Leading, Following, Baking

NB: There is a recipe at the bottom, but I don’t feel as confident about it as usual, so the post isn’t really “about” that.

I’ve been cooking family meals for decades. I started when I was just into double digits and haven’t stopped other than during my first two years of college when I lived on campus in a dorm. I don’t mean to be immodest, but I am a good cook.

I tend to cook by feel, smell, and taste memory. If I taste something a couple of times, I can generally get a pretty good idea of what goes in it, and make a reasonable version of it. Once in a while, a dish goes sideways. I can usually rescue it, but now and then I make something that is, objectively, not good. It’s pretty rare though.

Baking is different. When I cook non-baked food, I’m the leader. I scope it out. I make choices. I improvise. But, with baking, it’s not that easy. I’m not knowledgeable enough about the chemistry of baked goods to just fake it. I’ve gotten better just during this last year, but I still need to follow a recipe if I really want things to come out. And, if they start to go wrong, I don’t always know how to fix them.

Baking requires, for me, following, rather than leading. And I don’t much like that sometimes. But, I suspect it’s good for me to be in that position – where I have no control and I don’t know the answer – in something as low-risk as baked goods.

So, I’ll keep at it! And maybe I will grow my following skills in the process. It’s sort of yoga in food form?

Today’s almost disaster involved a Sourdough Nectarine Cobbler. The original recipe came from Farmhouse on Boone. But, I made some adaptations, because I had nectarines rather than peaches, and I wanted to try out some pancake/waffle mix that reportedly could be substituted 1:1 for flour. In the end, it basically turned out, but wow what a process of annoyance and reworking! And I definitely won’t use this mix as flour again. So, I present it here in the way that I will make it if I make it again!

Sourdough Nectarine Cobbler

Dough Ingredients
2 cups flour (you may need to adjust a bit depending on type)
1/2 cup active 100% hydration sourdough starter
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup agave or maple syrup
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup soy milk
1/4 cup brown sugar

Filling Ingredients
4-6 cups peeled and chopped nectarines
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp flour
3 tbsp vegan butter, sliced
1/3 cup brown sugar


Add flour, starter, melted coconut oil, and agave and mix. It will be quite dry. If you have to add a few drops of water to even combine it, go ahead, but don’t add much. Set this in a warm location, covered, for 8-24 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350*.

Bring out your dough mix from wherever it has been sitting. Add baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, soy milk, and brown sugar and mix.

Peel and chop your nectarines. Add to your baking pan (I used a 13×9 pan, but a 10-12 inch cast iron would also work well). Sprinkle with cinnamon, butter, brown sugar, and flour and fold in. Bake for 10 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, pat out biscuit dough to about half an inch and cut into biscuits using a cutter or mason jar lid. Try not to twist your cutter so you don’t seal the biscuits.

Remove peaches from oven and stir. Place biscuits over peaches and bake for ~ 20 minutes, until the biscuits are turning golden brown.

Allow to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Flashback: Lessons in Yoga from Cats

I wrote this post over 10 years ago. Now we have different cats and we miss the ones that have gone on. One of our current furry housemates, Astrid, screamed at us all for 10 minutes last night because she needed us to see the prey she had caught (it was an old cat collar and when I say scream, I mean YOWL). Today’s cats – Sophie and Astrid, are not the same as Charlie and Rudy, but the lessons they teach remain. Being home with them 24/7 is really reminding me of how much yoga I can learn from them.

You just never know where your next yoga inspiration will come from.  Beings you never expect can turn out to be impressive yogis with much to teach.  Let me introduce you to two:  Charlie and Rudy.

I’ve learned many things about the practice of yoga from Charlie and Rudy, and I would like to share a few of them with you.

Focus – Charlie and Rudy have an amazing ability to focus, both in terms of the visual and their goals. They have their drishti DOWN!  Rudy can stare at a leaf in the yard for hours on end.  He never looks away and is not distracted by others entering or leaving the room.  He gazes, and breathes.  Do not try to play stare down with him. You will not win.  They can also focus on a goal with complete persistence.  Charlie will spend a full afternoon following a bug.  Whither the bug goes, she will go – regardless of difficulty (for self or others).  If Rudy wants someone to get out of bed and pet him, he will pursue that goal with the focus and drive of a world class athlete, meowing for hours on end if necessary.  All that is important in that time is the focus; they are fully able to…

Be in the moment – While they both can certainly work toward a goal, even so, they remain in the moment.  They do not let the past constrain their present.  They do not let worry or fear of the future impact the now.  If Charlie wants to stand on top of my work bag, does she fear, based on the past, that I will become annoyed?  No, she does not.  If Rudy would like to chew some baby’s breath in a flower arrangement, does he fret that it will make him vomit as it has approximately 43 times before?  I assure you that he doesn’t.  Worrying about the past or the future is not useful to them, and therefore they do not do it, which leads us to…

Let go of that which does not serve you – Charlie and Rudy are fully able to release what is not useful for them.  Rules about where to sit, or lay, or what to eat do not serve them, so they let go.  Hairballs do not serve them, so they let go.  Sometimes going to another room, or even another floor of the house, to pee does not serve them, so they let go of what they are doing and go after whoever it is.  Their letting go even extends to their willingness to give of themselves…

Give a little of yourself to everyone you encounter – Yes, indeed, my cats are experts in this arena.  In each encounter, they hope to leave a little piece of themselves.  They do it so willingly, and so generously, that most everyone who comes into contact with them will walk away able to spread that little bit of them to other encounters.  Sometimes it’s a scratch; sometimes it’s drool;  but, most often it is the very hair of their bodies that they give with such abandon.  They make every effort to go beyond their physical limits with their selves…

