Floral Notes and Bardo: A Crazy Thing I Made


Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

Ghost-pepper sneeze of truth, came out a like a face-fart aspiring to be a sonnet. If you love me, you’ll understand. If you love me, you must be able to accomodate these types of things. If we’re going to really be friends, you must forgive farts of all sorts and be unafraid to cry if pepper dust from my stupid-sneeze hits you in the eye. I’m sorry. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you. A formula for friendship?


This is Avajra John posing with a crazy thing I made for him.


The other night an impromptu gathering in Heather’s room–craft jam. I made a crazy thing for Avajra John, Heather made New Year’s cards for her Vietnameese friends, and Dorian worked on a figure drawing. I’ve been up past my bedtime so much recently. I’ve not been singing in the morning the last couple of weeks–I miss that and need to start it back up. I’ve been tired in my days. Yesterday I did a live video-interview  with a wonderful mindfulness teacher, Shastri Janet Solyntjes. I was so sleepy that I was concerned that my brain would go numb and our conversation would poo-out. But, it went well. I think that she skillfully transmuted my sleepiness into wakefulness. Good teacher. Later, in lojong class, I didn’t have any questions for teacher–which is a rare thing. Usually I have too many.

I try to be careful but open with my speech. It sucks to say stupid things. Here is a lojong slogan which is helping me handle the psychological aftermath of having said something stupid:

“When the world is filled with evil, Transform all mishaps into the path of bodhi.”

Basically swapping “Oh shit” with “Okay”–viewing the whole thing as a learning process. That’s my interpretation and application, anyway.


It’s about time to step up my Dekyong game. It’s fallen off a bit recently along with the singing. I’m glad to report that the meditation practice is as consistent as ever. That’s the most crucial thing.

–January 29


PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain Center. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community. 

Avajra John Presents: The Perfect Rice

By Travis Newbill

In order to clarify the confusion of all sentient beings attempting to make rice, we present another installment of Avajra John‘s pithy kitchen wisdom.


There are quite a few different approaches to making rice. Each of the different approaches works well. This can be confusing. There are some 40,000 varieties of rice from around the world. Short-grain and long-grain brown rice, basmati rice, jasmine rice, Arborio, and Koshihikari from Japan are some commonly available varieties. In each of these different rice cultures around the world, there are recipes for making perfect rice that is considered a high art within that culture. So let’s simplify this and start at square one:

  • Cook the rice on the stove top or in the oven.
  • Use a pot or pan with a good, tight-fitting cover.
  • Use the proportion of one cup of rice to one and a half cups of water.
  • Use cold water.
  • Put the rice and the water together in the pot or pan and cover tightly.
  • Bring the rice and water to a boil.
  • Then turn down the heat to medium low.
  • The white rice varieties will take 25 to 35 minutes to cook. The brown rice varieties will take longer usually 45 or 50 minutes.
  • Try to keep the cover on the rice for the whole cooking duration (check it if you must, but keep this to a minimum).
  • After cooking, let the rice rest with the cover on.
  • Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

Floral Notes and Bardo: Furry Creatures–Awake


Floral Notes and Bardo: The Creative Chronicles of a Shambhala Mountain Resident is a daily feature on the SMC blog in which a member of our staff/community shares his experience of existing as part of Shambhala Mountain Center.

Guitar around the corner translating confusion
–mental jukebox–
who keeps pumping those quarters in?


I woke up at 4–a bit too early but better than 6:30 so I can sing before breakfast, before
meditation. I arrived in the shrine room a minute late and saw that noone had made offerings to the shrine. I was hoping someone else would do that today.

I turned around and my pal walked in the door with a full water pitcher and I believed I may get a break.

I sat down on the cushion a bit grumpy about having to serve as umdze for the fifth day in a row. I
knew it was absurd to be grumpy–sitting in a shrine room, meanwhile war-torn Sudan, etc.

Umdze = person who–lights the shrine, rings the bell, leads chants, and keeps an eye on the time.

Mid-way through the session Avajra John entered the room. Hadn’t seen him since he left for the holidays…a week ago? A week here can feel like a month, and a day can feel like a minute.

I love Kooky Crazy Sexy (he asked to be called that) Uncle John. I felt the shrine room giggles rising.
I had to take some breaths to cool out.

Later, I glanced up–
when you are umdze, you face everyone else in the room–
I saw a friend grinning. I grinned. The contagious awake-grin.

Are all of us furry creatures awake? Fully awake already? Simply awake and profoundly forgetful?


PortraitTravis Newbill is a curious dude on the path of artistry, meditation, and social engagement who is very glad to be residing at Shambhala Mountain. His roles within the organization include Marketing Associate and Head Dekyong–a position of leadership within the community. 

Good Tidings (and a Great Recipe) from SMC Chef Avajra John Russell


Avajra Claus is real

By Travis Newbill

Did you know that Santa’s kooky cousin lives at Shambhala Mountain Center? He is just a jolly as Old St. Nick–though much thinner, and his magical sleigh is pulled by a single garuda. His name is Avajra Claus! His specialty is making tasty things in the kitchen for the SMC community—many healthy meals, and some sweet delights as well.

According to folklore, Avajra used to bake cookies for Santa back when they were little elves. Ever since they parted ways, Santa has been searching the world for treats as tasty as the ones Avajra used to make. In exchange for the cookies that the kids leave, Santa brings gifts.

