Sunday, January 26, 2014

Motion City Soundtrack and Feeling My Age

A few weeks ago we drove an hour to see one of our favorite bands in Rochester, NY. Mark picked me up from work with a bag of snacks for the drive. It included fresh mozzarella and prosciutto. My requested change of sneakers and jeans was not to be had, so there I was in my casual Friday work clothes- still pretty dressy for a rock show. The ride was fast and we showed up in time to catch opening bands; it's usually a great way to be introduced to newer music. Upon turning the corner walking up to the venue, a line of around 200 14-17 year olds because visible. This, we learned, was the line of people hoping to get in, having not bought tickets in advance. In response to a snotty agist comment I uttered, Mark mentioned driving 6 hours once to see Spitalfield, when he was 18, without having bought tickets in advance. The band snuck him in by letting him carry some gear and it was apparently one of the coolest experiences in his life. Well, who am I to judge? Such is the stuff of youth right?

My generation supports the existence of a musical rule regarding a major show faux pax: showing up in the shirt of the band you are going to see. What this says about you is that either you are too eager to see this band (and that's just not cool) or your musical taste is not broad enough to show up in another shirt. These damn teens did not know the rule. I felt sad for them. Also, as a grown up scene kid, I've learned that shopping at Urban Outfitters or wearing all the right clothes just makes you look like you are trying to hard, like you took as a literal guide, and it should be avoided in favor of something that looks and feels like you. These teens did not know the rule. I, again, felt sorry for them. And then... sort of aggravated.

The venue, a renovated manufacturing building in the middle of the city, is great aesthetically, but maybe not for audience experience. It's a long narrow room with beams where no beams should be. When I was 18, this would not have bothered me in the slightest. But at 30, I was kind of peeved to be pushed around by 6 foot tall people, when my 5'2'' frame can hardly be considered blocking the action.

We stood for a while where there were good spots but I could lean against the "should not exist" beam. Then a bunch of 10th graders who were an average of 6'5'' stood in front of me. Then they hung their jacket on my leaning pole so that it dangled just above my head. I wanted to choke them with it. But I also felt really embarrassed by how much of a curmudgeon I was being.

In the end, I enjoyed the show. Motion City Soundtrack was great. My back hurt, especially after the loss of my leaning pole, but I still had fun.

The thing about getting older is that no one prepares you for it. You get all sorts of advice about surviving the teen years, which tapers off into your twenties and then, all of a sudden, you are expected to have your crap together. I do not have my crap together. I am a thirty year old woman who would prefer to be wearing converse sneakers and a hoodie than my grown up life clothes. But I have a grown up job where I need to wear grown up clothes. I have serious back pain, way beyond my years, from two equally serious car accidents. But I like to go watch live music that involves a lot of standing. And I like prosciutto and fresh mozzarella, and pronounce both like a woman of deeply rooted Italian heritage. Even though we ate what are called "garbage plates" after the show.

This odd place is not easy to navigate. "True to me"is an odd color if there ever was one. So how do we cope with this? The only prescription I know is working on self acceptance. So that's my plan.

Friday, November 15, 2013

You may have wondered...

...where I've been. And I'll tell it to you straight.

I've been busy. The boring, soul numbing kind where you buy books that look like easy reads and then allow them to sit unread in a pile. (I have six or seven now). The kind of busy where you are writing midterm grad school papers in advance because you know you won't have time the week of the due date. The kind of busy where the sheer act of taking off your pants seems a lot to ask.

In the middle of that, though, I have had several amazing opportunities that I feel honored to have received. I catered the wedding of two friends last month with my wholesome, love-packed nummers. This Saturday I will have my first show as Queen City Apothecary, selling these lovely herbal projects I have been telling you about for all these years. And this week I had interviews at three amazing area non-profits, with a second interview tomorrow afternoon at my favorite of the organizations.

I am sitting in my dining room now and I am surrounded by herbs, aromatherapy oils, my very own labels.... It's actually a heart warming sense of progress to be here.

I am claiming for myself that in a month I will be sitting, after a day at a job I love, on my couch with a book and an herbal face mask drying. I'll be sipping a cup of tea and I'll have sweatpants on. And I will think of you, dear reader. And I will visit this blog to write you a well thought out post from my abundance, not my emptiness.

I'm off to shake some herbal vinegars, but remember that I'm thinking of you!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Five Adaptable Recipes for Seasonal Eating

When I first began to cook, I learned something about myself. It applies to all areas of my life, but it surfaced most significantly the moment I found myself surveying the recipes for baked goods. The truth is, instructions bore me. I hate them. As I hate hell and all Montagues.

