Asking the Right Question

October 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

Five months ago I sat myself down in my picture window, propped up my feet, and allowed myself to think. “What is it I want to do with my life?” is usually how my internal conversations begin, and so it was this time around.

That line of questioning quickly stopped. Or, I should say, I steered myself from it. Why? Because I’ve asked myself that question over and over and over … and I’m still asking, with no resolution.

Maybe, I thought, I’m asking the wrong question.

The “What is it I want to do with my life?” posit typically turns into “What should I be doing?,” “What am I supposed to be doing?” and “What are my skill sets?” And then, of course, the small pebble of a question turns into a conglomerate rock of a boulder that quickly rolls downhill and out of control.propped up feet

So I sat and thought a bit more. And I realized these questions I have been asking of myself are all filed under the category of “occupation.” Is that truly the question I wanted to explore? No, let’s not go that route this time, I thought. Because the answer to that question will follow as a result from a different question. A question I haven’t yet asked. The real question I need to ask myself.

The fact that I hadn’t found the right answer because I had been asking the wrong question was a bit of a window cleaning moment for me. By that I mean once I realized I’ve been asking the wrong question, I was able to wipe it away from the glass and have a clear vision of what lay beyond that distraction. I saw the question, the real question clearly. And because I saw this question clearly, the answer was right there with it.

The question isn’t what is it I want to do, but this: Who am I?

I listen. I see. I sense. I feel. And I write. Who I am is someone who searches, gathers and shares through the written word. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. It’s what fills me.

I’m already a writer by trade, so I’m on the right track. So why then am I still asking these questions? Perhaps I’m not writing what’s in my heart. Perhaps. Writing what’s in the heart—that’s what I should be doing. That’s what I am meant to do with my life.

That day five months ago I jotted a note to myself. It’s simply this:

There are two things I have passion for, one thing I know about more than the average person, and one thing I do really well. There’s a way to feel fulfilled and a way to feel joy with all of them. 

Passion, knowledge and skill. Those three together are the recipe for happiness. For my happiness anyway. I have so much passion for yoga, and not just my own practice. Yoga is such a gift—a gift that I receive over and over, and one that I hope to give just as much. I’m also passionate about good food and eating well, and I know more than the average person about growing and using that food. That has always been a part of my life but has just now started to shine through. Sharing this is something I so love to do.

That missing question and its answer—Who am I?—can tie my passions, my knowledge and my abilities together. Since that time I sat in my window five months ago, I’ve slowly been shaping a new direction with these revelations in mind. And I’m there, or nearly so. I have made something to share with you.

In a few days, after tying up some loose ends, I’ll share with you my new endeavor. I am so thankful to be able to give this to you. In the meantime, if you feel a call to sit in a window and think, follow that feeling. Something extraordinary may come from it.

30 Things I Learned After 30 Days On a Yoga Mat

October 4, 2013 § 2 Comments

yoga matI presented a challenge to myself. I would practice yoga each day during the month of September. That’s 30 straight days in a studio with an instructor. None of this rolling out my mat for 20 minutes while my cats nudge my forehead in down dog. For me now, a home practice isn’t protected time and it certainly isn’t protect space if my cats have any say in the matter. No, this would be legit and official practice.

I didn’t do it for a free T-shirt. I didn’t do it to get in some serious workouts. The “exercise” aspect of yoga isn’t why I practice, and free clothing certainly isn’t an incentive for me. After nearly two years of practicing I challenged myself, in a sense, to fully realize yoga. And that, to me, is to see inside myself. To have things bubble to the surface and let them roll around there for me to see. To observe how I react to myself, my body, my mind’s buried and rushed-over thoughts that arise with the buoyancy of breath. Living life on the surface doesn’t serve me anymore. It’s time to move in and learn what’s there.

