Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I'm Unraveling

“It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, 
and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”

~ Wendell Berry 

   Here is where I am, and frankly, it’s a bit uncomfortable.  Look over there, up and to the right…on that side bar.  See what it says?  I only wrote in here one time last year.  Once.  August 2011.  That kind of blows my mind, and reminds me of being a kid, when adults would yammer on about how time passes more quickly when you’re older.  It’s so true.

It’s also true that I’ve been experiencing a sort of inverse writers’ block.  I haven’t been lacking in ideas; in fact, I’ve been inundated with ideas, but the more I let pass without writing, the more overwhelming it became to find a place to begin.  Yet, unraveling all the thoughts in my head isn’t something I’ve had the energy for this past year and a half.  I’ve been a woman of action, leaving zero time for anything else.

I’ve been doing a lot of unraveling lately…oh-so-slowly unraveling my thoughts.  It’s a rather powerful act when you really take the time to do it.  I was sort of forced into taking the time when my body did a total system shutdown, and here I find myself, in the midst of a medical-leave-of-absence from work.  It’s been eight weeks today, which is shocking because I thought I’d be better in two.  But I started out in a rather deep well of denial about my health.

Every issue is far more complex than we first give it credit for.  The spiral that ended with an elegant crash and burn in January, was precipitated by a perfect storm of events, one of which was a decision I’d made to explore the idea that Fibromyalgia isn’t real, that I just needed to grow up and “handle things” like other adults.  I’d also entered a state of manic obsession in my cooking adventures, leading me to utterly ignore the signals my body was sending.  And it must be said, much of my final collision can be traced right back to turning forty in October.  I’m sure you know where this is going.  It is so cliché, but I found myself in a bit of a mid-life crisis, and I acted out in some pretty typical ways, and blah, blah, well, you get the idea…talk about unraveling. 

So, here is where I am.  I acknowledge that I have a health condition. I’m attempting to identify what my body is telling me without judgment, while embracing the woman I am at forty.  At the same time I’m working to unravel the mind-body entanglement that compounds my health issues, so I can live well, and with authenticity.  My lifestyle is so mellow these days; it’s just crazy that I’m not getting better faster.  I go to bed obscenely early, a bit after 8:00, and I read.  I am in bed for ten to twelve hours most days, asleep for eight if I’m lucky.  My diet is healthy, I exercise daily, and I do relaxing things like read, write, garden, chat, and pet my cat.  I drink little alcohol; I rarely eat sweets.  I almost never drink coffee.  I go to therapy twice weekly, I see a physical therapist, and I get the occasional massage.  This may seem a bit extreme, but I really want to get better.

And yet, here I sit, eight weeks into my leave, pain discouragingly coiled around my shoulder and back while I write.  But, this is where I am.  And I am improving, but at a pace out of my control.  In all my recent unraveling I’ve learned I’m really good at packaging things into pretty little boxes.  Pushing through, meeting goals, and setting timelines…these are my tools of choice.  I’m not as adept at sitting still in discomfort or pain, allowing things to resolve in their own proper time.  I’m not that great at sitting still at all, actually.  So here I am: quite still, trying to be present, slowly unraveling my way forward.     

Monday, August 8, 2011

back in the saddle

There comes a time when you’ve just gotta get back up on the horse.  Staring up into its nostrils won’t do you any good, you need to feel the reins in your hand, find your balance, get some momentum going again.  It’s been ten months or so since I’ve written in here, and even my attempts last fall were forced.  The longer I was away, the more I built up to say, the more recipes I wanted to share, experiences I wanted to document, and the more impossible it became to begin. 

There are probably fifty excuses I could scribe as to why I didn’t just sit down and do it, but I’m bored just thinking about it, so I won’t drag you through the gory details.  Let’s just say, last year was rough.  And yet…  Have you ever noticed that the most difficult times, are often the richest?  The times we make the biggest leaps, the greatest gains?  In the easy times, when spirit is in homeostasis, we don’t search; we’re not available to transformation like we are when we feel utterly out of sorts.  This past year was one of riding out the angst, staying open to the shift I knew was at hand.

