Archive for July, 2014

As Above

July 6, 2014

I took a short vacation last week, only three days. Enough to slow down, relax in a comfortable motel, watch World Cup matches and go for walks. Not enough to get the rest I need, but at least a taste of what it will be like soon, when the greatest press of work eases and I can once again have weekends.

It’s almost harder to resume intense work now than it would have been to just keep going. My body is telling me it likes being lazy but physically active. My mind informs me there are other things it wants to consider than the myriad aspects of my demanding job. My spirit…? It seeks constantly for the Source, drawing energy to support what my other components find it necessary to do.

As above, so below is a phrase used by my spiritual teacher, to help us channel our attention in the most beneficial direction. With the proper attitude, and the correct placement of attention, we are able to let Divine energy flow in, showing us our undue attachments and the ways that we divert and misuse that energy.

Attachments are essentially misplaced attention. Have you noticed that when you dislike something, it seems to keep popping up before you until you let go of the dislike, becoming neutral on the subject? Only then, with attention directed somewhere else, can the object/experience/attitude fade from prominence in your life.

On the flip side, I can say that I am now enjoying in my daily outer life a delightful reflection of the companionship, caring, fun, accomplishment, ease and peace that twenty years of patient spiritual pursuit has achieved for me with my Inner Beloved. Not looking for anything more than the gifts already given, I am astounded to find my mundane world such a perfect reflection of the promises of my spiritual one. Not that there aren’t challenges, large and small. How could there not be, since I am far from a perfected spiritual being.

What I understand, though, is that when issues do arise I need give these outer manifestations only passing analysis. The majority of my attention needs to go within, to determine what subtle (sometimes not so subtle) concern or attachment I have neglected to clear from my being.

Today, my reliable, hardworking, much appreciated and well-traveled (220,000 miles) VW gave out as I was driving into town. Rolling along just fine, then a popping sort of bang, a huge puff of smoke, and clearly something was very wrong. Coasting to a stop, calling AAA for a tow, figuring out where to have the car taken so a mechanic can assess the problem – these steps followed in a fairly routine way. I called a friend to take me home, where I collected my second car to return to town and continue with the day’s projects.

Now I am considering what I will do if the repair bill approaches the down payment for a new vehicle. And I’m asking myself what inner, reliable and established habit is also due for a revamp or upgrade? Am I due for a change in my attitude toward spending and debt? Have I been taking the presence of some skill or energy too much for granted? Or is my reliance on the care and attention of my Divine Teacher being put to the test?

My Internet service also failed today – with a 24-48 hour restoration time frame the best that can be promised me by the repair people. And just now, our electric power went off. So three basics of outer daily function have all quit on me at once. For sure, I will be looking to see what I’ve been taking for granted on the inner, and attending to repairs and maintenance of any areas where I find my attentiveness has been lacking!

Thank Thee, Beloved, for serving me up this fine example of “as above so below” – or perhaps I should say “as within, so without”. I deeply appreciate that the lesson is being offered on a weekend day, when nothing is so pressing as to prevent me from taking this matter into contemplation.

Baraka Bashad. May these Blessings Be.

Eyes on the Sparrow

Eyes on the Sparrow

Postscript
The car blew out at 10:00 AM. The Internet quit by 1:30 PM, the electricity died at 3:00 PM.
As of 8:00 PM both electricity and Internet have resumed function.
I await the morning, to see what happens with the car.

Koki

July 1, 2014

Back in the day, when I was attending Swarthmore College in the Philadelphia suburbs that “City of Brotherly Love” held an International Festival featuring informational displays from the 70 some countries of origin of the city’s population. On a lower level of the convention area, each of the countries also had a food booth. One could buy tickets at the entrance and then spend them purchasing a world’s worth of main dishes and “afters” treats, far more than any one person could sample in multiple sittings.

Together with two classmates, I visited the festival with an open mind and an empty stomach. Knowing we could not try everything, my friends and I settled on a category of food – “a filling with some sort of pastry wrapping” – and went from table to table dividing three ways our sampling of whatever each country offered that fit our definition. We found a food to fit the category at every table except the Russian one. There we had to accept a slice of an open-topped fish pie as the closest option to our category. The ladies serving us explained that they were unable to make perogi (if you’re Jewish you’d call them kreplach) properly in the limited cooking space, and so did not try to do it. We ate Mexican tamales, German meat dumplings, French beignets, Chinese eggrolls, Vietnamese vegetable rolls, Greek spanakopita and a host of other tasty treats, some sweet, many savory, all enhanced with a wide variety of spices.

I am certain, even many years later, that we did not encounter what my Cameroonians friends call koki (pronounced like the French coquilles but nothing whatsoever akin as a food). I’m certain, because I helped to prepare, and was taught how to make, koki yesterday. The French homophone is a seafood. The Cameroonian dish would fit within my Philadelphia definition.

Koki begins with an arduous process of rolling black eyed peas between the palms, to loosen and remove the skin holding together the two halves of the dry pea. The halves are then dropped into a basin of water, and allowed to soak overnight. Any flakes of remaining skin float to the top to be skimmed off. The soaked peas are blended together with a small amount of water, onion and habanero peppers making a thin paste. Meanwhile fresh taro leaves are cut into strips, and large plantain banana leaves are soaked to make them flexible. The taro strips are folded into the pea batter, and all of it is poured onto the banana leaves which have been shaped into a bowl. Red palm oil which has been heated, so it will pour easily, is stirred into the packet which is then tied up and placed into a tall pot to be boiled and steamed for at least an hour, long enough to assure that the taro leaves are cooked to softness.

The koki is usually served with boiled, ripe plantain so that the sweetness of the banana contrasts delightfully with the hot spicy taste of the koki. When I commented that koki has the texture of a tamale, I was told that it can be made, like tamales, with a corn-based meal instead of the pureed beans.

I shared with my co-cooks an account of my first experience making tamales – the group of 6 of us sitting around a table, picking up soaked corn husks, plastering them with masa (corn meal paste) on top of which we placed a scoop of pulled pork cooked down to softness in red chile, before rolling the husks and tying off both ends with a shred of corn husk. Over the course of a couple hours, the six of us made more than 10 dozen pork tamales and about half again as many that were filled with corn and squash which had been cooked with fresh green chile. All the tamales were then steamed, in batches, in a huge kettle.

Unlike koki, tamales tolerate being frozen for later use. Preparation of both foods by traditional methods is time-consuming, an opportunity for the cooks (almost always women) to socialize and catch up on family news or, in my case yesterday, to learn by doing in the time-honored way that traditions are passed down from generation to generation.

My experience yesterday was a sort of time reversal, since the woman teaching me – Flora – is much younger than I am. She commented that few of her friends still prepare the peas in the traditional way, and that she would not expect me to spend the necessary time doing so in future. She offered to provide me with peas ready to be ground for the koki. I deeply appreciate the offer, knowing just how much time is involved in peeling the peas. In a corner of my being, however, I feel that I’m betraying a tradition if I don’t complete the entire process, start to finish, as it has been taught over generations.

I have my own special recipes, passed down from grandparents, which I occasionally prepare for guests. None fit my Philadelphia definition – until now. Food often unites us. Think families around a supper table, neighbors gathering for a pot luck, or a community putting together a meal for thousands, as happens each year on Labor Day weekend, when the small village of Wagon Mound, NM celebrates Bean Day. With the addition of koki to my repertoire of traditionally prepared meals, I will be uniting western Africa with the Middle East, eastern Europe and the western United States, adding to and carrying on long-established culinary traditions.

What a delightful, tasty responsibility!


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