Food For Thought

Practicing Presence And Expecting Rewards by Roni Delmonico

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Growing vegetables, flowers and herbs has taught me so many wonderful lessons, not the least of which is developing habits of presence.  It's amazing to watch something as tiny as a seed, become a plant just bursting with abundance that feeds my family.  But that bounty that comes from a small seed requires diligence and care.  It means you have to know the difference between a weed and a young plant.  It means you need to water and give fertilizer even when it's hot outside and you're especially tired (in fact it's even more important then).  It means you have to get dirty and sweaty sometimes, and you have to watch out for things that might harm or even kill the fruits of your labor.  

It means you have to notice the needs of something outside yourself.

And it helps to pay attention to the needs inside yourself too.

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We Are Here For A Greater Purpose by Roni Delmonico

I cannot for the life of me, get this 2 minute segment of the movie "Victoria and Abdul" out of my head.  What he says to the queen in response to her question is so simple... and so profound.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
— Galations 5:13-14

Look Deeper by Roni Delmonico

On this day, I visited The Wild Animal Park all by myself.  I like to do that sometimes because I don't feel pressured by anyone else's time table or artistic motivation.  It was a sunny day with big white puffy clouds and the temperature was perfect for wandering around taking pictures.  I actually like being alone, especially among animals.  I kind of got the feeling this bird felt the same way about me.  He was about as tall as my lens and came right up to the fence and looked directly at me for some time.  Or maybe he was looking at himself in the glass, who knows.

It makes me sad to think people can't see God when they look around them.  His art is so much more beautiful and complex than mine could ever hope to be.  I see Him in every detail.

All I really do is reflect it.

A Little Bird Told Me by Roni Delmonico

I have heard it said, that if you want to take great pictures, then you should stand in front of great things. I certainly feel like I do a good amount of that. But for some reason... my own heart always returns to the little, ordinary moments of my life again and again and as a result, so does my camera. I have seen some extraordinary things; the magic of skyscrapers, the swell of an ocean, the magnificence of a pride of lions, the spray of a whale and her baby, the vast expanse of a desert, the stimulating nightlife of Las Vegas, the grandest of canyons, the birth of babies and the mind numbing beauty of a Hawaiian sunset.

But do you know what still moves me the most? The feather details of a small bird, the swirls of a single flower about to give up its last breath, the way dew looks like a rainbow of diamonds first thing in the morning, the shadows cast by something standing in the light, the way wet rocks shine, the way a robin somehow instinctively knows that if it shoves its beak into some healthy wet grass, it will inevitably find some breakfast, without too much effort.

The truth is, I really don't think there is anything on earth that couldn't be classified as a "great and extraordinary thing." And these in between moments ... what I sometimes think of as "valley moments" are where I often find true greatness shines. That is a very good place to spend prepping for what I perceive as peaks. And I often wonder if we have it backward; if our valleys are really our peaks.

"Remember the little things, for one day you may wake up and find that they were the big things." - Robert Brault
 

With Crystal Clarity by Roni Delmonico

For now we see in a mirror dimly but then face to face. Now we know in part, but then I shall know, just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
— 1 Corinthians 13

I spent some time this morning, pondering this:  ..... but the greatest of these, is love. I wonder sometimes... what do we know of real love anymore?  Does the world have hope?  Is there anyone out there with faith enough to stand up and fight for it in a non-violent way? Is it even possible to fight for something without violence? that sounds naive even to me.

I think about the devastating suicide of Robin Williams, the terrible atrocities already committed by ISIS and the suffering of so many in a country far away from me, and in my country, the ridiculous antics of a child who thinks twerking is the way to avert all eyes in her direction and I realize that here, in some ways she's right. She's getting attention and making a fortune at it and who is handing that to her?  We are.  Our dollars place value on what she's doing. But at what cost... not just to her, but to all of us as a society?  

Why do we do these things?  

