Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Today is a snow day so the kids are home. That means I'm having trouble getting a lot of work done--but not so much trouble blogging. I made a Scottish Bannock for breakfast with chocolate chips, modified from the current issue of Mother Earth News. You can find the recipe on my Vegan Serendipity blog. For lunch, I toasted a whole wheat pita and stuffed it with scrambled tofu (with mushrooms, onions, and peppers), yellow tomatoes, and baby greens. Let it snow.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The End of Insanity...and the Beginning of Chickpeas

Finally, my year of insanity is drawing to a close. I wrote four books between the beginning of the summer and now. Yes, four. It's all I've had time to do, between that and travel and yoga classes and finding something good to eat. All the work has kept me from thinking about other things, posting food pictures, writing about my Yoga Journal retreat, even going to yoga the last few weeks when it seemed everything was due at once.

Now, finally, I am done. To celebrate, I soaked (overnight) and then cooked for many hours (in the crockpot) a big bunch of chickpeas. I know, I'm totally out of control.

Maybe that's because I'm not exactly done and I was procrastinating? I still have to edit the page proofs on the Beagle book and add over 5,000 words because the manuscript came up short. I still have to do an extensive author review on the Chakra book, and also on the book about living with animal companions in the most eco-friendly way possible. I am finished with the book I wrote with Bethenny Frankel--all the way finished, and it should be out in a few months. As each book comes out, I'll make an announcement.

In the meantime, I am getting ready to go to Oaxaca, Mexico. Ben, the kids, me, and the Martin family, of the famous Anti-Consumerism wager last year--we got stomped, but we're going to give it another go this January, so stay tuned. Stay tuned also for more about what's to eat in Oaxaca.

Meanwhile, what's to eat in Iowa, with all those chickpeas waiting in the refrigerator so patiently? First,let me just say that it's true that if you cook dried, soaked chickpeas for a long time, they really are smoother and creamier than the canned kind, and since most of the "work" involves you doing something nice, like reading a travel book about Oaxaca, while the beans soak or simmer, it's hard to argue that canned is more convenient. When you soak and cook them yourselves, you don't have to fight with a can opener.

Out of my chickpea bounty, I made a big batch of homemade hummus, which was my dinner last night. I also made chickpea cutlets from the Veganomicon cookbook, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. They are so good, I can't even describe it. And easy, too. I had one for lunch (pictured above): Chickpea cutlet on a sprouted grain bun with soy mayo, mustard, tomatoes, and a lot of pickles. Food is good.

Now, about that yoga practice...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Vegan cooking fun

Today I had a great Anusara yoga class, taught by my friend, Rachel Klapper. The theme was "holding to your convictions," which was perfect, and of course, she slipped lots of election talk into the class. We're all excited to camp out in front of the t.v. with pizza tonight and watch the results roll in. I printed out a map for the kids so they can add up the electoral college votes and color the states red or blue.

I've had a lot of fun making food this week, even though I haven't taken any photographs. Last night, I made nachos with corn chips, pinto bean dip, and Follow Your Heart vegan Monterey Jack "cheese," heated up then covered with a thick layer of fresh baby greens. The day before, I made brown rice with beans and all the vegetables I could find--onions, garlic, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, crimini mushrooms, green beans, green peas, black beans, white beans. Before that, I made a delicious vegetable curry with potatoes and eggplant. Now I'm going to have to spend the rest of the week eating up the leftovers.

My son, Emmett, has agreed to go veg for seven days, for seven dollars. I said that was a deal. We'll see if he's successful.

Next post, I hope to include food photos. Until then, please get out there and vote your conscience, whatever it tells you!

Now to go craft a delicious vegan pizza...

Namaste and bon appetit!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

That's Enough.

I've been doing a lot of soul-searching and research. I've waffled about vegetarianism for awhile now, as the fight for gastronomic pleasure bucked up against the quest for peace. I knew factory farms were bad, but I also knew meat tasted good and I kept trying to separate them in my mind, even as I preached at others to acknolwedge the source of their food. Then, in a frustrated moment of indecision, I finally made myself read up on what really goes on, both on factory farms and in slaughterhouses. I've thought long and hard about it, and as a good yogi, I've decided I simply cannot justify eating another animal just because I think it tastes good. If I needed to do it to survive, sure. But I don't. I'm perfectly capable of living well and thriving without it. Plus, my skin looks better and I eat more nutritiously when I avoid it. I believe that in order to evolve to the next level and truly embrace the concept of ahimsa, I can no longer participate in the consumption of animals.

