Tag Archives: #vegetarian

Election 2016: Keeping the Faith

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One thing that all major religions have in common is a powerful message of hope. Judaism expresses its hopeful message in a variety of ways, in its sacred texts, its prayers and liturgies, its mandated ethical activity and its rituals.

Ritual is non-verbal communication. In Jewish practice, ritual reminds us who we are and does that through describing our relationship to G-d, our fellow creatures and nature. It creates a space in time when we restore the harmonious relationships G-d intended for creation. We call the Sabbath, for example, a “foretaste of the time of the Messiah,” 24 hours in the present that reflect the way our world will be every day when Messiah finally comes.

Typically our ritual practice revolves around Shabbat and life cycle and year cycle  occasions. I’d like to explore the idea of how ritual can work for us in another framework.

Today, 12 days after the election of 2016, I woke again feeling as though I had suffered a profound loss. It reminds me of when my Dad died in the sense that it is both an emotional and a physical sensation. It is jarring to see life go on as usual around me and difficult to reconnect to it. It occurs to me that in Jewish ritual, I have the tools to help myself reconnect in a positive, life-affirming way.

I am thinking of the rituals associated with death and mourning. A Kittel is a white garment worn for the Passover Seder, on Yom Kippur, for the marriage ceremony and in death. What can these occasions possibly have in common? Each represents a profound transition from one state of being to another.  It feels to me as though this country is living through one of those profound marking points in its history, one of those moments like the murder of President Kennedy or the Oklahoma City bombing or 9/11, that we will look back to and know the ground shifted under our feet. Engaging in a ritual that takes note of this profound transition from one state of being to another seems appropriate.

“Sitting Shiva” (Shiva meaning seven) refers to the seven days of mourning following the death of a loved one. For seven days, a community cares for the mourner, visiting, bringing food, making certain there is a Minyan to recite Kaddish. It is a time for condolences, yes, but also a time to remember and reflect, to share stories of the one who left the earth, to listen to the mourner sharing his or her memories. While the mourning period doesn’t end with the conclusion of Shiva, this space in time is an important step back toward life. And that is something that we, who share these feelings, must do — remember those steps we have taken, those things we have accomplished and prepare ourselves to go back to work.

And finally, Kaddish. I remember a song that I particularly loved when I grew up in my Dad’s church, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It was a powerful hymn when the congregation sang it together, and I felt the meaning of holiness viscerally. I haven’t checked, but I suspect the song was inspired by the Kedushah (same root as Kaddish), a central Jewish prayer with a section that begins, “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh,” that is, holy, holy, holy. Kaddish, also meaning holy, is recited several times during every service, bridging between sections of the service and the Mourner’s Kaddish at the end of the service. The prayer requires at least 10 people (a Minyan, so it is important that for each day of Shiva, a mourner has at least ten people from their community to support his or her Kaddish).

These are the words of Kaddish, with a nod to the awkwardness of gender-specific pronouns. I don’t usually change them for the sake of familiarity and smoothness of flow within a community that allows me to enter a ritual space. I know G-d is neither male nor female but both. I am making an exception because of the context of this discussion, when many whom I know and love are especially sensitive to misogyny in our leadership and culture:

Glorified and sanctified be G-d’s great name throughout the world
which S/he has created according to Her/His will.

May S/he establish Her/His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,
and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;
and say, Amen.

May Her/His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,
adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be S/he,
beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that
are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

S/he who creates peace in Her/His celestial heights,
may S/he create peace for us and for all Israel;
and say, Amen.

The prayer is a profound affirmation of hope and faith at a time when one is most tempted to question the ultimate nature and purpose of human existence. It anticipates establishing G-d’s kingdom on earth.

And what is that kingdom? For that, I look to the first chapters of Genesis, 1-3.  That kingdom in the Garden, as G-d created it, is one in which human beings live in the right relationship to G-d, their fellow creatures and the rest of creation. It is a harmonious system of differences, without the sense of otherness, fear and enmity that characterizes our world.

The rest of the Torah and all other sacred Jewish scripture, its laws and teachings and discussions, its prayers and its rituals, tell us how we can live in the real world beyond the Garden, doing our best in a messy existence to live in right relationship to G-d, our fellow human beings, our fellow creatures and the planet — and to keep the faith that someday the ritual spaces we create will extend throughout creation.

In a time when we seem tragically far from that ideal, when our leaders cynically focus on our “otherness” stirring up us/them fears and hatreds, when we breed 9 billion animals every year in this country just to slaughter them, when we edge closer and closer to making this beautiful earth uninhabitable for organized community, it is easy to lose faith.

I believe each of us must return to our sources to find those vehicles that help us reconnect to life and community after loss, maintain faith and hope, and do our work in the world, whatever it is for each of us, to create a better future.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Oh, the weather outside is frightful…

Well, it’s about to be frightful, anyway. Coming into the end of summer here. 🙂  This post was written two or three years ago when it really WAS winter, sometime in the vicinity of Groundhog Day in Woodstock, Illinois, backdrop of the movie by the same name. It appeared in The Woodstock Independent.