I read news of earthquakes and droughts and the terrible outbreak of Ebola in Africa.  And then I sit down to write in this blog thinking of all those things and wonder... what can I possibly say? We have such easy lives here, by comparison.  Talking about food, fancy vacations, flowers, my cushy life? We fill our lives with work and internet and television and if we're lucky... with a few people and things we feel passionate about.  I am grateful for and appreciative of those things in my life that bring me passion and joy but sometimes I think I'd have a much different world view if I lived it through the eyes of a doctor risking his own life to save those dying of a deadly disease, in the mind of a journalist who knelt before his executioner, in the fear experienced by a refugee high in the hills running from terrorists, in the heart of a man ravaged by thoughts of a disease of the body now joining forces with the demon of the soul he has already fought for decades.  We feel so far removed from these people and things but we are not.  We should not be.

I was taught that the Ultimate Love was embodied in great suffering. Somewhere deep inside, I still believe that.  But I do not pretend to understand any of this.  And oh... how I want to.  Not dimly, but with open eyes that see with crystal clarity, the One that really matters.

 

Thirty One Flavors by Roni Delmonico

When I was eighteen, I lived with my dad in a little apartment in Southern California.  I have a lot of memories of that time with him, and each of them is a jewel I keep deep inside me in that space for all my most precious things.  I called him one morning freaking out and he couldn't understand a word I was saying so he rushed home and found me in the kitchen with his welding mask, gloves, boots and pants on holding them up with one hand and wielding a spatula in the other. I was screeching something about cockroaches and smacking them with my very ineffective weapon while trying to make sure I didn't have any exposed skin in case one decided to jump up and bite me. I've never seen him laugh so hard in my life.  Turns out they were only little crickets and dad took care of them in short order while I sheepishly returned his welding gear to its proper place.  He still loves to tell that story.

We lived on the second floor of the apartment building and I sometimes did the shopping and cooking.  I think that's when I really began to learn what foods I personally preferred and which ones I didn't because I had a lot of freedom to choose. My parents had recently divorced and my brothers and sister lived with my mom. I had just broken up with my boyfriend of several years so I think we just kind of understood where the other was at.  He turned his walk in closet, into a "prayer closet" and he kept his piano and guitar and all of his music in there and I would lay in bed at night with my window open listening to the sound of his voice singing softly to me from behind his closed door mixed with the traffic noise from the freeway outside.  It was actually a beautiful way to fall asleep.  We had a Christmas tree covered in tiny blue lights and silver tinsel because he loved to decorate it that way and I could see it from my bed.  I still smile when I see a blue tree, which isn't very often.:) We had this crazy siamese cat who would run around the apartment and claw his way up the drapes until he reached the top and then throw himself off like a kamikaze.  I thought it was pretty funny but I don't think dad did.  

Sometimes, on the weekend we'd head down the street to Baskin Robbins Ice Cream shop where they had 31 flavors to choose from but we always chose the exact same thing. Dad liked banana splits with hot fudge and I always ordered a Pralines and Cream ice cream cone. It didn't really matter to me what we were eating.  The best part was that we'd take it outside to a bench and then just talk to each other in the sunshine.  I tried to eat mine really slow.  I treasured that time with him so much.  It was relaxed and special and I never had to be anything but me.  Every once in awhile we'd switch it up and head to the Thrifty Drugstore. They didn't have as many flavors but they scooped out their ice cream with these funny cylindrical scoopers so it came out looking like a short tube.  You could get 3 scoops for a dollar back then but I usually opted for just two.

Over the years, dad developed a lactose intolerance and now he can't eat dairy without some uncomfortable consequences.  But he's coming to visit me in a few weeks and I've been experimenting with non-dairy ice cream that uses coconut cream as its base.  I even found some pretty yummy non-dairy chocolate chips to go on top.  And I have a very comfy bench under a willow tree by the water in the sunshine just waiting for him.  He still loves to talk story.

