Meatless Monday – Plant-Based YUM!

Some years ago I heard about UC Davis Integrative Medicine, and I am so grateful!

Integrative Medicine takes a whole person approach to health. UC Davis Integrative Medicine’s mission is “to help prevent chronic disease by educating people about how to make positive changes in their lifestyle habits.”

Through their weekly blog posts, recipes, webinars, and 21-day plant-based food challenges, they have helped me learn how to cook and eat healthier, for myself and for my family.

They are not my only resource, of course, but they sure lend credibility to my pursuit of health through eating primarily plants. And they have been a HUGE resource!

For three years, they have held an annual 21-day challenge. At no charge, they provide three weeks’ worth of recipes and nutrition information + a Facebook group to encourage mutual support. The first year I dabbled, but mostly felt overwhelmed; last year I petered out through too much life noise; this year, I’m going for it.

Today is Day 1, which means it’s not too late to SIGN UP! And tonight I will tell you–after a day’s worth of delicious plant-based eating–it’s worth it.

Today I ate…
Breakfast: apple pie oatmeal
Lunch: “fried” brown rice
Dinner: Tuscan vegetable soup + rainbow pasta salad (recipes UCDavis, sign up to receive the full 21-day recipe guide)

This wasn’t the prescribed Day 1 menu, but that’s part of why I enjoy this format. I can pick and choose from their menu; improvise based on what I have, what I want, what I already know how to do well; and eat healthy food to satisfaction.

In the plan, a Berries and Seeds Breakfast Bowl is a breakfast option for Week 2; Thai Fried Rice is Week 2‘s Monday lunch. I did my variation on those recipes, though based on their recipe, I omitted the oil from my rice and added instead more garlic and chili-garlic paste (and I will forever make these changes, as today’s rice was tastier).

I also have a solid minestronehow different can Tuscan veggie be from minestrone?–but thought I’d do dinner on their terms. So glad! Using an immersion blender to pulse it until pureed but for some chunks, this soup might have looked less appealing than some broth-based soups, but it smelled and tasted delicious and, to be honest, required less cook time. Of course I could also whip up a pasta salad without even thinking about it but this combination, with their oil-free Italian dressing (fresh basil, hummus, stone-ground mustard, red wine vinegar, and water to dilute), was a delicious change.

If you’re interested in healthy eating…
If you’re a carnivore who can’t believe plants taste good
If you’re looking for some new recipe suggestions

Sign up for the UC Davis Integrative Medicine 21-Day Food Challenge now!

Advertisements

Thankful Thursday – Growing Happy

Where did I read it? Magazine, blog, online news article…?

Anyway, last weekend I read, somewhere, that those who study these things have shown three significant factors that affect brain chemistry to increase the feelings of happiness:

Gratitude
Laughter
Good people

Gratitude: find three unique things for which you can be grateful each day.

I unearthed my misplaced gratitude journal beneath a stack of mislaid papers on my too-messy desk. What an inconsistent adventure this year of gratitude has been… I started out strong, but I easily let life get out of control and let other things get in the way. I miss a few days, write for a few days; miss a week, write for three, miss a month, and so on. Well, I’m back at it, and I will say I look forward to recording my three thanksgivings each day and I do feel happier for having done it. It helps me remember life’s little moments, the funny things my kiddo says, the flower I noticed on my walk, the simple evening ritual of tea and book and a solid bedtime.

Laughter: always the best medicine

Way back when toward the beginning of our relationship, the Indigo Girls sang a line that rang true of one of the gifts Guy has given me: “And the best thing you’ve ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously…”

I tend to be a wee bit dramatic. I lead from my heart. I can be impulsive and feel easily overwhelmed. And early on we recognized that my inclination to take life too seriously could be balanced by Guy’s easy-going, life-embracing stability. Like his bouncy hero, Tigger, he makes me laugh. 

I need to intentionally seek out cheerful people and opportunities to laugh. Silly sitcoms and light-and-fluffy books scattered in-and-between educational and moving programming.

