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Peanut Butter Cookies and Sailing in Belize

     Earlier this year Jay’s sister, Jennifer, introduced us to a simple absolutely yummy recipe for Gluten Free Peanut Butter cookies.  These cookies are “to-die-for” delicious even though they are comprised of only 5 ingredients, and are so easy to make that I successfully whipped a batch up in the tiny galley and unpredictable oven of a 39 ft Beneteau during rolling seas and a torrential downpour with wind gusts up to 35 knots while sailing in Belize this summer. 
     It was our first day out on the boat and we were headed into new territory.  The briefing had left us somewhat terrified, noting there seemed to be a significant number of red Xs on the hand drawn chart they provided, indicating hidden reefs, pirates, or dangerous anchorage.  We duly noted where the 3 “hurricane anchorage spots” were in case we needed to hole up for a bit.  It was somewhat disturbing that one of the safe hurricane harbors was also the location of crocodiles and while it was safe to anchor, it was not safe to get in the water . . .
     The weather was moody and unpredictable as we left the Moorings base — it was the heart of hurricane season after all, and to be expected, I guess.  We made our way out the shallow passageway,  being careful to stay exactly on top of the way markers because straying meant going aground . . .  Within short order it began to rain.  It didn’t seem much like the tropical vacation we had all envisioned, but it was a change of scenery, and having to keep our wits about us added some excitement to the trip. 
     After sitting out on deck for an hour or so in the rain, I decided I would try to make us a treat that we could enjoy rain or not.  Luckily, while gluten free goods were virtually non-existent in Belize, all five ingredients needed to make our new favorite gluten free peanut butter cookies (namely, peanut butter, sugar, baking soda, vanilla and eggs) were readily available at the small Chinese/Latin American grocery store in Placencia.  (Funny thing that: Chinese people operate almost all the grocery stores in Belize! Kind of strange . . .)
     Going down below on a sailboat in bad weather is always something of an adventure unto itself.  I started mixing batter, and unlocked the gimbal on the oven, allowing it to swing wildly with the waves but still stay relatively level.  I heard scuffling above and glanced out into the cockpit.  Mom had just put on a life jacket (!) and was muttering something about 35 knot gusts . . . I went ahead with the cookies.
     We managed to tie up to a mooring ball at Wipari Cay and headed to shore, where we had high hopes that the restaurant would be open – but no such luck; instead within moments of stepping ashore, we got eaten alive by no seeums that came out with the rain, and received news from the proprietor that his restaurant had closed indefinitely.  No worries, back to the boat we went for tea and freshly baked cookies instead. 
     The weather calmed down enough to encourage us to hop  out for a quick snorkel.  Despite the stormy weather the water was warm – I called it “no hesitation” warm, warm enough, in fact, that we decided we’d be brave and go night diving later. 
     Night diving is just about the creepiest thing ever.  We had last gone night diving about 25 years ago.  During that trip we chanced upon a five foot lemon shark!  My response? I dropped the flashlight – not good!  With that memory swirling, I was more than a little scared as we slipped into the inky black water from the stern of the sailboat, but put up a brave front because Mom was considering trying it the next time we went out.  The shore seemed far away and the water where we were moored was so deep that our flashlights were only small tubes of light that never reached the bottom.  I held Jay’s hand as we crossed the distance to shallower waters.  Soon the nightlife started to appear in our flashlight beams.  We peaked around at beautiful coral formations and gasped when larger fish crossed into our vision.  Lobsters tend to come out of their hidey-holes at night and we chanced upon a big one.  We’d already caught one for the day, though, so we let it go. 
     The sea at night is even more mysterious and quiet than during the day.  You have very little peripheral vision.  So long as you stay engaged with examining all the beauty right in front of you, it all works out okay, but let your thoughts wander outside the periphery of your light to wonder what might be swimming just out of your vision . . . in the dark . . . and panic can set in quickly.  You have to stay relaxed and in awe–not thinking.  If you are lucky, you might be surprised by something rare, like the blue octopus we saw. I am sure night diving is a meditation technique itself.  Focus on what is in front of you, don’t let your thoughts run wild about what you can’t see or feel.  Relax, enjoy the beautiful mystery of life as it unfolds one beam at a time.
