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Welcome to Praise Seitan! Food, Drink & Travel From the Heart of Seattle. It's a food, beverage and travel blog that combines recipes and globetrotting tales with personal stories about my journey of healing and self-discovery.

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The Universe and Uber Drivers / Ground Instant-Pot Spiced Lentils + Roasted Veg

The Universe and Uber Drivers / Ground Instant-Pot Spiced Lentils + Roasted Veg

Most of the time, the Universe works in mysterious ways; it winks at you, sending signs and symbols, and dropping hints you must be dialed in to receive.

Other times, it runs over you with a car.

This is the lesson it brought to me most recently. Over the past few months, I’ve been trying new things and re-alchemizing my relationships with work, art, friends, family, fitness, food and now in dating — and in doing so, I’ve been presented with an all-you-can eat buffet of every imaginable flavor of fear.

I have been trying to stop the mental chatter and listen to my heart, instead; to feel what’s in my body and tune into the frequency of my soul. But my head keeps getting in the way, trying to rationalize a way out; to put a label on the feelings; to analyze and define something that defies definition. It wants to identify and report on something that should rather be felt: a primordial vibration that bears a much deeper knowing than my thinking brain could ever possess.

You know your truth the first time. The question is, will you heed the call?

I sure didn’t, a little over a week ago, when I was getting ready for a date. After years of essentially zilch, the dating apps had finally begun to return some interesting results for me. I had taken the hint and gotten back out there, actually meeting up with a few people (though nobody, at this point, had made it past date number one).

In this endeavor, Thinking Brain had decided that I needed to be open to all the experiences; to give everyone a chance. It decided that the last-minute reactions of dread and avoidance and retreats into my head that had preceded every date thus far were just attempts to protect myself; the fear of being vulnerable. This was fear to be faced head-on and conquered. What’s the worst that could come from sitting down from someone for an hour over a glass or plate?

Here’s the thing about Thinking Brain. It’s not supposed to be assigning labels and categories to things, but it nonetheless considers this among its favorite activities. (Other top hits include obsessing over the empty calendar, packing it entirely too full, then panicking at the last minute and trying to cancel everything; making and rescheduling various appointments; imagining what ailments I might have; and mentally rehearsing every conversation I have and email I write ahead of time.) So, Thinking Brain has been saying: Well, if we are bisexual, we must continue to give both genders equal share in the dating pool, and we must say yes to all experiences, right? How are we to know, without a side-by-side comparison, what we are and who we like?

This is why I don’t like labels. I try to tell Thinking Brain that it doesn’t MATTER what we call ourselves, and that we shouldn’t place any definitions or restrictions on who we pursue; that what we REALLY are is made of light and love, and is all the world needs to know. I only ever use labels because they are a convenient social shorthand in a dating world already fraught with peril; strewn with land mines that are more easily avoided if as many as possible can be identified and marked.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t even really know what shorthand is most appropriate for me. I recently read the definition of “pansexual” again, for example, and then found Thinking Brain activated, attempting to re-run all the programs and reboot the software.

Now, FEELING Brain is the one I want to give a voice to; it is the more healed side of me, the divine feminine side, the flow-state side; and Feeling Brain forced a shutdown on that one. It says to just forget all the labels entirely. Focus on what your heart and soul and body tell you. Focus on the feelings: the ones that come from deep inside, in those ever-elusive lower chakras, beneath the dominion where Thinking Brain rules supreme.

In relationships, too, focus on everyone you encounter as an actual person — not as an idea or concept or abstraction that you place your own labels on, but as a real, flesh-and-blood being. Be present to the energy and the alchemy within you, and between yourself and others. Just be here now, and take each situation as it comes, and let yourself be drawn to whomever you may, and listen when your body tells you “yes” or “no,” because it will always know the answer.

This is the work and the goal. The reality, of course, often falls a little short of those high-vibrational aspirations.

And so, back to the date. It was with a man, whom I had been chatting with on the cursed app for some time. A familiar pattern had been unfolding over the past several weeks: A seemingly authentic connection was formed; I felt optimistic about it; and I agreed to meet up. But then, with every day that drew closer, a dread began to take hold, growing and festering deep within my guts. By the time the date rolled around, I was in a full-on Thinking Brain counterassault, alternately talking myself into and out of going, mentally rifling through every canned excuse in my arsenal — and putting an unholy energy out into the world for some catastrophe that might save me from my own inability to simply say: “I’m sorry. I changed my mind.”