And now I’m walking the line between two very distinct parts of myself, between my past and my future.  This is an uncomfortable place, but it’s active, alive, and utterly breathtaking.  Every step feels filled with meaning and possibility, and the adrenaline coursing through my body makes me want to run a lap every other hour. 

I spent two weeks in Paso Robles alone in July, trying to get a sense of what my next step ought to be.  It was a blessed time with visits from all manner of wildlife…

 …and adventures that took me deep into the nooks and crannys of the area, convincing me ever more of the unsettling truth that I want to be there; and not just for vacation. 

There is more, but in the spirit of getting something written and posted, (and not boring you with a 150-page memoir) let me just say, things are evolving at a rapid pace over here.  Change is in the air, and I’m working on staying grounded enough to allow the evolution to happen as it should.  Which is an appropriately awkward segue way into the recipe I want to share with you…

I made this for my family last weekend.  I had returned from my solo adventure with a bunch of rhubarb from the garden where I was staying.  I’d never eaten rhubarb, let alone cooked with it, and yet in my mind it is so quintessentially linked to American summer dishes; it was time.  This is the evolution of a few different recipes I’ve happened upon over the years, it’s oldest roots dating back to 1992, to Eleanor at Hollywood Presbyterian Church.  I was in the City Dwellers program, living with six other people doing urban ministry, and she was a supporter, and recent cafe entrepreneur.  When there was food left at the end of the day, she’d send it our way, which we greatly appreciated, being twenty-somethings with few resources for eating good food.  My favorite of her treats was the apple crisp, and I begged for the recipe before my time there was through; I’ve been making it ever since, with the ratios now committed to memory. 

I combined Eleanor’s Apple Crisp recipe with one that Heidi Swanson recently posted for a Rhubarb-Strawberry Crumble, and another that Molly Wizenburg posted last year for Roasted Rhubarb.  I was skeptical of rhubarb, as I hear very mixed reviews, but…it’s a revelation!  It’s tartness, bubbling with all that strawberry, is nothing short of divine.  Luscious, really.  This might be my favorite crisp ever, and I highly recommend you go, find rhubarb, and make this.  Serve it with vanilla ice cream, or lightly sweetened fresh whipped cream.  Or plain yogurt for breakfast.  Or just eat it cold, from the pan, while standing in front of the refrigerator, with a spoon.      

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

1 cup All-Purpose Flour
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup oats
1 tsp. salt
fresh cracked pepper to taste
½ cup cold butter cut into pieces (1 stick)
½ cup toasted pecans, chopped and cooled

9 oz. (or more!) rhubarb sliced into ½ inch pieces
1 lb. strawberries sliced
¼ cup crisp white wine
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. white flour
½ cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
To make the topping, mix flour, brown sugar, oats, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.  Cut in the butter using a pastry blender, fork, or your hands, until the butter is crumbled into the dry mixture in pea-sized pieces.  Add the pecans and put in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.

In another bowl mix the strawberries and rhubarb together.  Toss the sugar in with the fruit and let it sit for a few minutes.  Measure the wine into a measuring cup and add the vanilla to it.  Toss the wine mixture with the fruit.  Sprinkle the flour over the fruit, and toss to combine. 

Place the fruit mixture in a 9x9 baking dish, or other equivalent sized gratin dish.  Take the topping out of the freezer and crumble over the fruit.  Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the fruit is gorgeous and bubbling through the topping.  Let cool a few minutes and enjoy in any manner that pleases you.  It can be made several hours ahead and reheated just before serving.  To reheat, place in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fog Always Lifts

I was sitting in Mr. Nara’s 11th grade English class the first time I felt excruciating pain.  We were reading Siddhartha, delving into his journey towards enlightenment via gritty human experience.  I loved that book, and Mr. Nara’s class was one of the few I truly enjoyed, yet the severity of pain was such that it felt like someone was ramming a rod into my spine.  Repeatedly.  So I left class and awkwardly made my way to the family chiropractor.  He did a little intake, walked me to an open room, and had me stand and wait while he pushed a button that would take an x-ray of my back.  I stood, and I waited, and before the deed was done all went black and I flat out fainted. 