This blog is hereby vegan.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Getting Ready for Estes Park

I'm procrastinating. I have to finish a Newfoundland article today, and although I finally have all my interviews completed and notes compiled, I'm having trouble getting started because I'm not living in the moment. I am living in the future. To be more precise, I am preoccupied by my upcoming trip to the Yoga Journal conference in Estes Park. I've never been to this huge yoga gathering before, and I can't wait!

I'm slightly worried about the effects of the high elevation, but other than that, I couldn't be more excited about spending a week in a cabin with 10 other great women, in the mountains, doing yoga. I'll be studying with Elise Miller, Kofi Busia, Alanna Kaivalya (for a chakra class), John Douillard (for an ayurveda class) and of course, since this is the first ever Anusara Grand Gathering, the Anusara clan: John Friend, Amy Ippoliti, Desiree Rumbaugh, etc. I envision a lot of interesting and challenging yoga cross-training, and some solid preparation for the chakra book I will write when I get home. I will be travelling and staying with my BFF, Rachel Klapper, who is also studying to be an Anusara yoga teacher.

In the meantime, I do have to finish this Newfoundland article, so I'd best get to it. But stay tuned for more on the Yoga Journal conference!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Baba ghanoush

Our CSA share has been full of eggplant lately, as well as corn, onions, tomatoes, and peppers...all the ingredients to make all my favorite foods! I've been making eggplant Parmesan, fresh corn salad with peppers and tomatoes, green salsa with the tomatillos and hot peppers from my own garden (which was sadly neglected this summer, but the tomatillos took over anyway), and of course, baba ghanoush.

This past weekend, I made the delicious baba ghanoush. I roasted three different kinds of eggplants in the oven: a classic purple, a lavender globe-shaped, and a long skinny Japanese. After roasting, the eggplants were very soft and shriveled. I let them cool then I peeled them and put all the flesh in the food processor along with 1/4 cup tahini, the juice of half a large lemon, 2 minced garlic cloves, a teaspoon of dried cumin, and about a half teaspoon of sea salt. Pulse, puree, and the result was amazing--creamy and tangy.

Today for lunch, I toasted a whole wheat pita, spread it with the baba ghanoush, topped that with slices of smoked Szechuan tofu, then topped that with fresh chopped tomatoes and baby spinach. Yum.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

End of Summer, New Beginnings

At last, school has begun. The house is quiet during the day. I can actually work...and just finished the Beagle book I've been working on (it will be published early next year). I don't know how I got anything done at all during the summer, although I certainly did, finishing the Naturally Thin book I co-authored with celebrity natural foods chef Bethenny Frankel, star of The Real Housewives of New York City. Now I immediately have to start a book about living green with companion animals, and after that, I'll be co-authoring a book about the chakras with my BFF Rachel Klapper, a yoga teacher I've written about here before.

Obviously, whenever summer winds down and fall begins, my mind turns vigorously to the work at hand. Other things happen too, though. My quest for greater fitness in preparation for attending the Yoga Journal conference in Estes Park, Colorado, in September, continues successfully. I've already dropped about 8 more pounds (on top of the 15-something that disappeared while writing Naturally Thin), and I've been working out regularly and sinking deeper and deeper into my yoga practice. I feel great, and extra bendy. The best part about it is that I haven't sacrificed a bit when it comes to enjoying delicious food. I've learned how to eat whatever I really want, add what I need for good workout fuel, then stop after I've had enough to make me happy. It's working.

Last night, we went out to dinner with our friends Nick and Amy Martin to the Motley Cow, a restaurant known for its liberal use of fresh local ingredients. I spotted the owner, chef David Weiseneck, in the kitchen so I knew the food would be delicious. Amy and I ordered the fettucine with lobster (obviously, lobster isn't local but couldn't resist the pasta). Ben had the Iowa pork with French beans, goat cheese, grilled pears, and a delicious ruby-red beet sauce. Nick had the lamb. Mine was great but I couldn't eat very much of it because it was so filling. Two bites of Ben's pork confirmed it was fantastic. Next time, we plan to try their less opulent menu items, such as the pizza or sandwiches.

Today, we have a blissful quiet weekend without the kids and I'm just wrapping up the proofreading and printing out of the Beagle book, watching the European Grand Prix (it's our thing we do), and enjoying a delicious savory lunch of homemade chili, flavored with just a bit of shredded pork loin and loaded with chili beans and fresh local zucchini, chard, corn, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, and summer squash, topped with some fresh locally made tortilla chips, a little sprinkle of cheese, and big scoops of salsa verde and pico de gallo, handcrafted by Carmen at La Reyna, my favorite local Mexican restaurant. Who knew I could be eating like this and still losing so much weight?