It's not personal. I'm sure that if I met the good cooks who wrote things like "cut the stick of cold butter into 36 equal pieces" that I would not wish a plague upon their houses. However, I do have something of a bone to pick with them.

Cooking is such a sensual activity; so much of it is based on intuition and a sense of magic, an internal knowing even, that instructions almost never reflect the real poetry of the action. So I offer you this recommendation: learn to cook by cooking and eating. Use recipes when you need to as you get started, but for the most  part, engage this act of artistry by being the artist and the observer.

One part of this meditative art, for me, is to engage as many local vegetables and fruits as possible. It centers me in my place in the world, but it is also welcomes in produce at its absolute best. Each flavor, at its peak, will offer you something so unique and beautiful that you will want to form the recipe around it. And everything you make will be at its nutritional high point. When you first get started it can be hard to think of what to do with a thousand new fruits and veggies (and what the hell is kholrabi, anyway?). Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Risotto: For years I avoided risotto, thinking that it seamed impossibly difficult. While it does require a bit of attention, the results are always rich, creamy and soul satisfy. Risottos are infinitely changeable and allow a vegetable to speak for itself while remaining a full mean. (Use real broth, if at all possible)
  2. Cobbler: Cobbler is something I throw together these days when I want to smell sweet baking fruit but I don't have the energy for much else. Once you have make a cobbler dough two or three times, you could probably do it by feeling rather than by looking up the ingredients. And the fruit filling is infinitely variable. Some may need more or less sugar, depending on the fruit, but you will get to know your own tastes! Here is a great starter:
  3. Gratin: Most people have seen something cooked au Gratin, even if it is without knowing it. Potatoes au Gratin is the most popular. A creamy sauces is poured over veggies in a buttered pan and they are baked in their sauce. Each veggie will have slightly different cooking times, but you will know when the are done by when the top is a crispy brown and you can easily break them with a fork- similar to biting! My favorite variation includes fennel and is pretty close to this one:
  4. Galette: A galette is essentially a pie crust folded over rather than in a pie plate. Sure, you can make a pie, but these are adorable and get much more notice at events. The most important thing about a galette is to keep the crust as cold as possible and handle it as little as you can. If it needs to be rechilled because it is having trouble shaping, go ahead. We won't judge!
  5. Frittatas: What can't go in a frittata? I say nothing. Once you get used to making a frittata, you'll be using it for weekday breakfasts and brunches alike. It's simple and elegant. Grated zucchini with chevre, maybe? As[aragus and shallots? Broccoli and smoked gouda? These are a savor delight.
  6. (BONUS!) Crepes! Fill these with savory things like steak, carmelized onions and cheddar. Or fill them with some blueberry compote and creme fraiche. I will not say no to either.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Urban Herbalism: A Treatise

Here's the thing. If you go research healthy living on the internet today, you'll find a myriad of advice. Any thing from brushing your teeth with a licorice root to drinking Celestial Seasonings tea is considered "alternative health". The spectrum is broad and wide and with plenty of room for eccentrics, fanatics and fakers.

At some point in my journey of alternative and complementary medicine, I have been all three, sometimes all at once. It's easy. It's easy to find that a little bit of Valerian tea will help you go to bed at night. That a decent multivitamin can really help you feel better each day. That a ginger coin under the tongue can cure nausea. And the more it works, the easier it is to get a self-righteous sense of pity for anyone taking an antacid. The more you feel good, the easier it can be to make grand claims about how you would handle a debilitating disease if it were you. The more you know, the easier it can be to want to do things like wild harvest every herb you use and make everything from hand.

And if you are like me, the more you know, the guiltier you feel for not having the time to do things perfectly. And since my accident, which left me with considerable pain and aggrivating a few other health problems, I have been feeling guilty more and more. Here is an abbreviated list of things I feel guilty or inferior about: using a store bought natural tooth paste, never finding a solid herbal shampoo recipe, taking ibuprofen when my back hurts, not getting reiki/acupuncture/massage more often, not soaking my grains every time, buying bread from the grocery story bakery (instead of baking it), not brewing as much kombucha and keifer these days, eating an organic frozen pizza, ordering a free range but NOT organic pig, eating meat at restaurants, seeing the chiropractor too much, going to physical therapy in general, for drinking unsweetened iced tea from restaurants...etc.