The day was chaotic from the start. I had an early-morning doctor’s appointment at a far-flung locale, and when I pulled out of the garage, I was met with an unexpected winter wonderland — it had snowed in the night, which in Seattle is an apocalyptic scenario, a fluffy-white silent killer that shuts down roads and businesses and entire neighborhoods with a mere half-inch. At this point, however, it had been snowing and icing for so long that I felt I could push forward.

I made it, but was white-knuckling the whole way. The tech who was conducting my appointment was over an hour late due to the snow, while I withered away in the waiting room, going on nine hours without so much as a sip of water in preparation for a scan. The scan itself was long and arduous. I was hit with a mountain of work upon my release and spent the whole day scrambling. I even went to the gym and worked while on the elliptical, which results in neither a good workout nor good work.

When I finally tumbled into my apartment, I was exhausted to my core. I sat in the bottom of the shower just longing to swaddle myself in my PJs, scarf down some leftovers and climb into bed.

So, Feeling Brain started rapping on the inside of my skull. “Don’t go,” it said. “Listen to yourself. You have been told you need extra self-care right now, so take it. Just reschedule. He will understand, and if not, then you want nothing to do with him anyway. You’re tired. Focus on what YOU need.”

But then Thinking Brain burst in, blitzed and crazed over the thought of giving up control or breaking the form, and grabbed the wheel — shoving Feeling Brain out of the way, bug-eyed and slobbering all over the dashboard, slamming on the gas and sending us careening forward Hunter S. Thompson-style.

“Shut up, you!” Thinking Brain said. “If you don’t do it NOW, you’ll have to RESCHEDULE, and the calendar for next week is already so FULL! WHEN will you ever do this?! Get it over with, NOW NOW NOW, or else it will be nagging at you forever! We can sleep when we’re dead!”

A statue from the Rodin museum in Paris, appropriately titled “the Martyr.”

A statue from the Rodin museum in Paris, appropriately titled “the Martyr.”

At the direction of Thinking Brain, I was treating the date like a checklist item: Just get through it, and then you can attend to your needs. There are already so many things in my life that end up feeling this way; like something to simply get through. Dating should absolutely not be one of those things. But that’s how every date had been since I got back in the game.

As I began to get ready, Feeling Brain picked back up its refrain, whispering from far off, in the seat of truth that resides in my heart and womb space: “I don’t think dating men is the answer right now. I don’t think any of these experiences are going to be fulfilling until you fully give yourself to the experience of dating women. I think maybe this fear and doubt and dread and the feeling of obligation every time one of these dates comes around is because this isn’t where you’re meant to be.”

Well, that one I really didn’t listen to. I had plans the following week with a beautiful creature: a spiritual and strong and smart and sexy and dialed-in woman, as far I could tell from our text-based exchanges. So, that was coming. And being a “good bisexual” was to check this man-date mandate off my list before pursuing the person I was actually excited about… right?

Right. Because that makes sense. And so, I pulled myself together and hurled myself out the door.

From the second my Uber ride began, I could feel myself being pulled along by the inertia of a chaotic and patriarchal force. This had clearly not been the right decision… but how easily I could tell myself, no, this is all a test of whether I can remain calm instead of getting swept away; whether I can succeed in not putting all the pressure on every little thing.

The driver was late; I had watched his little car icon flailing around helplessly on my screen, like a salmon trying to swim upstream, for what felt like an eternity before he arrived. When I finally got in, he asked if I minded that he talked on the phone. I said I didn’t — but then he started VIDEO chatting. WHILE driving.

Could there be a more blatant metaphor? Don’t let the patriarchy take the wheel. They don’t even see you, not do they see where you have been or where you are going.

The first passenger on my shared ride got in reeking of beer and slurring his words, talking in a rambling stream of consciousness to the driver as the driver talked in the general direction of his phone in Vietnamese, while an unhappy-looking woman peered out somewhere from the other side. I couldn’t tell if they were having an argument, or if the aggravated timbre was the natural tone of their conversations.

I finally told the oblivious passenger that the driver’s replies were being directed at the phone and not at him — so he fixed his attention on me, despite the fact that I was staring a hole into my own device so as not to have to make eye contact. He began poking and prying into every detail of my background and my destination. As if everything was his business, simply because he was occupying the same backseat as I was.

I ended up admitting that I was on my way to a first date, and my tone betrayed just how excited I was about it. He went on a diatribe about how he hated dating apps and preferred to meet people in person, peppering the rant with groaningly obvious bro-metaphors meant to convey that everything about him was exactly as advertised. His 6 p.m.-weekday state of obliteration betrayed how well that was working out for him.

