Saturday, August 29, 2009

Poems from the forest

Two weekends ago I had an amazing experience at Opal Creek in the Oregon wilderness. With a group of 7 other women I set off into the woods for 3 days of yoga, writing and simply being in nature. The workshop was offered by Becca Deysach's Ibex Studios and was rejuvenating and magical beyond my wildest dreams. An orange butterfly walked calmly onto my finger and sat with me until our hike continued away from one glimmering opal pool to the next. If that's not an auspicious omen or creative blessing I don't know what is. Also with all the gifts of the experience, I busted through a persistent creative block I've been carrying around for a long time. Gillian's opening, grounding and strengthening yoga classes, Becca's intelligent writing prompts, and the experience of sharing writing with a group, was the holistic medicine I needed. The majesty and peacefulness of our surroundings, the easy friendship and natural pace of living were also profoundly healing and inspiring. I wrote more on the experience in a blog post titled "Retreat", for Touchstones of the Sacred.

Anyway, on Skull & Quill I want to share some of the writing that came out of the workshop. Both of the following poems were culled from the writing that came out in free writes after Becca's prompts on the second afternoon of the retreat. After a blissfully slow morning of tea, sitting in the sun and yoga, we hiked through the forest and sat in a circle on the earth. The ground was unbelievably spongy - thousands of years of fallen trees accumulating moisture, moss and vast cities of minute creatures. A perfect nest for the 8 of us, within earshot of the creek.

Normally I don't share my poetry until I've gone over it with ever-finer toothed combs (about 25 times). Here I'm going to share both the stuff that came out of the free write and these first draft poems. I suppose I am cultivating openness with process. Friends and strangers, I welcome your feedback on the poems and will share future revisions here.

Free write prompt: we were asked to find a place alone in the forest and looking through a lens no larger than our two hands held in a spyglass circle, find a place that spoke to us. After some time alone with our place, we began writing by describing what we saw through our lens. 
This hollow goes deep beneath an ancient tree. Deep to the center of the earth. If I were an inch tall this hollow would take me into a dark, mysterious cavern. Spiderwebs with lacy patterns glisten in the sun - angelic stained glass. This hollow is gilded with light, death, decay and new growth. Draped across the silent hollow the webs of light catch what drops down, returning to the earth. If I could put my heart in this hollow it would rest in the cool silent dark, until the steady infinite pulse of life seized my weariness, my fear, my hope. Beating now with a simple, timeless rhythm. Have I ever sat still before? Time passes, water flows, the forest decays and is reborn, and now my heart rests at peace with time, decay and rebirth. But the buzzing of yellow jackets, flies chase me from my peaceful retreat. So what is this hollow? A space big enough for my whole heart. And the ceaseless buzzing of thought comes upon me in massive waves flooding the cavern with noise, energy, darkness.

Poem draft
Contemplation in the forest, Opal Creek OR

This hollow goes deep beneath an ancient tree
to the center of the earth.
Draped across its silent mouth spiderwebs glisten in the sun
like angelic stained glass. The luminescent strands
catch what drops down, the returning descent to the earth

If I were an inch tall
this hollow could take me whole,
into a dark mysterious cavern
where I could live in quiet refuge,
a solitary Thumbelina. Instead I sit beside this hollow,
gilded with light and death and decay, my warm hand pressed
into the textures of the tree,
spongy moss, rough lichen, damp powdery bark - united.

Ignoring the frantic buzzing insects, anxious
that I might take from them
their brief existence. Thoughts buzzing too, afraid
I may no longer need their hollow sustenance.

Time passes, water flows, the forest decays and is reborn, nursed by its own fallen grandmothers.

If I could put my heart in this hollow, it would rest
in cool, silent dark
until the steady, infinite pulse at the center of life
seizes up my weariness, my fear, my hope
in a great resuscitating breath.

Then the beating of my heart would match
the simple infinite rhythm, at peace with timelessness
and continuum.

Free write prompt: after creating a (vexing) chart that depicted the poles in our life, and our current place of balance between them, we wrote about our experience of polarity.
What would it mean to surrender - to drop the tension between being and doing? And plunge face first, heart first running through the river running quietly through my life? I am tired of writing about it, tired of thinking about it. Can I just be with this question? I don’t have the answers and it makes my blood itch. I don’t have the time but the hour is here. A gentle rain gathering. I cannot remember the first great surrender when my mother’s womb quickened and the time for being became a life of doing, but I think this is where I must begin. At the beginning when all was unknown and my feet were bare, my trust infinite, my curiosity without purpose. Clouds becomes rain becomes river becomes ocean and this is my blood. Don’t tell me what I should do, must do, cannot do. Amid the chaos, a gentle intelligence emerges speaking another language entirely. The language of water, soil, blood. Let me carry you it whispers. Let me take you there. Where? Curiosity without purpose, mystery without knowing. Being. Forget what you know, swimming will not get you there.

Poem draft
Contemplation in the forest II, Opal Creek OR
What would it mean to surrender
and drop the tension between being and doing,
to plunge heart-first into the river that runs quietly
through the center of my life,
to embrace curiosity without purpose, mystery without knowing?
How would I release the confines of physics
and take the helm of my heart, and be carried safely
down this eternal waterway?