Yesterday, just before I was to lead a meeting, I caught the giggles and it spread to my co-workers on either side. I’d gain control, and one or the other of them would burst out laughing again. It took a while for us to calm down. I am grateful for those minutes of gut-clenching hilarity.

Good people: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” (Helen Keller)

In this season of life, I notice that I am just not in a party mood. I don’t want to make small talk (I never want to make small talk, but on occasion I am grudgingly willing). But I still need my friends, connection, good people.

Before this school year began, I decided to clear space once a week to share intentional conversation with someone. And, for the last two months, I have had coffee or tea or a walk or lunch with someone who would not have appeared across the table or shoulder-to-shoulder if I hadn’t scheduled it. In practicality, it’s been an easier decision than I’d anticipated. And it has deepened friendships and added so much joy to my life, and hopefully to theirs as well.

Today over lunch with a friend with whom I haven’t talked in far too long, I took it one step further. I decided to share these happiness points, and to ask what she would include on her gratitude list. Not surprisingly, it took the conversation in even deeper, more vulnerable and lovely directions.

Gratitude + Laughter + Good people = Happiness. Easy enough.

The Sad Song

I had a rare treat last weekend: a Barnes & Noble sat across the street from the hotel where we stayed. Since most bookstores in our area have closed, I relished the opportunity to spend an hour meandering, collecting a stack of books that attracted my attention for various reasons, and sitting in a corner with them, slowly turning pages.

One book addressed our fear response to life’s hard times. The author wrote, “We habitually spin off and freak out when there’s even the merest hint of fear. We feel it coming and we check out…The most heartbreaking thing of all is how we cheat ourselves of the present moment” (Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart).

Yes, and yes. Life is hard. We feel badly. We check out and cheat ourselves.

Or we could not. Listen to my friend Mike advocate for a different approach…

re:create recess #19: Mike Loretto

I might be a little bit odd.

I had this thought recently when I was feeling the need for a break–for recreation–and my first impulse was to reach for…

…the saddest music I could put on.

I love sad songs. I love them. And I love them because–hang with me now–they make me feel sad. I actually love feeling sad. I know. It’s weird.

When I’m in the thick of the busyness of life and feel that internal prick of “I need to recreate, to play,” I have learned that some of the things that felt like recreation when I was younger don’t call to me as much. In those needful moments, I still might reach for the remote control, a tennis racket, a video game, a drink, a book, or any number of other things. Some of the time those things are the right decision; some times they’re really not. Most of them have no inherent goodness or badness. They all have the potential to be informative or celebratory or good exercise or just plain fun. They all also have the potential to be avenues for escape.

And I’m prone to escapism. Some combination of my personality, my experiences, and the myriad ways that modern culture offers us to escape our reality have, for me, led to 37 years worth of finding creative ways to escape. To not be present to what’s really going on in my life. To not be attentive. To not, in all honesty, be fully alive in many moments.

Sadness and grief can be paralyzing. Depression is no joke. I say all of this from experience. Intentionally diving into the waters of sadness isn’t always the right move, either–sometimes escape is a survival technique. Everything in its season, and everything in moderation. But I find that my default setting is one in which I’m not really letting myself grieve the big or small rips in the fabric of life that I encounter. The ways I’m broken. The ways the world is broken. The pain of people I love. The pain of people I’ll never meet. And I need regular doses of art, conversation, experiences that will prod me to do that grieving.

That’s where, for me, sad songs come in. A well-written, well-performed sad song has the capability to take me right to the core (or at least to dig into the mantle) of feelings I’ve been avoiding. When I turn on Patty Griffin’s “Rain,” or the soundtrack of the musical “The Last Five Years,” I access the pain and grief of relationships not going like we thought they would, hoped they would, needed them to. When I listen to Jason Isbell’s “Elephant,” I’m seared by the sadness of death and dying and of loving someone deeply. I remember in college listening to David Crowder’s “All I Can Say” on repeat, and feeling the desperation of spiritual longing, of the “dark night of the soul.”