Just a few days ago the Groundhog saw his shadow.  Easy for him to do.  He went back to his burrow.  I, on the other hand, have to leave mine every day, and I’m freezing!  I seem to have lost the ability to keep myself warm no matter how many layers I pull on before I brave the cold and wind and snow.

I decided it’s time to become proactive.  The last time I made this decision was in the winter of 1982/83.  In that year, as in this one, wind chills plunged to 40-60 degrees below zero.  I found myself never wanting to leave my burrow . . . that is, my home . . . and specifically, my fireplace.  I needed to take action, so I bought a winter camping tent and a sleeping bag designed for use in the most frigid climes and went winter camping to toughen up.

That worked pretty well.  It carried me through a few years.  But this is 22 years later, and my tent and I are a little older and worn.  My thoughts turn to other solutions. Here is a question that bubbled up: could I raise my body temperature with food?  It seems logical that I could, so I began to do some research. Here is what I found:

YES!

“How?” is another question. I found several answers.  I chose those that made sense to me based on this thought process: It requires energy (expressed as heat) to process food.  In fact, food processing may warm your body as much as two degrees (every degree counts in this weather)!  The more energy a food requires for processing, the more likely it is to heat your body.

So which foods require more energy for processing?  One estimate is fats require 3%, carbohydrates require 7%, and proteins require 20% of the energy (calories) they supply for processing.  I would therefore expect that protein is most likely to heat your body and complex carbohydrates next most likely.  Fats are least likely.  But does that correspond to the reality?

Turns out it does!  Lean protein tops most lists of warming foods, followed by complex high fiber carbohydrates like whole grain breads, brown rice, oatmeal, beans, almonds and apples. Root veggies like sweet potatoes, Idaho potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, and ginger require more energy to digest than above-ground veggies.  Above ground veggies recognized for their thermogenic properties include cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts.  Spices and spicy foods like cayenne, peppers, salsa, chili and mustard stimulate metabolism by as much as 20% or more and can also warm you.

OK, so now I needed to apply that to my vegetarian lifestyle, all-carb all the time.  Beans, grains and nuts top my list because in addition to the fact that they are high fiber complex carbs, they are a great protein group with complimentary amino acids.  Isn’t it interesting that the veggies most effective at raising body temperature are also the most readily available during winter and are, in fact, considered winter veggies?  So winter veggie stews . . . bring them on!  And be sure to make mine spicy!

It turns out that warming the body is really about exercising the metabolism and giving it a boost, so the same diet should be great for weight maintenance as well.  Indeed it is!  Just be sure to include good fats in your winter warming project for satisfaction and to help you avoid craving sweets (which are not warming, just inflammatory . . . and that’s a whole different story).

In the final analysis, keeping warm is all about making your body work, whether it’s camping in frigid weather or exercising in the cold with light clothing or making your metabolism pump harder.  This year I’m opting for exercising indoors in my fleece and enjoying some hearty, spicy veggie stews.

Butternut Squash and Carrot Stew with Quinoa
This is one of my favorite Middle Eastern style recipes.  I love the warm, golden color from the butternut squash, carrots, paprika, and turmeric.

Stew
2-4 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp peeled, minced ginger
1/2-1 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
6 plum tomatoes, petite diced
2 TB fresh lemon juice
3 cups 1-inch cubes peeled butternut squash
2 cups 1-inch cubes carrots

Quinoa
2 TB olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup finely chopped peeled carrot
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 bunch fresh cilantro
2 bunch fresh mint

Stew
Cover the bottom of a pan with extra virgin olive oil.  Add chopped onion, garlic and ginger.  Saute briefly.  Add plum tomatoes and juice of two lemons. Bring to a simmer.  Add remaining seasonings.  Simmer briefly.  Add peeled and cubed butternut squash and carrot pieces.  Stir, and place a tight lid over the pot to steam the mixture until squash and carrot are fork tender but not mushy. Check periodically for moisture content, adding a bit of water if necessary.

Quinoa
Cover the bottom of a small sauce pan with extra virgin olive oil.  Add chopped onion, minced garlic and slivered almonds.  Saute briefly.  Add chopped carrots and remaining seasonings with 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups water, stir, cover tightly and cook until done (10-15 minutes).  Chop the mint and cilantro together.  Add half to the stew. Reserve the other half as garnish.

A nice way to serve this beautiful meal is to place a portion of stew on a plate, leaving an opening in the middle.  Place an ice cream scoop (1/2 cup) of quinoa in the middle of the stew.  Garnish with remaining mint and cilantro.

