Welcome to Pandora's Box

You're cordially invited to take a peek into Pandora's Box.

The intent of this blog is to inspire critical, logical, and free thinkers to join in on the discourse which will address topics such as; Agriculture, Agribusiness, Tourism, Human and Animal Rights, Cultural Diversity, Organic Cooking, Wining and Dining, World Religions, Philosophy, or anything else that might just "pop" out of Pandora's Box!

I would love for you to join me in the never-ending journey to enlightment, love, and the pursuit of purpose.

Peace Out,
Carla Jean

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Under the Tuscan Storm

Trains, planes and automobiles, Oh My!. Sidetracked on our way to Certaldo with one side trip to Castleferrino. I managed to communicate with shop owner for taxi. Taxi safely brings us to the train station in Certaldo where we wait to meet Mario Masterrenzi, local car dealer and our guide, Shilpa. Our cooking group consists of 1 Aussie, 1 Canadian couple, and 3 Americans which includes Dale and myself. Old men gather at the local pasterria during the towns naptime- noon till' about 4:00 p.m.

Our crew takes off into the winding hills that are ladened with vineyards. Always knowing my Italian roots grew deep, I feel a connection with the soil the surrounds. Upon entering the doors of " Maria Louisa ", I stop momentarily to take it all in. My emotions well up inside my chest with a lump and trickle out a small tear.

We are escorted to our room. A C.S. Lewis size wardrobe fills the entire paint chipped wall. Windows are dressed with plain linen. We tread on tiled floors that are geometrically patterned, colored rust and almond. Spare decor includes an antique vanity and rickety bedside tables. Enormous bed has no bounce but allowed for a good nights sleep.

Al Fresco Dinner at 7:30 under the large tree and brillant stars. Spread out are Tuscan cheeses; perconio, mozzarella, and goat. Fresh foccocia bread, salad, and roasted vegetables of sorts. Red organic wine from nearby farm was finished off as the rainstorm rolled in. The rainstorm blew out the lights of Certaldo and our villa. Lightning and thunder lulled us to sleep. Dreams entertain my subconcious throughout the night. I remember a clawed tub, baby strollers and guests in our room.The dreams went on all through the wee hours of the night. Oh, did I forget to mention the pumpkin ghost. Must of had something to do with the roasted pumpkin at dinner.

Addio ~ Carlotta Carlita

Monday, August 30, 2010

Whoda Buddha?

One of my favorite subjects has always been religion. At the end of my college courses, I had an elective credit waiting in the wings. The University took it upon themselves to enroll me in yet another hotel management course and I could think of nothing else that would be more monotonous. I needed to remedy the situation so I called my academic counselor to request a quick switch into a subject, any subject.

As the counselor quickly read a list of elective courses, she mentioned World Religions. Ah Ha! Sign me up. It was the last and only class needed before the completion of my first degree, Associates of Arts in Hospitality, Travel, and Tourism.

Indeed, I saved the best for last. Besides philosophy, this comparative religions class was the most thought-provoking and grammatically challenging course to date. My professor stretched me every inch of the way and what initially was frustration turned into appreciation. If this world is ever going to "Give Peace a Chance",  I strongly recommend that every human being learn a bit about a  religion outside their own.

The knowledge I gained opened up a plethora of questions that jumped out of my personal Pandora's Box. Since then, I continue to contemplate on a daily basis how the World's Religions fit into my world and my limited perception of God. The fact that I believe in God; the Supreme, Absolute, Divine Being and Sole Creator of the Universe, and that almost every other religion on the face of His green earth also does, I ponder what the unifying truth is. Both philosophy and religion are think tanks and I am but a very small fish, hell, maybe even just the plankton the sucks off the small fish, in this vast ocean of knowledge. So, I give it a go and try to understand.

Understanding one's purpose of existence was the topic for my philosophy final and comparing two different religions was assigned for the religions class. Both subjects tie together at so many levels. I concluded that one's purpose of existence was to know God and Love. Plain and simple. Granted, I had to fill in the final with a lot of big words and impressive quotes beginning with pre-Socratic Greek philosophers such as Empedocles, Parmenides’ and Heraclitus’ (say that 3x fast). But overall, I walked away from that class with a broader mind and new enlightenment.