It can be so easy, once we have an concept of what ideal looks like, to bludgeon ourselves emotionally until we live up to this idea. I have never, ever sat down with myself to congratulate myself on my progress. I went from a Centrum multi-vitamin 10 years ago, to brewing my own kombucha and drinking raw cows milk today. Why can't I be proud of this growth?

I have good health care professionals, a confusing list of symptoms and some persistently awful fertility problems. My back hurts at least three days a week. And I have trouble getting anxious about all this.
But my list of medications is piling up, where I used to be able to snarkily declare "NONE!" when asked.

I have struggled with guilt. I have struggled with feeling like a fake, wanting to be able to rely on the alternative more than I have been able. And this has pushed me from my dreams of an apothecary and hand making my own remedies. "If I can't fix myself," I said, "how can I help anyone? Why would anyone trust me?"

We get no where by creating more burdens for ourselves. With all of the awful advertising geared to make us feel inadequate and the puritanical concepts forced upon us from birth, we would already know it if life could be enhanced through guilt. But it's never made me better.

Let's just agree on some things. Shall we? Here is my treatise, what I call "Urban Herbalism":

  • Herbal (or any alternative) medicine should enhance your life. It should make it better, you should feel more well. If it doesn't work, you aren't to blame. If it does, thank the Goddess. 
  • There will always be more you could do. Measure how far you've come and how much good you do each day, rather than what is yet to be done. 
  • If your journey of herbal medicine becomes burdensome, if it feels like physics homework, instead of poetry, pull back. When it isn't beautiful, it may not be working. You deserve beautiful. 
  • Do what is accessible to you. In yoga, if something hurts beyond what you can breath through, you are encouraged to pull back, do less, because "effective" and "painful" are not synonymous. Try this as a method. 
  • If your herbal medicine journey becomes disconnective for you, if you lose friends or alienate family, maybe you should reconsider how deeply you've gone. When I was a vegetarian, shooting for veganism, I avoided social outings and dreaded holidays. It became destructive. Don't allow this to be true for your healing journey. 
I guess if I could sum it up, I would do so like this: 

It should be beautiful. 
It should be a  blessing. 
It should be like breath. 

Thanks for the chance to share.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Video Stories of Animal Adventures

We've been welcoming animal family members, as fosters, rescues or livestock-pets, for as long as we've been married. This includes lost baby birds, puppies, kitties, ducklings, chicks, and more.

So we've finally decided to share some of our dozens of videos on a Youtube channel dedicated to it.

You can find lots of adorable animal cuteness for your oxytocin-pleasure here:

We're not adding advertisements at this time, just hoping to share some cuteness and awareness of animal rescue.

Thanks for watching!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Response to Food Not Lawns (Upon the Blooming of my Perennials)

We don't have as many evenings at home doing nothing these days, but when we have them, we have settled into an easy routine that I have come to love. We drop our stuff, grab a glass of water and head to the backyard, ducklings in tow.

Once we are outside, I sit for a while, weed for a while, sit barefoot with the ducks in the grass, and feed the ducks and chickens some Comfrey leaves from the garden. Mark gives the chickens water and scraps, helps train his hops upwards, examines their growth. Then we do something glorious. We sit. We sit outside. 

This is the first year we have been able to get perennials to take. We decided to temporarily coop our once free ranging chickens so that they couldn't pull things up and we went for it. We put ads up on Craigslist and Freecycle in order to gather as much as possible locally and as low-cost as possible. We gathered a supply of amazing plants from gardeners in our area, having conversations as we went. We bought amazing plants from a woman who organizes a sale of her own gorgeous perennials in order to support her local animal sanctuary. We got bulbs from a man who gardens as medicine for his mental illness.

When I first heard about Food Not Lawns, I was excited. The idea of doing as much with my resources as possible was appealing to me. My regular readers know that I am also a huge advocate of local, organic, DIY shenanigans. I attempted to learn as much as I could about the movement and I was kind of surprised. The more I researched, the more I started to feel as though I couldn't fully get behind the somewhat divisive message at play.

