Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Flying Elephants on the Bridge

The Elephants Delicatessen chain is pretty big around Portland, and we have a new location to love now, in the South Waterfront, on the west end of the new Tilikum Crossing Bridge. After a liesurely walk across what's been dubbed "the Bridge of the People," we stopped for a snack at the new Flying Elephants, which is right next door to Starbucks in the gorgeously modern new Collaborative Life Sciences Building and Skourtes Tower. It's a perfect place to sit outside on a nice day, sip a beer, glass of wine, coffee, or tea, have a bite to eat, and watch the world go by.

The menu offers an appealing range of what you might expect from a deli, including several items that are well marked as being vegan. Grab a fresh, ready-made wrap, sandwich, salad, or pastry from the well-stocked cold case, order a beverage or hot food at the counter, then settle in to enjoy some time in Portland's newest, fastest growing neighborhood.

We shared a Shelly Wrap, a side of Sweet Potato Tots, and a couple of beers. The wrap was fresh and tasty and packed with crisp vegetables. The tots were terrific, as I've come to expect of all tots in this city. And the beers were just the thing on an early fall day in sunny Portland.

I jokingly call the South Waterfront "Little Dubai," with it's towers of steel and glass, and the high rents that go along with it. But it's beautiful down there along the river, and with the new bridge, more people friendly than ever. It's only a ten minute streetcar ride from where we live, and I imagine we'll find our way over to Flying Elephants often. They're good people who care about what they do and how it impacts Portland and beyond in the bigger picture. I can support that, and I intend to!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Way It's Supposed To Be

This is an extra little side post this week, because the news lately is nothing but awful, politics embarrassing, and the general mood of folks I run into is kind of low-energy. I feel it too. Without going into detail, I'm struggling more than a little bit these days. Things are piling up. I feel... un-good. And I know from experience that the best way to feel better is to make someone else feel better. It works every time.

I was out with Rick yesterday, after an urban hike to the rose garden, a shopping expedition, lunch, and finally a little food gathering for dinner. Even though there was nothing really wrong, and it had been a lovely day, I was feeling sort of anxious and icky, and I couldn't shake it. I tend to gather up and collect the general vibe of the world around me, so I don't think most of what I was feeling was "mine." I have my own little issues to be sure, but empathy can suck the life out of a girl.

We hopped on a busy streetcar, loaded down with bags, and clearly in the "elder" demographic compared to the rest of the people getting on. Rick was about to settle into an empty seat that was closest to him, when a young woman cut him off and slipped into the seat, oblivious to everyone around her.  Her sense of entitlement flew around her like sparks. She was white. It shouldn't make a difference. But it's part of the story. I'll call her Uppity Princess.

As the streetcar started to roll, Rick found another seat, and motioned for me to take the one down the aisle. But just at that moment - and all this happened in about 15 seconds - the young man sitting behind Rick stood up, gave me his seat, and took the one farther away, just so I could sit by Rick. He glanced at the woman who cut Rick off, looked at me, shrugged, and shook his head in a WTF? sort of way. He was African American, which also shouldn't make a difference. I'll call him Nice Guy.

Common pre-conceptions would have us believe that the white lady would have better manners than the young man of color. Really? Many would trust her and fear him. Really? But in that instant, there was a flash of connection, of sweetness, of getting it between two humans, Nice Guy and me, just making our way home, and the color of our skin had nothing to do with it. Common courtesy and decency were what mattered. Gratitude mattered. Paying attention to something other than ourselves mattered.

As Nice Guy stood up to get off at his stop, I pulled a daisy out of the bunch I'd just bought, touched his arm to get his attention, and handed him the flower. He took it, thanked me, and turned away to leave. Then, just before jumping out into the world again, he turned back to me and said, "I almost broke a tear. Thank you. This is how it's supposed to be."

Yes it is. I smiled back, my eyes welled up, and my mood shifted for the better. I think maybe everyone who saw what happened was shifted a little bit. Maybe if we all did more of these tiny, spontaneous things, like offering a seat, saying thank you, smiling, giving daisies to strangers, maybe we'd all start feeling better enough to deflect all the not-good that's being fired at us daily. Maybe we'd create enough interpersonal goodness that our day to day lives would be easier and happier. Maybe we'd change the world. Maybe not. But at the very least, we'd make our own little part of it nicer to live in.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What to Eat When There's Nothing to Eat

I'd been away for a week and supplies were depleted. I woke up hungry on my first day back home, opened the fridge and harrumphed, Nothing to eat...

At second glance, I noticed half a loaf of bread. OK! I can have toast! Boring! Not enough! But on closer inspection I discovered some vegan cheese slices, a bit of tomato, and some clean and crunchy romaine. That's more like it. Grilled cheese for breakfast! With pickles and mustard! Happy!

Along the lines of leftover pizza for breakfast, a sandwich you might normally think of as a lunch item can really hit the spot, especially if you prefer a savory breakfast like I do.

Later, slightly annoyed by the fact that I was hungry again, I considered going out for some takeout kimchee fried rice, and then remembered they're closed on Sundays. Phooey! Back to the "empty" refrigerator, expecting to come up with a sequel to the breakfast sandwich. Maybe toast for dinner would be OK...

But lo and behold, there was a little bowl of brown rice, a bag of week-old chopped carrots and red bell pepper that were still in decent shape, and a bit of bok choy... possibilities! I plucked a can of chickpeas from the shelf, melted a little coconut oil in my skillet, and let the magic unfold.

I cooked the chickpeas first, in the oil, with a good splash of tamari. Then I threw in the rice and let it sizzle for a couple of minutes before adding the veggies. Rummaging through our collection of condiments, I seasoned the whole thing with random sloshes of umeboshi plum vinegar, sesame oil, maple syrup, and sriracha sauce. The whole process took about five minutes!

