The Comfort of Moroccan Hamin with Ras El Hanut

The last Day of January 2022.  By now we know what resolutions we are keeping up with, and which of them we are going to toss out, until we revisit them in December.  Put those aside for a day and think of the comfort of an amazing, delicious, and fragrant Moroccan staple.  What could be better than a comforting Moroccan Hamin with Ras El Hanut?

I made this recipe recently, and I can tell you, it will melt your troubles away, at the end of a long day.

Spices First – Ras El Hanut

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Ras El Hanut is a Moroccan combination of spices, which literally means “the head of the shop,” as it is made of many beautiful and fragrant spices mixed together.

Ingredients you need for Ras El Hanut (from Epicurious.com):

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground coriander seeds
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves

In a small bowl whisk together all ingredients until combined well. Spice blend keeps in an airtight container at cool room temperature 1 month.

Hamin with Ras El Hanut

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Hamin is a traditional Jewish North African dish, and is usually made for Shabbat, as it cooks all night in the oven or a special electric plate for Shabbat. This particular recipe is inspired by the Hamin my mother used to make when I was a child.

Ingredients:
1 pound garbanzo beans (optional)
1 cup wheat berries (optional)
4 tablespoons olive oil (used about half the oil)
1 onion, chopped
2-3 pounds pork shoulder, or chuck beef, or chicken pieces (I used pork, as used in the photo)
1 tablespoon Ras El Hanut (see recipe)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoon silan (date syrup, can be found on Amazon) (optional)
2 onions, cut in eighths
2 carrots, sliced
4 potatoes, cut into quarters
Eggs, as many as you need
Water or broth

Instructions:
If using garbanzo beans, soak in water overnight, or use canned.

Rub the meat with the spices.
Heat some of the oil in a Dutch Oven on the stove on med-high. Brown the chopped onion and the meat.
Add garbanzo beans and wheat berries and mix well.
Add water/broth, add silan, add vegetables, and cover with liquid. Taste for flavor.

Add the eggs, and cook until almost boiling for approximately 30 minutes..

Transfer to oven on 225 F, and cook for approximately 8 hours or overnight.

Bon Apetite!

Two Mothers and a King, a Poem

drops of rain on the eager land

fragrant doomed morning

photographs of her recollection

her son’s final breath

blends with her

melodious wailing for the king with the thousand wives

a bargain for another’s child

an imposter mother shattered

sham predicament for justice

a conjured up testimony

is it or is it not, she floats in a daze

eyelids shut, body rocking

her empty hands searching

flashing mind fragments

terror and isolation

disquietude and regret

slivers of a tale swirl in her tormented existence 

emerging and re-emerging

lamenting in misery

imagined little truths

reckless little lies

one mind with the magistrate’s sword

for the satisfaction of judgement

of a halved progeny.

💜 5 Things to Try on Week 3 of 2022 💜

2022 is already shaping up to be a little more challenging than we’d all hoped, and it’s already Week 3 of the new year.  If you feel like you are already slipping on that resolution you felt so good about just last week, don’t fret.  It’s never too late to re-commit.  Try these things today:

#1. Set an intention for your day first thing in the morning.  Monday morning is a great time for setting intentions, make a ritual out of it.  Do it when you have your coffee.  It goes like this:  today I will go for a walk during lunch to get those steps in.  Simple as that.

#2. Break your goal to smaller goals.  Start with something more manageable and grow from there.  It goes like this:  today I will walk for ten minutes during lunch, and tomorrow I will add a minute or two.  

#3. Do not judge yourself if you didn’t get to do what you said you would do.  Self judgement is bad for you, so let it go and move on.  It goes like this: I didn’t get to do my walk today, tomorrow is a new day.

#4. Try journaling.  A simple notebook will do, treat yourself to a pen you like.  Every day, jot down a couple of thoughts.  You can start small, one paragraph, or even one sentence.  And see how you like it.  Your journal is a great place to work out your goals, and celebrate success.  Which brings us to…

#5. Celebrate your wins!  Take the time to show yourself gratitude.  Get yourself beautiful flowers, and have a cup of hot tea.  You did it, and you can do it again!

Take a small step every day, and before you know it, you’ll be miles ahead.

Moon, a Poem

Soft glow peers in darkness,

Watching over nude branches. 

A newborn crescent in the brooding skies, a lunar month commences.  

She gazes at us, ushers us through tribulations.  But wondering,

What subsequent torment will we bring on ourselves.

We chant her in song.  

We long for her.  Sanctify her in legends.    

She is time itself.

She makes us dance in a trance.

She is ours and no one else’s.

Her luster glints our love and madness.

She is the wolf crying. The tide rising.  

She is desire and rage.  She is anguish and bereavement.  

She is the allure of tranquility and turbulence inseparable.

She is artistry.  She is radiant.  She is lightless.  

She is bewitching.  She is demonized.  

She is us.