Now, Avajra has a gift for you: a classic holiday recipe! He asks that you enjoy it with your loved ones, and also leave some out for his chubby cousin, Santa.

From SMC lead chef Avajra John Russell to you and yours:

Here we all sing together…

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

and a Happy New Year.


Good tidings we bring for you and your kin,

Good tidings for Christmas and a Happy New Year.


O bring us some figgy pudding

O bring us some figgy pudding

O bring us some figgy pudding

and bring it right here.


And we won’t go until we’ve got some

And we won’t go until we’ve got some

And we won’t go until we’ve got some…

Well if you want your holiday guests to ever go home, better have some “Figgy Pudding” on hand. It is also noteworthy that here at SMC, we live as a community, so we are all home already, together, which is sweeter than any treat I could make.

Okay, this traditional Christmas dessert dates back to 16th century England. The many varied recipes that have been handed down to us include baking the dessert or steaming it in the oven, some call for boiling it or frying. This sweet gooey Christmas treat is more like a cake than what we’ve come to think of as a pudding. It can be soaked in Brandy, which makes it really luscious. Traditionally, it is served topped with “Hard Sauce”, although whipped cream can also be a fabulous pairing. I’m including two recipes here, one baked and one steamed in a double boiler.

Is everybody singing?? No?? … just the sound of one lone voice wafting out from the kitchen…  Singing & laughing. – Avajra John Russell


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup soft bread crumbs

1 cup water

1 cup molasses

1 cup chopped dried figs

1 cup raisins

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup orange peel strips

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1teaspoon ground nutmeg


1. Grease the inside bowl of a double-boiler.

2. Mix flour, bread crumbs, water, molasses, figs, raisins, walnuts, orange peel, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg together in a bowl until batter is well incorporated; spoon batter into the prepared double-boiler bowl and cover.

3. Fill the bottom half of a double boiler with water and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer. Place bowl in the simmering water and cover. Steam until pudding is cooked through, adding water as needed, 3 hours. Cool slightly with cover ajar before serving warm.

*Thanks to sueb’s Great Grandmother for this recipe



1/2 cup butter

2 eggs

1 cup molasses

2 cups mission figs chopped

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh lemon rind

1 cup buttermilk

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cups brandy



1. Preheat oven to 325, grease baking pan(s).

2. Beat butter until soft, add eggs and molasses and beat until fluffy.

3. Add chopped figs, grated lemon rind, and buttermilk, combine.

4. Pour dry ingredients into wet mixture, stir well.

5. Pour into prepared pan(s), and cook 1 hour or until toothpick comes out ‘almost’ clean.

6. Allow to cool for 20 minutes, then carefully dislodge cake(s), and place on baking rack.

7. Soak cheese cloth in brandy.

8. After cake is cool, wrap up several times in soaked cheesecloth and allow to set and seep in brandy cloth for at least 24 hours.

9. May be served plain or with hard sauce.



1/2 cup butter

2 powdered sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

(for non-alcoholic 1 teaspoon rum extract)

1 teaspoon rum, sherry wine or brandy

1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/4 teaspoons nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

Sprinkle with teaspoon cinnamon just before serving (optional)


1. Gently heat all ingredients

2. Whisk together over low heat or double boiler.

3. Whisk well until mixture is smooth, warm and fully incorporated,

4. Serve warm or chilled depending on preference.




SMC Recipe: Holiday Gingerbread House and Cookies


As Thanksgiving will officially kick off the holiday season a week from now, it’s not too soon to start imagining how to best bring loved ones together this time of year. Nor is it too soon, nor too late, to reflect on holidays past. Our wonderful chef, Avajra John Russell, recalls how making cookies can be a magical way to celebrate the good fortune of family–of any sort. The SMC Community is a family and John is our beloved, crazy, artistic uncle. We hope you’ll enjoy his recollection of time spent with his childhood family and the cookies (or houses) that can be made with his recipe.

Avajra John Russel

Avajra John Russell

The holidays can be a special time of creating warm memories together that can stick with us throughout our lifetime. In my family, we always had some kitchen projects going, in the days leading up to Christmas. We used to stuff dates and my mom would always make crabapple jelly with crabapples from our trees–to give as gifts to friends and family. Occasionally, we would also make a gingerbread house and decorate it with all sorts of gum drops, jelly beans and different colored icings to paint in all the details.

These warm memories live on in my heart.

This recipe is pretty foolproof and can be used for cookies or gingerbread houses. It is somewhat flexible and can be adjusted for sweetness and spice. Roll the dough thicker for a moister and chewier cookie. Roll the dough thinner for a more stable gingerbread house construction.

As a side note: The gingerbread house project may seem daunting but please disregard that kind of distraction and build some cherished memories.

–Avajra John Russell

Holiday Gingerbread House & Cookies


1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
3 egg whites


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the molasses and eggs. Combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. (Go easy on the cloves. Spices and sweetness are a personal taste. Adjust spice and sweetness amounts according to your family’s preference.) Then beat into the molasses mixture. Gradually stir in the remaining flour by hand to form a stiff dough.
  • Divide dough into 2 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8 inch thickness for gingerbread houses; roll out the dough thicker,1/4 inch thickness, for moister chewy cookies. Cut into desired shapes using cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.
  • Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • In a medium bowl, sift together confectioners’ sugar and cream of tartar. Blend in egg whites. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat for about 5 minutes, or until mixture is thick and stiff. Keep covered with a moist cloth until ready to frost cookies.