Happy, healthy eating!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

Spicy Olive Salad

Spicy Olive Salad

Even if you don’t usually like olives…this is one to try! I use Middle Eastern olives. They are very different from domestic olives, and I like them so much better! So far I’ve only found Israeli brands that make pitted (Osem, Beit Hashita), which is what you’ll need for this salad.

This sauce is amazing, and if you love olives, you will love this salad heated and eaten over brown rice or whole grain pasta. I serve the olives as part of a mezze (Middle Eastern appetizer table) either cold or hot.

SPICY OLIVE SALAD

Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup
  • Garlic, 5-6 cloves
  • Tomato paste, one 6 oz. can
  • Plum tomatoes, 6-8 petite diced
  • Lemon, 1/2 unpeeled
  • Hot chili powder, 2 tsp.
  • Szeged hot paprika, 1 TB
  • Swad chili pepper (I use Swad, very hot), 1/2 tsp.
  • Cilantro, 1/2 bunch/cup, chopped
  • Mediterranean green pitted olives, two-and-a-half 19.5 oz. cans (drained)
Spicy Olive Salad - stirring olives into the sauce
Spicy Olive Salad – stirring olives into the sauce

Instructions

  1. Wash lemon, slice the half you’re using into about 6 slices, quarter the slices.
  2. Heat olive oil in a saucepan.
  3. Sauté minced garlic lightly in oil.
  4. Stir in tomato paste & diced tomatoes and stir ’til mixed.
  5. Add lemon slices and stir.
  6. Add remaining ingredients except cilantro and olives.
  7. Bring back to simmer, and cook until lemon quarters are tender.
  8. Stir in chopped cilantro.
  9. Remove from heat.
  10. Add sauce to drained olives. Stir gently but thoroughly.

Enjoy these olives warm or cold.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

Ful Mudammes: Thinking Out of the American Box About Breakfast

FUL . . . serve it up as part of a mezze (appetizer table), as a main dish, a side dish, hot, cold . . . or for breakfast.
FUL . . . serve it up as part of a mezze (appetizer table), as a main dish, a side dish, hot, cold . . . or for breakfast.

Ful is Arabic for fava beans (as hummus is Arabic for chickpeas). This is another popular Middle Eastern salad to serve as part of a mezze (Middle Eastern appetizer table), alongside of hummus, or all by itself. It is a street food in the Middle East and is part of breakfast in Egypt. There are many versions of this dish. This is mine:

FUL in the making
FUL in the making

 

FUL
Ingredients

  • Fava beans, 1 lb. dried (small) beans
  • Chickpeas, 1/2 lb. dried
  • Plum Tomatoes, 6 petite diced
  • Garlic, 1 TB minced
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup
  • Lemons, juice of 2 (1/4-1/2 cup – I use closer to 1/2 cup)
  • Cilantro, 1/2 bunch, chopped
  • Salt, 1 TB (scant)
  • Cumin, 1-1/2 TB
  • Red pepper, crushed, 4 tsp. (scant)

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Instructions

  1. Rinse small fava beans and chickpeas, place together in a pot to cook, and add water 1-2″ over the top of the beans.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until done, 1-2 hours.
  3. While the fava beans and chickpeas are cooking, prepare the sauce.
  4. Petite dice the tomatoes. Cut the green beans as shown in the picture. Mince the garlic. Squeeze the lemons. Chop the cilantro.
  5. Add the extra virgin olive oil to a pan with the minced garlic and allow garlic to simmer for a moment.
  6. Add petite diced tomatoes and remaining seasonings except cilantro.
  7. Stir and simmer tomatoes and seasonings for a few moments until mixture is saucy. Turn off the heat.
  8. When sauce mixture is cooled, add cilantro.
  9. When beans are cooked and well-drained, place in a bowl or back in pot, and add sauce.

Ful can be served warm or cold. I prefer it warm.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter,@vegwithleslie.

Cecil the Lion and Our Moral Isolation

Cecil the Lion
Cecil the Lion

Cecil the Lion. He’s everywhere on the Internet. I can’t bring myself to look at most of it. It’s something like what I felt in the years I was reading about the Holocaust. At some point, my reading threatened to overwhelm me, and I had to stop. I had to put a distance between myself and that story. I know it’s there. I know what happened. I just can’t come that close to it anymore and continue to live a productive life.

I first became vegetarian over 50 years ago. The reality of being the only vegetarian in my world through much of my life made it exceptionally difficult, and I went back and forth a number of times over the years. No more back and forth during the last twenty years.

There were many reasons for my vegetarianism, and I’ve written about some of them in my blog. The primary reason was that I felt it was moral cowardice and irresponsibility to purchase meat in plastic and styrofoam at the local grocery store. If I were going to eat meat, I should slaughter the animal myself, directly accepting responsibility for the life I was taking. That would never happen – because I don’t want to kill other creatures. Period. So why would I buy and eat the flesh of another creature just because the whole process happened out of sight?