Abandon Your To-Do List in 2022

My to-do list was just not cutting it anymore.  Some things got done too late.  Some things never made it to the list, some got forgotten, or altogether missed.  What I mean is, that for a long time I struggled to get a handle on the sh** I need to do.  

Name a time management, or project management, or task management tool.  I probably tried it.  None of them worked completely.  They do different things, but no tool had everything I needed in one place, that made sense against my ever changing schedule and list of projects.  Working at home and over Zoom made it even more overwhelming for me, and so I turned to one of the busiest, and also one of the most productive people I know for advice.  My husband’s advice was so simple, I thought he was pulling a fast one on me at first.  It was a one word answer – calendar. 

In his efficient way, he gave me the quick-n-dirty:

• Convert each to-do on your list into a calendar event – in other words, schedule those on your calendar.

• When you get a task done, it’s done!

• If you have not been able to start your task, slide it over to another time slot on your calendar.

• If you have partially completed the task and you need more time to work on it, you can immediately create an additional calendar event to give yourself more time.

• Rinse and repeat.

• Delete your to-do list!

In six months since I have started using this method, I have been the most productive, increasing my output by so much, I was blown away.  I can only tell you how I do it, and what works for me.  You take it from there.

~ ~ ~

Sundays at 5pm, I am ay my desk, planning my week.  One hour of planning saves me so much time and headache during the week.  I use BusyCal for Mac, but you can use iCal, or any other digital calendar for this to work.  If you are still using a paper organizer, you’re on your own…  

I start by blocking my creative work time, or what is referred to as Deep Work by Cal Newport (see  my book recommendation below.)

I’ve become more able to make educated guesses as to how long, say, it would take for me to write a blog post.  I then block the time on my calendar.  Some things I do regularly, like I work every day, and so some of my time blocks are repeat calendar events.

The first work day of 2022 is hours away, and I can’t think of a better gift than the gift of time and less stress.  I hope you can find this method helpful in organizing your time to suit your style, and prioritize your Deep Work, which is another way to say Focused Work.  It’s the kind of work artists, and writers, and academics, and pretty much everyone needs in order to create something like a song, or an article etc.  

This is how I make my calendar work for me:  My mornings are devoted to work that results in creating new content, including all my rituals that help me get there.  Blocking the time is like making an appointment, and I do not miss those when I see the calendar reminder pop on my phone or computer screen.

When I am done with a task, I mark it done on the calendar using an emoji, because it’s fun and gives me a sense of completion, and who doesn’t like that? (see image); if it’s partially done, I immediately schedule more time later that day, that week, or whenever it works for me depending on deadlines etc.  Speaking of deadlines, I often make them up for myself to keep myself on my toes.  Works almost every time.  If you are an artist of any kind, you know you gotta motivate yourself when no one is expecting your work.  

After lunch, which is also scheduled on a shared calendar with my husband, I do the work that doesn’t require the full power of my brain.  No joke, my brain is usually fried by lunch.  

I schedule my meal planning time, my home related tasks, all the facets of my work go into the calendar.  I schedule everything, and I do not miss those bright yellow stress-inducing to-do lists.  When things don’t get done, they are moved to the next available slot of time.  Simple as that!  It’s key to be resonable and flexible with yourself.  And that’s why I love this method, it adjustable.  And I will admittedly say that it took a while for this to work for me, so don’t worry if your first week or even first month doesn’t feel amazing.  It will get better.  You get the idea.  

We live in a world where distractions come at us from every direction, made worse by Covid, and the demands that this pandemic is putting on all of us.  No day is perfect, but with calendaring and staying focused, I find that I am a lot more productive, while being a lot less stressed.

I hope you find this helpful in continuing to deepen your focus and your work, so you can create the best version of your work.  I know I will keep working towards improving my productivity and time management today and every day in this new year.  

Please share if you tried this calendar thing and if it worked for you, and what suggestions you might have.  Or if you have something else that works for you… I’d love to hear about it.  

I hope this year is productive and successful for you!

If you’d like to learn more about how to find focused success in the distracted world we live in, check out Deep Work by Cal Newport.  It’s an excellent book!

Find it on Amazon

2021! It’s a Wrap!

Unlike previous years, this year I couldn’t easily find a photo to use for our holiday greeting email.  There was one where I am at home with hair not washed, in another my husband and I are having dinner in front of the television, the food looks great but none of the photos of us are suitable for prime time.  Others show a backyard family birthday celebration where we are all masked, and only one or two after I got the long awaited haircut, seated outside at a restaurant at dusk after the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.  Do not worry!  I will not bore you with the actual photos.  And there were a lot of great photos of birds, and flowers, and bridges… This year I picked up the camera, and saw life through a different lens.  Seemed this was a year for self reflection, and a collective questioning of what is.  

In January 2021, a young poet’s reading in the presidential inauguration ceremony brought me a moment of rare hope for our collective future. Amanda Gorman’s words still resonate for me today, when my hope has dwindled as I look forward to January 2022.  

“When the day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?”  With her red beret and bright yellow jacket, she filled us with optimism that we can actively search for the positive within the darkness of the moment we were living.  That we have the power to isolate that light and use it to illuminate our path forward.  

