Yoga, Sacher Torte and Eka Pada Koundinyasana I

The_Thinker,_Auguste_RodinYoga thought for the day: Tapas, variously translated as “self-discipline,” “effort,” or “internal fire,” is one of the five niyamas (internal disciplines) explored by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras.  “Tapas is the willingness to do the work, which means developing discipline, enthusiasm, and a burning desire to learn. You can apply tapas to anything you want to see happen in your life: playing an instrument, changing your diet, cultivating an attitude of loving kindness, contentment, or nonjudgment. In yoga, it’s often seen as a commitment to the practice. You figure out what you can do, and do it every day. If it’s only ten minutes, fine – but make that time sacrosanct.” Charlotte Bell, Iyengar Yoga teacher, Buddhist meditation practitioner, and author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life

Tapas connects you to your own will and determination directed toward healthful or skillful ways of being, speaking, thinking, and acting. Clearly it takes discipline, effort and practice to excel at algebra or improve your serve in tennis, but these qualities also are required as we work to become ever more kind, patient, compassionate, generous to all beings at every moment of our lives. I have found that for me, it’s only by truly putting my best foot forward over and over again that I feel and observe myself making progress toward reaching my fullest potential as a spiritual being having a human experience. “I tell you today and I’ll tell you tomorrow and I’ll tell you every day: you have only one friend – you and your discipline, which will give you all that you need.” – Yogi Bhajan, spiritual leader and Master of Kundalini Yoga who introduced Kundalini Yoga to the West and inspired thousands of people to live in their excellence.

sacher torte 008So whether I am trying for the first time to make a vegan Sacher Torte (Austria’s signature dessert) for a new friend, a New Yorker originally from Austria, or practicing again and again to enter into eka pada koundinyasana I, effort and discipline fueled by breath help to make the experience a joyous and satisfying one.

My photography skills could use some work, but this cake was super delicious. The cashew cream that accompanied the cake is easy to make and absolutely scrumptious. Although I made some changes to ingredients and amounts, this cake is based largely on a recipe I found at http://theberkshirevegan.blogspot.com/2012/05/vegan-sacher-torte_16.html  Yukiko’s photos will make your mouth water!Yoga Poses sculptures by Bob Clyatt

 

 

Finding Balance

Yoga thought for the day: “Finding balance with ease and joy, whether in life or in a yoga pose, is a constant state of adjustment and attunement. It is about replacing the knowing of the mind with the benevolent curiosity of the heart. It is about remembering, did I come to yoga to get it right and to be frustrated when I don’t? Or did I come to yoga to feel better, to practice loving myself more, and to enjoy the journey of learning? Additionally, can I use my yoga practice as a microcosm and a playground for understanding and transforming my life experience?” – Jenny Sauer-Klein, “It’s Playtime,” Yoga International, Fall 2012

Finding balance is so important to achieving a sense of peace and contentment. I think we can all agree that the question of balance comes up a lot in our diets – eating the foods we enjoy while remaining ever mindful of health and nutrition. This past weekend I did quite a lot of baking. I enjoy a little something sweet for dessert with my lunch. I am well aware of the supposed evils of sugar, but as with anything we eat, quantity and rate of consumption matter.  I keep my sugar consumption to a minimum, and when I bake I experiment with just how much sugar is necessary to give the desired sweetness. It’s a great compliment to me when people tell me that my baked goods are delicious, because “they’re not too sweet.”

I’ve also been experimenting with sources of sugar and with gluten-free baking. I myself do not have a gluten intolerance, but even I like to balance my consumption of flours, pastas and grains that contain gluten and those that do not.

These fabulous cookies are gluten-free vegan coconut almond “sugar” cookies made with stevia extract. Now stevia is not a sugar – it’s an herb that produces a sweet taste. I make this cookie in regular or chocolate. These cookies are also low in fat and are absolutely scrumptious.

My gluten-free vegan blondie brownies are made with coconut sugar from Indonesia. Coconut sugar is low-glycemic so it won’t cause an energy crash like other sweeteners. Coconut sugar has nutritionally significant amounts of vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6, as well as potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron. Coconut sugar does not add a coconut flavor at all – rather it tastes and looks a bit like brown sugar. But it has a more subtle sweetness. I did add vegan chocolate chips to my brownies so that’s some additional sugar. But, you know, if you look at other recipes you will realize that my gluten-free vegan blondie brownies have less sugar and far less fat than most brownies out there, and they are DELICIOUS!

