Renewal

Oh, Spring! I want to go out and feel you and get inspiration. My old things seem dead. I want fresh contacts, more vital searching. – Emily Carr

A few captures from the past week:

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As we welcome Spring in the northern hemisphere, we are invited to reflect on what, in our personal lives, is waiting to be reawakened. What has been dormant throughout a winter of hibernation and a lazy pace?

Last week was the annual spring break for the Wanderlust Juniors, though the weather made it feel more like mid-January with a windy, cold start to the week. We could be found at home, nursing ourselves to good health; I’m still waiting for my voice to return after a bout of laryngitis. In seeking comfort, we turned to the typical old-fashioned — or maybe the currently trendy hygge-esque — wool blankets and mugs of tea with honey, made forts, watched movies while munching popcorn, and crafted. Today, however, I feel ready to return to my routine and renew my intention to create magic.

I am renewing my commitment to sit in meditation for 10-15 minutes in the morning, following my physical practice. Although I love meditation for its soothing quality and as a disciplinary practice, my practice has lately become sporadic. I am ready to reignite the spark of inspiration.

Is there an intention that you are ready to renew? Please tell me about it in the commends below. 

Favourites from around the web:

I am made of equal parts wanderlust and homebody fibres, as is this writer.

Guided meditation from Tara Brach.

Inspiring podcasts.

More on decluttering.

Wisdom from Mary Oliver.

From the archives:

Feeling yoga.

What meditation is really like.

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“Hibernation.”

Wishing you a week of gentle awakenings and inspiration! Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend.

Favourites: March 10th edition

A few simple highlights from the past week:

Knitting

A delightful new knitting project!

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A great book.

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Our current quick-and-easy ‘go to’ dessert: banana and chocolate chip cake.

From around the web:

Important for HSP to remember.

A mindful approach to difficult emotions.

Self-care.

Environmental responsibility..

More mindfulness.

For the yogis.

On letting go of books. Mr. Wanderlust and I recently significantly downsized our enormous library; we can empathize with the author of this story.

Life lessons.

Instagram Favourite:

I enjoy following the explorations of Zero Waste Chef. Her profile states the three inspiring rules she follows to run her kitchen: “Rule #1 no packaging. Rule #2 nothing processed. Rule #3 no trash.”

Wishing you a tranquil weekend!

Capturing the creative spark

Let’s talk about the spark. No, no, not that spark! I’m referring to the creative ideas that emerge briefly from a field outside our periphery, often at the most inopportune times, sometimes even in the midst of a meeting with the senior management. Mid-sentence, as I type notes for the document that will become the official minutes, they whisper to me or appear somewhere in my mind, waving coquettishly, reminding me of a long-ago idea that I had shelved somewhere to focus on more important priorities. Most often, ideas show up in the rare quiet moments when I drive home from work, or while in the shower. Every time, I remind myself to discern between whether it’s best to continue to focus on the current task before me, or to allow myself to daydream.

I never intend to silence ideas by waving them away, sweeping the dust until such a time when I would be ready to offer my undivided attention and unconditional passion to creative pursuits. So, when that elusive spark appears at those most unexpected moments, I remind myself to cautiously invite it to remain, luring it in by offering it my attention, however brief, until a time when I can be lost in the creative flow. I have returned to the habit of toting a notebook and pen in my purse, recording ideas as they arise, capturing the hints. The spark is here. It wants to be caught. I accept the invitation to play, to be challenged, to dance with the waves.

How do you capture the spark?

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Photo: Christichka Photography by Christa Pauwels

Slow mornings

Sunday morning.

A few overripe bananas alone in the centre of a large ornate bowl.

Hungry bellies await breakfast.

A yawn escapes while the countertop is set with a metal bowl, a whisk, and measuring cups.

The bananas are peeled, then mashed.

Milk is poured, with juice of half a lemon squeezed to replace buttermilk.

Coconut oil melts in the skillet.

The dry and wet ingredients intermingle in a large bowl.

A handful of chocolate chips tossed into the mix. Why not?

Coconut oil sizzles as batter is poured onto the hot surface.

The routine is tranquil, meditative.

The kettle emits a gentle whistle as the water inside boils.

Tea. Pancakes. Coffee. Maple syrup.

Simple, like Sunday morning.

