We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tucson's All Souls Procession and Juliette's Grass-Fed Ground Beef Tacos

by Michelle

   "People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state—it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle... Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one's actions."  ~ The Wisdom of Heschel

   This morning I am wishing that I am Samantha from Bewitched. If only I could magically twitch my nose and have the misplaced items of my life (that are haphazardly lying here and there about the house) fly through the rooms to settle into their rightful places. I can vividly imagine the stacks of papers and receipts feeling compelled to jump to attention and file themselves one-by-one in an orderly fashion. How lovely it would be if last night's dishes washed and dried themselves and then cooperatively hopped into the cabinets and drawers. And the mop, under its own accord, cleaned the tile floors, efficiently swishing into all the nooks and crannies. The vacuum, not wanting to be deemed lazy, roars to life and quickly sucks up all the dust from the earth-colored carpets. The scrub brushes, not to be outdone, would come to life in a flurry of activity and make the bathrooms shine. The laundry would sort itself, enjoy a brisk bath, and then toss themselves in the dryer. Later in the day I'd discover the clothing hanging in the closet or folded nicely and uniformly in drawers. Daydreaming of this nature is lovely and ultimately futile. What I really need to conjure for myself is a little motivation.

   I keep reminding myself that Sistercation 2014 is happening in five weeks. And, at my house! So, I need to get to it. Yet all the piles of stuff that I should be dealing with keep pulling me in to investigate further like I'm falling down the rabbit hole. A big time sink is the ongoing effort to sort a collection of five generations of family photographs that are now strewn across a long dining room table that is set-up in my family room specifically for an ongoing project like this. The photographs also extend to a myriad of boxes stacked on the floor. It is no small endeavor. There are seemingly miles of photographs to sort by family and era. The collection includes sepia-toned images dating back to the 1800s. Then, of course, there are all the photographic slides to deal, too. When my extended family is gathered for Thanksgiving, I thought it would be fun to present a family slide show that features slides that my dad and my father-in-law captured back in the 60s and early 70s. Now, if I can only find the slide projector and big white screen that are buried somewhere in the garage. If it ain't one thing, it's another!
   My sisters and I jokingly refer to me as the family repository. Not only do I have thousands of photographs, but I have also collected our families written correspondence. The letters include the letters my Papa wrote to my Nana while he served on a navy ship in the Pacific during WWII. I fantasize about putting together books that combine family photos and excerpts from the letters and give them as holiday gifts. I can assure you my grand plan won't happen this year. I've got too much to do and not enough time to do it, let alone adding in a specialty project of that scope. Still, it's fun to think about.
   I remind myself to live in the present while I am drawn into the past. I can spend hours upon hours sifting through my family's history, while I chide myself that I have more important things to do, such as putting the house in order for the holidays and getting a jump on family meals that I can freeze, such as The Best Ever Bolognese Sauce and tasty Demi-Glacé to make a quick Grilled Steak Diane.
   I try to console myself for the hours that slide by that I am partaking in an important part of living. And, that is, to remember those that have gone before us and to learn from the lessons of history. As I sort through the photos, invariably one will catch my attention, and I'll stop to take a closer look and really examine the image of an era gone by. If it really captures my attention, I scan it and occasionally I will share the photo on Facebook so that my extended family, including my cousins that are scattered near and far, can share in the fun. I enjoy reading their responses... thank you social media!

   I'm old enough to have multiple chapters in my own life that have opened and closed. My memories are tidily cataloged in photo albums—those thick volumes that sit on bookcase shelves gathering dust that I should be, at this very moment, swiping clean with a feather duster. Every once in a while I'll pull down a particular album—my high school days, my four-month-European vacation, my wedding, the birth of my daughter, wonderful childhood Christmases at my Nana and Papa's and Grandma and Grandpa's—dust it off, and smile wistfully as I flip through the pages. Occasionally the feelings are so acute that I'll be moved to tears. Then a line of a poem or whole verse will move through my mind to punctuate the feeling that is flowing through me, which is invariably the feeling of loss.