Going back several years, my childhood was marked by the earnest use of sick-fakery techniques.  My trickery was so full proof it landed me back in third grade for a second go.  I guess I’d missed a bit too much school.  Oops.  As an emerging adult, my early delinquency manifested in a total distrust of my own signals for pain and sickness.  I not only distrusted my own signals, I was positive, paranoid even, that people didn’t believe me when I said I was unwell.  The fainting incident, while unnerving, was the one and only time to date, that I (and in my mind, everyone else) had unequivocal proof that something was really wrong. 

Pain has been my constant companion since that dramatic day.  I’ve seen doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, and specialists, all leading to the elusive diagnosis ten years later, that I have fibromyalgia.  It is my own poetic irony that having had such a seedy beginning with being “sick” I would later be told I had a health condition that is basically immeasurable, and is brimming in medical controversy.  A diagnosis is based solely upon a patient’s own report of pain; and many people, laymen and professionals alike, scoff at such mansy-pansy doctoring.  If it can’t be empirically measured with tests, then it simply ain’t real.

A decade has passed since that diagnosis, and up until two months ago, I’ve managed it pretty well.  That’s what I was told; that there isn’t a cure, there is only “management.”  Yoga, swimming, walking, a healthy diet, minimum stress, avoidance of extremes, and most importantly, sleep; these were the keys to living a life with fibro.

Last year was a personal best.  Life, of course, wasn’t perfect, but I was content.  I was in the best shape of my life, doing yoga four times a week, eating well, and simply loving life.  Then I got cocky while doing a reverse prayer pose, an injury occurred, and pain began to restrict the use of my right arm.  I stubbornly continued doing yoga for a few more months, until it became clear that if I didn’t slow down and let my arm heal, I’d be sorry.  Yet, four months after my deceleration, and my symptoms have been snowballing far beyond the simple arm injury, putting my ability to manage things to the test.  In two months I’ve missed more work than all of last year combined.  Pain, sleeplessness, cognitive dysfunction (a.k.a. brain fog), listlessness, and unexplainable exhaustion have stuck to me like glue.  It feels like no matter what I do, I just can’t shake ‘em; and of course, no doctor can measure any of the above, making it difficult to get help. 

A few weeks ago I was hit with the most excruciating pain I’d ever felt.  Over the course of two weeks the pain camped out in various areas of my body, and whether I was sitting, standing, walking, or laying down it did not seem obliged to move on.  In fact, the knots seemed to multiply like those evil Gremlins, digging in and grabbing hold, trying to shake me into submission.  From the top of my neck, down my arms, up my shoulders, along my spine, and into the wings of my back, pain had the upper hand.  The physical therapist I’d been sent to simply didn’t get it, and everything he did exacerbated the pain. Exponentially.  I began to feel much like this.

Thank God for Alison, my oldest friend, also a physical therapist.  She worked on me one night, performing some craneo-something or other, along with some gentle massage, and I woke up the next morning feeling like Lazarus brought back to life.  I was not cured, but the web of pain that had been criss-crossing all over my backside was partially released.  A miracle, that was.

I’m not gonna lie, feeling that kind of pain for two weeks straight was almost unendurable.  But honestly, what I’ve hated most these past months is the lack of motivation that’s been pervading my body.  Normally, I have energy in abundance, I am brimming with ideas, and I seize every moment in my pursuit of abundant living.  But I can barely handle work right now, let alone the maintenance of my daily life.  Goals?  Dreams?  They’re around here somewhere, but far, far off the radar at the moment. 

