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Archive for December, 2012

Merry Christmas!

For the last Friday Photo before Christmas, I thought this would be an appropriate post. This is a photo I took of our neighbor’s amazing Christmas display . . . thankfully they live a few blocks away . . . !

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

Happy Holidays!

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Yum. I made this dish for the first time few nights ago, and I am so happy with how well it turned out. Crunchy green beans and walnuts, combined with pungent blue cheese and red onion, make a wonderfully rich and savory salad. I served this as a side to a great (and garlicky) pot of healthy winter vegetable soup. The meal was a resounding success. Again, yum.

Green Bean and New Potato Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 pound green beans, chopped into 2″ pieces
  • 2-6 golden and purple new potatoes*
  • about 1/4 red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup raw walnuts (or roasted, if you prefer), roughly chopped
  • about 5 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

*For this version, I just threw in two little potatoes for fun and a bit of color. Next time, I would use about six–they were good! On the other hand, I think you could easily leave them out and make a strictly green bean salad that is equally delicious.

Directions

  1. Thinly slice the potatoes. Add them to the bottom of a steamer with already boiling water.
  2. After about 8 minutes, add the green beans. Continue to boil for another 6 minutes or so. Let cool.
  3. While the beans and potatoes are steaming, prepare the onions, walnuts, and parsley. Thinly slice the onion and coarsely chop the walnuts and parsley, mixing all together in a salad bowl.
  4. Once the beans have cooled a bit, add them to the bowl. Drizzle olive oil to coat, with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, to taste. Toss all ingredients together to mix.
  5. Serve immediately, or chill for a bit to let flavors meld.
© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

The Soup

When I prepared the soup to go with this meal, I really just threw whatever vegetables I had on hand in a bit pot with a lot of garlic and herbs. I didn’t take any pictures or write anything down because I wasn’t expecting an amazing soup–just a good healthy soup to fulfill my winter-weather cravings. But of course the soup ended up being ridiculously amazing, and my cousin’s wife (who was present at the meal) has been asking me for the recipe. So, for her and anyone else who wants to stick to our overall meal plan, here is my best guess for how to recreate my stellar soup.

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash, chopped
  • 1 turnip, chopped
  • 1/2 white/golden onion, chopped
  • 4 new potatoes, quartered
  • 6 baby bella mushrooms, quartered
  • 1//4 cup green beans, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen kale
  • 1 head garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 quart broth/water*
  • splash white wine
  • grated parmesan to top

*I only had about half a box of veggie bouillon on hand, so I added that and used water to cover the rest of the vegetables. I honestly think water works just as well as bouillon in any well-seasoned soup.

Again, I just threw whatever I had in a big pot and hoped for the best. The soup was great, but next time I might decide to leave out the mushrooms. Or to add tomato. Feel free to play with whatever you have on hand. The key ingredient in this soup is actually the fresh parsley–it made a huge difference in the flavor. And of course the wine. As my regular readers will know, I add wine to everything I cook. I guess it’s my good luck charm.

Directions

First, prepare the squash by roasting it at 450 degrees for about 40 minutes. At this point, the squash should be easy to remove from its skin, but not yet cooked all the way through. (Remember to save the seeds! Perfectly Cooked Pumpkin Seeds)

Next, set the potatoes to boil. Like squash, potatoes take quite awhile to cook through, so these extra steps make a difference in how quickly the soup is ready.  Allow the potatoes to boil until they are just over halfway cooked (about 12 minutes) and remove from heat.

While the squash and potatoes are cooking, begin to prepare the rest of the vegetables. Once everything is chopped and ready to go, add the onion, garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, and olive oil to the bottom of a big pot. Sauté these ingredients together over medium heat until the onion begins to turn clear.

Next, add the mushrooms, turnip, beans, and potatoes, and continue to sauté for another 8 minutes or so.

By this time, the squash should be done roasting. Turn the heat to low and let the veggies continue to cook gently while you prepare the squash. Once the squash is ready, turn the heat back up to medium, add the squash, and continue to cook everything together for another 5 minutes.