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In the interest of saving time amid a busy weekday routine, we celebrated Fat Tuesday a couple of days early. In truth, Sunday morning pancakes are a tradition chez nous. Here is our favourite banana and chocolate chip pancake recipe:

Ingredients:

2 medium-size very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1 cup buttermilk (or a cup of milk with lemon juice squeezed into it)
1 egg
1 tbsp coconut sugar or white sugar
1/3 cup coconut oil or butter, melted
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
handful of chocolate chips
additional coconut oil for frying

Preparation:

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg, bananas, buttermilk, sugar, and oil.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold the batter showly. Add the chocolate chips and stir gently.

Fry 2-3 minutes per side on a skillet lightly greased with coconut oil or butter. Serve with maple syrup and/or other favourites.

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Place share a favourite pancake recipe in the comments below.
 

Making February a bit brighter

Last week, I overheard an exchange between two colleagues who were complaining about February, referring to it sarcastically as everyone’s favourite month of the year. Many years ago, I might have agreed with them and rolled my eyes at yet another cold winter month, but these days, I refuse to join the pity party. Instead, I focus on self-care, and at the risk of sounding nauseatingly sweet and obnoxiously bubbly, I will confess that I do seek the silver lining. February is a month I celebrate. Here are a few special occasions and favourite rituals that help to make my February a bit brighter:

Aquarian birthdays. Dear reader, you might dislike astrology and think of it as bogus pseudoscience at best. Some days, I agree with you. However, I also happen to really like Aquarians and their eccentric, artsy, often off-the-wall quirky personality traits. A friend who studied astrology gifted me ten years ago with a birth chart, which showed that my Moon sign is in Aquarius. Perhaps that is one reason why I feel such a connection to these fascinating people. The youngest Wanderlust Junior is my favourite Aquarius and we celebrate his birthday this month. The birthdays of my children are as important (or perhaps even more important) to me as they are to them. The births of my children were the most pivotal moments in my and Mr. Wanderlust’s lives. So bring on the celebration. This year, it will be a small one for us, but we are making the most of it.

Valentine’s Day. Again, some of you might dislike this consumerist pseudo-holiday. And once again, I nod my head. Yet, amid the worldwide sadness, confusion, and anxiety that affects us at this time, I think we can use any excuse to celebrate LOVE. To me, Valentine’s Day is not a reason to spend money on overpriced chocolate and heart-shaped everything for a romantic partner — though that is a perfectly valid way to celebrate and I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to chocolate. Instead, it’s an invitation to reconnect to the love that resides within us and abounds all around us. It’s a reminder to take better care of ourselves, to practise self-love, and to express gratitude toward our friends and loved ones.

Shrove Tuesday. In the interest of refraining from over-scheduling our weekday mornings, we celebrate Shrove Tuesday on the Sunday prior with a fancy pancake breakfast. It helps that Sundays are traditional pancake breakfast days in our household, but we make this one ever more naughty with extra chocolate chips in our pancakes, and perhaps even a bit of Nutella on the side. Oh my!

Tea. After experiencing several health concerns that were exacerbated by coffee consumption, and after attempting to give up my love affair with java for the past several years, I have finally given it up. I still enjoy an espresso or a flat white from time to time (about once a month, to be exact), but tea has become my choice for a hot beverage. I love Earl Grey in the morning and drink green, rooibos, and mint tea throughout the day to stay warm and hydrated.

Essential oils. I enjoy using my oil diffuser to freshen the air in our home and keep the Wanderlust Juniors breathing easy at night. A few drops of eucalyptus oil work wonders for night-time congestion.

Electric blanket. At the end of the day, I look forward to snuggling in bed with Wanderlust Juniors while reading books to them before bedtime, then continuing to read my book until my eyelids become heavy. The warm fleecy blanket is a life saver on cold nights and makes bedtime reading even more enjoyable. The key is to remember to unplug it before falling asleep.

Fireside yoga. On chilly mornings, the thought of rolling out my mat in front of the blazing fireplace makes it much easier to get out of bed, and my muscles and joints thank me.

Epsom salt baths with lavender oil. This is my favourite weekly treat before bedtime, usually on Saturday nights.

Your turn! What helps to make your February a bit brighter? Please leave a comment below.

And remember, this is the shortest month of the year, so let’s enjoy it while it’s here. Spring surely must be lurking somewhere around the corner.

