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  • Melissa Orquiza

Self Care Pt.1, Courage, Gluten Free Jam Muffins, Bill Withers, & Charles Mingus

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

(Biased) Gluten Free Bourbon Blueberry Jam Muffins

I’m sick of being in quarantine (even though it’s the right thing to do). I miss playing music with my friends, hanging out in coffee shops, chatting up niceties with people, shopping for beauty products, and most of all, I miss going to “Whole Foods” and “Trader Joes” with my daughter. Between the Zoom meetings (truly uncomfortable for me…I am only now not making funny faces at the camera), pacifying my daughter because she misses her playmates, pacifying my husband about the sorry state of the world, and the creeping nausea when I read the news, it’s become an anxiety stew that I can either temper through:

1. Alcohol. (I can’t. I don’t have a tolerance anymore.. plus I’m fun for a while, but if I don’t go to bed, I become belligerent.)

2. More Zoom meetings. (More funny faces with the gnawing unease to do something inappropriate for a laugh…)

3. Pot. (I can’t, even though I’m a musician. I’ll be in a corner singing or running in the darkness in the Hollywood Hills, placating friends who had a bad trip. True story. My one and only time. Plus, I get nauseous and sleepy. I prefer having sharp focus because my mind goes to alternate realities naturally. Wait.. isn’t that worse?)

3. Food. (Great for a while… until I look weird in my clothes).

4. Practicing or playing with gear. (Great… until I get tendinitis or I realize I’ve spent four hours on one task. FUN!).

Since almost all the fun stuff is out of the question, I’m left with self care through cooking, reading, writing, running, yoga, swimming, sewing, and my favorite, FACE MASKS! (Which segues into, self care, courage, and the inner strength to speak up.)

Optimism on a plate.

As many of you, I am profoundly saddened by the protests, injustice, and chaos the nation is undergoing. I’m more upset that my daughter will be growing up in a world that I had hoped, would have made more social progress than the one I grew up in. Regardless of race or class, preferably, the natural evolution of the human race is to move forward collectively, but we still go back to our basest instincts, time immemorial. Scarcity of resources, plundering of the disadvantaged, leveraging the weak to keep power, and turning a blind eye if you’re at an advantage. Thank goodness we have movies, dance, art, music, literature, and food. Conciliatory escapism at it’s finest!

We all have our traumas. I watched multiple authority figures misuse their power growing up. (I later found out a principal and a teacher were accused of abusing students at an elementary and a high school I attended.) Life changing moments when you come to the realization that no matter how hard you work, try, reanalyze, and try to give the benefit of the doubt, there are outside forces, outside of your control, that can leave you unprotected or unable to get the result you wanted. It’s almost undoubtedly an issue of trust- a misuse of authority and power. I saw it with my childhood peers- bullying each other, telling me I shouldn’t attend a person’s birthday party if I wanted to be part of their group, pressuring me to make fun of a person or else retribution, gossip circulating. It’s one thing with kids, but I saw it with adults in positions of authority. Teachers or authority figures, biased against certain students or their families, due to their socioeconomic position or judged by the way they looked or behaved. I always thought it would just get better as I grew up and I realized quickly, some people just don’t change. Those kids grew up. Adults could continuously behave in the same way. I know we all make mistakes but sometimes, it was truly difficult to watch. Calling them out on their hypocrisy only enraged them further, hitting a truthful nerve, (and unfortunately, hindering a diplomatic one.) It only got better when I realized, it was all bullcrap. The noise kept continuing, people, the system, trying to pull everything down with their own inability to listen to each other… I just put on headphones with better tunes. My small act of courage. My act of self care.

Let the sunshine in!

But, with engrained social hierarchies being reexamined, was it really all noise? With information now saying psychological health can exacerbate and even bring on underlying health conditions due to stress, what if I didn’t have the strength to put on my headphones, (literally and figuratively)? With longterm health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer contributing to a community’s mortality rate, public health officials are now saying a lifetime of abuse and stress only exacerbates the health and economic inequities in underserved communities. I watched it with some of my friends and family. If your teachers, your leaders, your religious leaders, don’t think you’ll amount to much, won’t you start to believe it? When you try over and over, and you’re still left with a lack of faith, isn’t it easier sometimes, to just give up? At what point do you decide to stop trying or keep pressing on? If certain types of people are continually given opportunities, doesn’t it make sense they’ll be better at a task than someone with comparatively few chances to practice?

I did and still do a lot of things to maintain my absurd sense of naive optimism. I most certainly thought it was a weakness, but realize now, it might have been my biggest strength. My naivety gave me courage, (because I wasn’t “seasoned”) and my optimism gave me strength (because all you can do is laugh when you have nothing to lose). Self care is an act of courage. Renewal gives strength, gives clarity and focus, the courage to tackle the unknown… which is the biggest factor to success. Success upends any status quo and in turn, can cause a domino effect with regards to restructuring social hierarchies and social justice, regardless of race, gender, or class.