I'm up to a full five minutes in sirsana now. Life is good. Namaste and bon appetit!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Locavore Status and Losing Weight

Our quest to eat local has been going well this summer. Pictured above: Locally baked sourdough bread from the farmer's market topped with local free-range eggs from a nearby farm, garlic chives from my CSA share, and green salsa, handmade by a small local Mexican restaurant. Not all ingredients came from Iowa, but it was all made by Iowans. One thing about Iowa: we produce a lot of food!

However, we did cheat a little bit. A few of our favorite things are produced in states that touch Iowa--like the goat milk I like from Heartland creamery, various delicious cheeses from Wisconsin, and the occasional neighboring-state fruit, condiment, etc., so we expanded our rules to include these. It's been easy to find meat, milk, and just about every vegetable we could want (except avocados). We've also harvested greens from the garden, and although it needs serious weeding, the tomatillos I tried this year have sailed above the weeds and are producing well. They look about ready. The weeds haven't been so kind to my peppers, so I need to get out there, but my work schedule has been intense and of course it's summer so when I'm not working, I tend to want to be lazy.

Meanwhile, my CSA pickup has been full of great veggies so I haven't been wanting. Fruit-wise, we've gotten peaches from Missouri, and we've cheated a little when the kids really wanted something like plums or apples that came from states not bordering Iowa. Because if the kids want fruit, want am I going to say? "No! Eat some Iowa bacon instead!"

On the yoga front, I will be heading to the Yoga Journal conference in Estes Park towards the end of September and although I've been doing a lot of yoga, I'm still carrying some extra weight. I lost about 18 pounds while writing the Naturally Thin book with Bethenny Frankel, but I need to finish the job, so I've decided to drop 16 pounds by September 21. I think I can do it if I just cut back a little on the indulgences and step up the exercise. So that's my goal, starting today. My son, Emmett, who is 10 years old, is going to do this with me because he wants to drop some weight too. He's been having an overindulgent summer, as we all have, but he's not as active as his brother so it sticks to him the way it sticks to me. So together we are on a healthy eating and exercise quest, so we both feel better and have more energy. We can do it, Emmett!

This is Emmett, getting a good workout, mowing the lawn (with proper hydration, of course).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Of Floods, Flu, Fishponds, and Fireworks

Iowa City is finally drying out from the 500-year flood, we are all finally recovering from an unpleasant bout with the flu, we finally moved our fish inside because our fishpond was getting too hot...and today is already the end of a month that began with a lot of beautiful fireworks in the company of family and friends.

But enough with the F-words. As July winds down and we prepare for the hottest month of the year, and I put one book behind me and face three more books due in the next four months, I also realize I need to be posting more regularly here, to keep closer track of my yoga and food journeys. I'm busy, of course. Aren't we all? But that doesn't mean yoga and food aren't still important parts of my life. Today for lunch, I had sourdough toast with eggs, cippolini onions, portabella mushrooms, and spinach, all fresh from the farmer's market...and I didn't even take a picture! What was I thinking?

So my thought for today is: slow down.

When life gets busy, I know I not only neglect basic household chores, but I get used to racing thoughts. I'm always thinking about what's happening now, what's happening next, and what I can do about what just happened. I get so used to multi-tasking that while everything important gets done (mostly), nothing gets done all that well.

In the dog days of summer, why am I rushing? I have a lot of work to do today, sure, and for the next few months. (And probably for the next few years.) But that doesn't mean I can't slow down at least a little every day, look around, and appreciate what's going on around me.

Right now, I've got a lovely hot cup of coffee in front of me, two dogs under my desk watching me with love, and two kids downstairs behaving themselves. I can hear the summery sound of a lawnmower and cicadas singing outside. The kitchen smells fragrant from the eggs I made for lunch. I feel strong and sweaty after finally making it back to the gym today after being sick. Now, I'm settling down to work on my Beagle book. Later, I'll make dinner, then get in a good evening yoga practice.

Life is good. Today I'm going to enjoy it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Yoga Cross-Training

The last two months have been incredibly busy, finishing a book with celebrity natural foods chef Bethenny Frankel, dealing with end of school and summer vacation with the kids (who make working at home very difficult because they are so bored), and generally transitioning from spring to summer. But as I've been dealing with all this, I've also confronted a new situation.

I've been studying Iyengar yoga with Nancy Footner at Friendship Yoga for a couple of years now, and I really love it. It has done amazing things for me, physically and mentally. It is a precise and disciplined form of yoga, something that is very balancing for me and my freestyle way of living.

