🌶️Beans, Beans, Beautiful 🌶️🌶️Beans

Beans, Beans, Beautiful Beans

Beans, beans, beautiful beans … this year, I hosted Thanksgiving Day dinner and beginning on the Sunday prior to the holiday, my kitchen was not only filled with the aroma of pinto beans, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin and a few other ingredients to create a streaming, steaming array of delicious pots of chili, but also an improvised melody of my singing – beans, beans, beautiful beans to a tune similar to “Skip to My Lou.”

If you live outside of Canada or America, you might not be aware that Thanksgiving’s traditional main dishes of roast turkey and/or baked ham are complemented by common, seasonal side dishes, such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, green beans, cornbread, squash, dinner rolls, cranberry sauce and for dessert, pumpkin pie. To serve chili on the holiday table is something akin to ladling out simmering chicken noodle soup on a hot summer’s day – it doesn’t quite fit.

The first Thanksgiving feast between the native Wampanoag and English settlers, Pilgrims, was in the fall of 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It’s likely it consisted of venison, fowl (geese and duck), corn, nuts and shellfish. The modern dish we know as chili, also known as chili con carne (chili with meat), comes much later on in American history. “It does appear to have roots in the American West, particularly the State of Texas. An old legend holds that immigrants from the Canary Islands brought a recipe for chili with them when they settled San Antonio in the early 1700s.”

Enough of the history lesson.

“Chili is not supposed to be part of the meal,” my fiance, a pure traditionalist engaged to a pure non-traditionalist, commented with a slightly bemused expression after he realized that my dinner plan was to serve three different versions of chili: spicy hot, mild and vegetarian.

“Well, it is now,” I replied and went back to cooking.

My sister-friend Anne gave me the idea of making chili for Thanksgiving after she sent me a large-sized ziploc bag of dried pinto beans from New Mexico, the state in which she resides, in the care package she sent this past November. They’ve been one of the consistent, individually wrapped gifts that she’s sent in her thoughtful parcels over these last three years. Sometimes she pens notes about the background information of each gift. For instance, she always writes that she travels forty-five minutes one-way to a farm (I don’t remember its name, but it’s a long German-sounding name) to purchase the dried pinto beans. That’s Anne. She packs every little bean of life with a mammoth punch of love.

There’s typically a separate package in each delivery marked “Stacy and Alex” for me and my daughter, as there was this year. Last month we unwrapped two silver angels, a small and large one, inside the recycled brown bag wrapping. Her accompanying note said they caught her view at one of her favorite greenhouses, and they had our names written all over it. All I can say is when you enter my living room, the focal point is the large silver-toned angel in the center of the fireplace’s mantle.

Anne might live across the country, but her creative powerhouse fuels our spirit and reminds us of the good in the world. In fact, in proximity to the silver-toned angel is a gold and pink-colored, three-inch acrylic dragonfly that she sent in her first package, a Christmas package, the tragic year in which we lost our North Star, Alex’s brother and my son. Sorrow blacked out our holiday, and Alex and I were unable to exchange any gifts. Anne’s individually wrapped goodies arrived via first-class mailing service. Inside, she paired the dragonfly with a blue-colored butterfly. On the attached note she explained that a dragonfly represents change, transformation and an understanding of the deeper meaning of life. The butterfly, on the other hand, she noted meant “hope.” To this day when I see the dragonfly in my living room, as well as the butterfly where I placed it in my garage, they give me a sense of faith.

In that particular holiday package were, of course, a large-sized ziploc bag of her “famous” beans .… Beans, beans, beautiful beans ….

Now, let me say one more thing about the darn New Mexico beans. You gotta soak them for days. And slow cook them for hours and hours and hours. Otherwise, they are crunchy. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to eating. I don’t want my beans to have the texture of potato chips. They really are a nuisance to cook. But in the end, it’s so worth it. The process reminds me of how unconditional love can be inconvenient. In the end, though, the chili made with the pinto beans are yummy each and every time, which may or may not be the result of the unconditional time and devotion you give to a human being. Either way, after undergoing the cooking challenge, I’m a better, more disciplined person because my behavior is a reflection of me. One thing certain after the beans are FINALLY cooked, the chili made, my exhausted self looks in the reflection of the mirror and says, “Damn, that was a good job. Stand tall. Stand proud.”