Screen Saver Land
     Our sailing trip had a few more rolling windy and rainy days but eventually the sun came out and stayed out.  This was  a good thing because we really needed the sunlight to maneuver between the coral reefs of some of the outer islands, like Pompion, Ranguana and Nicholas Cay.   There were reefs above and below the surface everywhere and while this was somewhat unnerving while we were underway, once we had tied up to a mooring ball or anchored it was like living in an aquarium, or as I thought of it,  “screen saver land.”  The water was clear and there was an abundance of different kinds of beautiful coral:  Brain coral, Pillar Coral, Staghorn Coral, Gorgonians, Sea Fans, Plume Worms, and many shades of sponges.  We also saw all kinds of beautiful reef fish most with fun names: Squirrelfish, Damselfish, Hawkfish, Porkfish, Parrotfish, Angelfish, Grunts, and the infamous Lionfish.  We went out of our way to look for the ugly but good to eat ones, like Grouper, Yellowtail Snapper and Barracuda. All in all, we snorkeled and spear fished 3–4 hours a day in the warm water with Jay providing one fish or lobster per day to supplement our meals.  For my contribution, I kept the peanut butter cookies coming for dessert and as soon as one batch was gone, I’d make another.  Every part of ourselves was nourished and nurtured.  At last, we relaxed. 
     Jay said this trip was like hitting a reset button on the computer once it has hung, where you have to actually hold the button down for some time to successfully reboot the system, just as we had  to actually get away for long enough in a completely different setting so that no everyday thoughts lingered, in order to reset our life.
     There is now a cozy memory corner I tuck myself into when I make Jennifer’s Peanut Butter cookies,  recalling fondly this recent sailing trip that we somehow successfully sandwiched in between a whole lot of work. 
     Mmmmmm peanut butter cookies. 
     Mmmmmm sailing in Belize. 
     Mmmmmmm what beautiful mystery will show up in my beam of life next?
Jennifer’s Peanut Butter (Chocolate Chip) Cookies
Original Recipe                                                            My variations
1 Cup extra crunchy peanut butter
(you can also just add chopped peanuts to creamy peanut butter)
1 Cup brown sugar
1 Cup Sucanat or Coconut Palm Sugar (which both have a lower glycemic index and taste perfect)
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)
I use Hershey’s sugar-free chocolate chips for me
On the boat I just crunched up a chocolate bar and added it
·      Preheat oven to 350 degrees
·      In a large mixing bowl, cream together peanut butter, sugar, egg, baking soda and vanilla
·      Fold in chocolate chips
·      Spoon by the tablespoon onto parchment paper-lined (or greased) cookie sheet
·      Bake for 10-12 minutes or longer for crispier cookies

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Meditation Retreats, Friendship, and Red Lentil Dal — an Indian Version of “Stone” Soup

     As a self-declared “peasant cook”  I have a natural affinity and appreciation for stone soup.  What could be better than combining all kinds of ingredients in the pot to create something new?  This recipe comes from – well all over the place, as it should–but essentially it is stone soup with an Indian flare.
     For me this soup has a way of stirring up memories hankering back to days of embarking on a spiritual journey, of attending and hosting meditation retreats, and of traveling to ashrams in India.   In fact before participating in a meditation community, I had never cooked Indian food and was unfamiliar with red lentils. I only knew of the larger brown lentils – and I didn’t much care for their very earthy flavor.  But red lentils, I found out, I like.  They are smaller, and both sweeter and a little nutty (something like the meditation community itself!)  They are a common main ingredient in vegetarian dal, and as such are full of protein and very filling.   They are the perfect starting ingredient to feed a large crowd.   They are the stone in this stone soup. The basic recipe for this red lentil soup, also known as Masur Dal, shown in the picture attached, was originally copied down at a gathering with fellow meditators.
     The legend of stone soup, while it starts out as a kind of trick, ends up being about a gathering of community–of coming together and sharing–of letting go of individual belongings to create something greater.  Do you recall the story?
     Weary travelers–let’s call them gypsies — come to a village carrying nothing more than an empty pot.   They are starving when they arrive but the villagers are not willing to share any of their food.  So the gypsies fill the pot with water and drop a stone in the pot. The actions spark the curiosity of the villagers. They ask the gypsies what they are cooking.  “Stone Soup” is the reply. “Come join us!” they say.  “It’s quite tasty, although it would benefit from a little salt.”  One villager decides he doesn’t mind parting with a little seasoning to help them out.   The gypsies stir the pot.  “It’s very good, but a carrot might add something too.”  Another villager decides he can offer up a carrot. “Maybe some pepper … “  And so word gets out and soon all the villagers have come round the pot, bearing their own addition to the soup pot.   As each villager lets go of something from his or her own cupboard, the soup is enriched and grows more delicious, and the villagers instead of resenting feeding the gypsies, anxiously await the new concoction and ultimately appreciate the potential for new friendship.