  Thinking of my Nana, she passed away as Kurt Gibson famously hit the grand slam during game one of the 1988 World Series that fell on October 15th. Naturally, with the anniversary of her death and my annual preparations during the month of October for celebrating Day of the Dead, my thoughts always include memories of my Nana.
   I fondly recall that whenever the family was together and something good was going on Nana would say, "Stop the clock, stop the clock." She knew time was passing quickly and soon we'd be apart. Nana wanted more than anything for time to stand still so she could stay in those moments that made her and all of us so happy.

Stop All The Clocks

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now;
put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

~W. H. Auden

I adore this portable shrine.

My sister Juliette, and cousins, Avalon (Juliette's daughter) and Maddie (my daughter).

We will meet again one day
On a far and distant shore
Don’t think that because I’m gone
I won’t see you anymore
Although we won’t touch again
Til the night time turns to day
The love we held within us
Will never go away.

Hold on to thoughts of me
My dreams are all for you
Although I’ve crossed the endless sea
These words I speak are true
Like drifting yacht I slipped away
And vanished in the mist
But I am beside you always
Can you still feel our kiss.

And time will come to heal your heart
Like the stream smoothes the stone
If you will just remember me
You will never be alone.
And so with friends gone before
I watch you and I wait
And when the time comes at last
I’ll be waiting at your gate.

~Jack Scarfe

In the late afternoon, spectators began lining the sidewalks and sitting on the overpasses.
I'm not sure why burritos are the enemy, but it is art all the same.

   My sister Juliette and I have made a concerted effort over the past few years to make attending the All Souls Procession an annual event. Last year, we had three generations of our family gathered in the streets of Tucson to take part in the community celebration of remembering those whom we have loved and lost. For me my thoughts combine the figurative and metaphorical. I endeavor to think well of and say blessings for friends who are no longer in my life. Although we may no longer enjoy a close relationship, they continue to play an active part in my memory and have key roles in my favorite stories. I push on through the sadness to keep searching for the light, grace, humor and love that exists in everyday life.

While the cool kids wait for the procession to start...
...Juliette paints her grandson's face.
Juliette's daughter, Sonora.
   "The first step to the knowledge of the wonder and mystery of life is the recognition of the monstrous nature of the earthly human realm as well as its glory, the realization that this is just how it is and that it cannot and will not be changed. Those who think they know how the universe could have been had they created it, without pain, without sorrow, without time, without death, are unfit for illumination." ~ Joseph Campbell

   “Find a place inside where there's joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” ~ Joseph Campbell

Yes! Traditional Folklorico dancers.

P.S.:  Please "like us" on Facebook where we post some of our favorite finds from our wanderings and from around the "internets".  If you'd like to see more of our photos, join the party on instagram#salvationsisterlinda and #salvationsistermichelle and #beaumontjuliette

Juliette's Grass-Fed Ground Beef Tacos

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Linda's Creamy,Yummy and Paleo-Friendly Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate for Weight Loss (Vitamix Method) and Her Thoughts on Gluten-Free vs Paleo Diets

by Linda

'Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don't succeed,
Try, try, try again. ~ William Edward Hickson

My new and very much improved (properly emulsified) Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate.
Delicious by anyone's standards.
As anyone knows who has spent a good deal of time cooking, much of the process is about experimentation. The same is true for me with my diet.
   When I try a recipe for the first time—often the subsequent times that I make it, I will choose alterations to improve the results. Such is the case with my previous Sugar-Free Coconut Hot Chocolate recipe that we published a couple of years ago, and such is the case with my ever changing thoughts on nutrition and diet to help me fight the battle of the bulge and stay healthy.
   In January of 2012, armed with new knowledge and the moral support of my friend and co-worker at the time, Misty, of Healthy Transisitons, I embarked on a gluten-free Paleo template diet. In four months I had lost 50 pounds, and I wasn't even going to the gym.
That's the good news. Not only did I lose weight, but the life-long asthma that all of us sisters have struggled with since we were babies improved dramatically for me. In the fall of that year just a few months later, the Sistercation of 2012 occurred. This was when Juliette, Michelle and I met up here in Sonoma County for our annual sisters' get together. During the days we spent enjoying ourselves, we talked at length about diet and my going gluten-free while we weren't at the beach or having dance party and cocktail time in my backyard.

