but it ended up being a sweet little get-together. About fifteen people came, and some folks played guitar or sampled the wine while others got really into the project at hand. Everyone seemed happy, happy enough to ask that our little “Culture Club” be made into a regular event.

 

 

retreating

One of my don’t-call-it-a-bucket-list items for this year was to attend a retreat. I didn’t know what I meant at the time. I’m not exactly the white-towels-and-green-juice kinda girl. Also not into chanting or prayer beads or sun worship or fasting or self-flagellation or tithing or obeying rules for my sexual activity. I’m rude and irreverent, I swear a lot, I’m a feminist, and definitely down with the gays. Scriptures of any stripe might as well be chloroform, and houses of worship hold about as much meaning to me as supermarkets and bowling alleys. Given all of this, not a lot of churches would have me even if I did believe in God. Which I don’t, and I think that’s maybe a fundamental requirement.

But this is something I wanted to do anyway, because if there’s anything in this world that I worship, it’s alone time. So I booked a stay in an Airbnb Airstream outside of San Francisco and signed up for a course in somatic experiencing at the Green Gulch Farm branch of the SF Zen Center. What is somatic experiencing? I wasn’t sure at the time, I just needed a course that fit into my scheduled weekend. But it ended up being serendipitously useful, because somatic experiencing is all about staying in the moment with your body — something that was nearly impossible for me before I stopped regularly meditating a few years ago.

Back in the day I used to meditate regularly. I really felt that I’d come home to something after the complicated experience of leaving the Mormon church. But eventually the experience of sitting still and tunneling down into my breath became overwhelming, and I gave it up. I’d meditate in a bullshit way from time to time — never more than a few minutes at a time and always superficially — but it was no longer a capitalized Practice.

Shortly after I quit my desk job I found myself thinking about my old practice. I have never been able to fully explicate all the reasons I quit my job, but they were not happy reasons. To friends I may have simply expressed that it was a stressful environment, and I might also have let them believe that starting my business was closely linked to my resignation — but they were not really related. I quit my job with no real plans, much less starting a business. The stressful environment, even, was not the most fundamental reason why I quit. I quit because of serious interpersonal conflict. And when I really confronted that reality, I had to wonder if I would have been so severely impacted if I’d still been practicing at that time. Practice provided a special lens through which to examine my experiences and environment and reactions, and I lost that when I stopped practicing. I could see the truth but only from a distance — it wasn’t intimate anymore.

So I attended this course with the hopes that it would provide some resources if I decided to practice again in a serious way. I stayed with my social anxiety instead of letting it carry me out of the class and away from all those strangers. I talked to a very cool lady from Oakland, and another cool lady from Manhattan. I listened as others in the class talked about abuse, illness, injury, divorce, estrangement, unemployment, homelessness, death, anxiety, fear, anger, exhaustion, alienation, worthlessness, depression, isolation, and war. I didn’t contribute much myself and I could feel the teacher wanting to draw me out, but like any white girl I just can’t even in those settings. I still got quite a lot out of it, though.

I also went to the beach. I drew a little, wrote a little, and mostly just tried to be still for a while. I envisioned with perfect clarity the changes I needed to bring my life into balance. And then I came home and fucked it all up.

That’s the problem with retreating. You slip into another level of consciousness that makes everything seem open and timely and honest, but it’s all bullshit and a lie. So you think, never again will I say goddammit in front of my child, I shall not ever be annoyed in traffic, I will rise early and contemplate meaningfully the writings of Shunryu Suzuki before sitting before my organic unsweetened muesli and almond milk, eating just enough and no more and then placidly walking to work at my nonprofit start-up, or perhaps I will drive in my tiny electric vehicle but I’ll make a donation to a carbon offset company to compensate for the production materials. But what really happens is that eight minutes after you walk through the door, your kids start fighting over who gets to use one of twelve identical lead pencils, you get pissed off and yell THEY’RE THE SAME DAMN PENCILS JUST STOP, for breakfast you eat three bagels, two with factory-farmed cream cheese and one with non-organic peanut butter, and down a pot of coffee which makes you jitter and jump through your day until you go out with friends where you gossip mercilessly for three hours, swearing up a storm and telling several outrageous lies while consuming four margaritas and two shots and by the way that was dinner.

So what is retreating good for anyway? I could give you something laden with corporate mindfulness buzzwords and maybe that would be inspiring, but the only reminder I got out of this retreat is that meditation practice is a serious fucking drag. It’s boring, it’s painful, it’s a lot of sitting and doing nothing with very few insights along the way, it’s itchy and your ass goes numb, you’re far too aware of the roll around your midsection, and there are a hundred more productive things you should be doing, it’s basically a complete fucking waste of time and that’s exactly why I need it.

sunday favorites

A biweekly-ish feature of my favorite photos and reads. Enjoy!

Hiding in the feathers.

Hiding in the feathers.

She sneezed after this one.