Thirty days doesn’t make me an enlightened yogini, but it did gave me the space to learn a few things—definitely about myself but also about those who occupied the space around me. Here is what I bring home with me:

  1. Breathe in—fully.
  2. I have everything I need with me now. No matter where or when that is, I have all I need. Work with them.
  3. I bail. Oh, I don’t mean I bail out on a yoga pose that we’ve been holding for ages. I breathe through it, I hold it and let myself drop in and savor all those dirty things you learn about yourself when you’re confronted with, well, yourself. But because I don’t bail out of the pose, I recognize that I bail out of other things when I’m off my mat. For example, and I’m not kidding, I bailed out of the end of that last sentence and left it for two days. I get to a point—could be a sentence, could be a project, could be a relationship, whatever—where I’m doing well, or on the cusp of doing well, or on the cusp of doing something and I just don’t touch it. Sometimes never to return, sometimes just for a few days. Sitting through and working through the hard part—getting over that point, that’s where the joy is. I deny myself that.
  4. I am no big deal. I can do a crow, who cares? Doesn’t make me any more or less than the person on the mat next to me. I’m doing what I’m doing for me today. I’m good with that. That’s an important thing to take off my mat with me.
  5. Everything is easy. The stuff that’s valuable is hard. Want less. Value more.
  6. Doesn’t matter how many signs you put up—some people still aren’t gonna take off their shoes.
  7. My body holds everything that has ever happened to it, even if my mind has lost hold of it. The fall down the barn stairs could account for my persistent shoulder tweekiness. The kamikaze banana-seat bicycle spills might be why my knee squeaks walking up the stairs. And it’s emotional, too. What explains why I bolt from my office chair just as I’m about to write something great? Hmmm…
  8. If I have to ask where I am on my mat, I need to come back to my breath. The trigger of asking myself gets me there. Funny how that works.
  9. Tell me you did not just check your phone while the instructor was explaining something. Nobody’s got time for that. Put the phone in your bag, with the ringer and vibrate both switched off, and chuck it in the back of the room. I’m not gonna thank you because I shouldn’t have to ask.

10. All of life can be categorized into two piles: suffering and the end of suffering. You get to do the sorting of it all.

11. I don’t know why the other people in class are here. But they showed up and I respect them for taking the time for themselves. So many of us don’t.

12. That space where you just let go of it all and you just are … man, it’s totally worth everything to be there.

13. Hot yoga isn’t so bad if you’re not packed in mat to mat and you’re given time to set yourself into a pose. In fact, I’m getting to really like it, sweaty mat and all.

14. Respect the instructor. You got to choose whether or not you came to class but they didn’t get the choice. You don’t know what’s going on in his or her life at that moment. But they’ve shown up for you. Respect.

15. Yoga is like love. There’s the passion, the fire, the messiness of it. But the dishes still need to be done and the bills need to be paid. One is fleeting, and one is forever.

16. You don’t have to follow each cue. Do what you need for that day. All within your ability, of course, and still following #15. The mat is yours.

17. Speaking of the mat being your own—please don’t step on mine.

18. I’m a different person from before. And not different from who I was in August. Everything changes and everyone changes and no one has control over it. I didn’t used to be okay with that. Letting go of the not liking change has freed me to focus on other things that I know are in my control.

19. I have a serious lack of confidence. Not as badly as I used to, thank goodness. I need to just cut that shit out.

20. To make up for #19, I sometimes blather on about stuff I know nothing about or make non-factually based statements. Again, cut that shit out.

21. We are all beautiful and all very odd looking all at the same time. And we’re all very different. I’m getting to like that aspect of the human animal more and more.

22. Yin yoga is like a chocolate and whipped cream parfait.

23. Sometimes a rolled-up mat stuck in your gut can be a very comforting feeling. No, really.

24. Thirty days is a long time only after you start counting down to the end.

25. There will be a parade for me the day I can swing my leg behind my head. Not really. But I have promised myself ice cream.

26. I’m a lot stronger than I thought I could be.

27. Meditation is a necessity. Imagine if we all took a few minutes each day to just sit with ourselves to clear the mind. We’d have so much more understanding of each other.

28. We have our own deal going on. And it’s comforting to know that everyone has their own stuff they are dealing with, too. We’re not alone. Again, another reason to have more understanding for each other.

29. I can do this.

30. Breathe out.

In a week I begin a long-awaited 200-hour yoga teacher training program. That’s another reason I challenged myself to 30 straight days of yoga, to sort through some feelings and anxieties before the real training began. Call it a much-needed emotional survey of my state of being. And you know what I learned? I can do this. I’m ready.