And guess what? It was way better than the fried rice I was going to buy. The vinegar gave it kind of a zippy kimchee flavor, but the fresh vegetables were actually much nicer than the fermented kind from a jar.

Even though this was an emergency meal, made from "nothing," it's one worth repeating. Try it. With whatever you have. It's surprising what's really there when we think there's nothing...

Could be a metaphor for other areas in life, yes?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Knitting Meditation

Life has been weird lately. Stressful stuff, you know? We all go through these patches, and we all have our own tricks for getting to the other side. My old habit of powering through and just working harder has not been doing it for me lately though, and it became clear that I needed to do something different. As in slower and calmer. Not my strong area, slow and calm.

Over the years, I've been urged by plenty of friends to meditate. I've resisted in the past, but finally, out of desperation, decided to give it a try. I read books, sampled apps, downloaded music, and listened to guided meditations. I tried the sitting still kind. I tried the walking around kind. I tried counting my breaths. I tried focusing on my heart center. All of them gave me some degree of centered calmness, but none of them really resonated in a way that felt like it was meant for me. I could see that none of the standard methods were going to stick.

Then one day I was sitting at home knitting, and it hit me - tada! Knitting can be meditation too! A quick google search confirmed that I'm not the first one to think of this, and there are even books written on the subject. I ordered two of them - Mindful Knitting: Inviting Contemplative Practice to the Craft, by Tara Jon Manning (paperback), and Zen and the Art of Knitting: Exploring the Links Between Knitting, Spirituality, and Creativity, by Bernadette Murphy (on Kindle).

The books have helped me put a more intentional focus into my knitting when I want it to be a meditative thing. And even when I don't do that, I find I'm knitting more in social situations because I enjoy it so much, which in itself is calming, and even seems to sort of relax those around me.

There are several folks in our building now who want to get together for regular knitting nights. Sort of like a "stitch-n-bitch," but without the bitching. That kind of defeats the purpose of any sort of meditative practice. Instead, we'll call it stitch-n-dish, meaning the chit-chat kind of dishing, and also opening it up to bringing favorite food dishes to share, which further opens it up to being a vegan knitting kind of event. I like it!

My project of choice right now is about as simple as it gets. I don't want to get all wadded up in reading patterns and making complicated things like garments and socks. That would make it necessary to put my attention into the details rather than in the simple act of knitting. For me, it's more about the process than the product. With that as the focus, I make washcloths! They're small enough to carry around and work on anywhere, they're useful, and they're a really luxurious addition to bath time.

And to make it even better, I found some wonderful organic cotton yarns at our local yarn wonderland, Knit Purl. One of them is made by the Vegan Yarn company, and it's absolutely gorgeous to work with.

If you're on my gift list this year, you're very likely to get a set of washcloths and a nice bar of soap. You'll love them! They have a lovely zen-calm built into each and every stitch. I could call them Tranquility Infused washcloths. That's how nice they are.

Maybe right about now you're saying to yourself, Hey, no way am I ever going to take up knitting! OK. Fine. I hear it all the time. And while I don't understand some people's determined refusal to give it a shot, I also realize that not everything is for everyone. So maybe you'd rather try regular meditation to defuzz your sweet little frazzled stressball self. Yay! Do it! Here's a nice easy article to get you started: Using Guided Meditation for Anxiety.

Now back to knitting. If you feel the need for some simple de-stressing, and mainstream meditation is not your thing, consider the humble joys of sticks and string in your hands. For me, it's better than anything else I've tried.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Overnight (Oatmeal) Success

I know I'm not the first person to discover or share this ridiculously simple breakfast "recipe." But if it's new to me, it might be new to you too. So here it is. I like to share the things that are working for me, and Overnight Oatmeal is one of them.

Overnight Oatmeal (ONO) is just what it sounds like - oatmeal you make at night and eat the next morning. The beauty is, it takes all of about 15 seconds to put together and throw in the fridge where the magic happens all by itself.

The "recipe" is as follows:

Measure equal parts rolled oats (not quick oats, but the old fashioned, slow-cook kind) and any plant-based milk you like into a bowl or a jar with a lid. Cover it, put it in the refrigerator, close the door, walk away.

Yep, that's a recipe.

Maybe you'd like a little more detail -
I use 1/2 cup oats and 1/2 cup almond milk. I use individual bowls for each person, but you can make one big batch if that's easier. (I love eating out of a squatty mason jar.) Sometimes I sprinkle in some cinnamon. Sometimes I add frozen blueberries to the bowl and let them thaw while the oatmeal soaks. I love my ONO with raisins and bananas and walnuts. I don't feel a need to sweeten it, but maple syrup would be delightful.

There is no actual cooking involved. The oats simply soak up the milk, making them soft but still chewy, sort of like muesli. You can make it at bedtime, or really anytime during the day, as it can rest in the fridge for 24 hours or so.

When it's time to eat, add fruit, nuts, seeds, plus sweetener and more milk to taste. Eat it cold. (I do.) Or warm it in the microwave if you're so inclined. (I did this the first time I made it at my dad's, but we don't have a microwave at home, so cold is good. It's actually become my preference.)

And that's about as far as I can stretch it. There are lots of ONO recipes online. Google them out of hiding if you need more inspiration. Otherwise, just casually toss some oats and plant-milk in the fridge, and then go see what kinds of beautiful fruit you can find in your favorite produce section or farmers market. Make it up as you go. There are zillions of right ways to make this stuff, and it's well worth the effort... although there's really no effort involved at all.