Ital (eye'-tal): of or from the earth; vital; life giving; natural.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Heaven looks like Jamaica

When I picked Shine up from school earlier this week, his teacher asked me if I received her email. I said no. She said it should be in my inbox as she sent it earlier in the day. I was concerned. Did it pertain to Shine? Was everything okay? She hesitated and then said quietly, "We lost two of our students..." My mommy brain took a little while to process the information...then it hit me...oh my gosh...two students died...

It is a very tragic story of two little friends playing after school in a swimming pool...they were only three years old. One was in Shine's class, the other the class below his. I don't know the details beyond that. The email was a memorial to the two students rather than an informative explanation of what occurred. I thought about how I would discuss it with Shine. Mo was going to the gym after work, so I decided I would talk to Shine over dinner when it was just the two of us sitting down together...

I began by asking Shine if his teachers talked to his class about N and D. He said yes and then no and then, "N wasn't in school today or yesterday." I said, "Yes, I know." "How do you know?" he asked. I explained that his teacher told me there was an accident and that N and D's souls went up to Heaven...

"What's a soul?"
"It is the energy that lives inside our bodies. It is what gives us our spirit...makes us, us."
"What does a soul look like?"
"It looks like a very bright and shimmering light. It's pretty."
"Does it have a face?"
"It could have a face."
"What about legs?"
"It could have legs."
"But no arms. Just a face and legs. Well, maybe it looks kind of like a cloud. Yeah...it looks like a cloud with a face and legs and the cloud bumps could be the arms..." he took a bite of mango and reiterated, "yeah, a soul looks like a bright cloud..."

"Do you have any more questions?" I asked him.
"Yes. What does Heaven look like?"
"I hear that it is the most beautiful place you have ever seen. Think about all the places you have seen here on Earth. Which place is the most beautiful?"
"Jamaica...Heaven looks like Jamaica."

He was silent for a while and then he asked," But how do N and D's souls know how to get to Heaven?"
"Your soul lived in Heaven before it came to live on Earth. So when a soul goes to Heaven, it is going home. Just like when a little tiny ant travels far far away from the ant hill...it just always knows how to get back home."
"That's because the ant writes his name on his ant hill with a big stick before he leaves..."

"But how does your soul get out of your body to go up to Heaven?" he asked after a few more bites of mango.
"Well, your body is kind of like an envelope. It is just holding your soul while it's here on Earth. Then when your body dies..."
"How does it die?" he interrupted.
"It could die lots of different ways. Your body needs food and oxygen and a healthy heart in order to live. If it doesn't get those things, then it gets sick and dies. N and D's bodies weren't able to get enough air so their bodies died. But their souls are still alive. Your soul will always be alive."
"So your body goes flat like a popped balloon when it dies...or like a piece of paper...yeah, it goes flat like a piece of paper and then your soul goes vvvooop right out and up to Heaven." He made a swooping gesture with his hand.

"Do you have any nice memories of N or D?" I asked him.
"I liked N. He was my friend. He had a giant belly button. Really, really, really giant. No one else had a belly button as big as his. It made his shirt stick way out like this..." he pulled his t-shirt away from his stomach to illustrate. "May I be excused now? I would like to watch some Tom and Jerry cartoons..."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Country Cookin'

Saturday is our market day. Mo gets out early to see what is fresh and yummy looking. The rest of the day is spent in the kitchen putting our creative culinary skills to the test. So here's what's cookin' today:

Brown Stew Seitan with Ground Provisions (aka Food; aka Root Veggies)

That big tree trunk looking thing is yellow yam. Peeled, cut up and thrown into a pot to boil with carrots, sweet potato (in the red skin) and Irish potato (that would be your run of the mill Idaho to you Americans out there) is the most common way to prepare yam. Collectively the big pot of boiling roots is called simply...Food. It is the starch to whatever protein is being served. And it is left ital (not overly seasoned; natural) so it can calm the spice that is invaribly in the other dish.