Little reminders

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On this last Sunday in January, I crave silence. My body wants to return to bed, snuggle under the fluffy duvet, retreat from responsibility. But the boys have politely asked for pancakes for breakfast, a favourite weekend tradition chez Wanderlust. They have been waiting patiently, playing downstairs, graciously granting us extra time to lie in. Our late breakfast, complete with leftover fruit salad the Wanderlust Juniors and I prepared the day before, is a welcome treat. Soon enough, we will get up and one of us will begin washing the dishes, then repairing the leaky faucet, while the other folds laundry with the help of Wanderlust Juniors. It’s a typical busy weekend morning.

Amid the busyness — oh, how ubiquitous that word has become, and how disliked — we allow ourselves pauses, making time to enjoy a cup of tea while reading an essay in a new favourite book; rolling out the yoga mat for a quick practice; watering the indoor plants and moving one of them to a new, brighter location where it immediately assumes a grateful appearance; knitting a few rows; or plucking the strings to create a melody. Those mini pauses are sweet reminders to make space to experience wonder.

Magic is waiting to be reawakened. It’s here, in the pile of freshly washed sheets and bathroom towels, as well as in the hoodies and jeans the pockets of which I forgot, yet again, to empty before throwing them in the wash. It’s in the chaos of the kitchen, the natural heart of our home, and in the solitude of the bedroom and the meticulously made bed, which inevitably attracts two enthusiastic boys who use it as a jumping pad.

The magic is there. It leaps out suddenly from a hilarious sentence uttered amid a serious discussion, when all pretenses are dropped and we start to breathe a little easier, snapping out of that bizarre spell, wondering yet again why we take ourselves so darn seriously so much of the time when joy is our natural state.

We need to take time out to remind ourselves of the strange pleasure of returning to the chaos, to the heart of our home, ready to greet our favourite people with renewed patience and compassion. Here and now, this is our calling. Would we really rather be anywhere else?

Are you enjoying there short essays? I would be grateful if you would also share them with your friends via email or social media. Thank you for reading!

Pantry declutter project: mung bean soup

I spent the weekend tidying the laundry room in our home and sorting through piles of paperwork that I had collected over the past several years. I’m also cooking my way through our kitchen pantry stash of beans, flours, and other items that we had purchased once upon a time within the past few years but have not used in substantial quantities.

On Sunday, I used a large quantity of flour to make play-doh for the youngest Wanderlust Junior’s classroom; banana pancakes for breakfast; banana and chocolate chip muffins for Wanderlust Juniors’ snack break at school; and a banana and chocolate chip loaf for our post-dinner dessert. I confess that my baking quest was not a result of attempting to bake my way through an entire bag of flour. Rather, there were too many very ripe bananas sitting on our kitchen counter, begging to be featured in several delicious ways.

Last week, I shared with you my recipe for banana, blueberry, and lavender muffins. This time, I will share with the result of my pantry declutter project: mung bean soup. I made a large pot of this flavourful, warming, grounding soup on Sunday afternoon for me and Mr. Wanderlust to enjoy at lunch all throughout the workweek.

Ground, warming mung bean soup recipe

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Ingredients:

2 cups dry mung bean

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small white or yellow onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely minced

3 carrots, finely chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped finely

1 green pepper, chopped finely

1 heaping tbsp tomato paste

Enough filtered water or vegetable stock (or a mixture of both) to cover the mung bean and vegetables, plus three additional inches of water and/or stock on top

1/4 tsp ground turmeric

1 tbsp curry powder

sea salt and pepper, to taste

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Preparation:

  1. Soak the mung bean overnight in a large pot in cold water. Before cooking the soup, rinse and drain the beans.
  2. In a large cooking pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil and cook the onions and garlic until they turn a golden brown colour.
  3. Add the carrots and celery and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the bell peppers and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Add the tomato paste, turmeric, and curry powder, and stir everything together.
  6. Add the salt and pepper and water and/or stock, cover and bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue to cook the soup, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour on low heat.
  8. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice, and stir once again.

I like to allow the soup to rest overnight, absorbing the flavour, and serve it the following day.

Do you have a favourite soup recipe that incorporates various legumes that just might be lurking in my pantry? Please share them with me in the comments below.

Do you know someone who might enjoy this recipe? Please share this blog post with a friend!

In the bleak midwinter, I shall bake muffins

The Wanderlust Juniors and I spent the first week of the new year with my parents in cottage country, where we slept in, enjoyed plenty of time outdoors in the fresh winter air, taking walks and playing in fluffy snow — almost knee-deep for me, and even deeper for them. It’s truly a pleasure to grant ourselves a vacation from the everyday bustle, to start the year on a quiet note, with a retreat from the city, immersed in silence.