Additionally, in the package this year was a cutting of her fresh organic sage, direct from her garden. I added it to my TRADITIONAL stuffing, and EVERYONE said it was the best stuffing they ever tasted – and it was, thanks to Anne. So, this past Thanksgiving, Anne visited in her own special way, every time I served delicious stuffing and chili.

Almost every night, holidays included, I light one of my candles in Anne’s honor. I started the tradition after she kicked off the ritual for me and my family a little over three years ago during our tragic time. Although we live on opposite sides of the United States, she always feels close by like a woolly blanket.

Don’t kid yourself, love CAN be bought as long as it’s given unconditionally – gift wrap optional.

**

So, what’s the ins and outs of making a great chili bean recipe? A lot of patience if you get dried pinto beans from some faraway farm in New Mexico! No matter what you prefer, add a little cube of unsweetened baking chocolate. It balances out the spices in the dish and makes it rich and satisfying, much like a lifelong friendship.

Mild, Non-Vegetarian Chili 🌶️ made with Beautiful New Mexico Pinto Beans

(you can substitute your own dried or canned beans)

Ingredients:

Dried or canned pinto beans, about a pound or a pound and a half, depending on how many beans you prefer in your chili

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil; or non-stick cooking spray

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 large sweet white onion, diced

2 1/2 tablespoons chili powder

3 small cans of tomato sauce

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 to 4 bay leaves, use less if they are large bay leaves

1 teaspoon parsley

1/4 teaspoon black pepper or cayenne pepper to taste

Squeeze of lime

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

a dash of pickle juice if you have a jar of pickles on hand (you heard it right!)

Unsweetened baking chocolate,  2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate baking bar

2 cans of evaporated milk

1 carton beef broth (you will use about half of it)

1 to 3 pounds of ground beef (depending on your preference)

Salt to taste

Instructions

If you are using dried pinto beans, soak overnight in water with bay leaves. (With New Mexico bean, I soak them for a minimum of THREE nights and then quick boil before using them in the slow cooker.)

Place oil in a large skillet (I use my cast iron pan) and set to medium-high heat. When the oil glistens, add onions and cook for 2-3 minutes. Next, add garlic and cook for another minute.

Add spices and stir often so they won’t burn.

Turn up the heat to medium and add meat and brown. Once the meat is brown, stir in beans along with bay leaves. Cool. Add to slow cooker. Top with tomato sauce. After tomato sauce is emptied from cans, pour evaporated milk into tomato cans, swirl the liquid around and pour into slow cooker (I don’t waste anything.)  Add beef broth as needed to keep chili moist but not too watery, and chocolate and stir, stir, stir.  Squeeze the lime juice, add balsamic vinegar and, if you are a super creative cook adventurer, pickle juice. Slow cook at least eight hours. Freezes PERFECTLY, so you can enjoy it during the winter months; it will surely warm you up like a wooly blanket of friendship.


Faith Muscle

“Ocean View”🌊 in New Mexico!

Photo Credit: Anne Yoken

While my sister-friend, Anne, who lives in New Mexico, was walking home from the park yesterday, she sent me this photo and she wrote, “… My ocean view. Horizon makes me feel it’s the ocean.”

Anne’s mom was my Godmother, one of the most loving influences in my life. Our families knew each other long before I was born.

Now, for sure, the horizon in the photo DOES resemble a realistic ocean scene even though the shot was taken “deep” in the desert. It is so typical of Anne’s character to find possibility in the impossibility. Needless to say, she’s a positive person, and every season in her life, she stirs up a fresh batch of homemade lemonade that tastes like sunshine. It is the perfect antidote to winter blues and helps lift most emotional downward spirals.

Of course, there’s a prerequisite, though, to making lemonade out of lemons – you need a desire first. Then you act on the motivation, and that’s where faith comes in to help carry out the goal.