We pressed on. The Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride of the Unhealed Patriarchy picked up steam and frenetic energy as the driver whipped around haphazardly, taking us down bumpy, strange alleyways that quite clearly were not thoroughfares, cutting people off and making erratic turns, and all the while screaming into the phone. I was fairly certain this would be my last ride anywhere on this Earth plane.

We picked up our last passenger, who was a breath of fresh air: a quiet, mild-mannered Spaniard in town on business (with Amazon, naturally). He was about to embark on a long road trip across the country, with destinations to include Austin, Texas; I told him that I used to live there, and that I was also visiting Spain in the fall. We traded travel tips, and his presence soothed me.

“Here, see?” said Thinking Brain. “He is here to show you that all men aren’t unhealed. Hold onto this.” This was a fine lesson, but that wasn’t the lesson of the day. The driver missed my stop and careened across traffic to drop off the drunken passenger. Then he whipped back around to where I was ostensibly going as I locked into my conversation with the Spaniard for dear life and sanity.

The driver finally got to a place that seemed marginally close to where I was going, and stopped. He seemed to want me to get out, but I couldn’t tell where his unintelligible shrieking was directed. I asked if this was my destination, and then had to ask if he was talking to me or the phone, and remained unclear as to either from his panic-filled reply. The map said the destination was further up, but at this point I just wanted it all to end.

“OK, so I should get out here?” I asked. The driver said something that sounded like, “yeah, yeah, you get out here,” while gesticulating wildly. I opened the door and began getting out, not wanting to let go of the lifeline that was my conversation with the Spaniard. I said goodbye and good luck to him, one foot out of the car and on the ground. Then the driver behind us honked.

And, wouldn’t you know, the driver started moving. With me only halfway out of the car. The Spaniard saw it before I did, and thank the Universe for him screaming, or I might not have noticed until it was really too late:

“YOU’RE RUNNING HER OVER!”

I looked down and froze in fear. The car had indeed rolled onto my foot. The heel of my shoe was tall enough and angled in just the right direction to have caught most of the brunt, but then I began to feel it: several tons of steel bearing down upon one tiny point of my little bird ankle.

“OH, SHIT! YOU ARE! STOP! STOP!”

I cried out in panic and the driver rolled backward. I was in shock. The driver seemed to realize where his joyride had gotten him, and asked if I was OK.

“No! You ran me over!!” I cried, slamming the door and limping away. All I knew was I needed to get as far away from him as possible. I hobbled into the restaurant and stammered to the hostess: “Um… hi… I don’t have a reservation… it looks full… but my Uber driver just ran me over with his car?! Could I just sit down?!”

The shocked hostess took me to a table, and shortly after, brought me a bag of ice for my foot. I tried to process what had just unfolded. As soon as some semblance of linear thinking returned, my first thought was: Well, shit. I should have listened to Feeling Brain. I know my truth the first time.

And then, my date walked in, and I instantly knew it was all wrong. The alchemy was off. The chemicals were not reacting. This was not the person for me, in any way.

And wouldn’t you know, I still gave him a chance, with my foot having just been run over by the Uber driver of ultimate truth; a bag of ice on my wake-up-call wound. I sat there and talked to a stranger with whom I had no chemistry, no future beyond this moment, pretending to be engaged — because if we canceled, I’d have to meet him another time, and I had risked life and limb to get this over with.

That is, until Feeling Brain at long last shoved the belligerent Thinking Brain, filled with chaos and buzzing bees and rattling leaves, out from behind the wheel, just like the driver who had brought me to my destination of all-knowing.

Feeling Brain said: “It’s OK. You know the answer now. You are loved and you are safe. You can go now.” And so I called Lyft this time, and called the night, and crawled home to nurse my wounds, and I never saw him again.

But hey, we both got a hell of a story out of it.

And I got something infinitely more valuable: The starkest of reminders that I always know my truth; I must listen to it; and a failure to do so comes at my own peril. The Universe and my guides and gods can send me signs, but it is on me to receive them and take the right actions.

And so, when my next date rolled around, the one with the lady, I listened. From the moment I woke up, it all felt completely different. I wasn’t stressed. I was excited; a little anxious, as everyone is on a first date — but it felt right. My energy felt like a happy humming; like birds flitting through the trees, rather than leaves blowing off the branches or hornets on a death mission.

When I saw her, I felt a calm wash over me, rather than that old familiar dread. The alchemy was different, both within me and between us. This was light. This was hope and possibility and magic. This was coming home to myself, regardless of the outcome of this particular union. (Though I’m hoping for the best on that front, too.)

