Cheesecake, Chutney and Chaturanga

Yoga thought for the day: “No single posture is the antidote to an overdose of chaturanga dandasana [four-limbed plank pose], but if you had to pick just one, purvottanasana [upward plank pose] would probably be your best choice. Why? First, it stretches most of the muscles that chaturanga strengthens. Second, it strengthens opposing muscles (antagonists). . . . In short, while chaturanga primarily strengthens the front of the body, purvottanasana stretches the front of the body and strengthens the back of the body. This makes the two poses wonderfully complementary.” – Roger Cole, “The Anti-Chaturanga Dandasana,”   http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/2051/

A lot of vinyasa classes probably means a lot of chaturanga dandasanas, as well. Chaturanga is a basic yoga pose that builds strength, but it is not an easy yoga pose. Proper alignment – elbows directly over wrists and in close to the ribs, shoulder blades down the back, quadriceps engaged, belly pulled into the spine – is critical to avoid injury to the shoulders, wrists, and low back. And as Roger Cole suggests, practicing purvottanasana along with chaturanga can help us create a more balanced, flexible strength in our bodies.

If chaturangas are a staple in my yoga diet, chutneys are a staple in my culinary diet and cheesecake . . . well, cheesecake has always been one of my favorite sweets.

With friends coming for dinner a week ago Saturday, I decided to make two varieties of chutney to serve as hors d’oeuvres with assorted crackers and Mitica Cana Cabra cheese. Mitica Cana Cabra is a soft-ripened goat milk cheese from Spain – creamy and mild, with a hint of mushrooms. The one I found (at Whole Foods Market) was made with vegetarian enzymes rather than rennet. My chutneys were a blueberry nectarine chutney and a curried leek and golden raisin chutney (recipes follow).

I then brought the chutneys to the table to serve with our main course, as well – my
version of a Thai red curry with broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, potato, and red lentils. The two chutneys, along with fresh avocado lightly mashed with a tiny bit of salt, freshly ground pepper, and a splash of white balsamic vinegar, each added their own particular accent to the curry.

For dessert – scrumptious, vegan, mini blueberry cheesecakes. I love mini cheesecakes, because I can indulge my sweet tooth without overdoing it. And they freeze well, too. So you can pluck just one from the freezer whenever you crave a delicious and nutritious treat.

I’m not sure which I enjoy practicing more – my chaturangas or my chutneys and cheesecakes!

Plum Nectarine Chutney – makes about 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 plums, more ripe than not ripe
  • 2 nectarines, more ripe than not ripe
  • ¼ cup chopped white onion
  • ¼ cup turbinado sugar, sucanat, or brown sugar
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 ½ tablespoons cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Instructions: Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer for 25-30 minutes until mixture thickens. Transfer to glass jars or plastic containers. Let come to room temperature. Then store in refrigerator. Refrigerate at least two to four hours before serving. Will keep at least two weeks. Serve with all your pastas, chilis, lentil dishes, curries, cheese, bread . . . .

Curried Leek and Golden Raisin Chutney – makes about 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon saffron, optional but adds nice color and subtle flavor
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • 4 medium leeks, trimmed of all but 1 inch of greens
  • ½ tablespoon unsalted EarthBalance or coconut oil
  • 4 tablespoons low-sodium vegetable broth, divided, plus additional for pureeing
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vegan sugar
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 12 rotations of the pepper mill

Instructions: Combine curry powder, 1 teaspoon sugar and vinegar and whisk in olive oil.  Cut leeks in half lengthwise and then crosswise into half-inch slices.  Place in colander and rinse. Combine saffron threads with 2 tablespoons vegetable broth.  Melt EarthBalance or coconut oil in dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add leeks, 2 tablespoons vegetable broth, remaining 1/2 teasoon sugar and water. Add half of the salt and half of the pepper. Simmer, covered, for ten minutes. Stir in raisins, pine nuts, saffron and vinaigrette. Let cool about 10 minutes. Puree in food processor. Stop occasionally to scrape down sides. After the second stop, add vegetable broth or water by the tablespoon as necessary and the rest of the salt and pepper. Continue to process until smooth. Keep adding additional vegetable broth or water to reach desired consistency. Remember that the chutney will thicken as it cools. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to glass jars or plastic containers. Let come to room temperature. Then store in refrigerator. Refrigerate at least two to four hours before serving. Will keep at least two weeks. Serve with all your pastas, chilis, lentil dishes, curries, cheese, bread . . . .