Crunchy and light with a definite maple flavor, my gluten-free vegan maple oatmeal cookies are low in fat and the perfect morning, mid-day, afternoon, evening or night time snack.  They are made with organic maple syrup. Maple syrup is definitely a sugar, but it is not refined so it contains a more complex array of nutrients than refined white sugar. I’ve had things to say about white sugar and alternatives in other posts, but I will note again that most refined white cane sugar is not vegan, because of the process used to make it.

And then there are my vegan pumpkin muffins. I make all my muffins with one tablespoon of grapeseed oil and one tablespoon of organic unsulphured molasses.  Note that molasses is a good source of potassium, calcium and iron and vitamin B6. I’m afraid most people would find that my muffins are simply not sweet enough. But I love my muffins. I have a muffin every single day as part of my breakfast. They are truly a deliciously nutritious marvel.

There is plenty of information on the Web about all the different kinds of sugars from discussions about nutrition, baking characteristics, environmental impact, etc. If sugar consumption is an important issue for you, look into it. And then remember, it’s all about finding balance.

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 . . . .

Chocolate Cookies – A Bountiful Blessing

Yoga thought for the day: “May the long time sun shine above you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on. Sat nam.”

These lovely words are the farewell blessing used to conclude a Kundalini Yoga class. Sat nam means “truth is my identity,” in Sanskrit and is a commonly recited mantra in Kundalini Yoga. It is frequently repeated three times at the end of a yoga session. These simple words gladden and energize me.

This short post is a follow-up to Monday’s blog. One of my readers asked whether my cookies could be made in chocolate. I’d never tried, but yesterday I did. They turned out great! Just as delicious as the blond versions and a gorgeous dark brown. And believe it or not, my cookie icings actually do work on the chocolate cookies.

 

 

 

As long as I was in the kitchen baking, I also came up with three new yoga pose cookies – dancer’s pose (natarajasana), wide-angle seated forward bend with hands in namaste (upavistha konasana), and sphinx pose (ardha bhujangasana). So now I have twelve yoga poses! So exciting! I’ve posted a photo of them, as well. They’re naked – that is, they have not been painted.

Yoga Cookies Sweeten the Path

Yoga thought for the day: “Yoga scriptures tell us we suffer because we are divided against ourselves. Often we behave like separate creatures engaged in a struggle for survival with the rest of life. Yet at some deep level, we know that this image of ourselves is inaccurate: we are not separate from nature but part of a much larger whole, motivated not merely by personal survival but more by love, ideals, beauty, and a sense of right and wrong. This split in consciousness results in a tug of war between the separate, self-centered personality that is rooted in body consciousness – the small self, the ego – and the higher or transcendental Self – the Atman. In practical terms, this division is the tension between an upward pull toward freedom from biological conditioning and the downward tug that holds us back. The disciplines of yoga – the internal practice of meditation and the external attitudes and habits we adopt in our daily lives – are the means of healing this split between the selfless and the selfish, between wisdom and ignorance.” – Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999), founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in Tomales, California. This quotation is the first paragraph of a longer article called “Beneath Still Waters,” in Yoga International, Summer 2012. www.yogainternational.com

We all know by now that yoga is much more than a series of poses we do to maintain and build our mobility, strength, and flexibility. If we want to take our yoga further and let our yoga take us further, we can begin to explore the other disciplines of yoga as well: principles of proper ethical behavior and inner discipline (yamas and niyamas), freeing of the breath (pranayama), withdrawing of the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), uninterrupted meditation (dhyana), and integration (samadhi). These seven disciplines along with the poses (asana) are the eight limbs or disciplines of yoga that classical yoga is based on.

For most of us, our practice begins with the poses. Over time, we begin to see that our increasing ability to accept with equanimity both the victories and challenges, the joys and setbacks we encounter on our mats begins to affect how we respond to these events in other areas of lives. Along the way, we learn so much about ourselves. The journey is rocky and slow at times, with plenty of detours, but worth it.

A sense of humor helps. Being able to smile often and find pleasure in all aspects of our practice will help us stick with it. Slowing down and making time to enjoy simple pleasures is another way to cultivate a sense of peace and contentment that will help smooth the way. How better to relax than with a cookie and a comfortable seat.

And so it is that I take great pleasure and pride in introducing my new and completely original, fabulous, and delicious Yoga Pose Cookies! These cookies, like all cookies baked in Penelope’s Kitchen are vegan and made from organic ingredients with no artificial colorings.

If you think you might like to order a batch of these scrumptious cookies for the next time you’re in search of a smile, visit my Cookies Page.