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Through the wardrobe… Winter is magical.

It would be dishonest of me to say that I do not care about weather changes. Although I do enjoy winter weather, the limited exposure to sunlight does affect me, as it does many others. Yet, staying indoors for an entire day when it’s cold outside also doesn’t help to elevate my mood. That is why I do my best, whenever possible, to bundle up, pull on my big faux-fur winter boots, and head outside for a walk or to play with Wanderlust Juniors. Even 15 minutes outdoors make a tremendous difference, reminding me that the world continually changes, that nothing is ever static, and that we must grant ourselves the opportunity to slow down, take a few deep breaths, and reconnect to the greater world. Perhaps, we just might find that the midwinter is not all that bleak.

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Playtime! Snow angels in the winter sunshine.

After the outing, we go back inside for a large mug of steaming tea for me, and muffins for the boys. Here is my ‘go to’ muffin recipe:

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Banana, Blueberry, and Lavender Muffins

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup coconut sugar

1 tbsp baking powder

a pinch of fine sea salt

1-2 tsp culinary lavender (In Toronto, I purchase culinary lavender from Weir’s Lane Lavender & Apiary)

2 ripe bananas

1 egg

1 cup milk of your choice

1/3 cup vegetable oil, grape seed oil, or melted coconut oil

2/3 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F and lightly grease or line a 12-cup muffin baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lavender. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, thoroughly mash the bananas, then add the egg and whisk lightly. Add the oil and milk and continue to whisk until the mixture is uniform.
  4. Carefully pour the wet ingredients into a well in the centre of the bowl containing the dry ingredients. Gently fold in the blueberries, stirring carefully until the batter is just combined.
  5. Using a tablespoon, pour the batter evenly into 12 muffin cups.
  6. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool in the muffin baking pan, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Notes: I sometimes substitute chocolate chips for the blueberries, if you wish. Lavender reminds me of summer in the midst of the cold months; however, if you do not enjoy lavender, you may omit it entirely. The Wanderlust Juniors also love these muffins as a school snack.

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Please leave a comment below to share your tips for staying healthy and joyful throughout the winter months. Also, I would love to read about your favourite type of muffins. Thank you for sharing this blog with a friend!

Peppermint lip balm

When the weather outside is frightful my skin becomes particularly dry. I turn to my favourite sweet almond oil, cocoa butter, and essential oils to keep my skin and lips healthy over the winter season.

A playful, crafty mood and a shot of curiosity led me, several years ago, to create a recipe for peppermint lip balm that smells beautiful and works wonders. In addition, it can be made at home in under 15 minutes with a few ingredients:

  • Beeswax. I purchased a large 1 lb block of beeswax from a local online pharmacy two years ago, and still have plenty remaining. If using a block of beeswax, you will need to utilize a knife on a wooden chopping block to chip approximately 3/4 cup of beeswax. You may also purchase smaller beeswax pellets, which would save you some time and an arm workout.
  • Cocoa butter: approximately 1/2 cup.
  • Sweet almond oil: approximately 2/3 cup.
  • Peppermint essential oil: a few drops.
You will also need a few small containers for the balm. With this batch, I filled 12 small plastic containers that I found in the craft aisle of the local dollar store. I keep one for myself and gift the rest to family and friends.
The preparation is simple:

Melt the beeswax, and cocoa butter in a metal bowl over boiling water (double boiler technique), using a metal spoon to stir constantly, then carefully add the sweet almond oil.

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Melting beeswax and cocoa butter over a double boiler.

2. Add a few drops of peppermint oil. I added approximately eight drops to this batch and some might find it a bit spicy. The mint certainly will feel slightly cooling upon application.

3. Carefully and slowly pour the mixture into the prepared containers, dividing evenly. Allow the mixture to cool completely before screwing on the lids.

