I would have walked right past it, but just as I was stepping into a patch of early morning sun on the still mostly shaded beach, I happened to look down and see a somewhat ordinary pocked gray rock look as if it had a galaxy on the top of it. OOOooo! I breathed in and stooped to get a closer look. It seemed oddly backlit for all its density.

And then I saw it. Inside the dense pocked gray and under the lighter whitish streaks and spots that made me think of a galaxy I could see  agate underneath–translucent and slightly orange in color, it was exposed in the tiny dark divots and underneath the creamy white bits of blasted rock, making them look like stars when the sun hit the rock.

Many people who live here and those who come to the beach in non-corona virus times actively look for agates to collect and polish. A few of my neighbors have rock tumblers that make the stones shiny, even and smooth. I’ve never been very interested in that as an end in itself, but I do like finding interesting rocks or agates and sticking them in my pocket from time to time. The previous week in the early morning I saw these beauties lit up in the first patch of sun on the beach and I took them home and tried to recreate what had caught my eye–the sun shining right through them as they lay on the ground.

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This morning during yoga and meditation I remembered what my mother used to say my patron saint, Theresa of Lisieux, maintained: that picking up a pin is enough if you do it for the glory of God. That simplicity of purpose always impressed me, both with relief that something so small could be enough if done from the heart, and dread that it was too boring–she had not had to defy the Roman emperors and die as a martyr the graphic deaths us Catholic kids read in books like the encyclopedic Picture Book of Saints. If the church required such atrocities as getting boiled in oil, stabbed nineteen times or disfigured by smallpox to become a saint, how could lifting a pin off the floor also raise one to sainthood? Still, that outrageous notion resonated with me. I still love its humility and its world-in-a-grain-of sand kind of sensibility.

There was another Saint Theresa my Mom used to tell me about, after she’d tenderly tell me about the one I was named for. The other was Saint Teresa of Avila, a Spanish nun who had been a scholar and a mystic. My mother felt especially empowered by Teresa of Avila’s ability to rail at God comfortably. Her favorite quote was the saint’s calling out God for his seeming cruelty by exclaiming, “If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” To my mother having a direct apprehension of God also meant you were on intimate enough terms to tell him off.

Eventually, I became comfortable with both these mysteries–that feeling close to mystery doesn’t always feel good or ensure an answer I’d like to get, and it’s okay to say so, even in my prayers, while at the same time doing very simple humble things can open up the infinite in my soul.

Remembering the paradox of these mysteries helps me understand why looking at that agate trapped in the coarse gray of rock means so much to me. It lets me know the agate is in there, it just hasn’t come out yet. I stopped that natural process by taking it home with me, but it reminds me we are in process, even, or maybe especially, in the midst of something frightening and life threatening we can’t time or control. And within that uncertainty there’s light to be caught, and refracted, to bring us closer as we endure suffering or feel the suffering of others, maybe even because we can no longer escape or deny how interconnected we all are.

Rachel Naomi Remen says, “we each were born with the capacity to discern the wholeness in all things, all people, all events and institutions, that this is our common purpose in being alive. We can nurture it and strengthen it, we can lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby we can restore the world back into its original wholeness. This is a collective task involving all the people who have ever lived, all the people presently alive, and all the people yet to come. We are able to do this not because we are doctors or artists or writers but simply because we are human beings. So we share a collective purpose: we were born to restore the wholeness of the world. You might say that no matter what our ‘life work’ is, we all have a single work.”

Holding this agate-in-progress in my hand reminds me to be patient with this mysterious work, that transformation can be slow and painful, or swift and unpredictable, but it is also inevitable. Somehow, though still encased in rough opacity, the light found that agate-to-be and made it shine from within. There will be another side to where we are now, even if I don’t know what it is or when it’s going to arrive. But in the meantime this humble rock reminds me to notice the way the light is getting in and shining through, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

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Vegan No Oil Lemon Cake for blog

Maybe it was in response to the surprise of a large organic lemon inside the box of organic produce I ordered from Gathering Together Farm a couple of weeks ago, or maybe it was the approach of the Easter Holiday. Maybe it was the kind of memory my thoughts turn to when I spend a lot of time alone and miss my loved ones. It could have been all of these things that found me daydreaming about my grandmother’s lemon jello cake as I walked down an empty street in my neighborhood with Cotton early one gray morning.