Dance party in my backyard during Sistercation of 2012.
   Juliette is an expert at making wild yeast and long fermentation sourdough. She owns the regionally-recognized bakery—Guadalupe Baking Company in Bisbee, Arizona. During our visit, Juliette argued that I should be able to include wild yeast sourdough in my diet because there is accumulating evidence that the long cold fermentation process literally eats up the gluten. I read a blog post on Cheeseslave that Juliette sent me that made me consider reintroducing this artisan product back into my diet. According to what I read, when tested, the gluten parts per million in wild yeast long ferment sourdough are below what the FDA requirement is to label a product gluten-free (however FDA regulations do not allow for anything containing wheat to be labeled "gluten-free"). Although I am not the master researcher that Michelle is, when I am on the track of new knowledge, I start digging into things. This is good and this is bad, because you can end up making yourself really confused, which I managed to do in this case.
   Since I was still really missing bread on my new diet, I was persuaded to give baking my own artisan sourdough a try if it meant I could have delicious bread back in my life. Juliette had brought her sourdough starter dehydrated powder with her from Arizona, and she got the starter rehydrated and going for me here in California in the week she was at my house on vacation. When the girls were gone—with my new starter bubbling away—I set out to learn to make real sourdough. Not one to cautiously approach a new project, I enthusiastically threw myself into my new creative endeavor. I invested in brotforms, cambros, clay baking cloches, cast iron bread bakers, baguette pans, a lame, a good digital scale and a whole slew of other bread baking equipment that is needed to transform water, flour and salt into beautiful loaves of artisan sourdough.
   Michelle got into the act, too, and it wasn't long before the two of us were turning out gorgeous and really delicious boules, baguettes, rolls, bagels and pizza dough under the tutelage of the expert, Juliette. There were many telephone calls and emails between the three of us that were devoted to the subject. Michelle even won a blue ribbon at her local state fair that spring for her heavenly Guava-Coconut-Orange-Walnut Stuffed Baguette. The following photos are examples of the bread and pizza that Michelle and I began making:


   But after about six months, not all was well for me in Sourdough Breadland.  The weight began to creep back on, and my asthma worsened, but I continued on baking bread in spite of these warning signs because not only do I really love eating bread, but now I really enjoyed the whole process of making and baking it as well. Bread is convenient (too busy to cook—you can always make a sandwich, right?), it is delicious, it is comforting, it is filling and it makes great gifts. I don't think anything smells quite as good as freshly baked bread just out of the oven. However, there is growing evidence to support that wheat isn't just addictive as in becoming habituated, but that it is actually an opiate that acts in our bodies to make us hungry.  William Davis, M.D., who is the author of Wheat Belly argues that:

"Wheat is addictive in the sense that it comes to dominate thoughts and behaviors. Wheat is addictive in the sense that, if you don’t have any for several hours, you start to get nervous, foggy, tremulous, and start desperately seeking out another “hit” of crackers, bagels, or bread, even if it’s the few stale 3-month old crackers at the bottom of the box. Wheat is addictive in the sense that there is a distinct withdrawal syndrome characterized by overwhelming fatigue, mental “fog,” inability to exercise, even depression that lasts several days, occasionally several weeks. Wheat is addictive in the sense that the withdrawal process can be provoked by administering an opiate-blocking drug such as naloxone or naltrexone. But the “high” of wheat is not like the high of heroine, morphine, or Oxycontin. This opiate, while it binds to the opiate receptors of the brain, doesn’t make us high. It makes us hungry."