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Once completely cooled, the balm will feel solid. Only a tiny amount is needed to protect your lips from harsh wind and below-freezing temperature.
Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

A nourishing celebration

 

At 11 o’clock on Sunday, the stands at the local farmers’ market are abuzz not only with the greedy wasps that land on the juiciest ripe peaches. Shoppers with large cloth bags tucked under their elbows stroll leisurely along the lane, their eyes lit with pleasure as they inhale the fresh, colourful scents that surround them. Late summer’s harvest bounty is on full display. There is nothing demure about it. The plump eggplants and oversized zucchini are sensually bathed in light in golden straw baskets, the vendor knowing all too well that before long, they will be picked up gently by large warm hands that will appreciate their weight. The vegetables will be admired by eyes that will grow hungry at the sight of the deep velvet aubergine and green colours. They will feed many a mouth at today’s dinner.

“Mommy, can we buy strawberries?” the eldest Wanderlust Junior’s eyes smile at mine as we pass the perfectly shaped heaps of shiny berries glistening in the sun. It occurs to me that I can actually smell them from several feet away in the open air. I yearn to taste those berries.

The next moment, my gaze darts to the florist’s stand with its smorgasbord of colours, and I am inevitably pulled toward them. Beautiful food and flowers are two of my beloved simple pleasures.

“Sunflowers! I want to buy sunflowers!” they are the youngest Wanderlust Junior’s favourite. Amidst scarlet gerbera daisies, they will be the perfect delicate decoration for our small round dinner table.

We buy 250 g of freshly roasted coffee beans to bring home for Mr. Wanderlust. The after-lunch espresso fills our home with an irresistible aroma. I mean it! I rarely drink coffee these days, but I give into the temptation of a delicate cup after our lunch of freshly baked bread with smoked trout, soft chevre, and a salad of spinach and multicolour baby tomatoes drizzled with a dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, coarse Hawaiian sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, with those succulent strawberries for dessert. Simple. Delicious.

Last week, I read Elizabeth’s Bard 2010 memoir Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, in which she documents her move to the city and exploration of its culinary delights, the recipes for many of which are also shared in the book. As a Francophile, this book had been on my To Read list for the past few years, and I was glad to finally pick up a copy from the local library. I was familiar with recipes for several of the French staples, and ratatouille is on my annual rotation for the harvest season.

For dinner, I slowly sauté coarsely chopped onions in a generous amount of olive oil, gently moving them around the skillet until they are translucent and their sweet aroma cascades through the kitchen. I add chunks of aubergine, red and yellow peppers, and beefsteak tomatoes. I omit the zucchini today, since my preference is for the more flavourful smaller varieties, which weren’t to be found at the market this time. I sprinkle the beautiful medley with sea salt, black pepper, and a couple of pinches of oregano. After a few more minutes, the ratatouille is ready, the vegetables simmering in a perfectly thickened sauce. I serve it alongside fresh young potatoes coated with melted butter and chopped chives from my garden, then add a few pieces of leftover chicken breast. For dessert, we enjoy a yogurt cake made with ripe local nectarines (see photo above). The yogurt cake is a staple in many French homes, easy and quick to bake with basic ingredients that are likely already waiting in the pantry of the fridge. I enjoyed Bard’s version of this classic and will return to it over and over again.

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Ratatouille, simmering on the stove.

I have long been a fan of French cuisine, and not only for the recipes and variety of dishes. It’s the French attitude to food that inspires me, with an emphasis on slow cooking and eating, enjoying every bite. This style of food preparation and consumption celebrates each meal, whether it is a dinner served in honour of a special occasion or a simple lunch for one. I must say that weeknight dinners in our home tend of be rushed, but even then, I do my best to make every serving appear beautiful on the plate, presented with gratitude and tenderness. Weekend dinners are an opportunity for us to slow down, linger, and reconnect once again.

The weekend trip to the farmer’s market is itself an occasion, inviting us to browse, to caress, to close our eyes and smell the peaches, the tomatoes, to delight at the warmth of the corn nourished by the late August sunlight as an image forms in our minds of what we will prepare and serve for dinner. For me, a grocery shopping trip often feels like a chore, which is a perfect invitation to move slower, more mindfully, with complete presence as I purchase provisions for the school and work week. An excursion to the farmers’ market is different. It does not require coaxing. Later, after we return home, comes the meditation of stirring the onions in the skillet and observing their changing colour, listening closely for the subtle sizzle of the hot oil, breathing in the sweet scent. I smile as I adorn the table with flowers that tell their own story while eavesdropping on our pleasant dinner conversation. The entire experience is slow, intentional, inviting all our senses to join in the dance.

What’s not to celebrate?

Do you enjoy shopping at the farmers’ market? How do you cultivate presence while shopping for groceries and preparing meals at home?