The cake was a simple hack combining yellow cake mix and lemon jello mix, with eggs and oil and maybe even milk. It was baked in a square pan, and when it was warm from the oven, it would be poked all across the top with the tines of a fork so a mixture of fresh lemon juice and powdered sugar could be poured on top of it. The result was this tart lemony but very sweet liquid-saturated cake,  and the lemon jello mix in the batter made it as bright yellow as a baby chick.

Even though it wasn’t chocolate, I loved that cake. The memory of it as a child and a time  earlier in my adult life when I made and shared it at the Easter holiday with my son and boyfriend and a few of my poetry writing students was so vivid in my mind I could smell and taste it and feel us all sitting at the picnic table under the trees in the backyard. But it’s one of those old recipes so full of sugar that no matter how I adapted it I just couldn’t see how in the world I could come close to it and still keep my much needed teeth intact.

A few days after my vivid early morning daydream about this cake my friend Rachel posted a photo of a recipe for a lemon cake she was baking that evening after a day of grueling research into Covid-19 territorry for her job as a freelance science writer. I loved the image of the recipe on the slightly curved printed page in the photo and as I read through it I realized it was a “from scratch” version of my grandmother’s lemon jello hack. I commented that it reminded me of my grandmother’s cake and Rachel asked if I could make it. I said that I couldn’t eat such things anymore but it was sure nice to remember them and to read about someone else doing it.

Then I noticed that the name of the cookbook Rachel’s recipe came from was The Wooden Spoon Cookbook. I took that to mean that none of the recipes in the book required fancy equipment like a mixer. Suddenly I had at least one point of affinity with the sensibility of the recipe. I decided to take another look at the ingredients. Then I decided to save the recipe and look at other vegan cakes I’ve made and other vegan square snack cake recipes to see what might be possible. Then I remembered I still had that big old beautiful organic lemon, and that the lovely peel from that could be put right into the cake batter, as Rachel’s cookbook called for. The cake recipe itself only called for 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to be put into the milk, and the rest went to the lemon sauce. Suddenly I had the epiphany that I could make a delicious lemon sauce with the date paste I had made that was in the fridge and maybe a little maple syrup. I new it would give that kind of lemonade taste I remember and I decided it was worth a shot. It wouldn’t be bright yellow (because no jello mix with yellow food coloring) but it might evoke that tart sweet magic I was longing to taste again.

I am grateful to Rachel for taking the time to share what she was baking as comfort and solace in her own home that evening, and how, though I had thought it would remain a memory, by the next day I was actually plotting how I could make a healthier cake that still evoked that lemony magic from my childhood.

We’re losing so much and so many so fast right now that I think a dive into the past where such change was unimaginable is a natural way to seek comfort. I know my daydreams of “before,” whether more recent or long ago, are especially vivid. But I also remind myself that this simple “wooden spoon” technique shared with friends on social media is also a way of creating an intimate bridge between what was and what is now, and the unknown of what will be. I’m grateful for the sunniness of the memory and even more grateful I can taste that memory in this new vegan and relatively low fat and low sugar version, and that it also connects me to my friend Rachel far away, who baked and ate a similar cake, and ultimately inspired me to bake mine. Comfort food really can help maintain or even restore the continuity I long for, even as I accept we are in the throes of unprecedented change. I cut this cake up into little squares, now frozen in the freezer, and I take one out when I want to be reminded of the sweetness of the past and the delicious promise of what is possible in the future we create, even when limitations abound.