Spicy Eggplant Relish

June 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

Funny how when I make a salad, sauce or spread for a gathering of friends, the recipe always turns out to be from the Moosewood Cookbook. Not kidding. For flavor profiles that were developed back in the crunchy ’70s, the Moosewood’s recipes really seem to be a hit with people in the 2010s. Their popularity doesn’t seem to have anything to do with being mindful of healthy eating and instead has EVERYTHING to do with the fact that this food tastes awesome. Good-tasting food is an instant classic.

Spicy Eggplant Relish on a Stacy's Pita Chip

Spicy Eggplant Relish on a Stacy’s Pita Chip

The most recent dish to receive the “Oh man, I seriously need this recipe” comment is Spicy Eggplant Relish. Keep it in an all-veggie-ingredients-minced form, or mash it into a chunky puree after cooking. In either state of consistency, it can be used as a topping for crackers and pita, as a sandwich spread, or even tossed onto a veggie burger (or a real burger if you’re into that kind of thing).

And don’t let the “spicy” descriptor dissuade you. You’re in control of the spice. Make it as light or spicy as you wish.

Spicy Eggplant Relish (ala The Moosewood Cookbook)
2 tbs. olive oil
1 cup minced onion
1 medium eggplant, diced  (I kept the skin on, it’s fine)
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 medium red bell pepper, minced
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 tbs. lemon juice
cayenne to taste (start with 1/4 tsp.)

 

1. Heat oil in pan. Add onions, eggplant, salt and cumin. Saute on medium for 15-20 minutes or until the eggplant is tender (but not mush). 2. Add in the pepper. Saute for about 8-10 minutes.
3. Stir in garlic and lemon juice and continue cooking another 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the cayenne, let it sit for a bit, then taste. Add more if you need more heat. Same goes for salt. Mash or not to mash, it’s up to you. Serve it straight away or let it come to room temperature. Cold is good, too, straight out of the fridge, but I prefer it room temp.

A Healthy, Fruit-filled Cookie

June 11, 2013 § 1 Comment

Oh, and chocolate, too. There’s dark chocolate in these healthy cookies.

I was recently charged with finding a healthy cookie recipe for a gathering of friends. Healthy, but tasty. And a real cookie, not something that was just pretending to be a treat, something “cookie” in name only. And usually when I try to find a healthy alternative to a traditionally loaded-with-bad-stuff recipe, I turn to The Moosewood Cookbook. In this case, the Moosewood let me down.

But not Ellie Krieger. Ellie had (still has?) a Food Network show, Healthy Appetite, all about healthy cooking. When the Moosewood lets me down or becomes a little too earthy-crunchy-granola-ey, I turn to Ellie. And in this healthy cookie recipes, she totally did not disappoint.

First, I’m not a dietician. Is this recipe healthy? I’m taking Ellie’s word on it. But I can tell you it’s not loaded with a ton of butter, shortening, oil, cholesterol, and sugar. Some, but not a lot. There’s applesauce! There’s egg whites! Plus it has dried fruit – and I think we all agree fruit is a pretty good-for-you thing to eat. As for the dark chocolate, I think we’ve all heard reports about how it’s actually a good thing in small amounts.

Not only are they healthy, they are incredibly tasty. Incredibly. I’ve made four batches in the last week and there’s more on the way.

Healthy Cookies (aka Kitchen Sink Cookies) via Ellie Krieger’s Healthy Appetitekitchen sink cookies
Note: The recipe says it makes 18-20 cookies. Don’t believe it.

Ingredients
2 tbs unsalted butter, softened
2 tbs canola oil
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup applesauce
1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (Ellie recommends cherries and apricots. I used a dried berry blend from Trader Joe’s)
1/4 cup lightly toasted walnuts
2 oz. dark chocolate, cut into chunks

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Combine butter, oil and brown sugar in the bowl of a mixer. Mix on high speed. Stop occasionally to scrape down bowl. Mix until mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add applesauce, egg white and vanilla, mix to combine. Add flour, oatmeal, salt and cinnamon and mix just until just combined. Add dried fruit, walnuts and chocolate and mix to combine.

3. Prepare a baking sheet by spraying with a light cooking spray OR use sheets of parchment. Scoop out 1 tbs of cookie dough at a time and roll into balls. (I used a small-sized ice cream scoop that’s a tad bit bigger than 1 tbs). Place 2-inches apart on the baking sheet. Press cookies down with the palm of your hand to flatten slightly (less butter = less spread). I advise you flour your palm a bit because the dough will stick.

4. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until lightly browned but still soft. Remove and cool on racks.

You’ll find that 1 tbs doesn’t make a big enough cookie. You’ll want HUGE cookies because they are incredibly good. But then, the larger the healthy cookie the less healthy it is, right? Let’s just disregard that logic for now.

Jicama Salad

June 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

My new favorite item to add to a salad is jicama, otherwise known as Mexican potato or yam bean. My fondness of the roundish, beige and nondescript tuber with a potato-pear texture began in an Asian restaurant in California (surprisingly not a Mexican place) about a month ago, when I had it in a jicama-grapefruit salad. And that was pretty much all it was: matchsticked jicama mounded on a plate and dressed with a spicy but light dressing. The grapefruit, ringed around the pile of jicama, was there to cool the heat. Toasted cashews added some crunch.

Jicama salad with apples, grapefruit and toasted cashews

Jicama salad with apples, grapefruit and toasted cashews

I attempted to recreate my own jicama salad. Online searches gave me oodles of salad dressings that would serve the purpose. But I failed. And I failed because I attempted to recreate what I had experienced previously. I had a pile of poorly julienned jicama, grapefruit that I hadn’t segmented properly, and well, the Cat Cora-inspired dressing was okay. But just okay. And aside from properly preparing the jicama and grapefruit, the success of a jicama salad really pivots on its dressing.

Turns out friends returning from a vacation in Sedona also became infatuated with jicama in salads. They had a delectable jicama salad in one of Sedona’s best restaurants, Elote. Wisely, they bought the restaurant’s cookbook, complete with the recipe for the jicama salad dressing.

We have since used this to dress traditional salad greens to which we’ve added all sorts of things including jicama, orange, grapefruit, apple, cashews, peppers, etc. You could put it on an old shoe and it would taste wonderful. My suggestion is to keep a jar of this in your fridge at the ready for any type of salad (or shoe) you may be serving.

Jicama Salad Dressing (courtesy Elote Cafe Cookbook)

1 cup olive oil
2/3 cup lime juice
1/4 cup Cholula hot sauce
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 tsp sugar

1. Add all ingredients to a lidded jar and shake vigorously until combined.

2. That’s it! You’re done! Pour it on! As with any salad, use a combination of whatever and however much you’d like: julienne a chunk of jicama, chop up an apple, segment half a grapefruit, add in a 1/2 cup of toasted cashews, through in some thinly sliced red peppers, and toss it all on top of some salad greens. Your salad is served.

NOTE: The brand of hot sauce matters here, or at least makes a difference in taste. Our friends make it with Cholula and the dressing is quite spicy. We have used Frank’s Red Hot (it’s what we have in the fridge) and it results in a less spicy-hot experience. Both are delightful on a salad. In fact, it’s what I’m having for lunch.

Adding Landscape Edging

May 14, 2013 § 1 Comment

Jennifer and I moved into a newly constructed building last September. To be more accurate, it was still under construction when we moved in, with fine work still being done inside. At the time, the outside perimeter – the barely 3-ft. wide space between the sidewalk and the building – was still a rubble pile. Talk about unsightly. And being a gardener, I was itching to get at designing and installing a landscape that would match the mod look of this unique house.

After the soil and steel landscape edging went in last September.

The contractors eventually added some soil to that space. Correct that—it was fill and not anything near good garden soil. They also added in a strip of black steel landscape edging between the sidewalk and the soil. Thing is, though, the edging was flush with the sidewalk. Any sort of mulch that I would add to the garden space would wash onto the sidewalk. And with the $15 per bag mulch that I prefer, I didn’t want any of that washing away.

After the soil was added and a few plants were just hanging out.

After the soil was added and a few plants were just hanging out.

Since the building is based on German Passivhaus technology, I wanted the landscaping to reflect some German landscape aesthetic. In other words, ornamental perennial grasses (the Germans love ornamental grasses). Ornamental grasses are awesome because they are low water use plants, add visually to a landscape even in the winter with their stiff (i.e. dead) stalks, look kinda cool as their feathery flowers blow in the wind, grow into nice-sized clumps, and come in a range of colors, textures and heights to choose from.The plantings around the new Shapiro Building at Boston Medical Center served as my inspiration.