My foundational views have not changed, although the class allowed me to look into my ideas and thoughts from several different perspectives. I have discovered there are untapped facets within my belief system that are similar, yet contrary, to many religious philosophers. For example: Buddha received his enlightenment not from this physical realm, but from a transcendental realm. I agree with Buddha in this respect, but disagree with his argument that there is no God. I question the reincarnation and karma beliefs that Eastern philosophies postulate, but that is most likely because I am a Westerner who has been taught since birth western values, philosophies, and a western viewpoint of metaphysics and ontology.

So as my title of today's blog reads - Whoda Buddha? - you may have already guessed who caught my interest. Although, unknowingly making matters increasingly difficult, I didn't choose Buddhism, but instead Hinduism. Go figure.

After recently watching "The Buddha - The Story of Siddhartha - by David Grubin, I discovered again why I liked ole Sid. Basically, he was just another soul searching for answers in a world of suffering. As the Buddha would say, "Life is Dukka (suffering), yet I have found a serenity that you can find to." Siddhartha Gautama's one quest was to share his enlightenment with those who suffered. Honorable aspiration if I do say so myself. The Buddha said, "You are already enlightened, the capacity for nirvana (bliss) has always been in you." Comparing Buddha to my Lord, Jesus Christ, it sounds reminescient of Jesus when He taught "The Kingdom of God is within you". The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Keynote speaker Ananda Guruge, addressed the Buddha’s contribution to humanity and world peace at the
2005 Buddha Anniversary Celebration in Paris, France. To quote Guruge, “The Buddha’s ideal of loving kindness, which expresses itself with a deep commitment to peace, unity and harmony, tolerance and accommodation, nonviolence and selfless service, remains the fundamental basis for all human relations- person to person in family and community and nation to nation in the world. This is his contribution to sustainable world peace."

Are U da Buddha?

To be continued....

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

All Cooped Up

The close to another workday is quickly approaching, and not without incidence. It appears that the computer that interfaces with our server is toast. Perhaps my co-hort can revive the old bird with his voodoo magic. Perhaps not.

Technology doesn't turn me on and I'm feeling cooped up with a million other things I'd rather be doing. Learn more, do more, be somewhere else more. Anywhere but behind this ball n' chain of a desk. Office air-conditioning wars are peaking as August's fiery furnace beats down on the exterior suites. Yes, our eight units are having a hard time keeping up during these dog days of Texas summer.

Speaking of feeling all cooped up and old birds, I have recently discovered a subculture of "chickinists" on my trail to chicken-enlightenment. Although, the label doesn't quite sit well with me. It could be very well confused with a chicken-religion or even a political party that backs chickens. Chickenista better suits my style. Granted, I've never raise any chickens of my own,therefore, I've yet to earn my feathers and the right to be called a true chickenista.

Many years ago my grandmother purchased 100 baby chicks and rented the horse-stall next door to our Tennessee Walker, Outline, to house them. Grandma piled the cages 6 high, a sort-of homemade factory chicken farm. I don't recall much free-ranging going on and never got the chance to really appreciate the chickens for who and what they were. Looking back, it must have been grandma who instilled my curiosity about chickens.

My husband has promised to build me a chicken-coop this spring. This should give me ample time to gather all the information I need to raise healthy, heat-tolerant chickens that will provide our kitchen with fresh eggs. I have decided that veganism is a lofty aspiration and one that I am not totally committed to pursue. Shying away from all animal products is a hard one for me to swallow, so to speak. It has taken a couple months to find my balance and I am comfortable with eating dairy products, IF, and that's a big IF, I know where they came from. I didn't have to worry when I read this email from PETA:

"Half a billion eggs were recalled by the Food and Drug Administration, and more than 1,000 people were sickened by a strain of salmonella. When you consider that a hen spends more than 34 hours suffering in a crowded battery cage to produce just ONE egg, it puts a whole new perspective on the true cost of the egg industry."