My vegetarianism was based on a statement of Adelle Davis, that she eats only the products that animals give us without suffering. Turns out that in today’s world, there are not products animals give us without suffering. I started moving toward veganism a couple of years ago, and that is the basis of my comments about Cecil the Lion.

I’m finding this transition to veganism difficult, partly for health reasons, partly for social reasons and partly because I love cheese and eggs and am not a fan of substitute foods. I read a lot, and I experiment with cooking. I take every opportunity I can to make and share vegan foods with others so I can build a social network that still enjoys my food. I try to immerse myself in vegan culture online, because I know how acculturation works. For reasons I mentioned above, though, I keep some of the horrific pictures of animal suffering that some vegans post out of my view. I know it’s there. I don’t want to be overwhelmed.

One day when I was reading, I came to an ad about vegan boots. Vegan boots?! I read more as I thought about my new leather clogs, the first new shoes I’ve purchased in 10 years. I thought about the (two) leather belts in my closet.

But what I thought about most was that as thoughtful as I am about veganism, the whys, the wherefores, the hows of it, the fact that I wear leather shoes simply escaped my attention. I didn’t think about that.

Since then, I have thought a lot about that disconnect. It occurs to me that we all have a tendency to disconnect. The places where each of us disconnects are different, but it’s there. Sometimes it’s a conscious disconnect, as I did from the stories of Cecil. Most of the time it’s unconscious, like me believing whole-heartedly in the importance and necessity of veganism in today’s world yet wearing leather shoes.

I’ve debated what to do with those new shoes, the first in ten years. I considered giving them away and buying some vegan boots. There is a principle in my religion of not wasting the fruits of the earth. I decided that since I already have them, I will wear them for another ten years until they wear out. They will be a testament to my human imperfections and contradictions  and will keep me humble.

I continue to think about why I had that disconnect. I mentioned acculturation. I was born into and grew up in a world where the norm was to use animals for our purposes. It was sanctioned by religions, although if you read between the lines of the Bible, which is the religious literature I know best, you will see that even animal sacrifice is in part expiation for fellow creature-killing. Rabbinic commentaries suggest meat-eating was permitted after the flood as a channel for human violence. But the fact is, it is permitted, and it was a normal (and pretty much unexamined) part of every day life.

I was also born into a suburban world, a world where most of us, at least in this country, were no longer farmers and were no longer directly connected to the cycle of life and death that results from being closer to nature or living in rural, farming environments. We got our food from the local grocery store, already neatly packaged and separated from its source. Culturally we had no awareness of sources, not for food, not for clothing and not for much of anything else we used. Remember, I’m talking more than half a century ago.

And things changed so dramatically over the last half century. Grocery stores are huge compared to what they were. Fast food and cheap clothing is what we expect. And the source of those products has changed so dramatically. Factory farms have entered the landscape. Our numbers have increased, but so have our appetites. Everything became mechanized while we weren’t watching. And our separation from the issues of survival and the process of life and death is total, with devastating effects to our spiritual state and our emotional state.

It’s hard work to reconnect. It’s step-by-step work, work I feel I need to do — but I also don’t want to get overwhelmed by the suffering in the world, the suffering and pain we endure and the suffering and pain we inflict.

Maybe some moral isolation is a necessity to live productive lives. Incidents like killing Cecil the Lion remind us, though, that it’s a luxury we can’t afford. It’s not enough to condemn the action of a man who killed a beautiful creature for “sport.”

Concerned people have heard the stories and seen the pictures of what allegedly goes on at factory farms. I wrote a post titled “5 Reasons Vegans Shouldn’t Publish Disturbing Animal Pictures.” These pictures are just too disturbing, and I wonder what they accomplish.

Can we live in a world like this and not become morally immune? I did. I didn’t notice my shoes.

A friend of mine, Pauline Yearwood from Chicago Jewish News, shared this comment on FaceBook, and it seems appropriate:

From Gary L. Francione, The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights

If you are upset about the killing of Cecil the Lion and you are not a vegan, then you are suffering from moral schizophrenia. There is no difference between Cecil and all of the animals you eat who value their lives as much as the lion valued his.

I have been a moral schizophrenic in my life, and to an extent, I probably will always be one. But for my own spiritual health and for the health of the planet, I will work every day to be less of one.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Lentil Soup with Spinach

A simple and delicious basic lentil soup. Real comfort food!

This Brown Lentil Soup is the first lentil soup I ever made, and the first time I made it was over forty years ago. Lentils were made for Middle Eastern seasonings, lemon, garlic and cumin. I always like a little heat in my food, too, and I almost always use hot paprika for that. I keep this brown lentil soup somewhat milder, though, and just use enough paprika to make the soup interesting, though still comforting. Spinach is a traditional Middle Eastern addition to the basic soup, and it makes the soup a nice meal in a bowl.

