Falling in love was unexpected.

When my spouse suggested a trip to Antarctica, I was apprehensive.  It’s so far away and uncivilized.  Not to mention, cold.  But, KC is an adventurer at heart, and I’m smart enough to know not to pass up a once in a lifetime trip.  Plus, her world traveling 85 year old cousin, Rita, said Antarctica was the best place she’d ever visited.  So, more than a year ago, we booked our trip to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions.  As an aside, I’d travel again in a heartbeat with Quark.  They are a top notch environmentally conscious company that kept us riveted with adventure and education from start to finish.  Bravo, Quark!

Antarctica is the coldest, highest and driest continent on earth.  It has no permanent human population.  Yet, many countries lay claim to its various territories.  Thankfully, those countries have agreed to disagree by signing the Antarctic Treaty.  The thrust of the treaty is to ban military activity and to protect Antarctica for scientific and conservation purposes.  I hope the treaty holds and that Antarctica remains a land owned by no country.  Yet, protected by the world for peaceful purposes. 

Our journey to Antarctica began in Ushuaia, Argentina.  Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world situated at the tip of South America.  The city is nestled between the Martial Mountains of the Andes and the Beagle Channel.  The Beagle Channel is a 150 mile long straight that ends at Cape Horn where the Drake Passage begins.  The Drake Passage is a narrow 500 mile wide stretch of wild water where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet.  There are no land masses to impede the wind around this stretch of the globe and the water funneled through the narrow passage make this the most violent ocean on the planet.  Needless to say, I was more than a little worried about crossing the Drake Passage.

We embarked on the Quark’s Ocean Diamond around six in the evening.  The Beagle Channel was fairly calm and my confidence was high that the sturdy vessel would handle the waves of the Drake just fine.  The ship’s physician, Doc Ryan, advised us not to wait to get sea sick.  That would should medicate ourselves regardless of the calm.  As we motored through the Beagle Channel, we ate supper, got to know our shipmates and became familiar with the ship that would be our floating home for the next ten days.  We took Doc Ryan’s advice and loaded up on the seasick medicine.  The barf bags stacked on the tables in the dining room and stuffed every two feet along the railings of the hallways were an ominous harbinger of things to come.  Shortly after we fell asleep, the ship began to rise and fall, shudder and creak.  Anything in our room not secured went flying.  Doors opened and closed and I remember hanging onto my mattress worried that I’d go flying too.  The good news is that the seasick medicine worked.  The not so good news is that it’s powerful stuff that left me groggy with blurred vision and a wicked dry mouth. 

The next morning at breakfast, the Drake got worse than the night before.  Waves crashed against the windows and dishes slid from tables crashing to the floor.  Walking was an exercise in balance.  I’m sure we looked like drunk zombies weaving to and fro along the hallways of the Ocean Diamond.  For two days, our vessel rocked and rolled, creaked and groaned in the chaos of the Drake.  Truth be told, I kind of liked it after a while.  Maybe it was the drugs, I don’t know.  But, I got used to the rolling of the ship and liked how it felt as though I was being lulled and rocked to sleep.  When my eyes weren’t closed, I attended the various lectures held by the amazing expedition staff teaching us about the wonders of Antarctica.

On the third day of our voyage, the waters calmed and the South Shetland Islands came into view.  They were snow covered mountains in the distance lying like quiet beacons beckoning us to them.  Sea birds swooped behind the ship and the occasional whale blew at the surface.  Our first taste of Antarctica came at Deception Island.  The island is the caldera of an active volcano.  We entered the narrow slit in the caldera and sailed into the bay.  It was like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.  My brain didn’t believe what my eyes were seeing.  A world unlike anything I’d ever seen.  An icy watery landscape of various shades of blues, grays and whites.  So quiet, powerful and rare.  The only sound came from the ship’s purring engine.  I think we were all dumbfounded into muteness at the sight.  Mountains covered in snow and ice.  Icebergs dotted the surface of the water.  The sky was cloudless and the bay as calm as a hush.  The sun illuminated the ice in otherworldly blues.  I’m at a loss to describe any better what my eyes saw.

We spent the next several days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula.  Chin Strap and Gen Too Penguins greeted us at various stops along the way.  Unafraid and curious, they delighted us with their close presence.  Every chance I got, I’d sit quietly and listen and watch them.  Antarctica is their home and we just visitors.  I wanted to be a worthy guest.  In return, I was rewarded with their closeness.  Every time I think about them, I smile or laugh.  We also saw a few whales, seals and loads of sea birds.  All going about the business of life in a harsh yet beautiful and amazing place.  That brings me to the lessons learned from pristine Antarctica.

