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Archive for the ‘Mindfulness’ Category

Ottolenghi’s Green Gazpacho

In Mindfulness, Nutrition, Recipe, Yoga on September 11, 2015 at 4:15 am
green gazpacho on grass

The greenest of green gazpachos

“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” ~Margaret Shepard

Last night I took a yoga class from one of my very favorite teachers and she prefaced her class by acknowledging that life throws you many twists and blind turns which require faith and surrender in order to find the flow in the midst of uncertainty. She promised us that all the weirdness was leading up to something. Of course, she was referring to the vinyasa flow she was about to subject us to but, at the same time, she was asking us to acknowledge this parallel to life.

It’s been three months since I’ve posted. This is not due to writing drafts and failing to publish (although I still have an embarrassing backlog). Creativity was a luxury that I could not afford recently with my energy going to more practical matters. I’m finally pulling out of that period but not without a significant (and somewhat permanent) rearrangement of my daily life and routines. Well, to be fair, this hasn’t happened quite yet but I am already preparing for it. I’ll reveal more as a I fully wrap my brain around it and accept that I cannot see the future of this blind turn.

green gazpacho ingredients

All this green goodness goes straight into your processor or blender.

A heat wave is scorching San Diego right now and since the weather is usually so darn perfect year-round, many of us don’t have air conditioning. We aren’t used to the weather affecting our lifestyles let alone even being a discussion topic. Needless to say, there is a lot of whining going on and very little cooking. Gazpacho is a nice change from constant salad consumption – you get your greens but you don’t have to chew them!

This cold soup recipe is perfect for people who don’t usually like gazpacho. No tomatoes mean no acidity and no lingering urge to eat it with tortilla chips. There is something oddly addictive about this soup from Chef Ottolenghi’s cookbook – Plenty More. You can’t find the recipe online, only the ingredients, but, since it’s a gazpacho, the instructions are pretty intuitive: put everything in a blender and push the ‘on’ button. I didn’t follow the ingredients list exactly and will indicate where I deviated below:

Serves 6 (at least!)

2 celery stalks (including leaves)

2 small green peppers, seeded

6 mini cucumbers, peeled (I used Persian so I didn’t peel)

1 green chile (I chose a large jalapeno)

4 garlic cloves

1 tsp sugar (I used brown)

1.5 cups walnuts, lightly toasted

Parsley and Basil: Original recipe indicates 2 TBSP of parsley but I love its fresh, cleansing taste so I added a large handful of parsley while completely eliminating the basil (1 cup). I like basil but I guess I like parsley more – you decide. Maybe next time I will do a handful of each herb.

4 TBSP balsamic vinegar (original recipe calls for sherry vinegar but I prefer the caramelized sweetness of balsamic and perhaps this is the source of the addiction)

1 cup olive oil

3 TBSP greek yogurt (full-fat)

1 cup water (Ottolenghi uses 2 cups and 9 ice cubes. I like the taste with only 1 cup water so I stopped diluting)

salt & pepper

green gazpacho on the beach

Seagulls love this gazpacho too!

Croutons: toss cubes of sourdough baguette with olive oil and salt and bake at 375 for about 10 mins. Ottolenghi also added 3 slices of sourdough bread to his gazpacho but I left bread for the toppings only.

Directions:

1. Cram EVERYTHING GREEN (and garlic) into your processor first (leafy stuff on bottom, chunks on top)

2. Run it until its get really liquid-y, adding the one cup of water, if needed

3. After the veggies are fully processed, add balsamic, sugar, olive oil, and yogurt

4. Last, add the toasted walnuts and pulse until the texture suits you.

I like this soup best at room temp or only slightly chilled. The flavors aren’t as nuanced straight out of the fridge and, the fats, olive oil and walnuts, are best at room temperature as well.

Recommended consumption: on the beach with an icy Rose´

Super Green Silent Quinoa Salad

In Mindfulness, Nutrition, Recipe on June 7, 2015 at 3:04 pm
green quinoa salad

Green Quinoa Salad

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ~W.B. Yeats

Silence is golden. And not just at the movie theater. I am speaking about intentional silence. Not silence because you live alone and didn’t leave the house all weekend. I tried being purposefully silent.

For 27 hours and 45 minutes, I went entirely without electronic and verbal communication.