Expand your reach and your flexibility – The asanas of yoga allow us to develop our reach and our flexibility, and my cats are truly inspirational in their devotion to the practice.  Stretching can occur at any moment of the day, in any location.  Charlie can often be found stretching over my keyboard or on top of the arm I am trying to write with.  Rudy stretches out across a bed, on the cat tree, over a window ledge.  Sometimes it’s a long and slow stretch, and sometimes it’s a quick stretch as they prepare for more movement.  They do not let little things like people’s legs get in the way of their stretching. Nor do they worry about the new furniture when they feel the urge to stretch up, up toward the sky, with legs and paws and claws fully extended, for a deep, luxurious, pleather destroying stretch.  And talk about flexible!  Can you see what you are doing when you clean your tail?  I think not.  Enough said.  While they certainly stretch and move, they are also not afraid to slow down…

Take rest – Charlie and Rudy understand that rest should be taken when the body and mind need it.  If rest is needed while you are in the kitchen, take it.  If rest is needed while you are in the bathroom, go right ahead.  If rest is needed while you are stepping over a loaf of bread laying on the counter, you should lay right down.  Middle of the doorway to the stairs?  Right on.  It doesn’t matter when or how long, either.  If you get up and still feel tired, lay back down.  If a day passes and you’ve done little but rest, Charlie and Rudy want you to know that it is perfectly ok.  There is no shame in resting.  In fact, be proud of your resting ability!

Yes, it is true.  My cats are yogis and I suspect that most others are too.  They are wise and experienced in the ways of the middle path and much can be learned from simply being in their lives.  We should all be honored that they grace us with their presence.



Helping Your Friends and Family – The “Right” Way

I’m going a little off-brand today, though what I am about to discuss relates quite well to the concept of karma yoga. So, here we go.

This has been a weird few months in my life, starting with an unexpected but serious health event at the end of June, which coincided with a setback in the treatment of a long-term health issue, and then was followed by a broken foot (I’m now at week 6 of crutches), and a nice immune-system malfunction requiring antibiotics that make me sick. Getting old is a festival, but it sure beats the alternative. I know many others in my friend and colleague groups that have also been going through the hard stuff.

This has also been a pretty horrifying year on the world stage, and the U.S. has been a roiling mass of rage, entitlement, anger, and violence. That has produced a massive amount of sorrow and confusion for U.S. residents of all ages, as well as those watching from around the world.

So, I’m not alone in needing some extra help recently. But, asking for help is, for most of us, really hard. The individualism and belief in self-determination that characterizes the national culture has rendered many people almost incapable of asking for help. I see this in students who won’t go to counseling or tutoring (though I think more of the college generation are comfortable admitting they need emotional assistance than my generation is/was). I see this in friends who are in the sandwich generation managing the dual roles of parenting children and caring for parents, but not asking for support. I see this in colleagues going through serious health issues and trying not to do any less at work. And I see this in myself.

I’ve struggled mightily asking for help this summer. At home, I’ve been better with it. But, even there I tend to wait for my incredibly supportive spouse to come and say “do you need anything?” before I will ask (he understands because he is very unlikely to ever ask for help!). With friends and colleagues, it’s even worse. I’ve tried to miss as little work as possible, no matter how I feel. I’ve hauled myself up and down stairs lugging as much as I can on crutches because I don’t want to ask for assistance, and so on. All of this has made me think about how we offer and give help.

I think most of us have, at times, had a friend go through something – whether it is a surgery or a family crisis or an illness – and said “let me know if you need help.” We are sincere when we say it, but it puts all of the burden on the individual who is already dealing with something serious. It requires that the person suffering reach out to us and ask for the specific help needed, and that is not easy. And when there are others involved – if the person has a family or spouse somewhere in the vicinity – it may be even harder to ask for help from others without making the family members feel like they aren’t doing enough.

So, what is better? While I’m no expert – hence the “Right” in the title of this post – I think it’s better to offer specific help in ways that are more of an offer and less of a question. It’s better to offer help in a way that makes other people not feel that they are asking too much. It’s better to offer a level of help we can legitimately follow through on, because it’s really hard to get up your nerve to ask for help and get a no.

Instead of “Let me know if I can help,” maybe try:

  • I take my trash out to the curb/dumpster on Sundays. I’ll stop by and get yours around noon.
  • I go to the grocery store every Tuesday and drive by your place on my way back. I’ll text you on Monday to see what you need.
  • I’m making extras of casseroles for the freezer this month so I can use them over the holidays. I’m going to drop a few off.
  • I am headed to the laundry tomorrow after work. I’ll drop by and grab your stuff and bring it back ready for folding.
  • My teens could really use some experience with cleaning/yard work/pet care. Let me bring them over for an hour on Saturday afternoon. We’ll have coffee and they can get some stuff done.
  • I’ve been wanting to give that report/task a try. Let me do this one.
  • I know your spouse is making sure you get fed well, but I’m going to drop of dinner on Saturday so you can both take a break.
  • I’m going to get reiki on Saturday. I would love to go together, my treat!
  • I know you have to go to the X doctor on Wednesday and you should not have to do that alone. I’ll pick you up and we’ll go to lunch afterwards.

This kind of offering takes more work on the part of the giver. We have to think more about what the other might need. It requires us to be more authentic to ourselves and the other regarding what we are really willing/able to do. But, it takes the weight off of a friend, family member, or colleague who is already feeling burdenend, and that’s what we want to do in the first place.

Do you find asking for help a challenge? How about offering? What are your strategies for either one?