Sometimes the sad song might end on a hopeful note. Many of the best don’t. The hope is found in the alchemy of turning grief into beauty, and in the “Oh, you too?” recognition that breaks us out of our isolation. There is something incredibly moving to me about a piece of art that tells the truth about the hard parts of life and somehow begins to redeem it in the beauty of the telling. The craft of the lyrics, the choices of instrumentation and rhythms and chord progressions, the sigh of a steel guitar line or the weeping of a mandolin, the voice soaked in the waters of experience–the right combination of these things cracks me open and brings me to my knees.

My faith and my experience tell me that the world is (and that I am) flawed and broken, and also that even good things must eventually burn down to let something better rise from the ashes. Being intentional about accessing sadness is, for me, a way of sifting through those ashes and finding the building blocks of new creation. As an (often frustrated) songwriter, I find that listening to a song that gets me in touch with my sadness is one of the best avenues for finding the head- and heart-space in which I do my best creative work. It’s a way of touching the live rail that energizes creativity. It hurts, but the hurt motivates and animates.

So here’s to the sad song. Turn it up and cry it out, my friends.

Mike Loretto (@mikeloretto on Twitter/IG) is a songwriter, worship leader, husband to Sarah, and feeder of dogs Bristow and Jed Bartlet. He and Sarah write and perform music under the name Truesdell and are hoping to release an album this year. (Find Truesdell on Facebook or @truesdellmusic on Twitter). Mike is passionate about the intersection of art & spirituality, contemplative prayer, good food & drink, Kansas Jayhawks basketball, and Kansas City Royals baseball. He almost never blogs at mikeloretto.tumblr.com. Email: mikeloretto at gmail dot com

Muck

I like cute-creative Halloween. Not ghosty-ghouly-gorey Halloween.

Like the year Tween dressed as a skeleton on Hawaiian vacation: skeleton costume plus grass skirt with Mardi Gras beads and puka shells topped with a straw hat. Cute, creative, and made us all laugh.

As I walk the dog through decked out neighborhoods, I continually avert my eyes to the dog, to my own plodding feet, to avoid the grossing-me-out décor. Pumpkins and hay bales, all good. Severed bloody limbs hanging from trees? No way.

I do the same with social media and news reports, which these days seem about the same. But even as I ignore insensitive comments, I can’t help arguing with them in my head. Did they read or hear the same info I did? Then how in the world did we come to such different conclusions?

How in the world, indeed. How in the world…

The other day I heard someone comment that we’ve had a bad week, oh, for about a year now.

Yes. That feels spot on.

As that comment ricocheted around my brain, I recognized that I feel increasingly, steadily, angry. Naturally an optimist, I seem to have lost myself, as I can’t find much about which to be optimistic.

I hate how noisy the world has become, with everyone shouting at one another. Not only disagreeing—never mind agreeing to disagree—but hating on one another.

Here’s what I hate:

I hate that our country’s issues have piled up like bricks in a wall, with friends and family members on either side hurling invective and brandishing pitch forks.

I hate that those with power refuse to even listen to those without power, as if they don’t have a right to an opinion, or their own perspective based on their own experience. Nope, they’re just wrong.

I hate the struggle to defend myself as a woman working in a man’s world. And the apparent inability of men to see that that is my experience. (And if I feel this way, as a white, middle class working woman, I truly cannot even begin to imagine what it’s like to be someone without as much privilege.)

I hate that life can be so hard, that people I love hurt so much for so many reasons and there is little I can do about it.

In so many ways, I feel stuck. Like one of our favorite children’s books, I’m one duck stuck in the muck and I want to cry, “Help, help, who can help?”

But I don’t cry, because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of sounding ridiculously needy. I’m afraid of being that vulnerable. I’m afraid of being accused of losing the faith, of being faithless. I’m afraid I won’t hear the right response, “We can, we can!” I’m afraid we’re all stuck in this muck.