Morning walk.

Morning walk.

His favorite snooze position.

His favorite snooze position. Evidence the shirt.

Crafting.

Crafting.

More crafting.

More crafting.

Our autumn driveway.

Our autumn driveway.

Typical Sunday morning.

Typical Sunday morning.

Good day sky.

Good day sky.

A beautiful meditation, life & death on the homestead.

Damn proud of my little county.

Love, love, LOVE Heather’s comments on the nature of blogging.

Laugh & agree: Halloween is the only pure holiday.

Did you know that Michael Stipe occasionally writes for The Guardian? And it’s wonderful.

Oh my, did I need this. Give me gratitude or give me debt.

My kitchen is making me crazy. I might try some of these ideas.

Stuff I want to cook… zucchini baba ganoush, grapefruit pie, mushroom alfredo pasta bake, pumpkin seed maple horchata, and GF cumin & black sesame naan.

‘Til next time!

spicy ramen broth with smoked tofu and tatsoi

spicy ramen with tatsoi & smoked tofu

A few days ago a friend posted an article on Facebook about how bad ramen is for you. The title claimed, “Scientists Reveal Ramen Noodles Cause Heart Disease, Stroke, and Metabolic Syndrome.” I did not read the article so I can’t comment directly apart from the obviously unscientific, fear-mongering nature of the title. I just want to say this: ramen is fucking delicious.

If I could eat ramen every day, I would. And yeah, you damn well better believe I’m talking about those 30-cent packages of wheat, chemicals, and MSG. I love that stuff. I ate it regularly as a kid, daily in college, and several times a week all through my early 20s. When I went vegan I still ate ramen, just the very small selection of animal-free options.

I have never tired of ramen. It’s the ultimate comfort food. When I get sick I want nothing more than a big slurpy bowl of “Oriental” (cringe) flavored noodles. But thanks to gluten I can never eat them.

noodles // seed & feather

That hasn’t stopped me from trying — every time I find a gluten-free product claiming to approximate ramen, I jump on it. But it’s just never right. The flavor packet is never intense enough or properly balanced, the noodles are never appropriately toothsome. These companies keep trying to make them healthier, that’s the problem. Dear food producers, ramen is meant to be a salt bomb. It’s supposed to make your blood pressure spike, mmkay? It’s all part of the experience.

A while back I had a brilliant solution — I’d buy a packet of ramen and just use the flavor packet with my own GF noodles! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? I might have left for the store that very instant. Sadly, the flavor packet contains wheat as well. A girl just cannot win.

Finally I reached the breaking point. I combined a bunch of ingredients from my pantry and set about creating the perfect ramen broth. And not just any broth, but an approximation of the BEST RAMEN FLAVOR OF ALL TIME — chili. (I never spell “chile” in that way, but that’s what Maruchan calls it so I will defer. )

0 grams of trans fat! It's basically sprouted lentils it's so healthy.

0 grams of trans fat! Sounds like health food to me.

To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be able to achieve that flavor without the MSG and other additives. And it has been a while since I could have ramen so I can’t claim that it’s spot-on… but I think it’s very very close. Salty, spicy, a tiny bit sour. Is this even remotely authentic? I’ve never had real Japanese ramen so probably not. But it definitely evokes the memory of shitty packaged ramen and that was my intention.

As for the noodles… there just aren’t any gluten-free noodles that can match the specific quality of ramen (yet!). But all is not lost. I’ve tried this broth with several varieties of noodles and I must unequivocally recommend the Tinkyada brand of spaghetti or fettuccine. These don’t get mushy and don’t absorb too much broth.

ramen broth // seed & feather

tatsoi // seed & feather

I added tatsoi (an Asian green) and smoked tofu to make a complete meal. Leafy greens, protein, bone broth, and spice — hm… that doesn’t sound like something that’s destined to cause heart disease, stroke, or metabolic syndrome. But even if it did, it would be worth it.

spicy ramen with tatsoi & smoked tofu

SPICY RAMEN BROTH

1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

6 garlic cloves, peeled

1″ fresh ginger, peeled

1 small tomato

3 T. soy sauce (I use gluten-free tamari)

2 T. toasted sesame oil

2 T. sriracha

1 T. chile-garlic sauce (such as tuong ot toi, generally sold next to sriracha)

2 t. rice vinegar

4 c. beef broth

In a blender, combine all ingredients except the broth, then add enough broth to cover the other ingredients. Blend until smooth, then pour into a soup pot and add the rest of the broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

TO SERVE, FOR EACH BOWL

2 oz. gluten-free noodles (such as Tinkyada spaghetti), cooked al dente

1 handful tatsoi or other Asian green

1 handful smoked tofu, or choice of protein

Scallions and cilantro, as desired

Fill each bowl with noodles and top with tatsoi and tofu. Ladle broth, just off the boil, over the noodles, greens, and tofu, and sprinkle with scallions and cilantro. Enjoy!