But recently, my friend Rachel Klapper became certified as a yoga teacher and is now studying Anusara yoga. She is teaching a class at Heartland Yoga in Iowa City, and since she is my BFF, of course I am taking her class. I enjoy the emotional openness of Anusara and the different way this form describes alignment principles, in spirals and loops. Add to that the fact that my friend Amy Martin, a spinning teacher at The Core (a local gym), likes me to go with her to her friend Martha Gordon's class. Martha is very advanced in the Barkan Method of yoga, and does a modified (not very hot) version at the gym on Saturday mornings. This form is a real muscle work-out, something I need to work on because I tend to be hyper-flexible (Anusara would call it "organic") more than strong, and the Barkan routine is very strengthening in just the ways I require.

So here I am, studying two-and-a-half forms of yoga at the same time--similar but also very different forms. I wouldn't say I'm struggling with this, but just that I find it interesting because all these forms and teachers are so different, yet in many ways, so alike (it is all yoga, after all). I have to remember where I am when doing, say, adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), because the cues from my three teachers are not the same. I'm thinking about what this means for my practice. I've always resisted labels and tried to stay out of the mainstream so in this way, I like this situation. I feel like I have a birds-eye view and can see more clearly, rather than becoming narrow and evangelical about any one form. On the other hand, will I really ever become well versed in yoga, if I never commit to a style? Or, will one style eventually come out on top and the others will fade off my radar? It's a question. I'm thinking of writing an article about it.

Meanwhile, I'll be taking both Iyengar and Anusara classes when I attend the Yoga Journal conference in Estes Park this September (no Barkan available). Maybe that experience will help crystallize what this yoga cross-training really means for me and my practice.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Our Summer Locavore Challenge

The New Pioneer Co-op, our local natural foods grocery, has issued a challenge to its members, to eat mostly local during one week in August. Always one for taking these things too far, I thought it might be fun to do this in a bigger way. Ben and I discussed our options--eating within a certain mile-radius, eating food produced in Iowa, etc., and decided on the following terms:

1. The challenge will go from the first day of summer to the last day of summer.

2. We will only buy groceries made in Iowa during the challenge period. Food left over from before the challenge is fine to use, however. Waste not, want not.

3. When eating out (which we do a lot), we will only eat at local, independently owned restaurants. No chains. However, although we will lean towards those that use local food, we won't worry about asking the source of everything they make.

4. Food prepared by local businesses at the farmer's market or the co-op, that may or may not use local ingredients, is fine. For example, I can buy a loaf of bread made by a farmer's market vendor, without grilling them about the source of their flour.

5. We will not give up coffee (we're not THAT radical), but we will only buy coffee that is roasted locally.

This challenge will help us not only to eat less processed food, fresher food, and more seasonal food, but also will reduce our "carbon footprint" and keep our dollars in the state of Iowa during these economically challenging times.

Yesterday, I did a little reconnaissance at the Co-op, and discovered that even there, a lot of food isn't local. Helpfully, they label all food that is local. But I couldn't find a source of Iowa goat milk, tofu, or flour. I know these must exist, so I may need to get them directly from the producers. I did find Iowa chevre, milk, eggs, and lots of produce. It's going to be a real challenge, especially for the kids.

At the Farmer's Market yesterday, however, I found some gems--a local mushroom farmer, a local source for lamb (the lamb roast we had last night from her was fantastic), and a local coffee roaster.

Today, we headed up to Cedar Rapids to check out prices on drum sets because Angus, our 12 year old, is "graduating" from grade school in four days and we are helping him buy a new drum set. His is old and cheap and he's ready for something better. While there, we stopped by Cedar Ridge winery because the word is, they make not only wine but vodka and rum. Locally! (Because Ben is not going the whole summer without a vodka martini.) We tasted everything and the Clearheart liquors were amazing. The gin was spectacular, the vodka is sourced from 100% Iowa ingredients, the rum was rich and delicious. The limoncella and lamponcella were absolutely out of this world. Needless to say, we stocked up!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

B.L.T. (sort of)

Last night, I balanced in Dancer's Pose longer than I ever had before. I went into a headstand (no wall) by lifting both feet up at the same time. I also ate a little bit of pork (along with chipotle red beans and brown rice, a big spinach salad, and a Stella Artois). I don't think there is a connection, necessarily, between my increasing yogic balance and strength, and the occasional consumption of animals. Maybe it even works against me, but I'm not so sure about that. In any case, the pork was from a local farm. I looked right at it and reminded myself that an animal died to provide me with the meal. It tasted very good. I was grateful.

But this morning, although I did have a little goat's milk (from neighboring Missouri's Heartland Creamery) in my coffee--I like my coffee gamey--the rest of my breakfast contained no animal products. I toasted a whole wheat English muffin and topped it with leftover tempeh bacon (I used the Vegan with a Vengeance recipe), fresh spinach, and a slice of tomato, with just a little soy mayo to hold it all together.

Mighty tasty.