 So it was with much sadness, lamentation and wailing on my part, I gave up wheat once more—fatter and wheezier—but much wiser. I have finally had to accept that I react to wheat, even if it is fermented, technically gluten-free and shaped with rice flour. In the following months I went back on a fairly strict gluten-free diet with only occasional indulgences, but I was still eating starch and sugar. I liked that gluten-free bun with my hamburger and my satisfying Duck Fat Oven Fries. There are some mighty tasty gluten-free cookies out there now in the marketplace. And guess what? The weight did not come off as it had before. Not even slowly. I found out that a gluten-free diet all by itself was not going to make the weight come off. Albeit that they are all gluten-free—sugar and gluten-free starch still make me fat.

Truly delicious—but my gluten-free Summer Pasta can't be part of my regular menu repertoire. I will be making it now now with Michelle's tasty and Paleo-friendly zucchini noodles.
   A month ago, I made the decision to return to the Paleo-template diet that Misty recommended to me in early 2012 when my excess weight dropped off rapidly. I am back to Misty's Coconut Milk, Whey Protein and Blueberry Smoothie for breakfast or my Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate, which I am now emulsifying properly in my Vitamix as a reader kindly pointed out that I should do in their comments about my previous post.
  Here is my slow to embrace realization—going gluten-free just doesn't cut it for weight loss for me. Going gluten-free is easy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it's super easy. If one doesn't actually have Celiac Disease, there are an array of tasty gluten-free products in the present day marketplace to make the transition to a gluten-free diet a rather painless undertaking. Restaurants have caught on as well and are providing many gluten-free options. However, almost all of the "gluten-free" products replacing bread, pizza, cookies and desserts are loaded with starch and sugar which cause our blood sugar to elevate and we turn the excess calories into fat.
   I feel better in general on a gluten-free diet and my asthma is far less. I am able to take half the medication that I did previously, but I still remain overweight—so it's back to Paleo for me. Conversely, cutting out refined carbs—namely refined sugar and starches— at least for me, is very difficult. It requires real discipline and meal planning in my hectic life. I shouldn't complain being that I don't even have kids at home complaining about what I am putting in their lunch box or what I am preparing for dinner. I am back to making my Paleo breakfast, packing a Paleo lunch, and I have Nom Nom Paleo sitting out in my cookbook holder for inspiration for dinners. I had the great pleasure of meeting the authors of that book, Michelle Tam and Henry Fong, a few months back. They were on a summer book tour, and stopped in the Whole Foods Market® where I work to sign books and say hello. They were kind enough to share my blog post for my Honey Simple Syrup recipe on their Facebook page.

Henry Fong and Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo at Whole Foods Market San Rafael.
   I am happy to report that although I am still craving starch and sugar, I have lost ten pounds in a month. I have noticed that the cravings are subsiding as the days pass, and my energy is increasing. I also notice that I am once again less hungry, but I do need to eat my meals on time because in general, I do not snack.
   We sisters are going to be having another Sistercation in the first week of December, and my goal is too have lost 25 pounds by then. I will most likely join in our holiday celebration by eating the delicious food that Michelle is already planning, and I will also most likely be eating some amazing sourdough bread—but only for a week. When I come home it will be back to strictly Paleo for me. And this time I have added insurance to get back on track quickly—this year I am already back at the gym lifting weights and doing some yoga, too.