I didn’t even obsess over my appearance, like I normally would. I wore a flattering but perfectly normal outfit, jeans and a thrift-store sweater. My roots were showing, but I didn’t try to cram dyeing my hair into an already packed day. I actually wanted this one to go somewhere. So I wanted her to see the real me — to like me for who I truly was, rather than presenting some perfectly coiffed and dolled-up mannequin version of myself.

I let my soul shine through. This is how it should feel.

And so, as I continue to come into my true identity, to embrace myself for who I am, as I am, regardless of how I look or who I love or what label I choose to affix to myself in this present earthly dimension, I will do my damndest to keep the faith. Should I falter, all I need remember is that I could have been quite literally hobbled by waiting any longer to listen.

When your spirit is calling, will you pick up the phone? It can be so hard to do, after a lifetime of learning that your instinct is wrong; that you can’t trust yourself; that the people you love are toxic for you; that everything you had always felt and known and been drawn to was all just a byproduct of trauma. After all that programming about how you can’t provide for your own needs or your own life, it takes hard work to reverse the track and regain control. To turn those voices off. To resist the fear, and let in the love. To re-member — by coming back into your body, taking up residence once again in every last inch of your heart and mind — and to remember that you are made of light.

But this is the work that must be done. Or the Universe just might hit you with a two-ton reminder.

universe uber - 1.jpg

One way I have been tuning in and re-membering in the weeks since, of course, is by getting in the kitchen. I am learning a new nutritional alchemy, and have been riffing on several dishes that seem pretty fail-safe for one who seeks security.

This is just one of many variations I’ve done, and it is endlessly versatile: I’ve also made it with roasted fennel, leeks, zucchini, pan-fried tofu, toasted walnuts and cashews; with coconut milk and curry-spiced yogurt mixed in. Let your heart lead you with this one, and go with whatever your own alchemy needs to be in balance — and may this bring you the peace it has brought me at the end of rattling-leaf days.


Grounding Instant-Pot Spiced Lentils With Roasted Veg

1 cup black, brown or green lentils

1 Tbsp neutral oil (I use coconut oil)

2 cups water or broth

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 onion or 2 spring onion, chopped

2-3” piece of ginger, peeled and minced

¼ - 1 tsp chile flakes or chopped fresh chili, depending on your spice preference

½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground coriander

½ tsp garam masala

1 tsp curry powder blend of your choice

¼ tsp ground turmeric

¼ - ½ tsp chili powder, depending on brand and heat preference (mine is an Indian chili powder, and it’s incredibly spicy, so I go on the lighter end)

1 tsp salt

1 eggplant, skin peeled in alternating strips and cut in half lengthwise OR 1 bulb fennel, sliced

Handful of asparagus, diced OR 1 leek, sliced

About 1 cup of fresh chickpeas, shelled

1-2 cups spinach (or other green)

To serve: Chopped parsley, mint or other herbs; coconut, regular or curry-spiced yogurt; sauerkraut or other fermented veg; hemp seeds, toasted nuts or flax seeds; sliced avocado; feta or cashew cheese; pan-fried tofu; etc.

First, preheat the oven to 425F and prep the veggies you’ll be roasting. Again, you can really do any combination you want, but I’ve enjoyed either a fennel and leek or an eggplant and asparagus combo. Toss the veggies with a neutral oil, salt and pepper and a dusting of whatever curry powder you’re using in the lentils to coat. Roast for 30-45 minutes, depending on the veggies and checking/tossing periodically.

Meanwhile, set the pressure cooker of your choice (I’m not cool enough to have an Instant Pot, so I use the Breville Fast-Slow Cooker) to Saute. Mine makes you choose a number of minutes, so I usually do 10 or 12. Once hot, add the oil, then the onion, and saute while stirring occasionally until softened, 3-4 minutes. Then add the chili flakes, ginger and garlic and saute another minute or so. Add all the spice powders and the salt and cook for 30-45 seconds, until aromatic.

Finally, dump in the lentils and broth or water, turn the function to “pressure cook” and cook on High for 10 minutes. Allow a natural pressure release for at least another 10 minutes afterward.

While everything is cooking, chop the herbs you’ll be using and prep any toppings. Once it’s all done, release the last of the pressure from the pressure cooker, stir in a little coconut milk or vegan butter if you like to give the lentils some extra creaminess. Stir the greens right into the pressure cooker pot until wilted, then add about half the herbs. You can either dump your roasted veggies in the pot and mix everything up, or serve the lentils and top them with the veggies.

Finish with another sprinkling of herbs and all your toppings; breathe in the aromas; feel the grounding; and enjoy, letting this meal bring you the balance it brought me. Namaste, friends.

universe uber2.jpg
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