No matter what difficulties Anne encountered in life, she always kept her eyes on the horizon to help level her out and not sway too far from walking an even course. In fact, whenever I found myself in Anne’s company, we rarely stared at a new batch of lemons. Instead, we rolled up our sleeves, sliced and squeezed the pulp. In the end, no matter how hot and barren our lives may have felt, we clinked our glasses before we experienced a refreshing taste of lemonade. The sensation invigorated our spirits and gave us the strength to carry forward. Today, whenever, I need a lift, I reach for her treasured lemonade recipe.

“Yes, Anne.” I wrote her back after she shared her photo, “I see your ocean view horizon, and it’s beautiful, full of life and wonder. Cheers to a future of endless possibilities!”

… Maybe I’ll visit Anne and ‘the ocean in New Mexico’ firsthand. We can walk together from the park while we finish the last drops of lemonade from our insulated tumblers, and search for angel figures and heart shapes in the clouds that can be seen, even when the weather is bad, by those who know how to look.”


Faith Muscle

Wish U: Ubuntu

Photo by anna-m. w. on Pexels.com

Last Saturday, November 19, marked the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. Each year, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention honors the day by helping to organize large and small events at different venues around the world. The events connect people who are survivors of suicide loss with mental health professionals, and provide a safe, empowering, empathetic and educational space that supports and exemplifies the value of storytelling and shared experiences.

This year, two-hundred and seventy-one events took place at different sites not only in the United States, but also in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Nepal, Russia, Scotland, Taiwan and South Africa.

The International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is held on the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year, which, if you think about it, can be viewed as an oxymoron. How can this day, centered around grieving parents, spouses, children and those affected by suicide, be in such close proximity to a holiday that celebrates blessings? What sort of “blessings” can there conceivably be when it involves heartbreaking, unexplained losses, and deaths associated with widespread societal stigmas that oftentimes are hidden below the underbelly of silence and shame?

If we examine Thanksgiving Day itself, one definition of it is “an annual national holiday in the United States and Canada celebrating the harvest and other blessings of the past year. Americans generally believe that their Thanksgiving is modeled on a 1621 harvest feast shared by the English colonists (Pilgrims) of Plymouth and the Wampanoag people.”

Conversely, since 1970, the United American Indians of New England have organized the National Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving Day. “To us, Thanksgiving is a day of mourning, because we remember the millions of our ancestors who were murdered by uninvited European colonists, such as the Pilgrims. Today, we and many Indigenous people around the country say, ‘No Thanks, No Giving.'”

After experiencing our own personal tragedy nine days before Thanksgiving Day of 2019, our personal day of mourning helped me stand, as never before, in solidarity with my indigenous brothers and sisters. “Solidarity” is commonly defined as “unity or agreement of feeling or action.” Ever since our family’s post-tragedy during that “first” Thanksgiving in 2019, each year afterward, I not only acknowledge a feeling of sadness, but I consciously act differently. I make it a point NOT to stuff myself and over-indulge on food, drink or merriment. By nightfall, I direct my eyes at the endless blanket of stars in the night. To me, each star represents those people around the world who have or, at that very minute are, through circumstances beyond their control, forced to leave the comfort of their homes and homelands. In addition, I think about those, now and through history, unjustly serving time in brick and mortar prisons and those trapped in minds of mental illness.

So, anyway, last weekend, five days before this year’s Thanksgiving Day, I feared that attending a suicide loss survivors conference at the Noroton Presbyterian Church could plummet me to the depths of despair.

Coincidentally, the previous week, I watched an incredible movie, Mission: JOY, “a film that shares the humor and wisdom of two of the world’s most beloved icons, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.”

The movie kicked off a four-day summit based on Joy. The theme on day two was “The Inseparability of Joy and Sorrow.” In a segment entitled, “Inciting Joy: A Poet’s Perspective with Ross Gay,” Mr. Gay elucidates a number of definitions pertaining to joy. Most apropos for this blog post, he explains that joy “emanates from the tethers between us when we hold each other through our sorrows.”

He continues saying that the definition not only pertains to the concept of grief associated with death, but with other losses as well. The common thread, he says is that “We’re all heartbroken, all of us, and all of us are in the process of dying, as is everything we love.”