I saw an interesting video yesterday where a woman interviewed several adults about how they feel when they eat chocolate and then asked the same question of a few children.  The adults said things like "guilty", "like I'll have to go for a run after work now", "like I'm numb", or "I just don't eat it".  But oh from the mouths of babes... The children said, "happy", "grateful", and "good".  I think someone should come up with the "Eat Like A Child" diet.  

I wish you all a happy, grateful, good memory filled food day today.:)

Farm To Table by Roni Delmonico

Do you know where your food is coming from?  

Five months ago, the only honest way I could answer that question was... from my local grocery store.  Like most people I know, I thought very little about the source of my food and simply went to the store, once a week, on autopilot and picked up about $150 worth of the foods we had been eating for decades without ever considering where it actually came from or what was in it. I tried to be careful with our budget and shopped according to what was on sale, what got dinner on the table the quickest, and whatever "sounded" good. Then... I saw the documentary film, Food Matters and a video on YouTube titled "Meet Your Meat", narrated by Alec Baldwin.  (I do not recommend that you watch that particular video without full awareness that it broke my heart in all kinds of ways and places to see what we are doing to animals in order to feed our insatiable appetites. Awareness isn't always easy.  You've been forewarned.)  

It isn't my intention to preach on the horrors of factory farmed meat right now, though I can't promise that I won't get up on my soap box on this issue at some point in the future.  I do however, hope that you'll begin to actually give some thought to where your food is coming from and how it gets to your table. Now that my eyes have been opened to a few things I had no idea about, I feel a pretty deep conviction about doing something responsible with that information going forward.  

The best bit of advice about eating that I have ever heard is this:  Stop worrying about eliminating things from your diet, and start adding good things back in. It's simple really... toss fad diets out the window, eat real food in season, food that you can pronounce, and food that comes from a source you know and trust. (And yes, for my family that still includes pasture raised, grass fed, free range meats from time to time).

Our bodies were created to love certain things intuitively... connection to others, sunshine, clean water, fresh air, play, exercise, and nutritious foods full of micronutrients that are often missing in our polluted and depleted environment today.  But so many of us are severely lacking in some or even all of these things and then we wonder why we're often sick, tired, depressed and hopeless that it could ever be any different. But it can.  It really can.  

Knowing that the food you eat is grown with care for the environment, farmers, animals, and your own health will only add to your joyful experience.
— Guide to Good Food

It helps a lot, if you choose to change the way you eat.  I have been at war with food and I've had body image issues for three decades. I have never thought of eating as "the simplest joy we all have." Until now.  Now that I know where the food I am eating comes from.. how it is grown, how it is raised, and how it is prepared - choosing the farmers who bring it to my table for me in ways that align with the convictions of my own heart and truly appreciating their efforts to do it sustainably and humanely and with respect for the land and animals that feed us.  I encourage you to dig deeper.  

Do you know where your food is coming from and what is in it?

**A great free iPhone app to help you connect with locally grown food:  Farmstand App

Chocolate Cake For Breakfast! by Roni Delmonico

 Chocolate Espresso Hazelnut Frozen Torte.  Recipe by Susan Powers at  www.rawmazing.com . Photo ©Roni Delmonico and The Photographer's Palette.

Chocolate Espresso Hazelnut Frozen Torte.  Recipe by Susan Powers at www.rawmazing.com. Photo ©Roni Delmonico and The Photographer's Palette.

I'm in a great mood this morning.  The creative juices are flowing, I've been writing a lot and I have some fun ideas for how I'm gonna finish out the year here. I'm excited about sharing it all with you.  Go grab a cup of coffee and sit with me for awhile. I'll cut you a piece of cake and believe it or not, it's actually good for you! Stay with me now... good for you doesn't have to equal yucky. I've got some interesting things to tell you! 

