Wednesday, November 28, 2012


The best memorials are not made of stone or written in words.

They are written in our lives.

To know anyone is an enormous blessing. To think that out of all the energy in the Universe, it would ball up and condense into life, on this planet, in this species, in this state, in this town, and then be someone we meet and befriend - well, it's pretty incredible.

In that respect, anyone that leaves us, leaves us too soon. Though life never has lived by our timetables.

It's hard for me to even remember how or exactly when I met Peter. I associate him with Scott's Folkatorium, though I can't be sure if we go back further.

The Folkatorium was a magical place. It was like some sort of vortex. Scott found this space and drew anyone with positive energy to it. I feel in love with it instantly. And it was impossible to not like Scott. He was like what you'd expect Santa to be like in real life.

Or the Dalai Lama.

So it's been at least 6 or 7 years since I first met Peter Hessman. He was a poet. With a smile the size of the grand canyon.

His health was not great when I met him, and I never knew him in great health. He was always resigned to his wheelchair.

Yet, his spirit was unchained. People have told me that I am the most positive person they know. Well, I think Peter puts me to shame. Underneath his straw hat, his eyes were always twinkling and a smile was always perched upon his lips like an eagle hunting a fish.

Peter was a poet through and through. He would write all the time. About anything, mostly small things, things where humor or a pun could run wild. In fact, I had hardly ever heard a poem of Peter's that didn't include some pun or that wasn't written in a humorous nature. Only once, after his cancer returned, and he was facing the inevitability of a nursing home.

He loved poetry so much, he would host poetry nights at his house, since it was hard for him to get out and support his friends. They were always sweet gatherings lasting into the night. His soft voice reading and laughing until it grew raspy.

When my father passed, Peter made a point to attend all the Evening for Chuck events I hosted. No matter how difficult it was to get there, he would come rolling in, grin in place. Not only that, he would always leave me with a touching poem he'd written about me at some point during my set.

Whenever any of us vegans brought food to his house or an event, he would try it, and he would be so grateful for the friendships that even if he hated the food, we never knew.

A gentler soul I have rarely met.

A kinder person there just doesn't get.

He's an example for us all.

Namaste my friend.



Fall has been one of my favorite times of year ever since I was a little kid, something that brought about very ironic and mixed emotions as the coming of fall also meant the coming of school. Not that I disliked school. I just liked summer more.

Once that fall breeze began to freeze, a new joy come over me. Winter!

Winter meant holidays and big meals, Christmas and presents, and backyard tackle football in the snow. Since I didn't drive or have other obligations as a youngster, winter was never a hassle. It was just another thing to be enjoyed and played in.

Long afternoons well into the night were spent freezing cold playing football in on of the neighborhood yards. When there wasn't snow, I would still enjoy throwing the ball around and pretending to be all the positions.

I racked up some impressive stats in those me vs. me games.

And when the snow stacked up, we could run around and tackle each other, constantly hating and loving when our boots would come off, sending frigid snow to take its place. After hours outside, I would come in, rosy-faced and plant myself by the fireplace with hot chocolate, or some sort of hot beverage. The warmth rolling over me like a blanket, wrapping me up and half the time, actually putting me into a nap.

Perhaps it crept in, slowly, each year diminishing in winter bliss. Perhaps it was taken away with a drivers license. Maybe it was one of those collateral casualties of high school. Eventually, however it happened, I grew to dislike winter.

Yes, I loved the first snow, and of course any snow day was greatly welcomed. But I lost the magic of playing in that winter wonderland. Where I once saw football greatness and endless opportunities for fun, I only saw grey and cold.

Did I never notice the winter grey as a kid? Or was it actually sunnier? Is this a certifiable case of my outlook creating reality?

This trend continued as I finished my college career, when winter became ... difficult. As a working musician, I traveled in terrible snow and ice storms, just to get to a gig. Or, worse yet, the shows would cancel as the weather deteriorated. And even when it wasn't blizzarding, people would frequently be scarce at the other wintertime shows.

The clouds seemed to never leave to sky until May.

Seasonal affective disorder - I'm pretty sure I had it.

One grey, cold day, I asked myself, 'Do I really hate winter? Or just Cleveland winters?' If I only hated Cleveland winters, there are other places to go. Perhaps if I found a joy in winter elsewhere, I could bring it back into my life in the Ohio winter. Either way, hating 5 months of the year is no way to live life.

So I booked a tour to Jackson, Wyoming for the last two weeks of December. Rocky mountain wintertime winter. The real winter. Snow is measured in tens of feet there. Cold is really cold - zero degrees is a balmy day.

I didn't quite know what to expect as I crawled out of my van, my boot crunching on the snow-covered lot.

Something was odd already.

It was sunny.

The snow was pristine and shimmered everywhere.

The air was so still and dry that it shimmered as well.

I had walked into a snow globe.

Of joy.

Those two weeks took me outside in 20 below weather, traipsing around in snowshoes in knee deep snow, going miles and miles into the stillness of that marshmallow world.

Standing in an enclosure of beautiful, perfect pine trees, each one an image of the best Christmas tree in any movie, I found that bliss again.

Winter was not the enemy. It was spellbinding.

Yes, everything is spellbinding when in the shadow of a mountain, or alone in a sub-alpine forest, when watching the moose and elk forage, when the bison swing their mighty heads side to side to clear the snow.

But that bliss is more than that.

You see, bliss is not dependent on any external circumstance. Bliss is an inner state.

Bliss is a state where the curiosity of our childhood shines through, where the newness of each minute could bring infinite possibilities.

Bliss is everywhere. It is anywhere.

So I brought it back to Ohio.

Which is not bliss's natural habitat.

But it survives.