And now I find myself at the crossroads of this essay, the moment of truth, the crux of this wordy revelation.  The reason I write, nine times out of ten, is to get something out of my body, and make peace with it.  I wax poetic on my predicament for a bit, as I slowly come to terms with the wisdom that I already possess, but have chosen to ignore.  Here’s what I can glean in this moment:

  1. I know the most difficult experiences have the greatest power to transform me into the fullness of myself.  
  1. I know the nature of that transformation is such that the process of getting there must be uncomfortable.  Period.
  1. Looking back at every crappy experience I’ve had, I can say without a doubt that I am grateful for the gifts each one brought…even though it sucked. 
  1. My body is telling me to take a chill pill and relax.  I should listen. 
  1. I have endless reserves of resourcefulness, strength and hope, even if many days I feel weak and discouraged.
  1. I have not yet given this everything I’ve got.  There is hope in that. 
  1. Warm Milk with Honey and Vanilla is a valuable resource for times such as these.  Drink when sleep does not come easily.

Adapted from Winnie-the-Pooh’s Teatime Cookbook

1 cup milk
1/2 spoonful honey
1 drizzle vanilla

Combine milk, honey, and vanilla in a small saucepan and heat over medium until milk is steamy and warmed through.  Do not boil.  Drink in a warm bed with a good book.    

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tiptoe Into Fall

Every October I find myself in the same seasonal predicament: Cling to summer?  Or tiptoe into fall?  Our temperamental So-Cal weather loves to tease that fall is here then plunge right back into 90° weather, making my predicament even more confusing.  I mean, I love summer!  Who doesn’t?  Warm evenings spent outdoors with loved ones, sun-ripened fruits, and garden fresh veggies; summer is a time of activity and great adventures, a season to live fully, from sun-up to sundown. 

Summer is abundant in qualities that make you feel alive, but if backed into a corner and forced to choose, I’d pick autumn every time.  I anxiously await the first opportunity to build a fire in my mom’s kitchen hearth, to sit chatting while looking out the window at the fog-hugged landscape.  During fall I naturally go inward and get cozy with myself, reminiscing the prior season’s wild adventures, envisioning the year to come.  

Perhaps my love of fall has something to do with being an October baby.  Of course being the Jen that I am, it may simply be the way the food and the weather play together so nicely this time of year.  There’s just something about a rich braised stew when the night is cold and windy, and nothing beats a rainy afternoon spent with a hot bowl of soup and crusty warm bread.

I love the way fall makes idle solitude feel productive, and time spent with community feel transcendent.  And, truly…nothing brings idle and community together like a cozy breakfast on a beautiful fall morning.  Imagine your house is warm, filled with people you love to hang out with for no reason in particular.  The aromas of toasty bread, cheese, eggs, and herbs waft through the house, and mingle with the smell of coffee and the sound of laughter.  Meanwhile the morning is cool and crisp, and the light is clear as crystal. Imagine you look up and realize you’ve been sitting around the table for hours, eating, talking, and refilling coffee, and nothing on your to-do-list has been crossed off.  And yet, you know, this was not time wasted.  This morning was an investment in a life well lived. 


1 1-pound loaf french, or rustic bread, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pound asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch lengths
¼ pound prosciutto torn into 2 inch pieces
9 large eggs
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups grated Gruyère cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh marjoram

Several hours before assembling, place bread on 2 large baking sheets and let sit uncovered to dry out.  Cook asparagus in medium pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender; about 3 minutes.  Drain and rinse under cold running water to stop cooking. Drain well and pat dry.

Whisk eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in large bowl. Mix cheeses and herbs in medium bowl. Place half of bread in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle with half the asparagus, half the prosciutto, then half of cheese mixture. Pour half of egg mixture over the first layer. Repeat with remaining bread, asparagus, prosciutto, cheese mixture, and egg mixture. Let stand 20 minutes, pressing with spatula to submerge bread pieces.  If assembling the night before serving, cover and refrigerate overnight.  Bring to room temperature before baking.  Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake bread pudding until brown and puffed, about 45 minutes. Cool 10 minutes and serve.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Peachy Keen