I cannot remember my first great surrender -
when my mother's womb contracted and no longer fit,
when my time for being grew to be a life of doing
but this is where I must begin.
A gentle rain is gathering, promising transformation
with the breaking of water.
Clouds become rain becomes river becomes ocean
and this is my blood.

Deep in the forest now, so far 

from the chaos of emerging on that first cold, bright, deafening day
there is a whisper that speaks another language entirely -
the language of water, soil and blood.
Let me carry you, it whispers.
Forget what you know, swimming will not get you there.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Recipes from my August tomato harvest

This August we have been well-fed from the garden, especially from my beloved tomato plants. Tomatoes have two interesting colloquial names: love apple, which comes to us from the French pomme d'amour. This is a phonetic derivation of Italian's pomo dei Mori (apples of the Moors), as 16th century Europe was supplied with tomatoes from North Africa.

My favorite ways to enjoy tomatoes are sliced raw on my morning toast, diced into salads or simmered all afternoon into a ruby-colored chutney. Last week Justin made one of his amazing curries with naan. He makes the dough and forms each piece of bread by hand, grills it on the stovetop and finishes it off in the oven. It is so freaking good. The tomato plants were really producing and the neighbors had given us some of their tomatoes too. I couldn't bear the thought of any of them spoiling. To round out our Indian inspired feast I made a hot chutney with some of our giant heirloom tomatoes.

Spicy Heirloom Tomato Chutney
1 c coarsely chopped sweet onion (go for Walla Walla's)
2 1/2 c fresh, chopped heirloom tomatoes
14.5 ounce can of diced unsalted tomatoes (omit if you have more fresh tomatoes)
1 tbs olive or coconut oil (for a sweeter chutney)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried, ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground coriander seed
1/2 tsp ground cumin seed
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper powder
1/4 tsp whole fennel seeds
1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 tsp crushed red pepper (cut to 1 tsp for a medium-spicy chutney)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp kosher salt
2-3 tbs agave nectar

Heat the oil over medium heat and stir in the onions. Sautee until they are well coated in the oil and begin to soften. Reduce heat to low and add the garlic cloves and all spices (except salt and agave). Stir well so the onions are coated with the spice paste and continue to cook for a few minutes. If the spices begin to stick to the pan add a few tablespoons of water.

Add the fresh tomatoes, stir well, add canned tomatoes and increase heat to bring the mixture to a boil. Once it is at a healthy boil reduce heat to low. Leave the chutney to gently simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Stir in the agave nectar toward the end. The chutney is done when it's reduced by about half. If you happen to have enough fresh tomatoes to omit the canned (about 5-6 cups fresh) it may take a little longer to reduce. Keep a close eye on it especially if you are using an electric stove. I've noticed how much the heat settings on electric stoves vary. The 1950's relic I'm cooking on now will scorch rice and sauces even on the "warm" setting if you leave them alone for too long.

Monday morning there was a massive ripening of cherry tomatoes. Enough to do something really interesting with. That day the Oregonian ran a recipe for a Southern Tomato Pie and inspired this fresh, light vegan tart. The absence of heavy dairy-based ingredients really allowed the flavor of the tomatoes to shine. Inspired by our tiny bumper crop I made up this recipe for an Heirloom Tomato Tart and served it with our runty, misshapen corn harvest and the 5th wave of snap peas, served raw with a homemade balsamic-tahini dressing.
*A raw foods variation on this entire recipe is to make the tart filling as directed below (you may want to reduce amount of garlic) allow it to marinate for a few hours and serve as is. It also makes a good bruscetta topping, raw or grilled.

Tart Shell:
20 phyllo dough sheets
1/3 c melted Earth Balance
The phyllo dough will need to thaw at room temp (takes about 2 hours) before you begin working with it.
For Filling or Raw Salad:
3-4 c sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes (I supplemented the cherry tomatoes with another variety, chopped)
4-5 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 c raw pine nuts
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp Spike
2-3 tbs chopped fresh basil
1 tbs chopped fresh rosemary

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Place all filling ingredients into a bowl and stir well to thoroughly coat all tomatoes with the seasonings and disperse garlic and pine nuts. Melt the Earth Balance. Carefully unroll the phyllo dough.

A few words about phyllo dough: The directions on my package said to immediately cover it with plastic and then a damp towel and always keep it covered while working with it. This sounded a bit hysterical to me and I'm not down with using plastic on my food nor do I generally try to make "pretty" dishes. So I threw caution to the wind and left my phyllo dough vulnerable to the air. So it's up to you, follow the directions or don't. My tart was a little soft on the bottom and had a rough, peasanty edge to it. When cut with a sharp knife it held together pretty well. My vision was for a round tart, a savory-sweet moon of flaky dough and a warm, slightly saucy center. So I defied the logic of using a rectangular dish to match the shap of the papery thin phyllo sheets and made my round tart.

Once you've selected your baking dish, layer sheets of phyllo dough with a brushing of the melted Earth balance until you've built a layer of 7-10 sheets for the bottom of the tart. Because I used a round pan I carefully ripped off the squared excess and formed a somewhat jagged perimeter, flush with the rim of the dish.

Once you've built up the bottom of the tart, pour the filling into the dish and repeat the phyllo/Earth Balance layering to form the top. I really like the super-flaky effect from ripping the edges of the dough sheets. Next put it in the oven for 30 minutes and allow to set for another 25-35 minutes on a cooling rack before serving.