Gathering the eggs of information has proven to be fun and a bit bizarre. I was amazed to learn of Austin's Funky Chicken Coop Tour.
The second annual chicken coop tour brought in 6000 chicken enthusiasts who all share a common interest in their fowl-feathered friends.

The chicken community is undoubtedly growing. The Funky Tour has a facebook page (who doesn't) that offers a well-spring of insight and one that I will frequent often. I have many questions. Which breed is conducive to Texas heat? Which are child-friendly? How many eggs will my layers produce on average? How long will they live?

After emailing http://www.mobilechickencoops.com/, a few of my questions were answered within moments.

Thank you for inquiring about our chicken coops. Generally speaking 4 to 6 hens will share one nesting box for laying eggs. If you have sitting hens then you might want additional nesting box space but most people don't hatch their own eggs anymore. I have found as many as 3 of our hens in one box at the same time all trying to lay their eggs. I have 6 nesting boxes in our largest coop and our hens use 3 to 5 of the boxes and surprisingly use the smaller boxes over the larger ones. Unless you have sitters, hens generally are only on the nest for 20 to 40 minutes. What is more important is having adequate roosting space. Most standard breeds need about 9 inches of roosting space per bird. In the heat of the summer I would allow up to 12" per bird. If you have any other questions feel free to ask.

Thanks to Josh who replied so quickly. I'm leaning toward that bright yellow Mega Coop. My hubby is still deciding whether to do-it-himself (which is he very capable of doing), yet doesn't know if he really wants to commit 4 weekends to this project. Either way, it's not like I'm asking for a million dollar house. A chicken-coop will do just fine, thank you very much!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Food for Thought

Food is constantly on my brain as of late. Not because I am hungry all the time, rather it appears that the study of food is leading me further on my quest towards self-enlightenment. As one who has just taken her head out of the genetically-modified dirt, I want to know my food on a more personal level. I keep hearing myself say, "I'm not going to eat or buy anything I don't know where it came from". The old adage, "You are what you eat" is apropo, to say the least.

Time is on my side now and I have the opportunity to spend a great deal of it harvesting a daily bushel of "food for thought". Since the completion of my first degree (Arts in Hospitality, Travel & Tourism), I have a choice. I can allow my brain to turn to mush or I can "feed" it with credible information gleaned from sources of my own choosing. Granted, most of the information comes from the almighty Google search engine, but one thing I learned in school was how to determine a credible source. Thank you University of Phoenix.

Yesterday, a dear friend shared a link to Boggy Creek Farm in East Austin, Texas. The farm is a USDA-Certified-Organic Urban Market Farm owned by Larry Butler & Carol Ann Sayle. I have spent the majority of the morning reading Carol Ann's whimsical and entertaining blogs concerning her beloved chickens and life in the Hen House. Carol Ann spins tales about Rooster, Rusty Roo's escapades and hens she has raised from chicks. Step aside Beatrix Potter, Carol Ann has thoughtfully named her chick-a-dees, "The Lucilles" (Golden-laced Wyandottes), "Toesy", the hen that lost 2 toes as a pullet, "The Pattys" (Silver-laced Wyandottes), and other Potterish sound-alikes.

What I find most endearing is Carol Ann's tributes to her faithful egg-laying hens. Respectfully, Mrs. Elvira Bentley, who was commonly referred to as Mrs. Bentley and Aunt Penny Barrock (Spokes Hen for the Farm, Head Hen of the Hen House, Feathered Friend of the Farm), and Rooster Buffy.

I do believe that Boggy Farm will be my next Saturday morning market journey to support the local farming community. I'm all about From-Farm-To-Table, and having your veggies picked that morning doesn't get any more FFTT than that!

Albert Einstein said, "Information is not knowledge". True. That is why I will endeavor to learn, process and put the information I retrieve into action. My course of action begun when I made the choice to become healthier followed by the conscious decision to buy locally and organically whenever possible. Although the journey is still in it's infantile stages, I do believe that my steps are headed in the right direction.