Yoga Anatomy Newsletters

Yoga, Poses, Stylized, clip

Yoga thought for the day: “There is never any reason to rush or force oneself into a yoga pose.” – Ray Long, MD FRCSC and Chris Macivor, 3d Graphic Designer/Illustrator, The Daily Bandha: Scientific Keys to Unlock the Practice of Yoga

“You can’t integrate the pieces until you can differentiate them, and that for most people is a big deal – most people don’t even register on a sensory level that there’s a distinction between their shoulder blades and their upper back.” – Leslie Kaminoff, internationally acclaimed yoga instructor and author

Yoga should never hurt. Now that I am a yoga instructor, one of my principal concerns is ensuring students’ safety. I encourage them to learn to listen to and honor their bodies. This takes practice. I want to help each student find the best expression of the pose for her or his body. I try not to overwhelm students with verbal cues regarding alignment and anatomy, but I do want continually to improve my own knowledge about these crucial subjects to better serve my students.

Two online resources I have found especially useful and interesting for understanding what’s going on anatomically in yoga poses are Ray Long and Chris Macivor’s email newsletter, which you can sign up for at http://www.dailybandha.com/ and Leslie Kaminoff’s weekly email newsletter, which you can sign up for at http://yogaanatomy.net/.  If you are not already familiar with the work of these experts, you may want to check them out. 

Yoga remains ever fresh and exciting for me because it is a never-ending adventure in learning – about myself, others, and the marvelous universe we inhabit. Needless to say, cooking and baking also provide endless opportunities for discovery. And now with summer vegetables at their peak, it’s time to explore and enjoy your creativity in the kitchen.

Philip and I are fortunate to have a friend, Mark, who has an extraordinary organic garden. Recently, Philip returned from a visit to Mark with several bags full of gorgeous melons and vegetables. I took the time to take photos of these wondrous gifts before they went under the knife, but was not so good about taking the time to take photos of the finished dishes. We were just too eager to eat!

Nevertheless, I would like to share this recipe for an incredibly good curry I made just one week ago that featured Japanese eggplant and fresh basil from Mark’s organic garden, along with brocoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms from my neighborhood farm stand, which features mostly organic or pesticide-free local produce.

Eggplant Curry

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • vegetable broth, about one cup
  • 1 Japanese eggplant, cut into cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh broccoli florets
  • 1 1/2 cups fesh cauliflower florets
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, halved or quartered, depending on their size
  • 1/2 cup red lentils, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

For the sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1 tablespoonlow sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup light coconut milk

Instructions: Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the eggplant and 2 tablespoons vegetable broth and sauté, stirring contantly for 2 minutes. Add additional vegetable broth by the tablespoon as necessary to keep the eggplant from sticking to the bottom of the dutch oven. Add the broccoli and cauliflower and 2 more tablespoons vegetable broth. Sauté, stirring constantly, 2 more minutes. Add the mushrooms and 2 more tablespoons vegetable broth. Stir to combine well. Lower heat and cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms release their juices.  Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Combine the red curry paste, soy sauce, and agave nectar and then whisk in the vegetable broth. Add sauce to vegetables. Add the lentils. Stir to combine well. Add the coconut milk. Let come to a boil, stirring frequently. Lower heat to a simmer, cover and cook 20 to 30 minutes, untl lentils and eggplant are soft. Check frequently and add water, if necessary, in small amounts, to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the bottom of the dutch oven and to provide enough liquid for the lentils to cook properly. But don’t over do it, because you want the curry to be thick and creamy. Stir in the basil before serving. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. I like to serve this over a blend of couscous and brown rice, or couscous, brown rice and quinoa.

Note: The yoga image used in this post is in the public domain.

 

Graceful Yoga and Haute Vegan Cuisine

Yoga thought for the day: “I trust that if I do my yoga practice, I’m going to get stronger and more flexible. If I stay in alignment, if I don’t push, if I don’t force, then my body will organically open in time. I know that if I breathe deeply, I’ll oxygenate my body. It has an influence on my nervous system. These things are fixed and I know to be true.  But I also recognize that it’s a mystical practice, and you can use your body as an expression of your devotion. So the way that you place your hands, the ways that you step a foot forward or back, everything is done as an offering. I offer the movements to someone I love or to the healing of the planet. And so if I’m moving from a state of love and my heart is open to that connection between myself and another person or myself and the universe, it becomes an active form of prayer, of meditation, of grace.” – Seane Corn, “Yoga. Meditation in Action,” www.onbeing.org  with Krista Tippett (March 3, 2011).