In my own home, on an ordinary weekend, I spontaneously designed a mini, silence retreat. Since I had attended longer, silence retreats with groups at Zen Buddhist centers in the mountains outside LA and ashrams in India, I thought to myself – I’ve got this, it’s only one day – failing to take into account how supportive it is, both energetically and physically, to attend an organized retreat with others. Everything is set up for your success. The environment and everyone in it is dragging you along to finish line with their earnest intentions of spiritual salvation.

So why bother trying this on my own? Why would I or anyone want to do this? Aren’t there many more “fun” things one could be doing with their weekend? Well, cost and convenience, for one. But, also, because I really needed it. I was actually craving it. And I found it to be an accessible undertaking all on my own.

sound of silence

The sound of silence…

At organized silence retreats, journaling and reading are strongly discouraged. You are instructed not to give your mind anything to hold on to or work with. Without distractions your mind goes ballistic and roves wildly and aggressively from topic to topic. The resistance hits a fever pitch within the first 24 hours and right when you’ve decided to sneak out of your bunk in the middle of the night and haul ass home so you can at least talk – or something – everything goes quiet and you are flooded with joy as well as relief.

Since this at-home silence retreat was only approximately 24 hours, I allowed myself the luxury of cooking as a distraction. This recipe is perfect for focusing your attention at the task at hand rather than letting your mind wander into the future or fantasy (those might be the same thing!). The making of the herb paste is tedious (really tedious) but only if you are focused on finishing. If you merely focus on individually separating each leaf from each stem, one leaf at a time, it becomes very meditative and quite Zen. Cooking in a gentle and mindful manner while being conscious of your thoughts leads to super duper delicious food.

Ingredients:

2 cups quinoa

2 onions, peeled and very thinly sliced into rings
2 TBSP (I like more) olive oil
1/2 – 1 tsp ground cumin (or toast and grind your own seeds)

Herb paste
1/2 cup parsley
2 cups cilantro
1/2 cup dill
1/4 cup tarragon
1/4 cups mint, fresh
3 TBSP olive oil (try citrus-infused olive oils)

1 cup shelled pistachios (or sub tamari toasted pepitas)

3 cups baby arugula (1 box works great)

Cook quinoa in 2 cups of water in a rice cooker or on the stove-top until all water is absorbed. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes after cooking and then fluff with a fork.

herbs

Herbs for green paste: dill, cilantro, tarragon, mint, parsley

Use an immersion blender to process de-stemmed herbs and oil until very smooth. Can be made up to 2 days ahead of time. I recommend making a large batch and freezing for future use. You can stir this paste into almost anything to add tons of flavor. And, yes, the herb paste is very tedious to make. So (if you aren’t on a homegrown silence retreat) put on some music, get really zen, maybe have a glass of wine, and hyper-focus on separating tiny leaves from their stems.

It can be a good idea to do this part the night before. Store the de-stemmed herbs between damp paper towels in plastic baggies. Herb paste can be stirred into greek yogurt as a topping for grilled fish or whipped into hummus or spread on sandwiches.

Meanwhile, in a small frying pan, heat oil and add cumin. Add onions and sauté over medium heat until soft and golden brown.

Add the herb paste to the fluffed quinoa and use fork to thoroughly combine. Add the hot onions to the arugula and toss well. Then add green quinoa and mix well. Lastly, top with pepitas or pistachios. Serve immediately or chilled.

Green Soup

In Mindfulness, Nutrition, Recipe on April 8, 2015 at 3:48 am

“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” ~Mark Twain

green soup - cilantro in pot

Start with cilantro and a big pot

I’m so sick of waiting for the perfect time. To say what’s on my mind. To write what’s on my heart. To learn that new skill. To move into the perfect house. To take that trip. To be good enough. To feel safe. But then I realized that I’m not waiting. I am slowly moving in that direction with daily micro decisions and just mere thoughts of how badly I want to be there, feel that, know it. Slowly it (all that I want and desire) is coming to me and, when I take the time to realize this, the sheer gratitude takes my breath away. This grateful recognition would not be felt, if I had not deliberately slowed things down from all the wanting and striving and hoping and pushing and pulling and yearning. Consciously choosing throughout the day to do what feels aligned to me (and only me – no advice or input from anyone else) is the most direct way to stay on the path meant for me. The only path that feels right and that comes to me with grace and ease.

I have no idea what this has to do with making green soup but I just had to say it and I wasn’t going to wait.

Spring has sprung and so have the greens! Although the birds are chirping and there are more sunlight hours, it is still a bit chilly so this soup allows you to get your fresh greens and still feel warmed from the inside out.

1 bunch chard

1 bunch kale

green soup ingredients

Kale, chard, scallions, and cilantro

4 to 5 green onions, sliced, white and green parts

1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro

1 -3 tsp sea salt

1 medium potato (whatever type suits you)

1 medium yellow onion

1-3 TBSP olive oil

1 – 6 cloves garlic, smashed with the back of your knife

Some vegetable broth

Meyer lemons

Freshly ground black pepper

Cayenne

Wash the greens thoroughly, trim off their stems, and slice the leaves. Combine the chard, kale, green onions and cilantro in a large soup pot with 3 cups water and a teaspoon of salt. Peel the potato, cut it into small pieces, and add it to the pot. Bring the water a boil, cover and let the soup simmer for about half an hour.

green soup - caramelized onions

Caramelized onions

Meanwhile, chop the onion, swirl the olive oil in a cast-iron skillet, and cook the onion with a sprinkle of salt over medium flame until it is golden brown and soft. This will take up to half an hour. Don’t hurry; give it a stir once in a while, and let the slow cooking develop the onion’s sweetness. Don’t be afraid of oil and salt. As long as they don’t come in the form of a potato chip, they are not to be feared. Add the caramelized onion to the soup.

Using the same skillet, pile up the smashed cloves of garlic in the middle of the pan and pour some oil over them and generously salt. Let them sizzle and smell good, then add the garlic to the pot and simmer the soup for 10 minutes more.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup but don’t over process, potatoes can turn gummy it you work them too much. Add only as much broth as you need to thin it to the consistency that works for you. I just added a splash or two of broth. Lastly, squeeze half a Meyer lemon and plenty of fresh ground black pepper into the pot and perhaps a pinch of cayenne.

green soup - final

Drizzle with fruity olive oil & fresh cracked pepper

 To serve garnish with a drizzle of fruity (blood orange?!) olive oil…delicious.

Forcing the Soup

In Mindfulness, Recipe on January 24, 2015 at 3:37 am

“Be a lamp to yourself. Be your own confidence. Hold on to the truth within yourself as to the only truth.” ~ Buddha

coconut red lentil soup

Second time is the charm.

Fueled by dark chocolate coconut haystacks, decaf chai, and the Bon Iver Pandora station, I banged out this soup one afternoon mostly because the light in my kitchen was waning; therefore, my window for decent food photography was closing. That was my first red flag. You know red flags? Those super obvious banners alerting you – but only in retrospect, of course – to the situations, turns, decisions, or people you should have ran from. Well, everyone knows you can’t rush the soup; however, that’s exactly what I was doing. And the soup ended up terrible because I forced it…to be made…well, I forced it into the trash as well.

lentils colander

Split red lentils are really tiny. Like, tiny enough to fit through a colander hole.

Second red flag: attempting to rinse lentils in a colander. Those suckers are tiny. Red flag #3: I didn’t have all the ingredients I needed and was actually considering subbing goji berries for golden raisins. When a friend rushed over with her supply of raisins (who actually has golden raisins on hand?), I falsely thought “this soup is meant to be”. Final red flag: I glanced at stove clock at 5:33pm and realized that, damn it, I’d missed the sunset. I had a pang of regret that grew exponentially after a blizzard of sunset photos stormed my social media feeds.

Why did I continue on despite feeling uneasy and unfocused? I know better. I’m in tune. I’m a yogini. I don’t force things to happen. I allow things to happen. I meditate. I set intentions not goals. OK. That last part is not true and that’s where the problem lies. I had made it a goal to make a new soup every Thursday regardless of whether or not SoupAsana commenced. So…even though I was tired and had a lot scheduled for the following day and had a lot of space in my weekend (where I could make soup!), the specificity of my goal (to Thursdays) forced me to move forward with soup-making against the signs of the universe.

lentil soup - bad

Inedible. In the trash.

Perhaps I am being dramatic. A terrible pot of soup is not such a big loss. But, really, how often have you done this with important things? Like your health, your relationships, your career. We insist on things happening in a certain way, at a particular time, and we set measurable goals to make sure that it all goes down as planned. And then eventually, after enough forcing and ignorance, there’s an injury – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and you just knew it was coming. You always knew. The signs were there. You just didn’t want to see them.

Anyway, it’s just soup. And it’s also a tidy little reminder to heed the nudges of the universe and tuggings of your heart. Your ego is the one making the goals and setting the timelines but your heart can see the future and knows that timing is everything. Follow it.

I made a second attempt at this soup the following day. I tweaked some measurements and ingredients. I was more present. It made all the difference.

1 cup yellow split peas
1 cup red split lentils (masoor dal)
8 cups water
2 cups carrots, cut into rounds
2 TBSP fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
2 TBSP curry powder
2 TBSP ghee (or butter or olive oil)
8 scallions, only white and light green parts, finely chopped
2/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 14oz can coconut milk
4 tsp fine grain sea salt
handful cilantro, chopped

Give the split peas and lentils a good rinse – until they no longer put off murky water – just don’t rinse them in a colander! Place them in an extra-large soup pot, cover with the water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the carrot. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft (important to test this as I charged ahead with soup-making and peas were still hard!).

chai and coconut haystacks

Dinner of chai and chocolate on the first night.

Add ghee to a pan over medium heat along with scallions, ginger, and raisins. Saute for about five minutes stirring constantly until everything is greasy and glassy, then add the tomato paste and saute for another couple minutes.

Add the curry powder (the original recipe recommends toasting curry powder. It’s stressful. Don’t do it.) to the tomato paste mixture, mix well, and then add this to the simmering soup along with the coconut milk and salt. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or so (this is your opportunity to make it taste good. Let it simmer. Taste it. Add salt. No texting.)

Enjoy topped with cilantro and yogurt if your curry powder had some kick!

Not Yo Mama’s Marinara

In Mindfulness, Nutrition, Recipe on January 10, 2015 at 7:49 pm
marinara - cooking tomatoes

Hurry, make them into marinara before they turn to mush!

Growing up in Alaska gave me this do-it-yourself kind of attitude. You couldn’t just run to the nearest shopping center to get what you (thought you) needed. Add the fact of if you are choosing to live in Alaska, you are most likely quite eccentric; however, also quite resourceful. This lends to the attitude of “why purchase it when you can make it, build it, grow it, kill it – yourself?” As I live now, everything is available for purchase and yet sometimes I still insist on DIY just to prove to myself that I’ve got skills (useful ones, that is).

So I picked a Sunday at the end of the tomato growing season – November here in SoCal (I know you’re jealous) – and dedicated the day to stocking my freezer with tomato sauce. I took an hour break to watch the sunset and I met a girlfriend for lunch but otherwise my day consisted of buying tomatoes, coring and pureeing tomatoes, and boiling and simmering tomatoes. I had to write this blog post standing at my kitchen counter lest the pot of sauce start sticking.

marinara - 30#

How will I get 30# of tomatoes home?

I used a fantastic marinara recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s very herb-y and non-traditional. The first time I used the recipe, I harvested all the tomatoes from my garden at the end of the season and thought I would be able to stock my freezer full of tomato sauce for the whole winter. “No one will starve this winter, family, I have taken care of it!” Like I was Pa Ingalls settling into the The Long Winter. As a child, I really empathized with Laura Ingalls Wilder and re-read that series more than twice during the long, dark Alaskan winters. Previously, my “harvest” yielded about 9 cups of marinara sauce. Clearly, we’d starve if left to our own devices. This time I headed to the La Jolla Open Aire Market for the tomatoes since my garden is currently, um, underutilized right now. And, in my exuberance for this project, I promised quite a few people that I would just hand over some of the sauce when it was done. I am no longer feeling so generous. This was a lot of work and I mean to enjoy it all. These 27 cups of marinara are just too precious.

marinara and sausage

My marinara with a friend’s homemade sausage.

I heart Barbara Kingsolver – like a lot. Like stalker-level. But only in my mind. I don’t write her wacko fan letters or find out where she is vacationing in San Diego. But, like, I kinda want to be her. She’s a scientist and a writer – two things that I like to call myself. We both have degrees in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (hers is a Masters and mine is a Bachelors) so I feel like it’s possible to be even a teensy, weensy bit like her. Her books often focus on the interactions between humans and their environments as well as biodiversity and her writing is smart and insightful with a dry wit. All things I love or want to be. My favorites are: The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

The Poisonwood Bible had a whiff of my childhood about it with the missionary parents and all the daughters named after religious figures (check out my sister’s photography) and living in another culture but, luckily, none of the madness and tragedy. Prodigal Summer really spoke to me because of the themes of interconnectedness between all things living whether human animal, wild animal, or plants and the elements on which they all depend. And then there is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. If you thought you were a local foodie, think again. Kingsolver chronicles the year her family lived on their farm and ate only local food whether they raised it themselves or traded with other local farmers. It’s fascinating and funny and discusses food politics, nutrition, and environmental sustainability as well as the practical issues of trying to explain to your children’s friends why bananas are not allowed in your house.

marinara - tomatoes in blender

This is not the best way to puree tomatoes. I switched to a food processor.

So I tried out Barbara’s life for a day and, phew, this was quite the undertaking. It didn’t exactly take me all day as far as hours were concerned but you will definitely need to clear your calendar for the day and have no further objectives other than the process of making tomato sauce. You’ll notice (or maybe not) that this sauce doesn’t have any olive oil in it. The original recipe was meant for canning and adding oil to a canning food is a dangerous liability from a food safety perspective. From a nutritional perspective, fat makes the vitamin A and lycopene in the tomatoes much more accessible to the body for assimilation. I recommend making it as is and then, when you are defrosting and reheating this winter, swirl some olive oil into the pot for added flavor and nutrition.

Family Secret Tomato Sauce (makes 6-7 quarts) from “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver

10 quarts tomato puree (about 30# of tomatoes)

4 large onions, chopped (processed into a soupy foam)

marinara - ready

Ingredients all lined up and ready to go.

1 cup dried basil

1/2 cup honey

4 TBSP dried oregano

3 TBSP salt

2 TBSP ground dried lemon peel

2 TBSP thyme

2 TBSP garlic powder, or more, to taste

2 TBSP dried parsley

2 tsp pepper

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

marinara - pot

Maxed out sauce pot.

Add pureed tomatoes, onions, all the spices, and honey to a REALLY large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer on low for 2 to 3 hours until sauce has thickened to your desired consistency. You may need to stir frequently towards the end to avoid burning. Transfer to freezable containers (leave some head space if using glass and make sure sauce is cooled first) and feel good about yourself that you’re stocked with marinara for the long, cold winter.

A Pact Against Perfectionism

In Mindfulness on December 21, 2014 at 4:03 am

“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there is still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” – Dita Von Teese

me and tima

My sister, Fatimih (left), and I

While G-chatting with my sister (she’s in New Zealand, I’m in California), we each confess that we are stuck creatively – stalled and not producing up to our own expectations. She says her obsession with being organized is hindering her creativity while I do too many things at once without fully finishing any of them. Even while chatting with her, I am writing a blog post, making soup and taking photographs of the process all the while drinking wine and eating chocolate.

stack of books

My multi-tasking disease extends to reading for pleasure

I suspect she is also an avid multitasker. This used to be a badge of honor for me when my children were toddlers. I now see the falseness and futility of multi-tasking and, yet, I still do it. Multi-tasking makes me feel busy (not the same as productivity) which I learned at a young age is what adults do – they keep busy. Constant busyness keeps us from facing the fear and self-doubt that is universal for everyone. Some of us are just better at carrying on in the face of it.

The paralyzing combination of control (from our mother) and perfectionism (from our father) that we’ve each inherited has kept us both from leading the creative lives that we so desire. She’s a brilliant photographer and graphic designer (logos for Salmonberry and Yuwei) and curator of all things visually beautiful and she deserves to be seen.

So we made a pact:

We will simultaneously post each week – photographs for her, blogs for me – no matter what. It’s about creating content and momentum and not about whether it is perfect or important or anything else other than an exercise in doing what we say we are going to do and moving past self-consciousness.

It’s like a support group for sisters paralyzed by perfectionism. This is my first post of the project and here is Fatimih’s first contribution.

mary oliver poem

From Mary Oliver’s “The Mockingbird”

Intellectually, I realize that the only one judging me so harshly is myself and yet I still fear derision by this imaginary “audience”. I am not always like this. I’ve had long stretches of productivity and creativity with barely a thought of what people might think. It feels amazing and beautiful and I want that freedom again. But this sense of flow seems to sneak up on me and, while I am in it, I rarely recognize it’s inherent beauty. Only in experiencing the sudden contrast of paralyzing self-consciousness do I grasp the specialness of that time. I’m seeking to be more conscious of the flow. To revel in it and foster it.

Anyway, I miss my sister. She is so far away and this is a way for us to be connected and perhaps tell a story as well. We aren’t sure where this will take us or how it will evolve but…welcome to the experiment!

Breathe

In Mindfulness, Yoga on December 2, 2014 at 8:09 pm
0208_130502_Salmonberry

Daily practice

If you can breathe, then yoga is for you. Yes, that does mean absolutely everyone.

Avoiding yoga by saying it’s not your thing or you tried it once is like saying that you’ve tried food and it just didn’t work out for you so you’ve decided not to eat.

Yoga is merely connecting to your breath, and, as a result, your body, wholeheartedly. Every single day. Every single vulnerable minute. Every single exposed nanosecond.

In a simple, yet constraining, seated twist or in a challenging, open-hearted backbend. Finding the place in a pose – and in your life – where you can truly breath, with depth and ease, is no mere feat. How you get to that place will be different for everyone. The magic of asanas is that they are designed to take you to this place of connection. To unlock the mystery of what is holding you back. To release the pent up emotions. The ones that are much more subtle then the overt twins of anger and anxiety that can usually be fended off by a good, long run. Emotions like shame, self-doubt, and contempt.

0224_130502_Salmonberry

Beauty in the struggle

No wonder you avoid yoga practice. It can feel super icky.

And it’s not the hurts-so-good burn of lactic acid build-up during a spin class. This is down-and-dirty, how-can-I-ever-look-someone-in-the-eye-again, kind-of hurt. But then you stay with it, you don’t avoid it, you breathe through it, and suddenly you have moved into a different pose/place/time and all is effortless. You feel light and shining and powerful and graceful and humbled and grateful.

Yoga is not balancing on your forearms while touching your toes to the top of your head. Yoga is not sitting in lotus for hours without moving a muscle. Yoga is not folding your sweaty self in half in a heated room. And, yet, if that is the yoga that works for you, then it is. Yoga is about viciously carving out time for yourself to work on the “you” that is outside the physical plane. It is the time you take to connect your body, mind, and spirit. The practice you do in order to sit with your self and your breath in silence without wanting to bolt from the situation. Without wanting your current reality to be different.

Yoga works on you energetically, emotionally, and spiritually. If you don’t buy that, it doesn’t mean that yoga is not for you, it only means you haven’t done enough yoga. You haven’t fully surrendered to the possibilities, to the potentiality, of really practicing yoga. This is a phenomenon that you can feel. It very visibly shows up in your life through the intensely radical as well as the softly subtle changes that occur once you commit to your practice.

0215_130502_Salmonberry

Freedom and peace is revealed

I used to run a lot. I still do. Just not as much. Running felt wonderful and cathartic and afterwards, for awhile, I was at peace. But it was never sustainable. Quite easily I would find myself jolted out of the flow and into reactive mode. Practicing more asanas, more often, allowed me to finally sit in mediation and actually capture that sustainable peace – for, like, days and weeks.

I am moving toward longer stretches of peaceful bliss and I always will be…

Happy Gut, Happy You

In Mindfulness, Nutrition on July 11, 2013 at 12:27 am
gooey chocolate cookie

Gooey, chocolatey, sugar bomb.

Gloomy weather, stressful relationships, lack of sleep, can all affect our sense of well-being and kick sugar cravings into high gear. Mindlessly giving in on just a few occasions only intensifies our cravings and the vicious cycle begins. Why do we turn to sugar when we are feeling anxious and stressed? Perhaps conditioning – for some, sweets are associated with reward or comfort. Or perhaps it’s physiology – adequate amounts of carbohydrates allow for increased seratonin production, aka the “feel-good hormone”.

What does this have to do with your gut? Well, it turns out the GI tract produces 95% of our body’s seratonin! Taking care of our gut allows GI cells to produce all the seratonin we need. In turn, we will be less likely to turn to sugar when we’re sad, lonely, anxious, and stressed.chocolate bars

In a another post, I discussed beneficial foods for our gut – fiber and fermented foods. The question begs: “Are there foods that are harmful to gut health?” Yup, and I’m sure you’ve guessed it…Sugar! Sugar provides fuel for certain gut bacteria to proliferate far beyond what is healthy leading to a bacterial imbalance. So, even if we consume adequate fiber, we won’t have enough beneficial bacteria to fuel our GI cells. They’ve been outcompeted by other, less-helpful bacteria due to sugar-induced overgrowth.

What are the consequences of GI cells not getting the fuel they need? At the very least, you will have gas and bloating or, worse, suffer from anxiety and depression.

packaged veggies

Pre-washed and chopped veggies. High in fiber. The fuel our GI cells need.

Our gut is often referred to as the “second brain” because it has its own complex nervous system and is highly influenced by our thoughts and psychological stress. Most of us know this on an intuitive (and experiential) level and certainly Traditional Chinese Medicine and other healing traditions have recognized this for generations. Finally, western medicine has acknowledged the huge role our gut plays in our immune, endocrine, and nervous systems. Recent research has shown that tweaking the balance between beneficial and disease-causing bacteria in an animal’s gut alters brain chemistry leading it to become more bold or more anxious. Alternately, even mild stress can tip the microbial balance in the gut, making us more vulnerable to infectious disease.

What is sugar? It is a carbohydrate of which there are 2 general categories: indigestible (fiber) and digestible (everything else). Your body does not absorb fiber but your colon uses it for many healthy functions (as discussed here). Digestible carbs are those used by your body for energy – or, if you are taking in more energy than you are expending, they are stored (in your fat cells).

To balance your mood, regulate your blood sugar, and keep your gut bacteria in balance, remember these 3 things when consuming carbs/sugars:

dates

Deglet dates. Often used to sweeten desserts but loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Limit added sugars. Most added sugars are refined carbohydrates meaning it has been stripped of other nutrients and comes in a potent package that is a shock to our bodies. Added sugars include the “natural” sugars, too. Remember, “its not the vehicle, its the payload.” Use sweeteners sparingly – even honey and dates.

Eat carbohydrates higher up on the “whole foods” chain.

What does this look like?

Brown rice -> brown rice pasta/bread -> energy bar w/ brown rice syrup

Apples -> applesauce  -> apple juice

Steel cut oats -> rolled oats -> quick oats -> instant oatmeal packet

peppers, goat cheese, bread

Red peppers with goat cheese and honey on toast. Balanced protein, fat, and carbs.

Combine carbs with fat and protein at each meal. Toss sunflower seeds and unsweetened coconut on that fruit salad. Mash avocado on whole-grain toast. Add flax oil and walnuts to your banana-berry oatmeal.

Curb your sugar cravings: easy on the salt and animal products, eat sweet vegetables (tubers and roots), choose sprouted products, eat more sour or spicy flavors, and, finally, fully chew all carbs b/c those grains, legumes, and veggies will become sweeter the longer you chew.

Practical Gratitude

In Mindfulness on July 10, 2013 at 11:26 pm
shrimp n celery
“…to me, every hour of the light and dark is a miracle. Every inch of space is a miracle…” -Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman’s Poem of Perfect Miracles appreciates the miracles in everything. The light, the dark, the space can refer to something different to everyone depending on experience, beliefs, and perspective. I’ve come to realize that nature is my muse and the place where I recognize the light, the dark, and the miracles. My early years were very grounded and earthy and rhythmically natural and yet there was the ever present and mystical influence of Native Alaskan culture. Whitman’s work walked the line between humanism and transcendentalism. He was practical and real and embraced all religions equally while not being a believer or follower of a particular one. I have a lot of that in me and I take a lot of pictures of food (where is this going, you ask?).

figs n goat cheeseIf you have a meal with me or follow me on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, you are painfully aware of my constant need to document my plate before consumption. I recently said (to an exasperated dinner companion) that my meal tastes better if I’ve taken a photograph of it first. At the time, I was making a joke but then I started to think about this idea more. And I actually wasn’t kidding. My meal does taste better because I am present with all the flavors and textures AFTER I snap a quick photo of it with my phone.

wine, cabbage, carrotsThe act of stopping to take a picture and capturing the beauty of the food is an act of GRATITUDE. It really just occurred to me today. It’s been my unconscious way of saying Grace before meals. Praying before meals was not a habit I grew up with but I was certainly taught, through example and lifestyle, to be grateful to the earth for the food I was consuming. Respect and appreciation for hunters and fishermen was automatic and celebrated. Native Alaskan culture is deep in respect and gratitude toward the earth and it’s resources. These were my influences during childhood and it shines through much more than I’ve realized. It’s just so beautiful that gratitude can come through no matter the method, strategy, practice, belief system, faith, deity…how do you put practical gratitude into practice on a daily basis?