We maintain a mostly vegetarian diet so our protein today is Seitan. Known also as Wheat Meat, seitan is made of wheat gluten and is a chewy, high protein, yummy way to dine! It is super easy to make and adapts to any recipe.

I'm pretty bad at writing recipes because I tend to just add a little of this and maybe a lot of that until it all tastes good. But I will give it a try...

First up, the Seitan:
You can buy it already "made" in most grocery stores in America. Here it is much harder to find. It is super easy to make though. You just need to get your hands on some Vital Wheat or Gluten and it pretty much makes itself.

1 cup vital wheat
3/4 cup water or veggie stock
1 Tbls jerk seasoning
1 Tsp cumin
1 Tsp parsely
1 Tsp salt
(other seasonings to your liking)

6-8 cups vegetable stock or water (for boiling seitan)
LARGE cooking pot

Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Add the water or vegetable stock. Stir with a wooden spoon. It won't take long for the gluten to start to stick and stretch. Knead the dough for about 1 minute with your hands. Cut into about 5-6 roughly equal pieces. Set water or stock to boil. When the water is boiling, place the seitan in the pot and allow to continue boiling for about 1 hour. The seitan will double in its size so make sure your pot is HUGE. Drain and set aside.

The Stew:
1 c all purpose flour (I used whole wheat)
1 Tsp paprika
1 Tsp salt
2Tbls olive oil

1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 scallions
1 scotch bonnet pepper
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
soy sauce
pick-a-peppa sauce
touch o' honey
3 c water or veggie stock

Begin by browning the stew. Mix flour, paprika, salt and olive oil together in shallow bowl or plastic bag. Place seitan in bowl or bag and coat both sides. In the mean time heat some olive oil in a skillet. Brown seitan on both sides for about 4-5 minutes. When done, remove to a plate to cool. Cut into small chunks about 2" square.

Saute onion, garlic and scallion in oil left from browning the seitan. It's hard to say how much soy sauce, pick-a-peppa and honey I added to the mix. Maybe a couple tablespoons of each...Anyway, add some now. Then add the water or stock. Float the whole scotch bonnet pepper on top with the thyme leaves. (Cutting the pepper will be like adding fire to the stew. If you like things super spicy, go ahead and chop it up...but remember, I warned you!) Add the seitan back to the pot and cover. Let simmer, stirring occassionally, until stew-like.

The Food:
This is pretty easy. Just clean, peel and cut veggies into large chunks. Put in a pot of salted boiling water. Cook until tender.
I guess I did a pretty good job because Mo came in from outside and said, "It smells like a real Jamaican kitchen." :)

We topped off the meal with some fresh coconut water. Yum!

Until soon...
Peace and Wellness,

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Step-Mother

This is not an easy topic to write about. Nor is it an easy role to play. But I guess that can be said of parenting in general. I'm not even really sure what I want to say about being a stepmother. I just feel like it is something I need to meditate on, ramble about, think through...so bare with me...

My stepchildren are beautiful and bright. I love them and worry about them just as I do Shine and Song. I envision all of us enjoying family vacations together and board game night together and working in the garden together...just being together. And although we are finally together in the same country, there is still a great distance between us, both physical and emotional.

Warrior and Earth Mother live about 2 hours away in the care of their mother and their grandparents. Mom-in-law refers to them as the wandering Tribes of Isreal and it is an apt description. They have many homes and yet no home at all. It makes me sad. My heart breaks to think of them shuffled here and there and belonging no where. It was easier when they were younger. Although aware of certain truths, they seemed basically shielded from the animosity between the grown-ups. I think it is safe to say that they genuinely had happy-go-lucky childhoods.