The idea that lawns are the antithesis of sustainability, the arch-nemesis of the green movement is pretty pervasive among the followers of Food Not Lawns. The broad strokes that lawn-lovers are painted with are pretty unattractive. Almost every home owner I know has a lawn, but almost none of them treat with pesticides or chemical fertilizers.   In fact, many of them are pursuing the best possible options, like harvesting the "weeds" for medicinal or food use, fertilizing with compost, planting native grass varieties, etc.
But it isn't just that. Another issue that I have is economic. In most cities, soil can be unsafe to grow food in and raised beds are required. In Buffalo, a huge issue is lead. The expense of a raised bed is hard to calculate, but friends who have set them up have all said, "There's no way you can do this with a low income". And the movement seems to expect its believers would be home owners. It's a rare land lord who would allow a tenant to tear up a front lawn to grow cabbage. I hate to say it, but sometimes the movement feels like a movement of privilege. Pictures show huge suburban houses framed in swiss chard. Where is the tiny urban garden used for a few key favorites? Isn't that just as critical?

In the picture above we see a few images juxtapose to one another: One is a visually bland lawn. The other is a productive, beautiful garden. But something is missing from both. My backyard is mostly grass. It's a big backyard for a city, but it is small for all we do there. We raise chickens and ducks, source our herbs from our backyard potted garden , grow our own hops for brewing, have fruit bushes and vines for us and the birds, etc. But for the most part, food is not the focus of our lawn. Why? Because PEOPLE are the focus of my backyard. I leave lots of open space to hold barbecues and bonfires, to play with my dog and to let the kids in the neighborhood chase the animals around. I keep a lawn for my chickens and ducks to nibble on.  I leave grass so that I can experience the grounding feeling of laying down on the earth.

And our lawn is not a chemical-laden wasteland. It's bordered with locally sourced perennials, many are native. It is useful for our chickens and ducks. It is fertilized well with safe ingredients. It is our source for many things, but the most important one I can think of is the outdoors. I work in an office and never see the sun except through a window or on my lunch breaks. I live in a city and very rarely see expanses of open fields. I almost never get to go hiking or camping.  My exposure to nature is nothing like that of my ancestors. My yard is the place where I have a tiny plot of earth to enjoy nature. I get to see honey bees explore my rose bushes, I get to enjoy butterflies bouncing through my Yarrow and Lilies, I get to watch the earth progress from season to season in a way I would not otherwise. And I have the space to share this with friends and family, whether they are humans or feather or fur family. In a garden, my ducks can't run around, my dog needs to be locked out, and there's no room to lay in the grass- a spiritual exercise if even I've known one.

To me, this debate is not: chemical wasteland vs. productive food majesty. To me, this debate is: a place for a spiritual pause, connected to the earth vs. an expensive raised bed and a few heads of lettuce. And at the end of the day, I choose the pause. It is not that I do none of my own growing, it is that I can't align myself with the idea that grass (oxygen giving, comfortable grass!) is inherently less good than a garden. My message: Be Outside. If you can appreciate nature, maybe you'll be inclined to take care of it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Urban Herbalism: A Quick Exfoliator

I have sensitive skin that reacts to many facial products with hives and breakouts, so one of the first things I did when I started playing with herbs was to develop my own facial care products.

These days, I use a blend I have perfected over time as a cleansing exfoliator. This and a dab of healing oil (more to come on that one!) as a moisturizer are the only products I use and I would like to think my skin is the best it has ever been.

I modify these products, along with toners and masks, for friends and family. Everyone's skin is a bit different, so decide what works best for you and experiment with a few different blends. Here is how to make it:

  1. Find a great container. I am a little embarrassed by how many re-used mason and baby jars I have around, but maybe you can get really creative! 
  2. The majority of this cleanser is baking soda. Easy right? Baking soda is almost pH nuetral and acts to remove dead skin cells and dirt from your face. Toss about a cup of this in first. 
  3. Add clay. Because my skin tends toward dryness, I add very little- simply to pick up a bit more oil and impurities then only washing would and to help the mixture formed to maintain a paste. I used one tablespoon of kaolin clay and green clay each. These are both very healing and gentle on your skin. 
  4. Add herbs. I added powdered lavender, for calming and mild antibacterial action as well as rosehips for the Vitamin C and its antioxidant and anti-aging properties. Then I tossed in powdered calendula for its cell regeneration. I did about a tablespoon of each. It may not seem like much, but the continued exposure is the important thing here. 
  5. Cover and shake, shake, shake. 
Then, to use this to wash up, do the following: 
  1. Add a tablespoon and a half or so to your hands. 
  2. Add enough water to make a paste. 
  3. Mix in your hands, adding more water if needed. 
  4. Apply to face using gentle, circular motions. 
  5. Allow to remain for as long as you like. If you want to allow to dry you can or you can wash off immediately using splashes of water. 
  6. Dry face and moisturize. 
Tell me if your skin doesn't look a thousand times happier by morning!