Try this in coffee. Or make cajeta (goat milk caramel) with it, using Rick Bayless's recipe. That's great in coffee, too.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Ahimsa vs. Gastronomy

Today I took a yoga class from my friend Rachel, a certified yoga teacher now doing her advanced training in Anusara yoga, a heart-centered form of yoga founded by former senior Iyengar instructor John Friend. During savasana at the end of the class, Rachel read an excerpt about ahimsa from one of Pema Chodron's books.

If you practice yoga and follow the mindset, you probably already know that ahimsa is the practice of non-violence. Yogis often philosophize about the many ways in which ahimsa can be incorporated into modern life, not only in obvious ways like not physically or verbally harming others and actively supporting peace, but in less obvious ways like not harming oneself through negative self-talk.

And then, there is the matter of whether or not to eat meat.

This is the one I struggle with, as an avid cook, amateur food historian, and ethnic food fancier. In fact, Rachel and I love to cook together and often bemoan the fact that our favorite cuisines and cooking methods include animal products. I love vegetarian food and cook it often. I'm well versed in substitutions and the many ingenious ways vegetarian and vegan cooks have managed to replicate, sometimes with amazing accuracy, traditional animal-product dishes. I admire and often practice these techniques.

But they aren't authentic techniques. This isn't the way humans have designed food in their cultures over the centuries. And when the gastronome in me rears up against the part of me trying to practice ahimsa, I often feel conflicted.

I've already banned all factory-farmed meat from my house, where I live with three meat-eating males. That was easy. I buy local or sustainably harvested flesh. But it's still flesh. And sometimes I eat it.

I suppose I could decide that I can practice ahimsa in ways that work in my life, but isn't that hypocritical? Too convenient? It's not like I have to eat meat. But then, what about truly understanding the food culture of Mexico, for example? What about mastering the art of Cajun cooking? What about French food, for goddess' sake? And how do I separate my two great loves, yoga and food, from this philosophical scuffle?

So far, I haven't. I've just been able to stand back and watch the dust fly.

I don't have any answers yet, meaning I continue on uneasily eating, balancing on the wire between compassion and consumption. I suspect one day, I'll probably tip over and fall to one side, and maybe stay there. But for now, I'll keep teetering and trying to figure out which way my life will unwind as my years and my hungers ebb and flow.

Until then, I'll continue to work and cook through it. So stay tuned. Namaste. And bon appetit.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Back from the Beach

Spring break is over, alas. We had a lovely week in Orange Beach, Alabama. The kids played in the surf, I sat on the beach in a chair with a fruity drink reading Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck, the perfect book to read while on the road in America (although it made me miss my dogs). Then we drove home via New Orleans, and the kids got to experience Bourbon Street on a Friday afternoon. We had everyone inside by dark because there was plenty to do in our nice hotel, Le Pavilion on Canal Street.

We had lots of great food including several helpings of delicious oysters--not veg, but I hope the slimy little creatures will forgive my sincere enjoyment of their oystery essence. We also tried Royal Red shrimp, a large deep-water shrimp from the Gulf that is absolutely delicious--sweet and soft and melt-in-your-mouth.

As I walked the dogs through the woods yesterday morning, I was crunching snow beneath my feet again, but I couldn't help thinking how similar it was to walking over the white sandy beach. Subtract the spectacular spring surf and add a sweater, scarf, and gloves.

It's back to the kitchen as well. Today I'm picking up an order of wild-caught seafood from Nick Wallace of Wallace Farms, who finds the best, sustainable sources of wild-caught fish as well as locally raised organic meat and sells them out of his truck. This will help determine what I cook for the family in the coming week. In the meantime, I'm looking longingly at the strawberry leaves poking out of the soil already, and the seeds I started before we left for vacation are all sprouting vigorously. I hope for a strong and hearty growing season with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking about what to eat today. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Winter Raw

I tend to want warm food in the winter--probably a common impulse in the frigid midwest. When I look outside and see drifts of snow taller than my head, it makes me want to shiver back inside for a warm beverage or some comfort food. So where does raw food fit into all this?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, especially since the thermometer almost hit 50 degrees today, and I'm getting ready to head south for spring break. I've drifted away from raw. What does that mean to leave a dietary practice, then come back to it again? It's not that I've stopped eating raw food. I always have something raw on the table. But also cooked food, and is that a sign of a failure and redemption, or of a cycle? I'm thinking about that today. And craving.