I had a conversation yesterday about the title of my blog, “Miracles in the Mundane,” that there truly are bright, sparkly miracles in everyday life if we open our eyes to see them.

I still believe that. I do.

It’s just harder to find miracles in the muck. So, tired as I feel already, I must keep digging.

Maybe we should all try. Put down our burdens and instead start digging and looking for miracles. Because, honestly, that would be the best help.

Taco Tuesday

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now…”
–from Hamilton

I didn’t sleep well last night. Having put myself to bed at a reasonable hour, I spun in fitful sheet-tangles trying to find that just-right bodily pose that would release my mind to dreamland. But dreamland itself proved fitful, with vividly distressing dreams from which I woke-wide around 4 am. I finally fell back asleep, hard, just in time to greet this groggy day.

Somewhere in the night, as the stress bogeys pressed in hot and heavy, my brain produced this lovely, lilting line from Hamilton as a prayerful antidote. It played on a loop and stays with me today.

How lucky indeed.

I have not been a political person. In part because I don’t like conflict, but also because I generally don’t feel confident to speak on political issues. My heart directs me toward encouragement rather than confrontation.

I didn’t sleep in part because I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been writing because I don’t know what to say in light of all the literal and figurative whirlwinds decimating our beautiful world.

The kettle cannot contain the steam, so here blows:

Gun control laws need immediate and serious revision. Private citizens of sound mind who have passed a background check may have their guns, but private citizens don’t need silencers and automatic weapons.

Puerto Ricans are Americans struggling for survival and need all the help the U.S. can provide. If you would expect your country to help you in time of disaster, then you should demand as much for them.

Kneeling is a peaceful and prayerful pose. Kaepernick et al. aren’t protesting the flag but police violence against people of color. They aren’t disrespecting the military or our country but using their First Amendment freedom and position of power to shine a spotlight on injustice. Like Jesus, who used His power to get down in the dirt with those who suffered injustice.

Global Warming is not fake news but a scientifically proven reality, and the EPA and our National Parks need protection.

Giving tax cuts to the rich and stripping health care from the poor makes no sense.

We need bridges more than walls, and taco trucks on every corner would be down-right delicious.

October 4 is National Taco Day, and I strongly recommend you try my new fav taco recipe.

The original recipe comes from a partnership between the Sarno brothers at Wicked Healthy and Purple Carrot, a plant-powered meal prep company. I first heard about Chef Chad Sarno through UC Davis Department of Integrative Medicine (follow their blog for great information about nutrition and plant-based eating). And friends have shared rave reviews of Purple Carrot. Though I don’t need a meal prep service at this point, I am grateful that they are willing to share their recipes.

For the original recipe they made tostadas with mango salsa. I dropped the salsa and added jalapeno; and tostadas or soft or crispy tacos, any way you serve it, this recipe = delish!

Lentil Fajita Tacos
Serves 4

1 c red lentils
2 1/2 c water
8 corn tortillas or taco shells
1 large yellow or red onion, thinly sliced
8-10 garlic cloves, minced
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 lime, juiced
2 avocados, diced
fresh chopped cilantro
green cabbage or iceberg lettuce, chopped 

Combine lentils and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low until water has been absorbed, about 14-17 minutes. The lentils should become soft and porridge-like. If necessary, use a potato masher or fork to mash them, and stir in the lime juice.

If you’re making tostadas, preheat the oven to 400 and toast tortillas for 10-12 minutes.

In a large skillet, saute onions for 3 minutes. Add garlic, bell peppers, and jalapeno and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for another 5-10 minutes until veggies are soft and carmelized.

To serve, add lentils to tortillas or taco shells and top with fajita veggies, cabbage/lettuce, avocado, and cilantro.

If you have lentils left over, reheat with a drizzle of oil and more lime juice.

We are indeed lucky to be alive and, look around, we are alive right now. Let’s eat more tacos, kiss one another’s boo boos, love and protect each other and our world, and do something each day to make life on earth a better place for everyone.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin