Here For The Sake Of Others

cake 002I may not have posted for awhile, but I have been busy teaching and practicing yoga, reading, and, of course, cooking and baking! Including this six-inch, double-layer chocolate cake with chocolate glaze and strawberries both between layers and on top. Vegan, organic, as nutritious as a chocolate cake can be, and super delicious!

I am working on my next post. I want it to be worth your time and effort. In the meantime, consider this lovely quote from Albert Einstein, physicist, pacifist, and humanitarian: “Strange is our situation here on earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of others.”

Have your cake and eat it too! Sat nam. Namaste.

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Going Inward

sauces 011Yoga Thought for the Day: “Become the witness of the inner landscape of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, refining your powers of awareness as the noise and distraction of the outer world come into stillness. Allow the third eye to serve as the eyes and ears of the inner world. Continue to hold the pose, attuning ever more deeply inward, finally discovering a place of absolute stillness, the essence of the true Self.” – Joseph Le Page and Lilian Le Page, Yoga Teachers’ Toolbox (Yoga Integrative Therapy, 2005)

Joseph and Lilian Le Page provide this vital and thoughtful guidance in their presentation of Rabbit Pose, or Shashangasana, but it seems to me we could – with  much benefit – apply these instructions for tuning inward to most of our poses.  For me, yoga is most essentially a profound quest for self-knowledge, a spiritual journey of self-discovery.  As we cultivate strength, flexibility, and balance in our physical body by practicing our asana (physical poses) with commitment, discipline, love, and nonjudgment, so do these qualities of strength, flexibility, and balance begin to manifest in our mental, emotional and spiritual selves, as well. We discover that yoga is not just about asana, it is about what stays with us after our asana – a growing sense of tolerance, patience, kindness, compassion, and ultimately grace.

When we feel good physically, our over-all sense of well-being increases. A healthy sauces 019diet contributes, of course, to our wellness. Over the holidays I added two new chutneys to my repertoire – blueberry mango chutney and peach and pepper chutney – and perfected my jalapeno cream sauce. My mother served my jalapeno cream sauce and cranberry tomato pistachio chutney on Christmas Eve with her signature wild rice casserole, which she has made for many guests over the years, to rave reviews and everyone’s gustatory pleasure.sauces 015

The jalapeno cream sauce is also delicious over pasta, enchiladas, rice, quinoa, couscous, or even as a topping for a sandwich. A good sauce, like a good chutney, enhances so many of our favorite dishes and adds a healthy dose of vitamins and nutrients, too!

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Happy New Year

waiting - Dec 30, 2012Penelope and I wish you a Happy New Year filled with love, contentment, peace and joy. And plenty of yoga and cookies, too!

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 . . . .