I have a strange--or maybe all-too-common--relationship with the foods I eat and the seemingly random (to anyone who isn't in my head) "rules" I impose on my diet. One week I'll decide that every Monday, or Friday, or Sunday, will be "raw day." Another week, I'll alternate vegetarian and vegan. Sometimes I'll give it all up and have some fish--wild caught, but still, I know, I know. I think, at less confident periods in my life, that this is a bad thing. At other times, instead of telling myself that's all wrong, I choose to see it as a way to respond to my in-flux body and spirit needing and wanting different things at different times, in different seasons and in different stages. So what's wrong with heading back towards the raw end of the spectrum? Nothing at all, of course.

And that means, in my food-centric world, that I'm thinking about what to make tomorrow. I think tomorrow should be a day of fresh, of alive, of raw. Just wait and see. I know I'm looking forward to it with delicious anticipation. (Check back tomorrow to see what happens because in my kitchen; something is always bound to happen in my kitchen.)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Planting the Seed

By my calculations, March 8 (today) is just about exactly 8 weeks before the week when southeastern Iowans should be thinking about planting their gardens. Danger of frost should be over and the soil should be warming nicely. Hard to imagine right now, with mounds and piles and mountains of snow all over the city taller than most adults (and some taller than a building), but that didn't stop me from placing my seed order from the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa,, a non-profit organization of gardeners that save and share heirloom seeds. I also bought a few packets of seeds that SSE didn't have. And today, a sunny but chilly Saturday, I hauled the kids to the garden store and bought trays and dirt.

When I opened the bag of dirt with my kitchen shears, I was overwhelmed by the spring-fever-invoking fresh smell of sun-warmed dirt. The kids agreed--it was almost too much to bear on this snowy winter day! But I got out my spoon, my seed packets, my cling wrap, and planted:

-Ancho gigantea peppers
-Anaheim chili peppers
-Jalapeno peppers
-Mixed-color bell peppers (red, orange, yellow, green, and purple)
-Bull nose large bell peppers (heirloom)
-Green tomatillos (haven't tried these before but I heard of someone else in Iowa who grows them so I'm going to give it a try)
-Florida high bush eggplant

I also have, but will wait to direct-sow:

-Russian tarragon
-Lots and lots of cilantro

I wrapped the trays in plastic and we set up a card table in front of our sunniest window. When our pet sitter comes for spring break, I'll have to add seed-watering to her list of chores, but I don't think she'll mind.

Now all we have to do is hurry up and wait for spring...which technically starts in less than two weeks, despite how it looks and feels outside.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Sirsasana, No Wall Necessary Thanks!

Last week in yoga class, when I set up to do headstand against the wall in my usual way, my teacher said, "Eve, I think you are ready to move away from the wall next week."

Yikes! Really? I was feeling all tippy that day, but felt encouraged that she wanted me to move into the center of the room, where the really experienced people invert themselves. I vowed to practice all week, just to be ready.

The next day, I tried to practice at home, and found I couldn't balance for more than a second, when I've been able to do headstand in the middle of the room without a problem before. Somehow, the teacher's assertion that I was ready to do this in public made me completely unable to do it at all. I fell (feet thudding ungracefully on the couch cushions) over and over. Frustrated, I stopped practicing. Clearly I didn't have the necessary inner rod of quiet. I wasn't rooted to the earth by the crown of my head, or by anything else. I was flighty. Unbalanced, in every way.

And then, quite suddenly, a week had rolled by and it was Friday morning again. This morning. Just ten minutes into class, my teacher said, "Everybody set up for sirsasana."

I felt the butterflies rustle up into my throat, but also a surge of courage.

"In...the middle of the room. Right?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said, with no knowledge of my abysmal failure in my home practice. "Do you know how to fall?"

Do I.

Actually, I have read all about how to fall, in Mr. Iyengar's book, Light on Yoga. He explains how, if one is to fall forward, one must unlace the fingers quickly, or risk crunching them (he doesn't put it quite like that, but you get the idea). A few months ago, when I was focusing a lot on inversions at home, I practiced this over and over again, so I would know how to fall. Once, I panicked, forgetting, and did indeed crunch my fingers. Ouch.

But today, I was determined to do it. I'll err on the side of tipping back in the safe direction, I thought. I came up slowly, carefully, and calmly. Most notably, I did feel calm and quiet inside. I even felt rooted--if not too deeply--by the crown of my head. Up I came, and stayed...and stayed...and stayed! I wasn't wobbling or wavering or feeling unbalanced at all. Not one bit.

Well...not until my teacher noticed me and started encouraging me to rotate my thighs inward. This slight adjustment did throw me off just a little. I lost my inner calm and I did get tippy, but then I came down gracefully the right way, not the finger-crunching forward-falling way.

At the risk of sounding like a surfer dude, I have to say: It was awesome.