At this point, all the veggies should be just about cooked through and steeped in herby goodness, so add the broth and water. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat, and stir in the kale. Continue to simmer for another 12 minutes.

Next, stir in the fresh parsley, and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

The last step is to turn off the heat and stir in a splash of wine. Top with salt, pepper, and parmesan to taste.

The bright orange squash and dark green kale make this quite a pretty soup, and with all the garlic and vitamin-packed vegetables, it’s incredible healthy and perfect for warming up during winter. I’ll definitely add a picture next time I make this!

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For this Photo Friday, I decided to take  trip back to New Zealand, where i spent about a month in 2008. New Zealand is a beautiful country (as most people probably know, given the number of movies filmed there). One part of the country I found to be especially beautiful was Doubtful Sound, a large fjord in the far South. I toured the area by boat, and we were blessed with abundant rainbows.

Somehow, all seems right in the world when a rainbow graces a landscape like this. And when it happens twice on the same trip, well . . . .

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

A scenic view of the sound

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

© 2008, Juniper Stokes

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I’ve always looked to nature for signs and messages.  Shamanic practitioners have utilized this practice for years, as have practitioners of most earth-based spiritual practices. Even the ancient Greeks turned to the natural world for messages and omens. From a spiritual perspective, we can view nature as a living force, full of actual spirit beings who collaborate to bring us messages and guide us on our paths. From a psychological perspective, our minds are responsible for the messages we receive, using natural symbolism to process our subconscious needs and emotions. Either way, I believe when nature speaks, we ought to listen.

This past Thanksgiving, I flew home to my parents house in Eastern Washington, and nature was practically shouting at me. We were lucky enough to have beautiful, mild weather, and we took advantage of the weather by going on daily hikes (which also had the benefit of helping us work off all Thanksgiving’s culinary indulgences).

On Thanksgiving Day, we took a long hike to a beautiful pond. I’d been to this pond a few times before, and it has always hosted a variety of bird life. This Thanksgiving, however, we saw more birds than ever before. Of course there were the usual tenants–Canadian geese, a variety of ducks, and a few hawks. But on this trip, we were also greeted by two bald eagles and over twenty white swans. Anytime I see a bald eagle in the wild, I feel gifted by nature, and seeing such a plethora of swans was so unusual that I felt it must be some sort of sign.

Eagle, as a spirit animal, traditionally represents a direct message or connection with the Divine. Eagles are so awe-inspiring that any culture that has had contact with eagles has created a mythology about them. In the United States, of course, we have chosen the eagle as our national bird. And our Mexican neighbors have an eagle on their flag, a symbol that dates back to the Aztec tradition that the people should settle where they see an eagle, eating a snake, on a cactus (now Mexico City).

image of eagle eating snake on cactus

Mexican flag: image of eagle eating snake on cactus

I find it interesting that the eagle was associated with Zeus, the god of thunder, in ancient Greece, and in many Native American cultures the Thunderbird is represented by an eagle. In all traditions, the eagle is a majestic bird, and its ability to soar to great heights reminds us to do the same. As Eagle soars to meet the spirit of the sky, we too may meet and strengthen our connections with the Divine.*

*When referring to an animal as a regular animal, I follow standard English and use an article followed by the name. In general, when referring to the spirit of the animal, or the animal as a spirit guide or more general symbol, the article is dropped, and the name is capitalized.

Bald Eagle in the Skagit valley, Washington, USA.

Bald Eagle in the Skagit valley, Washington, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the time of this Thanksgiving’s hike, I had just finished my first month at a new job in a new city. The work load had been more than I was prepared for, leaving me little time to nurture my creative pursuits or to meet many people in my new location. So, heading home to my parents house, exhausted, lonely, and feeling the seasonal sadness of still being single, I suppose I was need of a boost from the universe. When Eagle appeared, I was reminded to look beyond my small, human view of the present situation, reconnect with my spirit, and reinvigorate my approach to life–a perfect Thanksgiving message.