BROWN LENTIL SOUP WITH SPINACH

Ingredients

  • Brown lentils, dried, 1 lb. (about 3 scant cups)
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
  • Spanish onion, 1
  • Carrots, 3 or 4
  • Celery, 3 or 4 stalks
  • Garlic, 1-2 TB, minced (6-8 large cloves)
  • Cumin, 1 TB
  • Salt, 1 TB (then to taste)
  • Hot paprika, 1 tsp.
  • Water, 6-9 cups (note: always start with less water – it’s easy to add during cooking to get the consistency you want)
  • Lemon, juice of 1.5-2 lemons
  • Cilantro, 1/2 bunch, minced
  • Spinach, 1/2 lb. – 1 lb., rough chopped
  • Other veggies, opt. (see note below)

Directions 

  1. Mince the garlic, and petite dice the carrots and celery.
  2. Add extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of your soup pot. Add prepared veggies and garlic and saute until softened.
  3. Add the lentils and four cups of water or veggie broth per cup of lentils (about 12 cups of water).
  4. Add optional veggies, petite diced. I don’t usually do this, but if I happen to have something appropriate that I want to use up, this soup is a good place. For this batch, I had the cores of a lot of zucchini and summer squash that I had used for zucchini “pasta,” so I petite diced it and tossed it in.
  5. Add the remaining seasonings: salt, cumin, hot paprika and lemon juice.
  6. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, until the lentils soften and begin to blend. I prefer to see actual lentils in my soup, so I don’t want to over-cook.
  7. With a potato ricer, mash the lentils a little to thicken the soup — again, not completely. It’s good to see those lentils!
  8. Add the finely chopped cilantro and rough-chopped spinach. Sometimes I cut the spinach in ribbons.
  9. Remove from heat. Serve with a little extra lemon and olive oil.

Lentils are a great food for vegetarians and vegans, and they can be used in so many ways. This Lentil Soup is just a good, basic recipe, and it’s quick and easy to make.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Moroccan Beet Salad

Moroccan Beet Salad
Moroccan Beet Salad

Love ’em or hate ’em, that’s beets! It’s one of those veggies that inspires extreme reactions. Even people who came into the cafe and said they hated beets loved this Moroccan Beet Salad, though. With its deep color, it’s a beautiful and appetizing addition to any meal, and the natural sweetness of the beets combined with classical Middle Eastern seasonings makes this root vegetable into something very special.

Boiled and peeled beets cut in a julienne.
Boiled and peeled beets cut in a julienne.

MOROCCAN BEET SALAD
Ingredients

  • Beets, 6 large
  • Red onion, 1/4 large (3 oz.)
  • Lemon, 2 lemons, juiced (about 4 TB)
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 6 TB (if you must refrigerate before eating, use canola oil so it doesn’t solidify)
  • Salt, 2 tsp. (to taste)
  • Cumin, 2 tsp.
  • Szeged Hot Paprika, 1-2 tsp. (to taste)
  • Cilantro, 1/4-1/2 cup chopped

Directions

  1. Place whole, unpeeled beets in water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until done. Don’t over-cook, but you should be able to pierce the beets easily with a fork.
  2. Cool the beets in the cooking juices and rub off the skins.
  3. Julienne the beets.
  4. Add olive oil, lemon juice, spices.
  5. Slice onions thinly into the bowl with the beets, 1″-2″ long slices.
  6. Add chopped cilantro to the bowl.
  7. Stir all together gently, adding lemon, salt and hot paprika to taste.
Julienned beets with added red onion and cilantro.
Julienned beets with added red onion and cilantro.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Bring more meaning to your life with ritual

One version of Sunday breakfast at our house. All versions include Israeli or Jerusalem Salad.

Rituals and Habits: 5 Ways They’re Different

Recently I had a reason to contemplate the difference between ritual and habit. Actually, I suspect the assignment intended that I would understand the words synonymously, because that’s how many of us view them. I believe these practices are very different, though, and one of them is life-enhancing while the other diminishes our lives.

  • Rituals define a system. Habits are isolated practices and may even be out of synch with a system.
  • Rituals are purposeful and are performed with intention. Habits have no purpose other than to make certain an action happens without thought. They may have been intentional on the first performance, but the goal of a habit is that it become thoughtless, intentionless and well, just a habit.
  • Rituals communicate. Habits communicate nothing since they are thoughtless and intention-less beyond the intention that they happen without thought.
  • Rituals are an aid to focus. Habits are an indication of lack of focus or are at least not focused on the habitual action.
  • Rituals create meaning. Habits have no meaning.

Food Rituals and Habits

Since I like to write about food, I thought I might explain these differences between ritual and habit through the prism of food.

1) Rituals define a system, and habits are isolated practices. More than the words of liturgies, which are debated and interpreted, rituals define the boundaries of a religious system, the relative value of the parts within those  boundaries and how people are required to behave within that world.  Often those definitions include what one can and cannot eat.