Later, we did some more advanced poses we hadn't done in class before, including padmasana. Only two of us that I could see (not that I should have been looking) attempted full padmasana. The others did ardha padmasana (half lotus) with a belt. I'm very flexible, if not very strong or balanced, so this isn't a difficult pose for me. But then she had us roll forward onto our knees, resting our pelvic plates on a bolster. We arched our backs, looked up, opened our mouths, and stuck out our tongues. I felt strong and powerful, like I was sticking out my tongue at everything in my life that isn't going the right way. Blah to you, wrong ideas! Blah to you, doubt and fear! Blah, blah, blah!

It was awesome.

Of course, I'm obviously involving my ego again when I compare myself to others in a yoga pose, but in a class where I am so frequently humbled, it was nice to see myself making progress. And whenever a fellow student comments about my flexibility, the teacher is always quick to assure everyone that flexibility isn't any good without strength, and that my strength is lacking. Which is true. My teacher is good at keeping egos in check.

But the experience got me thinking about what it means to be balanced on some days, and unbalanced on other days. Strong and rooted sometimes, and sometimes, weak and wavering. While progress happens, it is more often a circuitous progress, curving in and over and back on itself so that it can seem more like a scenic route than a road that actually goes anywhere.

Maybe that's just fine.

I enjoyed today's rigorous class, and that early-in-the-session sirsasana success helped fuel the rest of my poses to be stronger, stretchier, and straighter in all the right ways (mostly). Sometimes a little stroke to the ego can push the path in a more forward direction for a little while. It's certain to wind back around again to a place you thought you'd already passed forever, but that's all part of the process, I guess. Every victory is only a victory of a moment, but the same holds true with every failure. To fail, to fall over, to crunch the fingers or have a tippy day, is only a sidewind. Sooner or later, the path meanders forward again, despite all the chicanes and backtracks and at some point, every yoga student is bound to look back and think, "Wow. Look how far I've come. And I didn't think I was getting anywhere."

Tonight, maybe I'll work on getting into handstand by kicking up with the left leg. I still haven't been able to do that even once, but maybe tonight it will happen. I'm feeling pretty strong.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cookie Madness

What do you do when you don't just want but need oatmeal cookies but you only have one egg and all your recipes call for at least 2? You improvise. This recipe, loosely based on the recipe for Ranger Cookies in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (you know, the red-and-white checked cookbook with the ring binding), will serve as our dessert tonight...if there are any left when after-school snacking has taken its toll.

Chocolate Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1-1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (not regular whole wheat, be sure to use pastry flour)
1 cup organic brown sugar (or raw sugar)
1 egg (free range)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup organic rolled oats
1-1/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1 cup dark or bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 375. In a stand mixer, beat the butter for 30 seconds or until soft. Add 1/2 cup flour, sugar, egg, vanilla, baking powder, and soda. Beat until thoroughly combined.

2. Beat in the remaining flour until combined, then stir in oats, coconut, and chocolate chips. The mixture will be very stiff.

3. Roll pieces of dough into one-inch balls with your hands. Flatten slightly and put on ungreased cookie sheets (preferably air-bake or stone for even browning). Bake for 10 minutes, or until the cookies just begin to color.

4. Cool on the cookie sheet for one minute, then remove to a wire rack with a metal spatula. Eat, or let them cool and eat them later.

My recipe made about 36 cookies, but it would have made more if I hadn't eaten some of the dough.

In my defense, the dough was irresistible.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Beans and Bayless

Last night, I ventured into the Rick Bayless cookbook. Family Dinner Night always seems an appropriate venue for experimentation. I began the day by preparing a pot of pinto beans with onion, jalapeno (frozen from our garden last year), and shredded beef jerky. This cooked all day. Around 5, I began assembling the rest of the meal. I made the first recipe in the Bayless book: the Essential Simmered Tomato Jalapeno sauce, but because tomatoes aren't in season, I used canned (the recipe allows for this). I also used a frozen jalapeno pepper. I think, in retrospect, this sauce will be much tastier and zippier when I use fresh tomatoes and actually roast them first. I also used some frozen homemade vegetable stock I had, instead of chicken broth.

Meanwhile, I cooked a big pot of white rice (medium grain) with white onion and homemade chicken stock, and I poached three organic free range chicken breasts.
After simmering the sauce, I used it to make a casserole of layered steamed corn tortillas, ricotta cheese, sauteed mushrooms and asparagus, topped with melting cheese and green onions.

The picture, below, isn't the best because we forgot to take one before we started eating. However, you can see the basics. On the table, the pot of pinto beans, tortilla-ricotta casserole, white rice, shredded lettuce, avocadoes mashed with sea salt and lime juice, and a big bowl of fresh strawberries sprinkled with sugar, which I was so pleased to see in the grocery store this morning. Yes, they came all the way from California, but I couldn't resist them.