Life is fleeting and precious.  We only get to be here a short time.  Embrace the sun and your ability to live life to its fullest in spite of the setbacks and difficulties.  Jump into life without hesitation.  I fell in love with Antarctica.  I didn’t expect to love a place I thought was so cold.  The truth is that it warmed my heart in many ways and made me so much more excited about the preciousness of this life.  Thank you Antarctica.  I love you. 

This is the first among many blogs I hope to write about Antarctica.  Thank you for reading.  Cheers and peace.    

    

 

Chicken Stew for Two

This recipe serves two with a little left over.  If you want to make more servings, increase the ingredients proportionally.

You can make this in a soup pot on the stove, a crock pot or Dutch oven.  I prefer the Dutch oven because the cooking process is quicker.

Brown one boneless/skinless chicken breast and two boneless/skinless chicken thighs in a tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven or sauté pan.  Once the chicken is browned, but not cooked through, remove from the pan.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and sauté 2 large carrots chopped, 2 stalks of celery chopped, 1 clove of minced garlic, and 8 cipollini onions peeled and quartered.  (If you don’t have cipollini onions, use a small chopped onion.)

After the vegetables are softened, add in 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary and ½ tablespoon fresh thyme.  Sauté another minute.  Add the chicken back into the pot with the vegetables.  Add ½ cup of dry white wine and enough chicken broth to just barely cover the chicken and vegetables.  (You can skip the wine if you don’t have any. 

If using a Dutch oven, you should’ve done all your sautéing in the Dutch oven.  Place the Dutch oven uncovered in a 425 degree oven and simmer for about thirty minutes until the chicken falls apart easily.

If you’re using a crock pot, pour the mixture into the crock pot and cook until the chicken falls apart easily.

If using a soup pot, pour the mixture into the pot and simmer uncovered until the chicken falls apart easily.

Remove the chicken from the pot and shred with a fork. 

Add 1 tablespoon of arrowroot to a little bit of cold water.  Just enough to get it to dissolve.  Maybe 2-3 tablespoons.  (I use arrowroot or cornstarch instead of flour, which requires making a rue with butter.  Arrowroot is much quicker, easier and less calories than a flour/butter rue.)  Add this to the pot of vegetables and stir.

Return the shredded chicken to the pot and add in 2/3 cup of frozen peas.  Return to the heat and simmer another 5 to 10 minutes to warm the peas and finish off the stew.

If your stew gets too thick as it’s cooking, add in more chicken broth.  If you want it thicker, add another tablespoon of arrowroot to little bit of cold water, dissolve and add to pot.

Add pepper and salt to taste and serve the stew over cooked quinoa. 

Peace. 

My Confession

I wonder why the brain hangs onto certain mundane memories.  They’re the ones that didn’t seem significant at the time.  Yet, they remain as vivid as if they’d happened yesterday rather than decades ago.  The recent flooding in Colorado reminds me of a couple of my own.  As I’ve mulled them over this weekend, I think I understand now why they stayed with me.

Northwest Indiana, where I grew up, is flat as far as the eye can see.  The town I lived in is a small blue collar place that’s pretty much a stopover along Interstates 80, 90 and 94 for long haul truckers.  The railroad tracks I crossed everyday on my way to school, or that lulled me to sleep at night carried the trains that hauled freight across the country, including steel from the mills that dotted the southern end of Lake Michigan.  I didn’t grow up in the kind of wide open wild spaces that I love so much as an adult.  The extent of my experience as a child with wild things and places were summer camping trips to Indiana Beach State Park, squirrels, digging up earth worms and avoiding the wasps that nested in our swing-set.

Then came the Big Thompson Canyon flood of 1976 in Colorado.  My grandmother lived in Loveland, Colorado.  She and my uncle talked my parents into moving to Loveland because my father could get a better paying job working to help clean up the devastation left in the wake of the flood.  I vaguely remember getting piled with my three siblings into the back of my parent’s car.  We drove across the country without stopping.  Truck driving is in my father’s blood.  He loves the challenge of “making good time” and not having to spend money on a hotel.  The things I remember most about the drive were playing slug bug with my sisters, and the extreme cow manure smell in Nebraska.  I was more used to the scent of steel mills.  As an adult though, I’ll take the smell of cow manure any day over a steel mill.

We ended up staying in Colorado for less than a year.  I don’t think my parents were happy there, and whatever my father saw during the clean-up bothered him.  But in that small amount of time, I gathered the following vivid memories that have stuck with me over decades.  I remember arriving in Colorado going from the flat lands of Nebraska to being able to see the foothills and Rocky Mountains in the distance.  They rose like giants over the landscape and pulled at me.  They were silent, yet spoke volumes.  I wanted to know what they had to say.  I wanted to keep driving until we were on top of and immersed in them.  The entire time we were in Loveland, I could not stop looking at them.  They were the first mountains I ever remember seeing, although I was born in mountains.  Even though I’d grown up in Indiana, I was born in Idaho and must have mountains in my blood like my father has truck driving in his.

