Let Kindness Be Your Mantra in 2014

Yoga Thought for the Day – “I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you’ll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you’ll make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.” – Neil Gaiman, British novelist, b.1960

I’ve not read anything by Neil Gaiman, but when I came upon this quotation, I latched onto it, because I am a true believer in the power of kindness – in any circumstances, as much as possible, to all beings, including one’s self. We all have the capacity to be kind – it is a quality innate within us. But like any quality, it benefits from practice.  So let this be a year in which we actively practice conscious, intentional, thoughtful kindness – both on and off our yoga mats.

Fall 2013

Happy New Year! May compassion and kindness encircle the earth today and every day in 2014 for you and for all beings everywhere.

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 . . . .

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.