Linda's Creamy, Yummy and Paleo-Friendly Coconut Oil Hot Chocolate for Weight Loss (Vitamix Method)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Papel de China: Making A Variety of Paper Flowers

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

   "The artist is a receptacle for the emotions that come from all over the place; from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web."
                                                                                                                  ~Pablo Picasso

My sister Juliette makes paper flowers in preparation to decorate
the community altar in celebration of El 
Día de los Muertos.
   A couple of weeks ago I headed to the tiny town of Bisbee, where my sister Juliette lives, to capture photographs of women in the community making crepe paper flowers over the course of an afternoon. I look forward to these types of gatherings, when people who don't necessarily know each other, and who are intuitively following their curiosity, come together with the cooperative intention to create, experiment, and above all, have fun.
   This time of year, during the month of October, many arts and crafts projects are steeped in Mexican tradition, that directly connect to remembering and celebrating our ancestors. We anticipate taking part in private and community revelry associated with November 1st, the Latin American holy day of El Día  los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). It is the day when we look at Death in the proverbial eye and laugh. We remember our loved ones that have passed, and we share our stories to keep them part of our conversations—to keep their memories alive.
   In past years, to celebrate and remember, my daughter Maddie made sugar skulls for a school project, and then we hosted a sugar skull decorating party at our house. Last year we made Calacas-shaped cookies. We've assembled altars to remember our friends and family that have passed. As George Eliot wrote, "Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them." Setting aside time every year to remember our departed loved ones, ensures that they will not be forgotten from one generation to the next.
   My sisters and I and our collective families take part in community celebrations in Tucson and Petaluma, including the annual All Souls Procession and Candlelight Procession. And, everywhere we go during this time of year, we will surely see profusions of colorful paper flowers decorating everything from up-do's ( à la Frido Kahlo), to decorative arrangements on dining room tables, to mechanical floats at the Processions, to personal and community altars.

   While I am an admirer of paper flowers, those bright profusion of blooms that please the eye, I had only learned to make tissue paper poppies once upon a time, and a very long time ago it was. I have always been an ardent devotee of the big free form crepe flowers that Juliette learned to make from a friend after moving to Bisbee nearly 25 years ago.
   While I was excited to see Juliette in action, Juliette in turn was enthused to learn how to make paper roses from Maria, the President of the Bisbee Woman's Club. Maria shared with me that paper flowers are not only for celebrating El Día de los Muertos, but for all celebrations of life that call for flowers, including quinceañeras, weddings and funerals.
   If the paper flowers will be displayed in the outdoors, Maria informed me that each flower can be dipped in melted parafin wax and hung upside down until dry, which will add a layer of protection against the elements. This is typically done if the flowers will be displayed at a grave or for an outdoor event.
Vanessa is a quick study and learns how to make florets on her first attempt.
A floret is surrounded by yellow petals to dramatic effect.
   When we gathered at Central School on that Sunday afternoon, the intention was for the group to produce flowers to decorate a community altar for Central School Project's El Día De Los Muertos Event commencing with an "Art and Alters" Juried Exhibition on November 1st. The show runs through November 14, 2014. For more information leading up to the event, join El Día de los Muertos, Bisbee on Facebook.
   As I photographed the process of making crepe flowers, I noticed how quickly the ladies learned from each other and riffed on each other's ideas. Once you have the basics down, which hardly takes any time at all, an endless variety of flowers can be made. The creation of the flowers is neither tedious or boring because each flower is open to interpretation whether it is made from a pattern or is a free form cut from layered crepe paper. As the volunteers made an abundance of flowers, chatter and laughter filled the air. Clearly everyone was enjoying herself as the hours melted away in a flowing stream of creativity.

A floret is surrounded by multiple layers of free form petals (no template required).
For multiple layers of petals, begin with the shorter petals and end with longer petals.
Unfurl the cut crepe paper and use a glue stick (as shown) before twirling
onto the floret and floral wire.
Secure the petals on the floral wire with the aid of green floral tape.
   Juliette started the event by asking Maria to teach us how to make a rose. As Maria's hands deftly worked through the process of creating the rose, she shared with us memories of making paper flowers as a young girl working side-by-side with her mother and grandmother. Maria's storytelling reminded me that I need to take a break from my harried professional life and schedule more artists' dates with my family and friends. We always remember the times when we come together to create something special, whether it is paper flowers for a community event or a birthday cake for a loved one.