The other two memories I have are from the day my father took us for a drive into the Big Thompson Canyon.  We drove as far as we could go before the road disappeared.  It had violently been ripped away by the twenty food wall of flood water.  I remember feeling scared and awed.  The place was beautiful, ominous and filled with energy that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  Then my grandmother flicked a cigarette into the river.  It got caught in a little whirlpool behind an eddy.  I can still picture it swirling round and round in the foamy water.  It had the pink from her lipstick and a blue line at the filter.  It was at the mercy of the water just like the road, people, animals, and things that got swept up in the flood.  One day you’re here, the next you’re not.  The message to me was better enjoy life while you can, kid.

Processing these memories leads me to my confession.  It’s one I’ve hinted at before and hoped to write about at some point.  The memories gave me my inspiration to do so.  I grew up in a very religious family.  I was taught that dying was more important than living because if you lived a good life, as defined by the preacher, you’d go to heaven.  That was supposed to be the good part.  And, when terrible things happened like the flood in the Big Thompson it was all part of god’s grand plan.  That never set well with me.  Nevertheless, I tried too long and hard to believe in things that I simply don’t believe in. 

There’s a reason those memories stay with me.  They were the beginning lessons from nature and her wild places about what life means to me.  I’m not concerned with the afterlife.  I can’t imagine it could be more spectacular than sitting on a mountaintop in the sun, or paddling on a shimmering crystal clear lake, or listening to the loons at dawn, or falling asleep to the sound of a river rushing by while snuggled up in my spouses arms.  Wild places and things are my religion.  They fill me up, keep me humble, inspire and make me want to be a positive energy force while I live and breathe.  I don’t believe in god, I believe in life.  Peace.

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident…”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

In the wake of last week’s Supreme Court Decision that struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, this Fourth of July is particularly sweet.  I woke up to a beautiful summer day in my beloved Maine with the knowledge that my marriage to my partner of twenty three years is now fully recognized by my federal government.  We will now be treated fairly and equally to all other married couples.  My family is finally recognized, and it feels so good to no longer be a second class citizen in the eyes of my government.  As it should be.

In addition to feeling relieved, safe, and equal, I also feel a huge sense of responsibility on the heels of Court’s historic decision.  We still don’t have full equality in this country.  Plenty of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are still waking up in states that discriminate against them.  Even though the concept of those amazing words in the Declaration of Independence are perfect and beautiful, there was still inherent discrimination contained within them.  Women and people of color were not included by the original drafters.  All throughout our history, minorities have had to battle to be included in this perfect concept.  And so the battle continues for full equality for all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.  We can’t rest.  We can’t take things for granted.  And, we can’t allow those who would discriminate against us to define us.  On this Independence Day, I am determined to live openly and honestly and to continue to fight for the day when all of us are treated equally in the eyes of the law.

Happy Independence Day.  Peace.

My healthy brownie recipe

On the second episode of Barbell at Cocktail Hour Productions I chatted with Nikki Smalls of Flicks and Swizzles Sticks about two really informative and inspiring documentaries about healthy eating.  They were “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” and “Forks Over Knives.”  For more about these two documentaries, please check our show at http://cocktailhour.us/.  In the meantime, here’s my healthy brownie recipe that I mentioned during the show.

  1. Sift the following dry ingredients together.
  • 2 cups of buckwheat flour
  • 2/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ to ½ cup of powdered stevia extract depending on your tastes. To find out, do a taste test of the batter to check its sweetness. (You can find stevia at many grocery stores.  I get mine from Trader Joes.)
  1. After you’ve sifted the dry ingredients, add the following to them.
  • 2 cups of papaya puree (I typically use the Caribbean papaya.  It’s larger than the Hawaiin papaya and easier to find in the grocery store.  http://www.melissas.com/Products/Products/Caribbean-Red-Papaya.aspx.  If you can’t find papaya, try mango, applesauce or some other soft fruit that you can puree.)
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup of unsweetened almond milk
  1. Mix the batter together and lightly spray a 9X9 baking dish.  Add the batter to the dish and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes.

After baking, cut the brownies such that you end up with 16 brownies.  Using http://caloriecount.about.com/, I calculated the total amount in calories of all the ingredients in the recipe to be 1,367.33 calories.  So, if you divide that amount by 16, the total amount of calories in one of my brownies is only approximately 85 calories.

Have a great day and eat healthy, keep moving, manage stress and “own it.”  Cheers.

 

 

Lentil and sweet potato burgers with mint chutney and a side of roasted parsnips.