Something that a person habitually eats may or may not express a worldview. Initially perhaps a choice was made about an entire diet, and that diet expressed a worldview, for example that good health is important. If that initial choice becomes a habit, though, it no longer expresses anything. Not only is that habit carried out without thought, it is carried out in isolation and not as part of a systematic worldview. If information changes about what constitutes good health, a habit will continue even if it contradicts the new information.

2) Rituals are purposeful and are performed with intention. Habits have no purpose other than to make certain an action happens without thought.

I can always tell when one of my own actions is a ritual and when it is a thought. I require meaning in my life, and it is hard for me to motivate myself to do all the things involved in living a life if I have no sense of meaning. When I experience a sense of meaning, I feel joyful and energetic. When I don’t experience that sense, I feel tired and unmotivated.

Of course we all need a habit here and there, especially in a world that requires multi-tasking. We can’t give all our energy to every little thing and need to do some things on automatic. It’s all about balance, though, and when my life becomes too automatic, too filled with habit, I am likely to become depressed. Conversely, when I make a conscious choice to do something familiar that has a particular meaning in my universe, I feel purposeful, satisfied and even joyful.

I put together a breakfast bowl for myself each morning. I looked up each item in my bowl to make certain it fulfills a particular purpose for my health and my ethical consciousness. Then I evolved a series of steps which remain the same each day so that I can put my bowl together fairly quickly and easily. It may look like a habit, but it isn’t. It is definitely a ritual. I am aware of the purpose of each item in my bowl, and each ritual step I take to fill my bowl generates a sense of happiness, comfort, meaning and satisfaction — a satisfaction that is every bit as important as the mere physical satisfaction of eating what’s in the bowl.

3) Rituals communicate. Habits communicate nothing since they are thoughtless and intention-less beyond the intention that they happen without thought.

The best way I know to say, “I love you” to someone I care about is to prepare and serve them a delicious and beautiful meal that I know represents good health as we know it today. If it also represents a set of ethical values that I know I share with that person, it deepens our relationship.  Although I’m a long-time vegetarian, becoming vegan, those values don’t necessarily have to be vegetarianism or veganism. It can be values like kindness to all creatures or sharing our resources,  talents and abilities.

Similarly, religious rituals communicate a worldview.  There are reasons that certain foods are prized and others are taboo or forbidden. Food laws and rituals are a theology and an anthropology, stated without words.

4) Rituals are an aid to focus. Habits are an indication of lack of focus or are at least not focused on the habitual action.

Again, it’s easy to tell the difference between a ritual or a habitual action. As I’ve mentioned before, my knife skills are unfortunate, odd as that may be for a former restaurant owner and cook to say. I have sliced my fingers on many occasions. It’s easy to predict when I will cut my fingers.

I make a salad every day called an Israeli or Jerusalem salad. It involves quite a bit of cutting since each vegetable is petitely diced. I’m told that’s called brunoise. If I follow a little ritual I created before I start to cut, my fingers remain intact. The ritual is to (calmly and with attention) clean my counter, put down a clean cutting board, get out my knife, sharpen it, and work my way through each of the veggies, tomatoes first, then cucumbers, then red bell peppers, then red onion, then cilantro. I add each to my large bowl as I finish it. When I’m finished, I mix the salad and clean up.

If I just grab my knife and cutting board and start cutting away at my veggies in a rush with 10 other things happening around me that also require attention, I will cut my fingers.

5) Rituals create meaning. Habits have no meaning.

One of the most spiritually awesome moments I ever had was about twenty years ago when I went camping over a Sabbath. In traditional Judaism, no cooking is allowed on the Sabbath. When I went camping every weekend along the Mississippi, I left early enough on Friday that I could set up camp, make my fire and prepare my Sabbath meals before sunset.

Of course there are Jewish rituals involved in the meal, but I had rituals of my own that I added, most of them involved in the food preparation. By the time I sat down to my vegetarian Sabbath feast on a Friday evening out in the woods, I felt like I was in harmony with the natural world around me and that I could fully enjoy a beautiful meal that harmed no creature. The results of my ritual preparations spoke to me of a meaningful, loving universe, even if it was just my reality, one I created, for a space in time.

I would have missed those oportunities for awesome moments if I had been in an automatic, mindless mode, performing habitual tasks.

Another version of Sunday breakfast, also including Israeli or Jerusalem Salad.
Another version of Sunday breakfast, also including Israeli or Jerusalem Salad.

How can I make my life more meaning-filled?

Can habits be elevated to rituals? Can rituals become routinized into habit? Yes, both can happen!

Take a look at the things you repeat in your daily life. If a habit no longer fills it purpose, to allow  you to do something that is important for you to do without investing a great deal of thoughtful energy in remembering and completing the task, get rid of the habit.