     A meditation gathering, coincidentally, is much the same–although perhaps the opposite is happening.  Weary travelers on our own spiritual journey, we gather together for support, initially unknowingly hanging on tightly to our thoughts and beliefs.  As we sit with our own self–we notice our thoughts and we practice gently letting them go.  Ultimately, we discover something more–a quiet fullness that is present in the gaps between our thoughts.  Later, we share with the group our experiences.  And, as a result of sharing our intimate selves with other, we gain friends.  
     So while a full pot is the hope of the stone soup ritual and an empty mind is the hope of a meditation retreat–it comes from the same principal of letting go of our attachments and opening to something unknown with curiosity.  And, whether we empty our minds or fill our pots,  when we come together in friendship and share, something greater than the individual is bound to be experienced.
     And so it was that my spiritual journey encouraged me to be curious and ultimately led me to meet new people and to have all kinds of new experiences, including enjoying new and delightful foods.  As Jay and I got to know the meditation community, it came to pass that we offered to host meditation retreats at our house.  We would gather in communal spirit for several days and nights together.  Because the intention was to meditate – not to host a party – the eating arrangements were to be vegetarian and very simple:  yoghurt, granola, fruit and nuts in the morning; fruit in the afternoon; a one pot meal plus salad in the evening.  All the guests brought potluck ingredients so that nobody was too burdened with cooking obligations.  We took turns being responsible for the evening meal.  
     At the end of one of these retreats, our good friend and meditation teacher Durga, announced that she was going to make an Indian Masur Dal. I watched her fill a large pan with small very pretty tiny red beans and was immediately intrigued.  What are those?  How do you cook them?  She rinsed the red lentils and added water to the large pot.  She had set out turmeric, coriander, cumin, ginger, garlic, curry and coconut milk.  She indicated the rest of the ingredients would come from leftovers of earlier meals. 
     I can’t help but pause now, thinking of Durga.  Let me just say Durga is truly a force unto nature herself – small in stature, but large in spirit and exuberance (and hair J) she fills a room with her presence.  Her name, which represents a Hindu goddess, is a kind of spiritual stone soup in itself:  Durga is said to combine the energies of all the gods and the weapons depicted in her many arms are weapons given to her by various gods:  Rudra’s trident, Vishnu’s discus, Indra’s thunderbolt, Brahma’s kamandalu, Kuber’s Ratnahar.  Whatever the case, in the last 15 years, my stone soup friend, Durga, has taught me much about meditation and about the spiritual journey, but perhaps most about friendship — Durga understands the value of friendship, and honors it as a supreme spiritual path unto itself.   For Durga, friendship is the stone in her spiritual soup.
     But back to the red lentil soup . . . as Durga indicated that day, once you have the basics, you can add whatever else you want.  The last time I made this, I literally added all the leftovers in my fridge: tofu, potatoes, peas, broccoli, bell peppers, rice, onions, pesto . . .  Shortly afterwards, we went on a mini vacation, but there was still some left.  I asked our pet sitter to give Gypsy (our dog) some on top of her food.  Gypsy, who once was a  stray, always gets some sort of human food on her dog crunchies.  I figured she was used to foraging for human leftovers;  she so clearly loves them all.  Besides, it makes me smile to add some to her dinner every night – dogs should enjoy stone soup too!
     When we returned our pet sitter had left us a note.  “Everything went well.  By the way, what was that soup that I put on top of Gypsy’s food?  It looked delicious!  Can I have the recipe?”   
     So here it is, friends – a stone soup with an Indian flare honoring the soul searching Gypsy in all of us.
Basic Recipe:
1 cup red lentils
3 Tbl olive oil
1 onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic
½ tsp minced ginger
I usually use more
1/2 tsp turmeric
½ tsp – 1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp crushed pepper
3 cups water or chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
Common additional ingredients:
1 can or 2 tomatoes, diced
1 carrot, chopped or grated
1 -2 bell pepper, chopped
½ bunch green onions, chopped
Lemon or lime juice
Cilantro or parsley to garnish
Options for the “stone soup” part:
I tend to add whatever leftovers I have
cooked potatoes
cooked rice or quinoa
Jalapenos or cayenne
Cooked broccoli
  • Heat the oil in a big pot and cook onions and garlic for a couple of minutes
  • Add green onions, peppers, and carrots. Stir for 5 minutes
  • Add tomatoes, ginger, turmeric, curry, cumin, coriander, garam masala, cumin, mustard seeds, crushed peppers, and salt. 
  • Stir for another 5 minutes, and add red lentils and water or broth
  • Bring to boil then simmer until done
  • Pour in coconut milk and simmer 10 more minutes 
  • Add cooked leftovers
  • Garnish with cilantro. Squeeze a little lemon or lime juice on the soup.

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