Landscaping around the Shapiro Building at Boston Medical Center served as inspiration.

Landscaping around the Shapiro Building at Boston Medical Center served as inspiration.

The grasses would act as the foundation of the landscape and I would add some color with bulbs, annuals or perhaps choose some smaller perennials later on. So, last fall I planted a dozen or so Pennisetum ‘Karly Rose’ grasses (those will become about 3 ft. high), added in several ‘Blue Pacific’ creeping junipers, and dug in 100 ‘Daydream’ tulips. And then we suffered through a very long and snowy winter.

In late March I trimmed back the dried stems of the grasses and eagerly awaited the tulips. And I admit, it was very, very exciting when they finally popped.

'Daydream' tulips in the new landscape.

‘Daydream’ tulips in the new landscape.

Something was missing—other than the grasses, which I knew would emerge slowly over the course of April and May. What was missing was my favorite mulch—buckwheat hull mulch. Its dark color would really make those tulips so stunning.  But in order to lay down the mulch, I needed something to hold the mulch inside the garden area without it washing away when it rained. After a little research, I decided on simple aluminum edging. I dug a shallow trench just behind the existing steel edging, inserted the aluminum edging about 1.5 inches down into the soil, secured it with some stakes every few feet, and backfilled with soil.

Landscape after the mulch and edging have been added.

Landscape after the mulch and edging have been added.

Makes quite a difference, huh? Turns out the aluminum accents portions of the building’s edges, so that’s a bonus. And the edging and mulch will go well with the grasses once they emerge (you can just barely see one right there square in the front).

The best thing, though, is what the addition of the edging, the mulch, the plants—of the entire garden  we are installing—is communicating to the neighbors. It says “We care about where we live and we really like it here.” In other words, curb your dog, put that wrapper in a trash can, throw that cigarette butt elsewhere, and it’ll continue to look nice for the whole neighborhood. While working on this over the course of several days many neighbors came up to me to comment on how nice it looks. “This was an overgrown trashy lot two years ago,” one young guy said to me. For a young man to even notice it enough to come up to a stranger and comment—well, I take it he was impressed with how that once empty lot has changed.

Because this garden space is so public, it’s not just for Jennifer and I to enjoy. It’s something the whole neighborhood can share in. That’s really what gardens are for. I’ll post more photos as the grasses grow and after I plant some annuals. Meanwhile I have a balcony herb garden in the works.

Shoyu Sauce

May 7, 2013 § 4 Comments

This is another “It’s not you, it’s me” posts. Meaning, this is a recipe I have kept on a slip of paper for well over a year now and if I lose it, I’d have NO idea how to recreate the proportions correctly. So, yes, I do hope you enjoy this recipe, but really, I’m putting it out there so I have a place to find it.

Okay, about this “I can’t remember it but I can’t live without it” recipe. If you live in the Boston/Cambridge area and you are a vegetarian, you have eaten at a crunchy, mostly raw food place called Life Alive. Think wheat grass juices, chia seed smoothies, barely cooked kale-based warm salads topped with marinated tofu, red lentils, quinoa and all sorts of good-for-you things. And quite tasty, too. Most of these salads are topped with an addictive ginger nama shoyu-based dressing. What’s nama shoyu? Good question. The short answer without going into the details (because I don’t know the details) is it’s an unpasteurized soy sauce. One taste of it and you must either eat every meal at Life Alive or find a DIY recipe.

I am not sure exactly where I found this recipe, but whoever it belongs to, I thank you immensely. Absolutely love it. We’ve only used it as a salad dressing but it could also be used to marinate tofu or top cooked veggies and rice. Is this exactly like the dressing at Life Alive? Not really, but that gives us an excuse to go back.

Shoyu Sauce shoyu sauce
1/2 cup nama shoyu
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup sesame oil
2 tbs agave
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 inch ginger, grated
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp lime

Combine all ingredients in a blender and liquify. Or combine in a high-sided bowl and use an immersion blender to whirr it all together.

A note about the ginger. We keep our ginger in the freezer because a) it won’t shrivel up in there like it does in the fridge and b) frozen ginger is WAY easier to grate with a microplane. It’s also easier to peel if frozen. Give it a try if you aren’t familiar with this technique.

Suggestions for what else to use this sauce with? Leave a comment below.

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