Now that they are growing into adolescents, it is painfully obvious that they are starting to question the hand they have been dealt. With the announcement of our move to Kingston, I imagine that their hopes were raised that we would rescue them from their nomadic existence...finally a home, a real home. Unfortunately we have not been able to play the noble heros. We have not rescued them. I've seen the disappointment in their eyes when they have to say good bye and go "back". I've heard the sadness in their voices over the phone. Mo encourages them to keep their chins up, that change is coming, that things will be different...one day. Then he makes call after call seeking information on their well being, trying to weave together a net of support for them, making plans for that "one day"...I struggle with my role. Who am I in their eyes? Do I have the right to encourage? Am I in the position to advise? Do I subconsciously favor Shine and Song over them? Am I being fair? If they do come live with us, will they eat the jerk tofu I prepare for dinner? Drink the almond milk? Enjoy life without TV? What will become of them? Who will they grow to be?

Saturday, February 5, 2011


It has been requested that I post some recipes. I thought it was a great idea so here goes!
Coconut Paw-Paw Smoothie


1 Banana

1 Mango

1 Paw-Paw (aka Papaya)

Water from 1 coconut (about 1/2 cup)
Put it all in the blender until smooth and creamy. Pour it into a fancy pants glass, add a dash of cinnamon on top and enjoy!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Stumbling along a Green Path

One of our goals as a family is to live lightly on the planet. We strive to become more self sufficient, consume less and experience more. Moving gave us the opportunity to purge the unnecessary items from our home. Although there are a few things I miss (like our furniture), overall I am happier not to have to be burdened with all that stuff. I recently read an article about a family in Northern California who produces such a minimal amount of waste that the garbage trucks never need to stop at their house. Their recycling bin also remains empty. There are certain things that the family in the article adheres to that I would not be able to do, like living without books and art, but ultimately this is what we strive towards. Mo and I talk about our dream home often. (Being an architect and artist, that's how we wile away the evening hours.) In our dream home we have a giant kitchen. Giant being relative of course because really we would be quite happy in an 1600-1800 square foot space. But the kitchen would be the largest room in our little house and we would have an outdoor one too. Inside and outside would essentially be interchangeable. Wind and solar power would provide us with our electricity and our home garden would sustain us. Oh and a hammock would hang beneath the eaves of a back porch but I digress...

Back to no garbage...we have been working on the 3 R's for years now and in Brooklyn (and America in general) it is easy to reduce, reuse and recycle. Most healthfood establishments and increasingly more mainstream grocery stores have bulk food bins where you can bring in your own container, weigh it and get the amount of raisins, oats, flour, what-have-you that you need. Reusable shopping bags are practically the norm. Farmer's markets abound. Recycling is second nature. (So why can't Congress pass a renewable energy bill?!! But that's a different post...) It's a different ball game here. Bulk food is a different concept. It exists basically in two forms: pre-packaged, giant, name-brand quantities at Price Smart (think Sam's Club/Costco) or pre-packaged, miniscule quantities at the healthfood stores. And most of the grocery stores sell bulk flour, sugar, rice and cornmeal but again it is already packaged in plastic bags for your convenience. Gone are the lovely do-it-yourself bins I had grown to love.

Plastic is a big thing here. Luckily it is one of the few items that is recycled. Plastic bags in particular are way over used. When we first started going to the grocery store, the people bagging our groceries used to put everything in plastic bags first (even those items like flour and sugar which were already encased in plastic) and then they would put them into our reusable grocery bags. It took a couple of trips for them to understand that it was okay to just put the groceries directly into the canvas bags. We have since started going to the market for most of our items so our trips to the grocery store are few and far between. The market is great but they love plastic bags too! There are some items that come in glass jars but glass is not recycled here. On certain days you can return glass bottles to the grocery store but that's about it. Aluminum is also not recycled. Paper and cardboard on a corporate level will be recycled but there aren't any programs yet for residential recycling. Like many things here, recycling is a work in progress.

So we stumble along, making reductions and adjustments where we can but I can't help but think that we are not doing enough. Much of it just comes from knowing where we can obtain the items we want. Like washing soda for instance. I'm sure it is here somewhere (and oh how I'm longing to try making my own laundry detergent!) but it's just finding it.