Ah, I had such plans for my five weeks off this summer!  I would cook! I would write!  Instead, I got sucked into some sort of hazy summer wormhole.  It grabbed hold as soon as I could relax and spit me out about three weeks later, dizzy and confused, feeling like I’d been abducted by aliens and had my memory wiped clean.  I re-emerged just in time to plan a solo road trip in which I spent a week eating and drinking my way up and around California.  A few more days of relaxing at home and it was back to work to begin the cycle of a new school year. 
I went into my time off with a list of recipes I wanted to share, and things I wanted to write about in here.  But things don’t always work out the way you plan.  Well, things rarely do, it seems.  And I’m learning to roll with what is, rather than clinging to what I want things to be.  So, I didn’t write.  And yet, there are things that must be shared before it’s too late.  Like this peach salad, for example.  I’ve labored over the clever angles I could take in sharing this with you.  But nothing’s coming, summer’s winding down, and the peaches will be gone before we know it.  So, I'll share it anyway, clever angle, or no. 

It was a gypsy musician I dated four summers ago who introduced me to this simple dish. When I met him in August '06, I was reeling from an awfully significant breakup, and had all the complicated issues to go with it.  As often happens when we rebound quickly, he became the catalyst of mind-blowing growth in my life, and as a result, I was able to give myself a good honest look in the proverbial mirror.  I would not be the stellar person I am today if it weren't for that time, so I am deeply grateful to him for that.  (He did have to put up with a little bit of crazy along the way.)  But seriously, I’m not sure which deserves more thanks: the personal growth he influenced, or the stunning peach salad he shared with me. 

I was actually skeptical when he suggested making it.  I wasn’t a big fan of peaches growing up.  The ones I’d had were shallow in flavor, minimally sweet, and then there was that fuzz…way too much fuzz.  But I can honestly say, this salad has changed my life, and clearly for the better.  I now wait anxiously for the first show of peaches at the farmer’s market, and on a good year, I can enjoy them from March to October.  One vendor in particular has the most amazing varieties, some soft, others crunchy, but all profoundly deep in flavor with just the right amount of sweet.  And I don’t know if peaches aren’t as fuzzy as they once were, but I have yet to run across any whose fuzz gets in the way of this salad.  

This is my favorite dish to throw together on the fly for friends on lingering summer afternoons, or late at night after a few drinks out.  It takes all of five minutes to assemble, and that includes walking out to the garden to pick the basil. It’s so painlessly simple, yet it’s as satisfying as the most complex of dishes.  People love to have their minds blown by unexpected food combinations, and this little salad really does the trick.  People’s brows furrow when they see it, and their eyes light up, as they process the obviously perfect combination of these ingredients they’d never thought to unite.

So, in conclusion, here's my advice.  Get yourself to the next farmer’s market, find the best peaches you can, and make this salad.  Eat it straight from the bowl.  Or make it pretty on a platter and share it with friends.  Or eat it straight from the bowl with friends.  Enjoy it with a glass of a crisp white wine, a flute of something sparkling, or some ice cold water with lime.  Really, you don’t need to fuss, because it’ll blow your mind, just because it’s so easy, and so pretty, and so darn good. 


Don’t skimp on the ingredients in this dish.  It’s so simple that every part plays a starring role, making or breaking the overall experience.

3-4 peaches
8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese 
1/4-1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
Good olive oil (I use Columela)
Coarse sea salt (such as Maldon)
Freshly ground pepper

Cut the peaches and mozzarella however you’d like.  Sometimes I chop everything into large chunks and toss them in a bowl, other times I slice them pretty and lay them on a platter.  Whatever you decide, first, toss the peaches and the cheese with the hand-torn basil, and a glug or two of olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Couldn't be simpler.  

Monday, May 31, 2010

Some foods are like that.

There are dishes I make for the fun of the try, and never make again, and there are others that are crucial to the consistent and rhythmic spinning of my world. One such recipe is so ingrained into my life, that each episode of preparation takes me on a pilgrimage through several chapters of my past. Every single time I make it, memories fly through my mind like a windstorm, a gale leaving me unsteady from the force, the fragrance of loss, and community and laughter lingering in its wake.