About a month and a half ago, I came across a book called It Starts With Food.  It was written by a couple named Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, who are big on tough love, small on tolerating excuses, especially when it comes to health and fitness.  I totally dig their style. Around the same time I began reading their book, my sister in law invited me to attend a six week Raw Food class with her on Wednesday nights.  I had had some limited exposure to the Raw Food lifestyle in the past and thought it might be a nice fit with my first Whole 30 Challenge.  I completed that challenge on July 30th and we just finished Week 5 of our Raw Food class.

I have been so inspired by both experiences, and there's way too much to tell you about that journey in one blog post so I've decided to spread out what I've learned in posts over the remainder of this year and to tie it all together by working my way through Nicole S. Young's book on Food Photography. I'll be sharing not just the photographic results with you, but also talk to you about the incredible things I have been learning about myself, about the psychology of eating, and about the ways we are falling short in providing the nutrition our bodies really need, sometimes, even hurting our bodies, without ever being aware of it. So much of what I've learned this year, I had never heard before and it was very eye opening.  I'm betting some of it will be new to you as well.

The fun stuff: I'm going to invite you into my kitchen regularly and talk to you with an open heart and mind about food and food photography: why I am eliminating some foods and adding others, why I choose certain equipment and angles when shooting food and the well informed reasoning behind all those choices. (Going forward and once I figure out how to do it, I will be including affiliate links to my favorite books, ingredients, kitchen supplies, and photography equipment sometimes, but only for products that I have used personally and find value in, and in the least invasive way possible.  My goal is to make it easier for you to find those things too, and to offset some of the costs of providing quality content, not to make you crazy with sales and flashy ads). I'm going to share the recipes for the healthy food photos I am creating and show you where to find the awesomely inspiring people who create them. I'm going to tell you about my favorite kitchen tools and gadgets, and teach you a few things about the lenses and camera equipment I use to get the job done.  I'm going to talk to you about the ingredients I'm using and why they are good for you. I'm going to indulge from time to time without substitution, because that's real life and I do have some decadent, not so healthy favorites that play an important role in my memory and in my family's history.  I'm going to share personal stories with you about my struggles with weight and my issues surrounding food over the past three decades. I'm going to tell you what I've learned about the incredible connection between mind and body and how that connection is important not just to the nourishment of my physical body, but to my creative and entrepreneurial spirit as well. I will introduce you to some of the truly forward thinking and compassionate professionals who have impacted my health recently in powerful, life changing ways. I'm even going to tell you stories about my immediate and extended families and the special foods that have brought us together through the years and why that matters to me so much.  I'm going to travel and share some local flavors with you when I do.  Through it all, I will be cooking and photographing food that will nourish our bodies with nutrients that have been sadly lacking in our modern age of fast and convenient.. making chronic pain, food addictions, illness, depression, neurological disorders and in far too many cases, premature death the norm, when it is in many cases, entirely preventable, simply by choosing carefully what we put into our mouths and our minds. And I'm going to do my best to photograph and write about all these things in ways that might encourage you to rethink what you're putting in your mouth, and help you begin to take back your own health and vitality so that you can truly thrive and feel happy. Imagine that.:)

Yesterday was a celebration for me and while I wanted to mark that with something special, I did not want to find myself on a sugar bender, undoing all the wonderful things I had accomplished by cleaning up my diet, eliminating alcohol, dairy, soy, processed food, sugar, grains, and legumes for an entire month.  I finished 30 days of beautifully clean eating, and discovered a host of things I want to share with you, while on that journey. It was good... it was very very good.:)  Dallas said that somewhere in the middle of it all, I might want to "kill all the things."  He was right, and it became a running joke in our house, that only made it all the more fun, as we navigated this crazy whole food terrain as a family.  Thankfully, I never did kill ALL the things. But I did slay some demons that had long been on my back... most of them existing comfortably on the cushy sofa I had installed for them in my foggy, junk food saturated mind.