A friend recently asked how I find the time to cook healthy foods from scratch rather than open up a box of something, add water and be done with it.  The answer is two-fold.  First, time management is key.  I try to stay very organized during the week when I’m juggling work, exercise, writing and spending time with my family.  Second, I keep things very simple.  What I’ve learned about food is that the simpler it is, the lovelier it can be.  For example, the number of ingredients that I cook with is typically 2-5 ingredients not counting spices and things like onion, garlic and ginger.  I rarely add salt to what I’m cooking so I always have really good quality spices, herbs and aromatics on hand.  To show you what I mean, here is my recipe for lentil and sweet potato burgers with a side of roasted parsnips.  Other than the aromatics and spices, there are only three main ingredients.    If you want a green vegetable to go with it, add a side of steamed fresh spinach.

For the lentil burgers:

  • 1.5 cup of cooked lentils (It takes about 20 minutes to cook using dried lentils.)
  • 1 medium baked sweet potato (Peel the sweet potato, prick it with a fork and wrap in wax paper.  Cook in the microwave for 3-4 minutes.)
  • 1 small chopped onion, 1-2 cloves of garlic, 2 tbls of fresh minced ginger (Sauté these aromatics until softened, add in 2 tbls of a good quality curry powder and sauté another 30 seconds)
  • Add the sautéed aromatics, lentils and sweet potato into a food processor and blend together.
  • Spoon a heaping portion of the lentil mixture into a non-stick pan.  Flatten the lentil burgers into more of a patty shape with the back of the spoon and brown on both sides.
  • Serve with homemade mint chutney.  (Combine 1 bunch of mint with 1 bunch of cilantro, 2 tbls fresh minced ginger, 1-2 cloves of garlic and the juice from one lime into the food processor and blend together.  You made need to add a little water if it’s too pasty.)
  • For the roasted parsnips, peel and chop into match sticks.  Use a heavy roasting pan since this will help caramelize and crisp up the parsnips.  Mix with olive oil and a little salt.  Roast at 450 until crispy brown. 

This dinner took about 45 minutes to prepare, including prep time.  It was healthy, satisfying and low in calories.

 

 

Endless Days of Play

I grew up during the 70s and 80s in a small blue-collar Indiana town.  I absolutely loved summer because it meant days of endless play.  School was out and my mother wasn’t interested in having four kids underfoot in a tiny half ranch house.  We’d get up early when my father got ready for work and have our cereal while watching cartoons.  The television was always on in our house.  Cartoons in the morning, my mother’s favorite soap operas during the day and things like Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and Dallas in the evening.  Between the cacophonies of the television, my parents battling to be heard over each other and the noise of four kids in a tight space, I couldn’t wait to get outside.

I’d start the day by taking off on my yellow banana seat bicycle.  My first stop was the penny store for whatever candy I could afford with the little bits of change that our father would take out of his work clothes pockets for us the night before.  With the loot from the penny store safely stashed away, I’d ride around enjoying the slight coolness of the summer morning.  Glad to be free of the constraints of being in the house, on a mission, an adventure to anywhere and everywhere.  I’d peddle faster just to see how fast I could go.

Next up would be to stop at our neighbor’s house to see whether Tommy could come out to play.  He was my childhood buddy.  Between Tommy and me, a couple of G.I. Joes and my trustee Ken West, we saved the world on a daily basis.  Ken West was the western version of Barbie’s Ken doll.  He wore a brown plastic cowboy hat, vest, boots and spurs.  He bent at the elbows and knees so that he could ride the horse that came with him.  In order to simulate the mountains that I’d seen on the Western television shows that my father liked to watch, I’d dig enormous holes in the back yard piling the excavated dirt into mountains for Ken to climb.  My mother really disliked that.  As an adult, I can see why.  It didn’t make for a nice lawn having mole holes dug all over your yard by a kid trying to create her own version of the Rocky Mountains in very flat Indiana.  But, when I was a kid, like most kids, in my mind anything was possible if I imagined it. 

Anyhow, why I am blogging about this in the first place?  Well, when I got up this morning and thought about my plan for today, it struck me how similar it is to those sweet days of summer escape as a kid.  This morning, my day started with a quiet run before the world started to stir.  I felt free and ran fast, just to see how fast I could go.  As soon as I finish this blog, I’ll have breakfast.  During breakfast, there will be no sound from the television or voices yelling at each other.  However, there will be a beautiful chorus of different kinds of song birds that have made the meadow their home.  They are now our noisy family and we love them dearly.  If I listen ,I can make out their identities, the Wood Thrush, Chickadee, Phoebe, Mourning Dove, etc.

After breakfast, I’ll spend the day in the meadow.  Instead of digging holes to create mountains, I’ll dig holes to plant another 25 blueberry bushes and 25 hickory nut tree seedlings.  Then I’ll check out what flowers are showing themselves since I last walked the meadow.  I’ll look for wild strawberry in hopes that Mama G has left us some.  I’ll tend to the garden and each lunch in the sun.  I’ll spend time in my head imaging all the places I could go and things that I could do.  I’ll remember that anything is possible.  Have a great day.  Peace.