Leda and the Swan, by Leonardo Da Vinci

Leda and the Swan, by Leonardo Da Vinci

This message was further enhanced by the unusual presence of so many swans. I had never seen even one swan at this pond before, let alone more than twenty at once. Clearly, there was a message here, too. In general, Swan reminds us to move through life with grace and gratitude. While swan’s presence in Greek mythology is often associated with love and beauty, I like to turn to the Hans Christian Anderson tale of the ugly duckling, and Jamie Sams’s interpretation of it, to draw meaning (see below). As most will be familiar with, in this tale, the swan begins as an “ugly duckling”; the swan believes herself to be a duck, and wonders why she looks so different from her duck companions. In Sam’s version, Swan is asked to have faith in Great Spirit’s plan, to jump into the void and surrender her little swan body to whatever will come and trust in the workings of the universe. Little Swan does as she is asked, and she is rewarded with transformation into a creature with beauty and grace beyond any she could have imagined for herself.

baby swan--not ugly at all, if you ask me!image from fanpop.com

baby swan–not ugly at all, if you ask me!

As someone naturally inclined to stress, to worry, and to try to work out every detail of my life ahead of time, I often need a reminder to move through life with a bit more trust and grace. I am very grateful to Swan for appearing to me at such a transitional and stressful time in my life. I may not have every detail of where I’m headed worked out, but I can be grateful for all that I have in the present and trust that life will continue to bring more reasons to be thankful.

I couldn’t think of a more perfect sighting for my entire family on Thanksgiving Day: Eagle and Swan together, reminding us to connect with the Divine, to give thanks for the many gifts in our lives, and to move through life with grace.

I took a few pictures on our hike. We were enjoying views of the swans and eagles through binoculars, and my camera couldn’t quite capture a clear picture of either the eagles or swans (though I got some great shots of Canadian geese . . .). Still, here is one of the many swans, along with an overall view of the bird-sighting area.

Eagle, Swan, and Owl came to say hello

full view of the bird pondc 2012, Juniper Stokes

full view of the bird pond
© 2012, Juniper Stokes

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll discuss my encounter with Owl. On another hike at home the weekend after Thanksgiving, I had the most unusual encounter with a great horned owl. I can’t wait to write about this amazing experience, so please check back soon!

And for those who are interested, here are two of my favorite resources for animal wisdom:

Animal Speak, by Ted Andrews

The Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams and David Carson

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I took this photo at the Día de los Locos (literally “Day of the Crazies”) festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Día de los Locos takes place in mid-June, when people from various neighborhoods parade through the streets wearing all sorts of elaborately crafted costumes. They parade from the Church of San Antonio to El Jardín, the central square. Some ride old, decorated trucks, while others dance-walk the entire route. Small children line the streets awaiting the Mexican candies that will be tossed to them, and nearly everyone wears a mask.

Luchadores Locos © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Luchadores Locos © 2012, Juniper Stokes

Mexican wrestlers in suites=classy.

Another especially luminous luchador . . . no so classy . . .

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

A bit of a tribute to Asia

 © 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

And some very crazy shoes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

Vendors carrying massive amounts of balloons and cotton candy

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

Evidently it’s a cross-cultural phenomenon that anytime men need costumes, they will cross-dress.

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

Happily awaiting candy

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

© 2012, Juniper Stokes

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Life has been a bit hectic lately, and I haven’t been able to post nearly as often as I would like to. I’m working on a few longer posts that should be finished soon, but for now, I at least wanted to add another “Photo Friday” . . . even if it is Sunday. Maybe I need to rethink that category name . . . .

Anyway, with life’s rapid pace and winter on its way, this photo of an idyllic summer picnic caught my attention. I took this photo back in 2006 while wandering through the open spaces behind Meiji Shrine in the Yoyogi/Harajuku area of Tokyo. It never ceases to amaze me that in Tokyo you can be struggling through a crowd of tourists and anime-esque teenagers one minute, only to find yourself in a park like this the next. Tokyo truly is an amazing city.

A Perfect Picnic © 2006, Juniper Stokes

A Perfect Picnic © 2006, Juniper Stokes

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