And waits with its face pressed against the windowpane in unbridled excitement for whatever winter holds.

Brussels Sprouts

I cannot believe I never gave these little veggies much attention.

Brussels sprouts! Since I had some earlier this year at Pura Vida in Cleveland, this veggie has received new standing in my appetite.

One of my favorite recipes calls for sauteing the sprouts with garlic and onions, and then when nearly done, mixing in maple syrup. You can also add a touch of cinnamon if you'd like, though it isn't necessary.

So good, and quick. This goes really well with rice, coated in a thai peanut sauce.

Enjoy! I look forward to hearing your favorite Brussels sprouts recipes!


Tuesday, November 13, 2012


It happened this morning.

I saw my first snowflakes of the season.

Maybe it's something that still lingers on since school, but seeing the first snow is always an experience of great joy. In that little instant, I smell the fireplace, the cinnamon, the pumpkin pie, the warm blankets, and the supreme stillness in the air.

That joy, in itself, makes me more joyful. Have you experienced that? Getting a kick out of the fact that you're getting a kick out of something? It's a feeling of being present, I think.

All the trouble of winter is not yet here. Just a few snowflakes, like the first robins returning in spring.

In elementary school, my bus stop was about four house down the street. That little street corner housed a large shrubby tree, the sort of tree you could crawl inside, and it would hide and shield you from the day. Many winter days I would shuffle down the street, puffed up like the Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man in all my winter garb, and I would press my way into the tree and be in my own world. A world where the wind did strike at your bones. A world where the snow was held at bay. And for a few minutes those mornings, there was a calm and peace that filled every ounce of me.

The last 2 years I have been touring through Wyoming for the Christmas holidays. The great northern Rocky Mountains must indeed have been the inspiration for Winter Wonderland. The pure snow blankets everything and makes you almost swear that the whole scene is faked. The air is still and cold, but fragrant. And clear. The mountains in their yoga reach far into the sky. The rivers fight the frost. And the land seems to meditate.

We'd always have Christmas music swinging as we put up and trimmed the tree. Each ornament would allow a moment of where it came from, before figuring out where it would be going. The fire would be crackling. My dad napping on the couch. And once the lights were up, of course we'd turn off all the other lights, and sit with the twinkle for what seemed like hours.

Actually, my fondest Christmas tree memories involve sitting alone in the dark room late at night, and just being by the sparkling lights. Their reassuring glow could hold me for hours.

And so it is that the brilliant little snowflake finds me as it whirls beyond my vision before uniting with the spruce tree nearby.

Friday, November 9, 2012


The holidays are a time of family and friends. They are a celebration of our common journey. A celebration of our own little community.

As we enter our season of Thanksgiving, we honor the role food and family plays in our life, and our sustainability of that life.

Thanksgiving was always the one time of year our full family would get together. Sometimes we all ventured to my grandma's house on other holidays, but we could guarantee that the family would be together on Thanksgiving. It fitting that a holiday for giving thanks is mandated to include family and food.

Those things are really what sustains all life. Without them, we cannot live.

As I've gotten older, I have realized the importance of this idea. And that family isn't limited to close blood relations. Family can be seen as anyone in our close social circle. We consider our best friends "like a brother/sister." And we all agree the cat or dog is a family member.

But family is more than this. In God, we are all a family. A human family. A family of all sentient beings.

We give thanks to be a part of this family.

So when we have a meal of symbolic thanks, we must also be mindful and thankful of our full family.

Having a vegan Thanksgiving meal is not as hard as it may seem. Things like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes  green beans casseroles, stuffing, etc can be made vegan with only a few easy substitutions (Earth Balance for butter, or Almond Milk for milk, for instance). If you want a big main dish, Field Roast makes a tasty meat alternative. Tofurkey does as well (though I think the Field Roast is more flavorful). Or you can make stuffed squash, marinated Portobello mushroom caps, lasagna ... it's limitless really.

Here's a great resource for recipes:

I think I will be making in addition to my White House Sweet Potatoes  and Field Roast, a mac n cheeze with lentils (inspired by Ms Julie's Kitchen). It's delicious and no more difficult than any other big holiday meal.

And for dessert, my favorite:

Tofu Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients (use vegan versions):

    1 can (16 ounces) pureed pumpkin
    3/4 cup sugar or sucanat (or 1/2 cup maple syrup)
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
    1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    1 teaspoon ground allspice, optional
    1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, optional
    2-3 tablespoons cornstarch to firm up the pie filling
    1 package (10-12 ounces) silken/soft tofu
    1 9-in unbaked vegan pie shell


Preheat oven to 425 F.  Blend the pumpkin and sugar. Add salt, spices, cornstarch and tofu, mix thoroughly.  Pour mixture into pie shell and bake for 15 minutes. Lower heat to 350 F and bake for another 60 minutes.  Chill and serve.  Dont use the low fat tofu, then the pie tastes like it was made with tofu. This pie is soooo yummy, it will fool almost anyone. I made it last Thanksgiving for my whole family, I am the only one, and everyone asked for seconds.  They begged me to make another one for Christmas dinner. Top with non dairy topping and it will fool any pumpkin pie lover.

Serves: 8

Preparation time: about 1 hour + chilling time

And you're honoring and giving thanks to the lives of your full family.



Monday, November 5, 2012

Some of My Favorite Music

I found Caetano Veloso a decade ago whilst rummaging through a record shop while on tour. There was a little sticker on the CD that mentioned David Byrne, and being a huge David Byrne fan, I bought the CD, and he has been one of my favorite singers since.

Enjoy this large collection of songs. I particularly enjoy the Live record, Noites Do Norte.

Caetano Veloso – Zii e Zie

What music are you getting into?