Between the conference I attended and, now, heading into Thanksgiving week, I’ve felt a sense of interconnectedness that Mr. Gay refers to, and I’ve realized how our stories of our shared humanity can land us in a place of belonging, a place, symbolically, that is home. This helping of “comfort food,” BTW, is the complete opposite of my typical “There’s no place for me to go” frame of mind.

The Dalai Lama, in fact, in the movie, mentions a Tibetan saying, “Wherever you receive love, that’s your home.”

I will tell you the moment I felt I was “home” at the survivors conference: when I sat in a circle of about fifteen people at the church that donated their facility for the event. It was the moment Michelle Peters, area director of the Connecticut American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, welcomed the group, her throat constricting as she tried to suppress the tears in her eyes.

It was apparent that the sorrow was not only her own. It signaled Ubuntu in its purest form. Ubuntu means “I am, because you are.” It is derived from an ancient African word meaning “humanity to others” and describes connectedness, compassion and oneness.

(Again, quite coincidentally, the theme on the last day of the four-day summit based on Joy was “Interconnection & Ubuntu.”)

In other words, although Michelle did not know us, nor our stories, there were no strangers in the room. She knew our hearts and the depth of our sorrow.

I am because you are.

From the onset of the conference, Michelle set a “Thanksgiving” table in the affluent town of Darien, CT, and we sat and spent the bulk of our time sharing tears and sorrow, anger, disgust, rage, stories, more tears and sorrow and more stories and even laughter, all connected to the heart of the soul, the heart of Ubuntu, where our genders, skin color, ages, backgrounds, political affiliations, IQ’s and all the labels were set on fire, ablaze in solidarity. We held each other in our sorrows, and in the process, joy and thanksgiving filled the day.

Marshall Matters,” January 18, 1993 to November 19, 2019

My wish for each and every single one of you in my blogging community is that you find a renewed purpose, a fearless sense of thanksgiving to enable you to embrace the sorrow in your personal brokenness, and keep the faith that your brokenness will not break you, but allow the light and spirit of Ubuntu to shine through the cracks.

Faith Muscle

Renew! Refresh! Restart!

Renew! Refresh! Restart! in the morning … afternoon … evening … RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND. Faith is fluid, bursts forth like a river flowing, able to calm, cool and collect the most explosive moments and transform them into fresh beginnings. Whatever you have faith in, call upon it NOW!

Faith Muscle

Zen Men

Photo by anna-m. w. on Pexels.com

My dear friend, Bob, has been a practicing Buddhist for most of his life. He is now in his 70s. I’ve known Bob for nearly 38 years, and he is one of the influential “zen men” in my life. We met up last week, and we exchanged our usual dialogue.

“How are you, Bob?”

“GREAT!”

“How’s everything going, Bob?”

“GREAT!”

His enthusiasm nearly knocks me over each and every time. It’s as if his every living breath is channeled into his exclamation, and it never fails to wake me up in my own life. Bob is like my buzzing alarm clock awakening me to my stagnant state, to my captivity in my own head’s prison built on fear, falsehoods and frailties that feed me at the given moment.

It never fails. Bob signals me to realize that I’ve been stuck in my head. I’ve missed the day gone by, including the entire car ride that brought me to visit with Bob in the first place. I’ve missed the trees outside. The front door I just swung opened, and the fluorescent lights in dim room. The minute I notice the rosy patches of Bob’s cheeks that glow and resemble the human heart, I almost feel as if I’ve exhaled for the first time in a long time.

At the end of our zen-centric conversation when I am about ready to leave, we always say, “I love you,” and embrace gently, as we have for 38 years.

I move toward the door. The hardwood taps under the rubber soles of my ankle boots. As I swing open the door, my hand feels the glossy coat on the freshly painted wood that is flecked with grains of lint in its texture, reminding me of the imperfection in perfection. My insights give me the faith to keep up the journey as I recall the miniscule part I play in the “GREAT!” scheme of life, because I have escaped my tiny mind long enough to inspect the vast universe directly under my nose.

Faith Muscle

Have a Little Faith

Faith Muscle

BE-lieve

Faith Muscle

Have a Little Faith

Faith Muscle

Faith it

Faith Muscle

Simply No Other Way

Faith Muscle