Knowledge is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Countdown to Certaldo

As I spotted the calender today, the realization hit me that less than a month from today, my husband and I will awake in a 19th century Tuscan villa. The wisteria-laden, old soul firmly stands upon 340 acres of olive groves and vineyards. Oh Italy, my heart longs after thee...

As with many of my self-imposed endeavors, I have failed the regimental task of the well-intended daily post. I confess that I have not delved into Pandora's Box for many a day. The road was paved w/ good intentions, yadayadayada.

First excuse: Much has happened that thwarted my desire to write, mainly the second most common type of major surgery known to women, the dreaded hysterectomy. That in a nutshell should suffice. Nuff said about that for now. For today, I'd rather focus on "la bella vita" (the good life).

Back to my inspiration: Italy

The birthplace of my maternal-grandfather(Donato Rocco Pompeo)'s people. Affectionately known as Papa, my love for all things Italian no doubt rooted from his loins. My temper, passion, love for Chianti & Cabernet, and anything w/ olives, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red bell peppers, and artichokes. Yep, these are a few of my favorite things.

I am discovering that my Italian taste buds lend well to many delizioso vegetarian recipes that I've recently found on my quest for organic, vegetarian cooking.

Certaldo, Italy. Destination Organic Tuscany Cooking School. 4 Cooking classes in all. No doubt, when and if I find the time to blog while there, the details of the meals, complete with vibrant-colored pics will be posted.

So as I sit at my desk, with my head tipped back, I close my eyes and fantasize about indulging in the fruit of Tuscan vines. Back to reality. I'm actually eating a Ziploc bag full of tri-colored grapes whose potential to ferment into a fine wine is alas, no more.

Addio ~

Thursday, July 22, 2010

To V or not to V?

One of Pandora's Preferred Blogs - All Naturale - features actress Kate Winslet exposing the cruelty of Foie Gras. Mainly out of curiosity to find out just what the heck Foie Gras was, I watched the video explaining about the goose liver and how it's made. Not pretty, not pretty at all. Force-feeding geese (gavage) to enlarge their livers with a metal tube 3x a day is just wrong. Plain and simple.
Under the video's comments, "Powers of Nature" suggested that one look at the alternative, humane, way to make foie gras. PON included a link to TED, so once again out of curiosity I clicked.

TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design and is a small nonprofit whose tag line is Ideas Worth Sharing. I'm all about sharing ideas. Thus the blog. Granted, I may be sharing ideas with myself initially. But the whole point of writing in Pandora's Box is to have an outlet that allows me to express my thoughts and ideas freely.

Back on the Farm... I watched Dan Barber's foie gras parable. To quote TED's website, "Dan Barber is a chef and a scholar -- relentlessly pursuing the stories and reason behind the foods we grow and eat". Barber's interview with the "goose whisperer" is testament that there are humane alternatives to produce food for those who choose to consume meat. My hubby eats meat and I have no quams buying it for him, as long as I know where the meat came from. Before going to the Austin Downtown Farmer's Market last weekend, I did my homework and got to "know" my farmers beforehand.

I purchased:
1 lb of breakfast sausage from Kocurek Family Charcuterir
1 lb. of ground beef from Homestead Farm located in Waco and
1 N.Y. Strip and 1 lb. ofChili Meat from SMS Ranch in Fredricksburg

Happy Meat = Happy Wife = Happy Husband.

I respectfully found Barber's talk at the Taste3 conference, hopeful. Hopeful on many levels. Hopeful for humans, hopeful for animals, and hopeful for the future of this planet.After listening to both sides of the issue, Kate's and Dan's, I wanted to know the opinions of others, so I read the comments. Amazing, but not surprising.

As a newbie to vegetarianism, I have learned that being one brings out a defense mechanism in many who are not. The V's vs O's (Vegans vs Omnivores) debate is all too reminiscent, especially the tone, of religious or political debate. Everyone trying to prove that they alone possess absolute sovereignty on THE truth. As Winnie the Pooh would say, "Oh bother".

