(on grounding, stress relief, and being a still point in a turning world) Two hours drive from here, out in the desert, about 1/4 mile off one of my favourite hiking trails there's a small hole cut out of a hillside. I used to tuck myself away there on a daily basis, for what I'd consider to be therapy sessions. For someone so often stuck up in my head, I hurtle forwards at a pace that tries to outrun my thoughts, very much like that hare in that story where the tortoise emerges victorious. Buried in the earth, in my little therapy hole, everything slows down and something clicks open and my body starts to, well, for lack of better words, drink it in. It drinks in the earth and it drinks in the slowness and it drinks in the darkness and for the first time in a long time I feel calm. And if I stay there for long enough then I would feel like I'd been plugged into a recharger. Now that I live nowhere near that little hole, I try to forge that connection wherever I can. Its not impossible, even surrounded by concrete.
Grounding, in a place like Los Angeles, where the very ground the city is built upon is shifting, is an interesting concept. Some places are more ‘grounded’ than others *waves at the North East*. Some situations are naturally more grounded than others-- a guy I know lives in the same house his family has lived in for 300 years: now that is some serious root-age. Me? Not so much. I've moved house and place more times than I can count. The earth and slowness and stillness is something I have to force myself to pay attention to, to connect to, to remember. And here, Southern California, where the air is light and the light is light and the earth is even light because its mostly sand, I find that ground and earth and attention are even more important. Grounding can mean so many different things. From being solid and ‘earthy’ to seeing the world the same way everyone else does (ie. ‘rational’), to being calm. To me, it means something like this: facing reality. Accepting what is. Having a body (you’d be surprised how many people think having a body is irrelevant in the grand spiritual picture of things). There’s an earth under our feet and to me, personally, connection to it is a visceral thing. And as somebody who’s naturally not very grounded at all, who also lives in a place that is not very grounded at all, finding that connection, paying attention to it and nurturing it is even more important.
One of the ways I do that is to pay attention. To seek out that feeling of rootedness and connection that I find out in places that are wild, and to drag it through the cacophony of information in the city, to plop it down in the middle of my living room and say ‘you belong here too’ because, quite frankly, I don’t see any reason for it not to, other than the terrible drivers.
Another way I do it is to eat grounding foods. Cooked foods, heavy foods, meats, and potatoes. Roots. This time of year is root time anyway. When everything is turning inwards, and the leaves are rotting on the ground, feeding their nutrients back into the earth. Today the clouds are hanging low over Los Angeles and it looks like they, too, are reaching for the earth, attempting to fall down, to curl over on themselves, to find a cocoon and curl up in it and drink in the rootedness of it all. To set roots that drink deep and feed everything that’s above ground.
Roots are tangled and roots are messy. In setting down roots, life, too becomes tangled and messy. Roots come up covered in dirt and sometimes holding rocks in them and these roots don’t let go of these rocks no matter how hard you dry and pry them off. You get to the root of a problem, not the seed. The seed would be the origin but the root is what holds it in place-- find the root of a problem and you can topple said problem until you're standing over it like a giant on top of an anthill. No problem is too big once you find the root and oust it. Roots dive deep and drink deep and pull from places we cannot consciously go. And roots sustain things: they give nourishment and they keep things upright, they drink in what's needed from those unseen places and pull them upwards. They support a structure with their invisible hold. A tree with shriveled roots will topple over and die. A human with shriveled roots starts to topple over, then gets her feet under her and runs to stay upright. In order to be still, one needs roots. Fact. The easiest way to do this is to dig down; drink deep.
The humble potato has been much maligned in recent years. I blame the paleo movement and the idea that a starch will somehow rot your joints and make your bottom big. My bottom might be a somewhat generous size for my frame, but I remain unconcerned about the potato’s insidious effects on my fat storage, simply because I love them and they make me feel good. Anything that I love and that makes me feel good gets filed under ‘health’ food in my own little mental tally of what is good and right and what is wrong and bad. Potatoes have the added benefit of coming from deep in the earth. Potatoes are comfort food and I am not entirely sure what came first— the grounding associated with comfort or the comfort that comes from grounding. Either way, when life gets hectic, when I start to feel frazzled, when my eye twitches for no reason and when a single cup of tea starts keeping me awake until 2am, I reach for the roots. Add to that a combination of my favorite plants— black sage, white sage, wild rose, California bay— gathered from the trails I frequent, and there’s a double dose of grounding: one in the earth and one in my place. There is rootedness and there is permanence and there is a still point amid all the chaos. And for that I, and my twitching eye, can take a deep breath and be grateful.
On that note, lovely people, tell me more about your grounding and stress relief techniques please?
This recipe is a simple variation on the roast potato. That is, its a roast potato cut into big chunky french fry format. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that we have them once a week and have done for the last year, although at one point they were happening daily. We serve them with roast chicken and ketchup and mayo for dipping. I have, on occasion, made myself a single potato’s worth when home alone watching Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. I have also made ten potatoes worth for my entire family, and they went over a treat, although turning them all was a pain in the ever-growing bottom.
Seasonings can vary too. I use my Herbes De Californie most frequently, but sprinkled with Ras Al Hanout they’re quite spectacular (mix together equal parts harissa and mayo for a dipping sauce), and with Herbes De Provence they’re also delicious (aioli on the side), and sprinkled with ground up fir tips they’re also quite spectacular (homemade mayo made with fir infused olive oil).
Oven fries that are so much more than their name makes them sound like.
1 big russet potato per parsimonious person, 2 potatoes per person if they are very hungry or in great need of comfort
2tb butter per potato
2 tb olive oil per potato
1tb finely chopped herbs per potato (I use white sage, black sage, california bay and wild rose here, but as mentioned above the possibilities are endless)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375.
Get a big pot of water boiling on the stove, and put about 1/4 cup of salt in there. It should taste like the ocean (not the dead sea-- if you make the dead sea, that's a little overboard). While that's heating up, set to peeling your potatoes. Once peeled, set them on the narrow side (the side they won't stand up on, on their own) and cut it into three pieces lengthwise. Each piece should work out between 3/4 and 1 inch thick. From there, chop each piece lengthwise again, into 1/2-3/4 inch thick slices. See what we're doing here? Now we have long potatoes cut into thick french fry shapes.
Once the water is really boiling, dump in the potatoes and cook for exactly 10 minutes. While its cooking, set a strainer in the sink. After ten minutes, quickly strain out the potatoes. You see you want them as cooked as possible without disintegrating-- the more cooked they are, the fluffier their insides will be. Carefully dump the strained potatoes out on a roasting tray, and space them all so that there's an inch of space in between them all. Put the butter somewhere on top, then drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle the salt, pepper and herbs over the top then put in the oven for 35 minutes.
After 35 minutes, pull out the tray, and carefully flip each potato piece. They should be golden brown on the bottom. Flip onto their uncooked sides and cook for another 15-25 minutes, until they're golden brown all over. Remove from the oven when they're ready and serve immediately.