Reading, meditation, yoga, cooking, running, music, this blog. It does not come easily- survival mechanisms forged from disappointment, hurt, and pain. But, isn’t that the human condition? I stubbornly think what you get out of life is what you put into it… So, I’ve gotten myself into some weird and rightfully, insane situations which ironically and gratefully, makes my life pretty hilarious. (Not at the time though…) It all balances out with the right amount of schadenfreude.

Courage, for me, meant going for the harder option (sometimes, consciously and unconsciously). I’d like to think most people feel this way but are afraid. It takes courage to write, to try something new, to go against the herd, to speak up and voice an opinion, and more importantly, to try to stand up for justice to a person of power. (More importantly, that person of power could even be a relative or friend). It’s pretty easy to be a smart ass, hiding your pain and turning it into comedy behind a feisty comment, but harder still to face uncomfortable feelings, truthfully, head on. Over time, it became easier for me to say the happy, hopeful comments, than it was easier to say the snarky things and I’d like to attribute it to practice. (I still fail spectacularly with it, though.) Everyone likes to feel good. I like seeing people’s reactions and connecting with what is important to them. I like making people laugh. It contributes immensely to feelings of wholeness, health, happiness, whimsy and more importantly, gratitude. It did wonders for my overall outlook on life. My husband and friends still think I’m overly generous when it comes to disagreements, but I’d like to think I’m a realistic, optimist, eager for mutual benefits, but woefully aware when someone isn’t playing nice. Intentional hurt (which we’ve all inflicted, justly or unjustly) was the hardest for me to grasp. It took courage to see that just because I chose not to do something, someone is not necessarily bound to act in the same way. Funny. When evenly matched countries do this, it usually results in mutual annihilation.

This makes reading the news a whole lot easier...

During this time, where government officials cannot even agree if racism or injustice exists or is systemic, how do you compromise and mutually benefit? Why care when your first extinct is to survive? Why stay optimistic when the same biased teachers, religious, authority figures, and community leaders you saw as a child are continuing to subconsciously, inflict their biases onto generations, unaccountable for their “moral” authority? How do you tell someone nicely, they do have advantages compared to others and to try and be empathetic? (Not all advantages are economic. Think about loving families, emotional intelligence, stable social structures, your genetics). Everyone is better at something than another person. It’s a disappointment that others feel nothing is wrong with these power structures and refuse to look at other viewpoints- purely out of self preservation. Others stay quiet out of ignorance or refuse to rock the boat. How do you mentally stay strong in order to challenge racial or social stereotypes, if not for you, but for your loved ones, one person at a time? (I’ve recently, been struggling with that one. We’re all exhausted and coping.)

Courage can mean empathizing with the person who looks or thinks differently from you, instead of making a base judgement call. I can happily get along with people I disagree with to a point. The only line for me is bias or prejudice that endangers the sanctity of my daughter’s right to dream and achieve that dream. (As I’d like to think most mothers would agree.) I despise those who continue to wield their positions of power with apathy, refusing to move or think in a progressive manner, with unconscious regard to their privilege or the levity their biased actions are conveyed upon their peers.

Courage is calling foul, because everyone has power or leverage whether they believe it or not. Inaction is apathy and the road to this civil unrest sits squarely on the shoulders of our government and private institutions, our leaders and the voters, who did not make sure they were held accountable. (Well, that’s how it’s always been done, so why change it? It’s TRADITION.) It’s the same in the workplace. Little by little, apathy turns to perceived advantage, which turns to diminutive weakness, which turns to control by those who choose to leverage it. It happens all the time with economics and with relationships. Racism encompasses all of this and like all market forces, it will and can shatter (as we’re seeing now) because economic destabilization is a byproduct of human chaos. Regardless of where you stand politically, economic forces (or lack thereof) does and can dictate social progress.

A little something for the courage to take a stand.

My own unease stems from my unerring belief in the good but acknowledging reality. Watching my optimism balanced on one side and seeing reality on the other, makes me feel helpless- the solutions are so complex, constantly shifting, because no one can fully agree on what the problems are, not to mention our rapacious need for an easy solution. However, there is one thing I have control over. My courage, my self worth, my self care, my actions, and my unerring belief that even if life is full of injustice, just as the system tilts the favor to others (and they proactively protect it), the opposite side, has the right to a fair and just future for their families and has a human right to advocate for it. So, maybe that’s the answer? We all have the right to do the best we can for our loved ones and our families, regardless of which side you are on. The courage to be truthful, to the deceits we tell ourselves while attaining resources, might be the answer. Who are you? What truly motivates you, regardless of what society says is right or wrong? Do you have the courage to face it and change it? Implicit bias already runs amok outwardly. Isn’t uncovering our raw, sometimes sad and shameful truths, the most courageous action we can take?