Vegan No Oil Lemon Cake

Vegan No Oil Lemon Cake for blog

dry ingredients:

2/3 cup potato starch
1/3 cup of sorghum flour
1/3 cup white rice flour
1/3 cup millet flour
1/3 cup quinoa flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
pinch of psyllium powder
grated lemon peel from one organic lemon

wet ingredients:

1 flax egg made with 1 tbs ground golden flax, 3 tbs aquafaba
1/3 cup applesauce
1 cup soy milk plus 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
up to 1/3 more aqua faba
1 tsp of vanilla extract

lemon icing:

juice of one large organic lemon
1/4 cup of date paste or to taste
1 tbs of maple syrup or to taste
1/2 tsp of almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350. Rub a square baking pan with a little tahini.

In a smaller bowl, make a flax egg with 1 tbs of golden ground flax seeds and 3 tbs of aqua faba. If you don’t have aquafaba (chickpea cooking liquid) then you can use water or non-dairy milk. Let it sit for about ten minutes.

In the meantime mix the dry ingredients in a larger bowl and whisk together with a fork.

Then add the rest of the liquid ingredients to the flax egg mixture and stir together. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir (with a wooden spoon) into a thick batter. If you need a little more liquid add a little more aquafaba or non-dairy milk.

Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes until skewer comes out clean at the center.

While the cake is baking, mix together the ingredients for the lemon icing. When the cake comes out of the oven, pick it all over the top with the tines of a fork, and then drizzle the icing over the top of the cake. Let cool. Enjoy!

Note: I started baking gluten free long before there were store bought vegan flour mixes available, so I usually have a variety of different flours in my freezer for when I want to bake, but if it’s easier for you to use a gluten free flour mix such as the one Bob’s Red Mill makes, just use two cups of that. If you don’t need to be gluten free you can try this with regular baking flour.

Happy Spring, Friends. Stay healthy. Honor life. Love fiercely. Live compassionately. And have a little vegan cake when you need to.

Maria (moonwatcher)

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Homage To My Hands

April 6, 2020

The other day I was washing my hands for the umpteenth time when a tenderness came over me. Instead of trying to sing the 20 second song I came across in the New York Times or bitching to myself about the revolving door I can get into (hands in warm water cue the bladder which […]

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Where Love Abides (and Spilled Stars)

March 24, 2020

Last night right before turning off my lap top I came across this article, “The Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief,” which resonated deeply with what I’d been grappling with earlier in the day and hashing out with a wise friend of mine. It put me in mind, too, of this very fine skeleton of a […]

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Until We Meet Again

March 14, 2020

For the last couple of weeks we have been planning to celebrate my daughter-in-law’s birthday out here on the coast. A few days ago I finished her a loom knit gift (no spoilers beyond that allowed) and shopped for the ingredients for the decadent dessert you see above. (Go to Cherry Chocolate Mousse Pie  at […]

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The Hope of Poppies (and Orange Almond No Oil Granola)

March 13, 2020

As most of you know, I make my meals by the seat of my pants these days, and my recipe posts are usually guided by tasty epiphanies and not carefully remade and tested over and over again to make sure of consistency. But this granola is different. After having to buy some over the holidays […]

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Two Ways To Look At A Rainbow

February 24, 2020

Last Sunday Cotton and I went down to the beach in the late afternoon to play for a bit in the wind, next to the rising tide. We had a spirited few minutes down on the sand playing with Cotton’s “toy” (a twisted rope knotted at both ends that he treats like prey) and made […]

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Anniversary Note: To The Ones I Love

February 14, 2020

Today, February 14, 2020, is my “twin” MS anniversary: 24 years ago today, I received the diagnosis of MS, and 12 years ago today, I began my official start on a low fat whole food plant-based lifestyle. I wanted to “remake” the anniversary of the diagnosis into something positive, transformative, and life giving. To make […]

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This Wild and Blessed Life

January 19, 2020

If there is a chance to spot wildlife in the midst of other people, I’m rarely, if ever, the first to notice, and often the last to do so. But sometimes when I’m alone, I get visited in ways that delight. Last week I had an astounding encounter, one unparalleled in my life, at least […]

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When The Light Returns

December 20, 2019

A couple of mornings ago before daybreak, I was sitting on the couch waiting to let Cotton back in and this is what I saw: the fireplace glowing in the still darkened house, and the little miniature of my house my daughter-in-law’s mother made me a few Christmases ago sitting on the hearth, lit from […]

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