Thus started a year of upheaval, turmoil, with a tumultuous ride on the hope rollercoaster.  At times, it was hard to remember that we were still “a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.”   From the US Capitol insurrection, to mass shootings, to buildings collapsing, to winter storms and power outages, it was not easy to find that light.  But we got vaccinated, rejoined the Paris Climate Accord and WHO, cried with Simone Biles, and watched Meghan and Harry when they sat down with Oprah.  Broadway reopened in New York, and Juneteenth became a Federal holiday.  And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg for 2021, which seemed like a bizarre extension of the infamous 2020.  We are still battling voting rights and the right of women to choose.  It’s hard to believe, but on the brink of 2022, women are still not guaranteed a choice; and not all Americans are guaranteed a chance to vote.  To quote Amanda Gorman again:  We are a nation unfinished.  

On New Year’s Eve 2020, like many of us, I had big plans for the new decade.  There was no way to know that by March 2020 we would be sheltering at home.  Nearly two years later, we are still dealing with the uncertainty of this virus, our ability to find the light is still being tested.  Working exclusively from home, shopping online, not seeing friends and family, still don’t seem too natural.  I remember the first hug I gave my adult children, after we were vaccinated, after a year of no hugs.  That was where I found my light.  And in the between moments, I learned that perfection was not the goal, something our Founding Fathers understood way back when they set out to “form a more perfect union.”  Sounds like they handed us a work in progress, our nation is a work in progress, and so is each and every one of us.  How liberating it is to know you get a chance every day to make yourself better, to make a difference, to make our nation and the world, little by little, more perfect.  

I recently learned that the word apocalypse means revelation  in ancient Greek.  That what we, in our current culture, see as destruction, could be approached as a revelation of great knowledge.  As Amanda Gorman said:  “for there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”

The photo I chose is of the Pacific Gold Mustard flower off the Northern California coast, on a gray and windy day.  What I left out of the photo was the Pacific Ocean foaming like an angry beast.  I zoomed in on the tiny petals, some of them wilting in a sea of bright yellow, which when used as a spice can create the ubiquitous prepared mustard.  It’s not a perfect photo, nor is the flower itself perfect, but it’s beautiful and it reminds me of a day in 2021 that was more perfect in so many ways. 

I wish you a revelatory, inspiring, and empowering, more perfect 2022!  

READ: Youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman’s inaugural poem

Mind Mapping for Rich Creativity

Hello Writers and Creators,

Brainstorming is a critical piece of writing and creativity.  Mind mapping is one of the best ways I know to brainstorm effectively and quickly.

You can use the traditional pencil and paper for mind mapping, but if you want to be even faster, and have a neat presentation that you can use easily to develop your product you can use an app.  There are various apps that can be used for mind mapping, my favorite and the one I use regularly is Scapple.

On Scapple your mind maps are customizable, flexible, and you’ll have endless space, as well as the ability to create as many mind maps as you’d like.

Here is a quick and simple example:

Scapple is made by Literature & Latte, the maker of the amazing Scrivener.  It is available for $17.99 on the Apple App Store if you a Mac user here:

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/scapple/id568020055?mt=12


One of the great features of Scapple, is it’s seamless compatibility with Scrivener.  More on that next time.


Do you use mind mapping?  Let me know how it helps you in your writing?  

Thinking Like a Writer

It sits on my desk, keeps me company, and it’s one of the best and most inspirational books I’ve read.  Bird by Bird by the amazing Anne Lamott provides “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.”  

Besides Anne’s amazing insights that come from real writing and life experience (seasoned with fantastic humor), I found the book helpful when I am stuck, when I am not sure a particular morning of writing is going too well.  In fact, most mornings are difficult, hard to wrap my head around the writing.  When that happens, Bird by Bird is one of several books I open, read a few lines, and I’m back on track.

If I cannot possibly get back on track, even after reading those lines, and no matter what I try, simply does not work, and I see my fingers hover over the keyboard, muted.  Then I take one of her pieces of advice that are just genius. They really work!  

One of the most insightful revelations for me was about when things don’t go well, and how it’s just ok sometimes to do something else, until your thoughts settle enough and you can go back to your work, all refreshed and ready.  The ideas sometimes come when you don’t expect them too, on a walk, while taking a bath.  And then you have this moment in which you run to your desk, because something happens in your brain that simply cannot wait, you put it down on an index card, and…  You’re on track again.

Anne’s advice about index cards has been the most life changing for me.  I buy them in bulk now, different colors, I love the 4×6 size, and I just scribble away whatever comes to my mind.  You just never know when you’ll use it, or where it would lead.

So if you are like me, you get stuck often, you stare at your computer screen or notebook, and nothing happens.  It may not help to tell you not to panic, but it might help you to open Anne’s book and read a few lines.  The ideas will flow, your fingers will type words and sentences, Bird by Bird, you’ll get your writing done.

“One of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer. You start seeing everything as material.” ~Anne Lamott