Here’s Bill Withers' “Lovely Day.” (I know, I’m kind of obsessed with Bill Withers but how can you not be in a good mood after hearing this?) Here’s to more optimism and happiness.

“Epitaph”- Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus wanted to be a classical cellist with the LA Phil, but soon realized it would be an unattainable dream (7:06) due to the fact that there were no black musicians in the symphony orchestra, with the first only emerging in the 1950’s or so. With strong classical leanings in his teenage years, he decided to become a bass player and pianist and turned his attentions to jazz, using the language of both genres to craft his own voice. Named “Epitaph”, knowing he would never see the full two hours performed in his lifetime, the premiere was a disaster because the written music wasn’t ready, with two copyists copying during the performance, with thirty two players on stage. They were handing out music to the performers whilst were performing. (Sounds like movie dates). Only between five to ten minutes were performed of the two hour work. Barely rehearsed, the difficulty of the music and the irascibility of Mingus leading the orchestra with his bass, the 1962 Town Hall performance was a disaster, masking the true genius of his monumental work. Embittered by the experience, Mingus stopped playing jazz, frustrated by the public's declining taste for jazz, the emergence of rock ’n’ roll and the Beatles. He decided to retire, remerging years later, to do a tribute to Duke Ellington. An advocate of social reform, check out his musings (15:08 onwards) and later, footage of him and his Caucasian wife protesting for equality.

“Epitaph” Charles Mingus- a documentary by Ger Poppelaars

(with personal commentaries)

Here’s a portion of “Epitaph”, live at Berlin Jazzfest in 1991, conducted by Gunther Schuller.

(I’m partial to the two piano bit and watching a conductor known for his advocacy of esoteric contemporary classical composers conducting esoteric jazz. The beginning of the clip grooves harder. You can see the concentration on the poor orchestra. Later when the orchestra relaxes into it starts to feel sweeter.)

Here’s a recipe for “Gluten- Free Strawberry Jam Muffins,” from the “Huckleberry” cookbook. I used to think being mindful of gluten was an excuse to be persnickety, until I developed a sensitivity to it after eating too much of it during quarantine. (Damn pasta, cookies and cakes!) Here’s an alternative that my daughter loves. I used blueberry bourbon jam in place of the strawberry jam because that’s what we had. Thanks for reading! I hope this made you think differently to the world and maybe some exposure to some great, new music. Have a wonderful week! Xo, Melissa

Gluten Free Bourbon Blueberry Jam Muffins

Gluten-Free Jam Muffins

from, the “Huckleberry” Cookbook, by Zoe Nathan

Makes 12 Muffins

3/4 cup + 2 tbsp/ 210 ml canola oil

3/4 cup + 2tbsp/ 175 g granulated sugar

2 tsp kosher salt

zest of 4 lemons, plus 1/2 cup/ 120 g lemon juice

3/4 cup +2tbsp/210 ml creme fraiche, sour cream, or whole plain yogurt

2 Tbs honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

1 3/4 cup/ 220g Huckleberry Gluten-Free Flour Mix (recipe follows)

1/4 cup/ 25g almond flour

2 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup/ 180g Strawberry Jam or other homemade jam (I used leftover bourbon blueberry jam)

Powdered sugar for dusting

  1. Position a rack near the top of your oven and preheat to 350 degrees F or 180 degrees C. Line one 12-cup muffin pan with 12 paper liners.

  2. In a large bowl, whisk the canola oil, granulated sugar, salt, lemon zest, lemon juice, creme fraiche, honey, and vanilla until combined. Add the eggs and whisk.

  3. Add the flour mix, almond flour, and baking powder. Whisk just until combined.

  4. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling almost all the way to the top.

  5. Bake for about 20 minutes, until almost done, but not completely.

  6. Remove from the oven and make a hole in the center with a small spoon, and spoon about 1 tbsp jam into each muffin, mounding it nice and high. Be sure to move quickly, as it’s important to get them back in the oven as soon as possible. Return to the oven and bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the jam is set and the muffins are browned and spring back slightly to the touch.

  7. Allow to cool and dust the edges with powdered sugar, attempting to avoid the jam.

The muffins, well wrapped, will keep at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Huckleberry Gluten-Free Flour Mix

Makes 6 1/2 cups/ 815 g

2 3/4 cups / 430g brown rice flour

1 3/4 cups/ 430g oat flour

1 3/4 cups/ 230g potato starch

1/2 cup/ 20g cornmeal

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until thoroughly blended.

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