We had chocolate cake for breakfast, and thanks to a totally Rawmazing, Susan Powers, it was not full of empty calories that make you feel bloated and uncomfortable and entirely guilty when you're done eating it and it required no baking whatsoever.  I hope you'll enjoy this new direction with me.  I look forward to it so much! Food photography hasn't had a strong place in my portfolio which is a direct reflection of my poor relationship with it in the past.  It is something I've wanted to improve upon for a long time and this seems like the perfect way to stay motivated, while engaging you, encouraging you, informing and maybe inspiring you to greater heights and healthier habits right along with me!

 

Beautiful Things Don't Ask For Attention by Roni Delmonico

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.
— Life Magazine Motto, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

There is a scene at the end of the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty where Walter asks Sean who is sitting on top of a mountain waiting for a chance to get just one shot of a beautiful snow leopard in the wild... when he's gonna take the shot.  He responds...

Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it. They call the snow leopard the ghost cat. Never lets itself be seen. Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.
— The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I have thought of that one scene maybe more than any other scene from a movie in a really long time.  I knew I had a shot of a snow leopard in my library and I went looking for it today, lingering over it for some time.  How often do I just accept things, without conviction of the heart?  How many other things in my life am I doing or allowing simply because they are easy, convenient, or entertaining... accepting when I should be questioning?  

For me, these days... those are some pretty important questions and as I stared at this photograph, I think I realized it's time for me to figure out how I alone.. would answer them. 

Your Very Flesh Shall Be A Great Poem by Roni Delmonico

This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.
— Walt Whitman

Writers don't often talk about how much we like when you interact on our posts... fearing it will seem too needy and vulnerable, I suppose.  But isn't that the point of sharing? To reach out to the universe and say... Here I am, I have something to say.  Please hear me and respond? Otherwise, I could be simply writing in my journal, closing it up, putting it in my nightstand and calling it a day.  I value your comments and interaction so much. Those of you who take the time, are a treasure to me as a public writer.  Some of you have taken to sending private messages rather than commenting publicly and that's ok too.  You know how deeply I understand that, after the events of the past year and a half of my life. (For those of you new to my website, for a large part of 2013, we dealt with the aftermath of an online hacker who disrupted our personal and financial lives and my emotional life for the better part of a year).  I can't tell you how many times I have sat right here at my computer where I do the bulk of my work, smiling at your humor, leaning into your tenderness, listening to your incredibly intelligent thoughts, accepting your best advice, looking at your beautiful photographs, reading your encouraging notes, and sometimes...depending on your massively strong shoulders.  There are some of you who have journeyed with me more than five years now.  I have laughed, cried and bled with you and that emotional support is beyond priceless to me.  

Opening up my heart and mind, along with my art out into the cyber world opens the door to some measure of risk and criticism too. But it is a risk I am still willing to take, albeit these days on a much smaller and quieter scale that works best for me.  (I read this week somewhere that it is best to put your own oxygen mask on first before attempting to help others with theirs. Truth!)  I believe we change each other just by bumping up against each other and you can't really do that unless you put yourself out there, right? I am constantly amazed by the shades of beauty I see in all of you.. whether you are communicating with me publicly or choosing to reach out through more private channels. So often I sit here at this computer and listen to your hearts that spill out through your pictures and words and think wow.. I never really thought of it that way...  It doesn't really matter if you're an artist who has 25,000 followers or one who has 50.  You share bits and pieces of your own lives with me that make me smile, shed tears, and feel connected, whether you have a big online presence or a small one.  That is such a beautiful, beautiful thing for which I will never find adequate words of appreciation.  I benefit so much from recognizing the value in our different perspectives.  