Or you could convert the task to a ritual, a series of steps that involve thought and intention and that express something meaningful.

Kids thrive on meaningful rituals. My own sons used to love to get out special holiday dishes for a meal with family and friends each year. When my grandson was born, I said, “We need a ritual” and suggested Sunday breakfast.  It was a statement that would have sounded odd to anyone who didn’t know me, but my grandson’s parents accommodated me, and 11 years later, we still get together every single Sunday for a meal that we all share in cooking. The meal has evolved over the years but remains essentially the same as when we started. It is meaningful to each of us in different ways at different times — but it is meaningful to each of us including my grandson.

Fill your life with meaningful rituals.

Yummm...good to the last drop and a ritual meal we all love!
Yummm…good to the last drop and a ritual meal we all love!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Tomato Soup

Simple Tomato Soup - My Favorite!
Simple Tomato Soup – My Favorite!

Sometimes simple is best, and this tomato soup is a great example of that wisdom. It’s so quick and easy to make, it’s probably one of my favorite soups, and it always gets rave reviews whenever I share it.

Yesterday I went to a music event. I found out at the last-minute I was supposed to bring food. No problem! I always have some of my homemade spelt challah on hand, so I quickly made a batch of this delightful tomato soup and took it in a crock pot along with a loaf of challah. It was a hit, especially because there was a surprise vegan in the crowd and a lot of people with weight or heart issues.

Don’t think of it as a heart-healthy soup even though it is. Just think of it as a delicious, comforting soup, 100% real food.

Ingredients (Makes 1-1.5 gallons)

  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
  • Spanish onion, 1 large
  • Plum tomatoes, 30
  • Ginger root, 1-2″ piece
  • Salt, 1 TB
  • Hot paprika, 1 tsp
  • Basil, fresh, 10-20 leaves
  • Water, 1/2 cup, opt.

Procedure

  1. Put the extra virgin olive oil in a large soup pot.
  2. Chunk the onion and add to the pot.
  3. Peel the ginger root, cut into chunks and add to the pot.
  4. Halve the tomatoes and add to the pot.
  5. Add seasonings (salt, hot paprika), but hold the basil.
  6. The tomatoes will produce enough liquid to cook themselves, but you can speed the process a little by adding 1/2 cup of water. This makes the soup a little less thick, and since I can always add water at the end to reach my desired consistency, I prefer to hold off on the water and just cook the tomatoes in their own juice.
  7. Cover the pot and turn on low heat. Stir occasionally.
  8. When done, remove from heat and puree (I use my VitaMix, which makes a beautiful, creamy-seeming soup, but people tell me their regular blenders work just as well).
  9. Return puree to pot.
  10. Take about a cup of the soup and return it to the VitaMix or blender bowl. Add the basil leaves, roughly chopped and pulse a few times. You’ll want to be able to see chopped basil pieces in the soup.
  11. Add the basil-soup mix back to the pot. I love basil and use lots, and I think it adds a brightness to the soup that it needs, but add the mix back to your taste.
  12. Check seasoning and enjoy.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Music, healthy local foods and the joy of living fill the streets

My treasures from the Woodstock Farmers Market this week: sorrel, sweet pea and mustard microgreens, spinach and asparagus.
My treasures from the Woodstock Farmers Market this week: sorrel, sweet pea and mustard microgreens, spinach and asparagus.

Like the opening day of the Woodstock Farmers Market, in fact each day of the Market, everything on the Square felt festive this past Saturday. Although it rained the night before, by morning the sun occasionally peeked through the clouds, taking some of the early spring chill out of the air.

Gloria Burchfeld and Andy Andrick specialize in 60s music and Americana, singing at local venues, at Off Square Music events and at fairs and festivals.
Gloria Burchfeld and Andy Andrick specialize in 60s music and Americana, singing at local venues, at Off Square Music events and at fairs and festivals.

Andy Andrick and Gloria Burchfeld from Off Square Music played and sang 60s music and Americana from the gazebo in the center of the Square, and booths filled with produce and other farm products were spread along its paths and on the streets around its edge. It’s still early enough in the spring that everyone is excited to be outdoors, and the Market pathways were crowded with people greeting each other and shopping.

This week, I went to the Market with my son, Jeremy, who tried out a cup of iced caramel brulee latte from Ethereal Confections, our delightful local confectionery, before we started our path around and through the Market. He enjoyed that so much that the first thing he wanted to do when we returned four days later for a Stage Leftovers performance at Stage Left Cafe was get another cup! His punch card will fill up pretty quickly, I imagine.

Here are the treasures I brought home this week, all green and making me feel like it’s finally spring! In the microgreens department, I got sorrel, sweet pea greens and mustard from Troy at Edmond’s Acres. I also picked up some asparagus at that stand. My find this week was the plump bag of fresh, organic spinach I got from Elaine Book at Providence Farm, Belvidere. The spinach was over-wintered, and it came in strong, very early.