Maria's captivating rose gives the newbies in the group something to aspire to.
Roses are made by using both a tear drop and heart shaped patterns.
Make several petals at once by tracing the pattern on to stacked layers of crepe paper.
The cut "petals" are curled along the top with the help of a pencil.
Then, using your fingers, pull gently to mold the crepe paper decoratively into a rounded shape.
Twist scrap pieces of crepe paper into an elongated shape, which will be the unfurled petals
in the middle of the rose. Secure with 18-gauge by 18-inch green floral wire.
Start shaping the roses by first adding the smaller tear-shaped petals,
and then followed by the larger heart-shaped petals.
Continue to use your fingers to shape the crepe paper as you add petals to the rose.
Twist the crepe paper onto the wire, as you work, to secure each petal.
To finish the rose, secure the crepe paper to the floral wire with green florest tape.
Maria prefers to thicken the stem by wrapping the wire first in green crepe paper and then securing with sticky green floral tape. Remember to keep all the scraps for making the center of the roses.
   While Maria continued to make gorgeous roses, and my sister Juliette created multi-colored chrysanthemum-inspired blooms, I saw Renata taking the basics of the free-form technique and pushing it into the land of exotica with tropical-inspired flower spikes.

Instead of using a floret, Renata shapes pipe brushes into stamen for a tropical-style flower.
Renata uses a glue stick on the petals to help hold the flower together and
then she finishes by using green floral tape for a professional look. 
The tropical flowers give a pleasing architectural dimension to the bouquet. 
   I will now take this opportunity for a "commercial break" to feature Renata's Dead Songbirds. She meticulously sews the birds by incorporating new and found objects, including fabrics, beads, metal and various embellishments. Through her meticulous handcraft, she is hoping to call attention to the high rates of death in the migratory bird populations. To learn more about the plight of birds, read this fact sheet issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Handmade dead birds with a heart by Renata González captured my fancy.
The birds will be available for purchase at El Día de los Muertos Art and 
Altarpiece Show Opening Celebration in Bisbee and at Pop-Cycle in Tucson.
   To add to the festive flair of the afternoon, my sister brought snacks for everyone to much on. Once you start eating locally-made spicy creamy goat cheese smeared on slices of wild yeast sourdough bread from Guadalupe Baking Company, it is hard to stop.

My sister Juliette keeps everything to make paper flowers stored neatly in an old suitcase.
   At the end of the day, when the fun is done, the clean-up begins. I agree with the observation of humorist Erma Bombeck, "My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance." On the happy side of chores, many hands make light work, and it didn't take long to do what we needed to do to put everything in order.
   Afterwards, Juliette and I had a quick and delicious dinner at High Desert Market before I headed back to Tucson. We ate on the quiet patio where we could feel the first touches of fall floating on the air. The on-going conversations that I have with my sisters keep me sane in a crazy world. On my way home, I felt refreshed and ready for a new work week ahead. Art and companionship do that for me. Add great food to the mix, and I'm about as happy as I can be.

It is critical to buy crepe paper and not tissue paper.
Tissue paper is flimsy, whereas crepe paper can be shaped, stretched and curled.
Papel de China: Making a Variety of Paper Flowers

List of Materials:
Crepe Paper in a variety of colors
18 Guage Wire
Pipe Cleaners in a variety of colors
Pinking Shears
wire cutter(s)
Glue stick(s)
Green Florist Tape
parafin, optional - visit the Bittersweet link below for more information on waxing the flowers for extended life

Additional Information:
History of crepe flowers, plus step-by-step instructions, including patterns... at Bittersweet
Super easy flowers, made fan style with tissue paper and ribbon, at Spanglish Baby
No crepe paper? No tissue paper? No problem! You just need construction paper and a stapler... at Latinaish

                      "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." ~Pablo Picasso
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