You wouldn’t expect such personal drama to be evoked from a simple Caesar Salad, but this one is different. It’s my secret weapon, my Trojan horse. This salad catches people off guard, when they’re expecting something dull and ordinary, but instead are satisfied in an almost primal way. It leaves you feeling nourished, nurtured and completely satisfied, a simple meal that has somehow woven together the years, and the disparate pieces of my life.

This Caesar Salad has been a trusted companion through at least three of my recent past lives. When I was a family of four, it was a weekly tradition, eaten by candlelight, shared with two growing girls and a good-hearted man. The little one’s first triumph of reading came during one of those meals, a ritual-prayer the object of her determined syllabic odyssey.

It’s been present at countless community gatherings: family dinners, meals with girlfriends, holiday potlucks, and the like. Flashes from various events add to the soliloquy of images that come up each time I make this meal. I see a composite of myself over the past nine years, Caesar and red wine abounding, stories, jokes and dreams swapped with those who have co-starred in the story of my life. Some foods are like that. They hold a power over us, like Christmas rituals we refuse to let go, or birthday traditions that glue the years together.

What gets me every time I make it is thinking about how this salad has evolved over the years. It is not the same recipe I first attempted, and its evolution is a direct manifestation of those who’ve enjoyed it with me. The routine actions of seasoning croutons, buying dijon, and blending these basic ingredients, transport me to places in my memory where the ghosts of friends, current and former reside. Their influence is clearly visible as I ponder the unconventional additions I might toss into my final salad. As I sit down to eat, I send thanks to the universe for those who swept through my recollection while I prepared my meal. Each has been a significant part of my life at one point or another; each has left a culinary legacy that will linger, for as long as we make this salad.

Jen's Caesar Salad
Adapted from Bon Appetit July, 2001

I love this salad and always have the ingredients on hand in my refrigerator. The dressing keeps well for a good month, so make a big batch and enjoy it at the end of a rough day, or throw it together for an impromptu meal with friends. It's delicious with sliced apples or grilled chicken added. Or, for an easy elegant meal, marinate a steak in olive oil, rosemary and garlic, salt and pepper the heck out of it, grill it and lay it thinly sliced atop the salad. Serve with a tasty bottle of red.

*Note to the anchovy averse: I was an anchovy avoider when I first made this recipe, yet I knew that the caesar dressings I'd enjoyed had anchovy in them, even though I couldn't taste it. I have experimented over the years, beginning with no anchovy, and increasing to almost following the recipe (16 filets!). The amount in this is minimal, but necessary. Trust me at least one time, open your mind, and take a risk; make it with the anchovies. I promise, you won't be sorry.

For dressing:
1 cup finely grated aged Parmesan cheese
3-5 anchovy fillets (depending on size and preference)
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
6 garlic cloves
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups olive oil

For croutons:
Olive oil
1 garlic clove
Cayenne pepper
4 slices day old bread (I use my favorite multigrain)
Salt and fresh pepper

For salad:
Washed and coarsely torn romaine lettuce leaves
Large handful of arugula
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Combine Parmesan, anchovies, lemon juice, garlic cloves, and mustard in processor; blend well, until it is a smooth paste. This may take a while, and the sound of the blender may drive you nuts, but keep at it until it is creamy and luscious looking. With processor running, slowly add olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cut tip off garlic and peel. Rub garlic over al sides of the bread. Brush bread with olive oil and cut into bite sized cubes. Spread out bread cubes on rimmed baking sheet. Season generously with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Bake just until croutons are golden, tossing them about occasionally, 15-20 minutes.

Place romaine and arugula in a large bowl, along with any other ingredients you feel like adding. Add dressing a little at a time, and a handful of grated Parmesan cheese. Toss to coat. Add croutons and toss well.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Smoke Signals

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
~ Mary Oliver

My current work year began amidst fire and smoke and ash. For weeks, the mountains above our school were consumed with flames, the air heavy with smoke, a cloak of ash weighing on everything for miles around. In what seemed like a direct parallel to the state of emergency that surrounded me, I entered the year feeling restless and at odds with my life. A fiery passion I could neither identify nor satisfy was simply brimming over, and it was clear that something new was at work within me.