My philosophy guides me to believe that every individual is on their own path to enlightenment. Don't rush me on my journey, and I won't rush you. Diversity is necessary to accomplish balance. There will always be two extremes but I believe that polar opposites create harmony. The whole yin and yang thing.

So, for today I am a vegan. I've always found my balance by beginning at an extreme. Then by weighing outside information with my inner-being , I find my center. Wonder if being a Libra has anything to do with this whole balance act? Hummm....

Peace Out ~ Carla Jean

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fresh Food Beginnings

After several weeks of locker room discussions about food, (common topic in a ladies locker room), a woman suggested that I read "Skinny Bitch- A no-nonsense, tough-love guide for savvy girls who want to stop eating crap and start looking fabulous!" by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin. I immediately downloaded the book into my new IPad (grad gift from hubby), and swiftly swiped my finger across the screen in record timing. I would suggest for anyone who would like to read Skinny Bitch to also dig deeper into the recommended reading and the sources consulted.

My new gal pal asked, "So, did your eating choices change after reading the book?". I replied, "Yeah, it's all your fault". She responded, "I think I've created a monster". We both laughed because now between the four of us who are on the same morning schedule, she is the only meat eater left in the bunch, but I think that might change soon.

The book has nothing to do with being skinny - although that is a byproduct of not eating fat-laden foods - or is it about being a bitch. Freedman and Barnouin slaps the facts about factory farming, genetically modified foods, the USDA, food chemicals, and a list of other disturbing food topics in your face without apology.

I got it. I began my research and discovered that there were important choices to be made and these choices would not only affect me, but also those in my concentric circle.

Next awakening: I don't exactly remember how I ran across the All Naturale website, but I believed it was destined. Food Inc. was waiting and I was ready.
That sealed the deal for me. If you haven't viewed this documentary on the food industry, you can go to All Naturale and view it for free.

So... here I sit at my desk eating some strange prepared dish from Snap Kitchen called "Spicy Sambal Tofu". To quote Snap Kitchen, "We are dedicated to bringing our customers flavorful, handcrafted food that supports our commitment to local, organic ingredients and healthy cooking."

In my wildest dreams would have I ever imagined I'd even try a dish with an ingredients list that was comprised of; cabbage, portabella, mushrooms, green beans, carrots, edamame, sesame oil, soy sauce, and lime juice. The dish is living up to its name, my mouth is on fire, and I'm luvin' it!

Peace Out ~ Carla

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Opening Pandora's Box- Day One

In pursuit of all things pure and true, I have decided to invite all those who are free, critical, and logical thinkers to share their opinions and knowledge concerning any number of topics that might pop out of Pandora's box.

I'm not sure if the evolution that is taking place in my life is due to spiritual or mental growth or if I'm just plain going through a mid-life crisis, as I am quickly approaching the proverbial "hill".

Nonetheless, I aspire to share what has been brewing in my brain and what has begun to burden my soul in hopes that I might deter my never-ending need to share with those around me. I've just got a funny feeling that I'm starting to drive them crazy~

During my much belated education, the world around me expanded ten fold. Fascinated by philosophy, indigenous people, cultural diversity, world religions, and the current state of our environment - minus the wretched algebra and finance classes- I discovered how important is it to bridge the gaps and abandon the sterotypes that I've learned during the first half of life.

Recently, I've become a vegetarian which has opened up a whole new world of choices on my behalf. As an ostrich can only stick his/her head in the sand for so long, I finally have come up to breath. The air is good but it is what remains on the ground that needs some serious help - much reference to agribuisness, government, and close-minded individuals.

During my new quest as a "granola girl", I wish to take those who are experienced,as well as those who are curious, along the journey with me. I welcome any and all comments, advice, and resourceful information from the blogging community and will try my best to recriprocate.

With that said, I end my first post quoting T.S. Eliot, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and to know the place for the first time".