Plump bags of early spinach that was percolating over the winter.
Plump bags of early spinach that was percolating over the winter.
Book of Providence Farm, Belvidere.
Elaine Book of Providence Farm, Belvidere.

Jeremy stopped by the Riemer Family Farm table to visit with owners Bryce and Jen Riemer and arrange to bring home the bacon, and we checked out the table of a new vendor in the Market, Ludwig Farmstead Creamery, with their award-winning raw milk artisan cheeses. This Certified Humane Creamery is getting ready to enter a market niche that is currently under-served when their cheeses are certified kosher. I purchased a cheese that will soon have a “heksher,” a kosher certification, and Jeremy bought their spicy Habanero.

Jeremy stopped by the Riemer Family Farm table so he could arrange to bring home the bacon.
Jeremy stopped by the Riemer Family Farm table so he could arrange to bring home the bacon. Notice the iced caramel brulee latte sitting there on the table!
Bryce & Jen Riemer of Riemer Family Farm.
Bryce & Jen Riemer of Riemer Family Farm.

We continued to wander around the Square, visiting with our friends, until we came to my good friend, Jaci, world’s best cookie maker. She had a special surprise for us this week and for anyone with kids or grandkids who are into Minecraft: Jaci’s Cookies Minecraft Cookies! Of course we had to get one for my grandson, Zachary.

Jaci Krandell, owner of Jaci's Cookies and Woodstock's own cookie maker par excellence!
Jaci Krandell, owner of Jaci’s Cookies and Woodstock’s own cookie maker par excellence!
Minecraft Cookies! Those went home with us. :-)
Minecraft Cookies! Those went home with us. 🙂

With two more stops, we finished our shopping for this week. Jeremy was envious of my popcorn last week, so we stopped by the Brook’s Farm table to get some for him from Rich. While we were there, we sampled some delicious “Butter Toffee” corn which I didn’t take home because I would have eaten it all up! And Jeremy picked up a jar of red raspberry preserves from Rosinski’s Produce in Antioch. We chatted about adventures picking wild black raspberries with our kids, which always resulted in blue-black juices from finger tips to elbows and all over little faces.

Jeremy getting his popcorn from Rich Brook of Brook Farm. And then there was all that “Butter Toffee” corn. Yummmmm.
Jeremy getting his popcorn from Rich Brook of Brook Farm. And then there was all that “Butter Toffee” corn. Yummmmm.
Jeremy picked up Red Raspberry Preserves from Rosinski's Farm, Antioch.
Jeremy picked up Red Raspberry Preserves from Rosinski’s Produce, Antioch.

Finally we headed into the center of the Square to enjoy the music and see what else was happening there. Have I ever mentioned how great it is to be in a town that attracts so many wonderful musicians? Andy and Gloria were still going strong with their toe-tapping music as they came up on three hours, and we sat to enjoy the beat for a little while.

On the way out, we stopped to pick up information about the week-long Orson Welles Centennial Festival and to visit with Marty Brunkalla, our very own local luthier. His beautiful custom-made stringed instruments are highly prized!

Would you believe our very own luthier? Marty Brunkalla makes highly prized handmade stringed instruments and is an amazing musician.
Would you believe our very own luthier? Marty Brunkalla makes highly prized handmade stringed instruments and is an amazing musician.

Our little town has it all, and it’s all gathered together on our Square on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. If you’re ever nearby, be sure to stop in and join the celebration.

Here are some things I made for lunch when I got home with my treasures:

I boiled the base of the asparagus stalks in a little water.
I boiled the base of the asparagus stalks in a little water.
I threw the stems of the micro greens in on top of the stalks for a few seconds.
I threw the stems of the micro greens in on top of the stalks for a few seconds.
I whizzed the cooked asparagus stalks and micro green stems with their water in my VitaMix and added a little oil and lemon and salt and pepper to make a sauce for the asparagus tips. We had that delicious little treat along with a micro green salad dressed in extra virgin olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper -- and some of the Ludwig Farmstead Creamery cheese with my homemade spelt challah. A perfect lunch after a perfect morning in the Market.
I whizzed the cooked asparagus stalks and micro green stems with their water in my VitaMix and added a little oil and lemon and salt and pepper to make a sauce for the asparagus tips. We had that delicious little treat along with a micro green salad dressed in extra virgin olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper — and some of the Ludwig Farmstead Creamery cheese with my homemade spelt challah. A perfect lunch after a perfect morning in the Market.
And for dessert - a green smoothie! I used some frozen organic pineapple, banana, organic spinach from the market, a little organic carrot, a little lemon and a little organic apple juice from the market. Delicious!
And for dessert – a green smoothie! I used some frozen organic pineapple, banana, organic spinach from the market, a little organic carrot, a little lemon and a little organic apple juice from the market. Delicious!

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.