I’m sure it’s no surprise that in an effort to cope with my inner commotion I turned to cooking. My own little food revolution commenced, and I began to cook on a level I‘d never attempted before, planning meals in courses, pairing wines, and trying dishes I’d known of, but never prepared myself. What I once would have dubbed “having a few friends for dinner” turned into full-fledged dinner parties, surprising even me with their quality of experiential transcendence. Of course, the more these events took place, the more restless I became at work, and I began to obsess about moving in a completely new direction with my life.

Over several months I considered every food related path I could think of, giving each its moment in the sun and careful consideration. The ideas ranged from teaching cooking and gardening in high school, to working on a farm, interning in a restaurant kitchen, or even starting my own little café. The ideas came and went, and while each was intriguing in one way or another, not a single one felt right. Tucking my frustration in my back pocket, I let my passion be my guide, and kept cooking and entertaining, trusting the answer would reveal itself in time.

Then, as the first decade of the century came to a close, I began to write. I don’t think I had a choice in that. Ideas would fester like smoldering wood, haunting me with their ghostly presence until I gave them form. Once expressed, the urgency would leave, and I’d feel grounded and calm and released. I was not three weeks into my new writing adventure when the answer came to me clear as day. Early one morning I awoke from a dream and sprung out of bed like sparks from a fire. In an instant, the questions dissipated and I felt absolute clarity about what I want to do with my life…what I’ve always wanted to do.

I was eighteen the first time I stayed at a Bed & Breakfast. My friend Elona and I were on a road trip around California and for some reason we were obsessed with staying at B&B’s. I’m not even sure when I first learned of their existence, as they made no appearance in my childhood that I recall. My first experience was at an understated little place, an extra room that a sweet old lady offered by the night for a decent price. From then on I was captivated, and every vacation I took was an opportunity to experience yet another independent Inn. I began to read about establishments all over the world, fascinated by the experiences Innkeepers would create for their guests. In the quiet corners of my thoughts I’d spend unguarded moments dreaming of creating my own Bed & Breakfast someday. But I’d catch the thoughts before they went too far, reminding myself that only retired people with money can do such things, filing the idea away in my mind under the dreary designation IMPOSSIBLE.

It’s amazing to me how adeptly we can hide things from ourselves. Over the past eleven years, while I diligently worked on earning my teaching credential in Spanish, then my master’s in counseling, I also worked on perfecting the craft of hospitality. I have been honing my skills as a cook, and creating the garden of flowers, and edibles that surrounds the little pink house I rent. I’ve been playing with interior decorating, experimenting with color and space to create a home that would give my guests a sense of peace and release when they walked through the door. More importantly, I’ve been attempting to perfect the talent of hosting, learning what puts people at ease, and makes them feel cared for, relaxed and refreshed.

All this homemaking meant putting money into a house I did not own, which would nag at me considerably as I began each new project. But every time I tried to talk myself out of the latest scheme, I’d tell myself, “It’s ok, I’m practicing. None of this is wasted. This time and money is an investment in something bigger.” Over and over I repeated it to myself like a mantra…I just hadn’t let myself in on the secret of what I was practicing for, and honestly, I never thought to ask.

Since the dramatic opening of school last Fall, the landscape of my inner life has been undergoing a controlled burn of sorts. The extraneous and unnecessary has been cleared away, making room for the growth of something that’s been lying dormant for years. Like the seeds of the sequoia whose germination is dependent upon heat and flames to breakdown its outer shell, I seem to have needed a year of chaos and confusion to open my awareness to what was right in front of me all along.

Among the Australian aboriginal people,
there are big dreams and little dreams.
A big dream must not be ignored.
It may be big enough to clarify and enlarge your purpose here,
big enough for you to find the story of your life inside it.
~ Robert Moss