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “grace” lately.  Not grace as it appears in the first four or so definitions listed in the dictionary, but grace as a spiritual and theological term. To me, grace is the ability to give with no expectation of reward and to receive without questioning our worthiness – and to do both with gratitude. Grace is the embodiment of the attitude that to give and to receive are essentially the same act. Grace is compassion freely given to all beings, regardless of conditions, with wisdom and equanimity. Grace is a deep sense of not just our connection to but our oneness with all beings and our environment.

While researching “grace” on the Internet, I came across what looks to be a very special yoga studio in North Kingstown, Rhode Island called Grace Yoga. This studio’s epigraph is “Be Receptive to the Grace of God,” and its website explicitly conveys its commitment to the teachings of yoga beyond the physical practice. A remarkable and lovely website:  http://www.graceyoga.org/home.html.

I also came across a magical and inspirational website dedicated to the exploration of grace as a healing power and the means to creating  “spiritual freedom.”  I have not finished exploring this rich site: http://www.artofgrace.org/index.html, but have already found much to reflect on, including this statement: “Grace is the experience of unconditional love when you are in harmony with yourself, with others and with the cosmos.”

Even as I’ve been thinking about “grace,” I’ve also been working at creating vegan recipes that would be suitable for a special occasion. Elegant dishes that would bring together meticulous preparation and careful presentation with refined and precise flavors that demand to be savored rather than devoured. Pictured here are my Roasted Vegetable Weave and Spanish Roasted Portobello Mushroom.

I plan to continue experimenting in the direction of elegant and delicious dishes, and to continue also to explore and abide in grace.

May all beings have enough to eat. Namaste.

Tools for Yoga – Tools for Cooking

Yoga thought for the day: “Props enable you to achieve a more natural alignment so you can deepen your pose by paying attention to the subtle aspects of the pose (not just to screaming or burning muscles). They also allow you to stay in the poses longer so you can feel some of their deeper effects. . . . As always, use your yoga practice as an opportunity to question and change your habits, to play and explore and learn. Ask yourself: how does this prop (or lack of it) affect my body, my mind, my emotions.” – Rodney Yee with Nina Zolotow, Yoga: The Poetry of the Body (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002)

We use tools all the time in the kitchen as we go about our cooking and baking exploits. We don’t even think about it. We reach for the wooden spoon, the rubber spatula, the food processor, instantaneously recognizing the usefulness of the particular utensil, implement, or machine. But in yoga, many of us hesitate – do we really need that block, that blanket, that bolster? Won’t that betray our poor flexibility, coordination, mobility?

First of all, we really need to accept, not just intellectually, but emotionally andpsychologically, that our bodies are exactly where they need to be right at this moment. In the next moment, they might change ever so slightly or maybe a lot, and once again they will be exactly where they need to be right in that moment. And so on, and so on for each moment, which is always the present moment.

However flexible, coordinated, and mobile you are in the present moment is the truth. And the truth is always good. If you want to improve your flexibility, coordination, and mobility, props might be just the right tool for you. But it all starts with accepting – truly accepting – where you are in the present moment.

Second of all, for anyone who practices yoga – from the seven times a week veteran to the twice a week newbie – props provide a different experience of the poses. It’s sort of like sometimes you ride your horse with a saddle and sometimes you ride bareback. You learn different things about yourself, your body, your practice, (your horse) in each case.

Whether it’s because our bodies are just not built that way or we’re dealing with an injury or fatigue from our other activities, yoga props allow for a positive experience of accomplishment, when not using a prop might make us feel inadequate. I know I’ve had moments when using a prop was exactly the right choice, and I experienced that “ahhhh” and “yessss” of gentle release and ease in my shoulder, hip, or back. And often, when we can let go of tension in one part of our body, the feeling spreads to a different part or through the entire body, and we feel ourselves open in a spot we hadn’t even noticed was tight.

So the next time you hesitate to grab that yoga strap, just consider whether you would hesitate to grab the can opener when you needed to open a can of kidney beans.

May all beings have enough to eat. Namaste.