Most of you know by now that I am a photographer and writer who loves all things artistic. Those pursuits require long hours of shooting with repetitive motion using heavy camera equipment and then even longer hours editing at the computer.  Toward the end of 2012, I began to struggle with some deeper health issues after decades of crappy eating habits (arthritis and the pre stages of type 2 diabetes).  All of that crashed down on me in early 2013, manifesting as chronic pain, weight gain, and pretty serious depression I had trouble admitting even to myself. Cap that off with surgery and a long hard winter and my body, mind and spirit were at an all time low, yet I was still trying to operate my online life as if everything was fine and it was business as usual. After a particularly painful falling out with a friend and potential business partner, I withdrew from nearly everything and everyone that had previously given me joy and closed in on myself for quite awhile.  I didn't recognize it at the time, but it was probably my "rock bottom."  At some point I realized that I had two choices... drown... or swim like hell for all I was worth.  It didn't happen overnight, by any means, but I started small.. treading water until I finally made up my mind to swim.  

Though we are all so different from each other ... deliciously different, I think we can find comfort and commonality simply by walking with each other for awhile and listening.  We can't always do that in person but we can surely do that via whatever channels work best for us.  This little corner, is mine for now... and I am so grateful for those of you who regularly tune in and interact with me.  That has come to mean a whole lot to me.   I've felt the sting of both judgement and criticism in the past, but I learned that so often, the things that bother me most in others... are the areas where I most need work myself.

So often I think we feel change isn't real change unless it is massive and moves mountains. But I loved this quote so much and it has been my mantra for many months now.  "Commit to the daily pressure that compels infinitesimal progress over time."  When you're 20, you feel invincible.  When you're approaching 50 and beyond, you begin to recognize that your physical, mental and spiritual health require long term commitment and is something to be protected and nurtured, if you want to continue to live an active, loving, purpose driven, abundantly joy filled life.  My health is bound pretty tightly to my creativity and I am making infinitesimal progress over time.  Thank you, for spending some of your valuable time here with me.

It has definitely been a year of re-examination and of challenging everything I've ever been taught in school, in church and in books and in dismissing what insults my soul. And it continues to be my prayer that beyond my words, the silent lines are the ones that speak the loudest.

Dolce Far Niente by Roni Delmonico

"The sweetness of doing... nothing."  Italians are masters at it.  But then, sometimes.. so are Hawaiians.;-)  Last year, we went to Cape Cod in search of our adventurous twenty year old selves and that was really fun.  This year... we decided that dolce far niente... is what our 40 something year old selves prefer to cultivate.  I met him when I was 20.  Married him when I was 22.  Twenty six years of learning the inherent sweetness in every one of those days since then.  There is certainly joy in the journey...  and comfort in that Italian + Hawaiian sweetness.  

Food For Thought by Roni Delmonico

I love Saturday mornings.  In our house, they are generally very relaxed and pajama clad, with none of the rush to get out the door that happens on other days.  I often use the time to catch up on blogs and read articles of interest that I bookmarked but didn't have time for during the week, while eating breakfast.  I've absorbed some truly wonderful soul food while feeding the body that way.  Something I read this morning, got an OH HELL YEAH! from me so I thought I'd share an excerpt here in case it resonates and so I can find it again easily when I need a good kick in the butt.;-)  

"...if you want to see what you are truly made of, or just how far you can go and what you are truly capable of  - forget the hack. Commit to the daily pressure that compels infinitesimal progress over time. Wake up before dawn and apply yourself in silent anonymity. Practice your craft in whatever shape or form that may be.. late into the evening with relentless rigor. Embrace the fear. Let go of perfection. Allow yourself to fail. Welcome the obstacles. Forget the results. Give yourself over to your passion with every fiber of who you are. And live out the rest of your days trying to do better.

I can't promise that you will succeed in the way our culture inappropriately defines the term. But I can absolutely guarantee that you will become deeply acquainted with who you truly are. You will touch and exude passion. And discover what it means to be truly alive.  In my opinion, this is the legit definition of success. And the essence of greatness.  Because the seat of genuine value, beauty and satisfaction lies in the experience of getting there."   - Rich Roll

You can read the entire article here.