Before dinner, we enjoyed a lovely cocktail--one of the margaritas from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen. Here is my adapted recipe:

Upscale 'Rita

Rub a lime around the edge of two martini glasses, and roll the edges in coarse salt.

In a cocktail shaker, combine:

Juice from 1 large lime (about 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup Milagro 100% agave tequila
1/4 cup Grand Marnier

Add 1 cup ice and shake for 15 seconds. Pour into prepared glasses.

Tomato-Jalapeno Sauce (adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen)

2/3 of a 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (I put the remaining tomatoes into the pinto beans, see below. I would use the fire-roasted canned tomatoes next time, to rev up the flavor a little more)
1 fresh (frozen) jalapeno, cored and mostly seeded (I would roast this next time), minced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 medium white onion, thinly sliced
3 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon sea salt

1. Combine the tomatoes and jalapeno in a blender jar. Blend until the tomatoes are pureed.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a cast iron skillet. Saute the onion until very soft and starting to turn golden, about eight minutes.
3. Add the tomato/jalapeno mixture. Stir until the mixture bubbles and thickens, about ten minutes.
4. Add the vegetable stock and salt (only use the salt if you are using homemade vegetable stock). Heat until the mixture bubbles again, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Punchy Pintos (based on the recipe from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen)

Note: You definitely don't have to include the beef jerky in here. I had a package leftover I wanted to use up (waste not, want not) but you could use leftover tempeh bacon or smoked tofu or 1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke, or just skip it entirely. It will still be good. I didn't think the beef jerky really added anything, but the men in the family liked it

2 cups dried pinto beans
1 medium white onion, peeled and diced
1 fresh (frozen) jalapeno
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/3 of a 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon gold tequila (I used Jose Cuervo Gold)
Beef jerky (to taste--and totally optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Sort through the beans to remove any stones. Put the beans and onion in a soup pot or Dutch oven with 8 cups water. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat.

2. Turn off the heat and cover. Put the jalapeno, garlic, tomatoes, tequila, beef jerky (if using), and olive oil in a crockpot. Carefully add the hot beans with the water to the crockpot. Cover and cook on low for about 8 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste towards the end of cooking time and season as necessary with salt and pepper.

Serve with medium-grain white rice cooked with a diced sauteed white onion and vegetable or chicken stock.

Tortilla-Ricotta Casserole (based on the recipe in Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen)

12 corn tortillas
Tomato-Jalapeno Sauce (see above)
1 12-ounce container whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup mushrooms, sliced, sauteed in 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1/2 cup leftover steamed vegetables (I used asparagus)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup shredded melting cheese
1 bunch green onions, whites and most of greens thinly sliced

1. Wrap the tortillas in a clean tea towel and steam in a vegetable steamer over boiling water for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them sit for at least ten minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread a few ladles of sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 casserole (I used stoneware). Put four tortillas in the bottom of the casserole, covering as much of the bottom as possible (the tortillas will overlap). Spread half the ricotta over the tortillas. Sprinkle with half the mushrooms, half the vegetables, and half the cilantro. Ladle some sauce over this layer.

3. Repeat with another layer of tortillas, ricotta, mushrooms, vegetables, cilantro, and sauce. Top with the last four tortillas. Pour the remaining sauce over the whole thing. Sprinkle with the shredded cheese and the green onions.

4. Bake the casserole until it is hot and bubbling, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for about ten minutes, to firm up. Cut into squares to serve.

Serve it all up with avocado mashed with salt and lime juice, and shredded lettuce, along with fresh strawberries tossed with sugar for dessert.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

Cinnamon rolls and Cara Cara oranges

I shouldn't even mention the cinnamon rolls in this post because I didn't make them from scratch--these are the frozen ones from Rhodes, but they were still good. This morning, I slept luxuriously until 9, then got up and made coffee to enjoy with a cinnamon roll and a deep pink Cara Cara orange. As I peeled the orange, little clouds of citrusy mist bloomed around my fingers. I hadn't tried Cara Cara oranges before--surprisingly mild without a typical citrus twang, they had a gently sweet flavor. The first few bites after a bite of cinnamon roll tasted too bland because of the more intense sugar from the icing, but once my palate cleared, I could better enjoy the delicate flavor.

This breakfast puts me in mind of one of my favorite Wallace Stevens poems--one I hadn't thought about in a few years--called Sunday Morning. True, it's Saturday morning, and the bird on my shoulder while I ate my breakfast was a real white-faced cockatiel, not a green cockatoo printed on a rug (by the way, I guess Wallace Stevens didn't know that cockatoos aren't green--he was probably thinking of a macaw). But still, this is the feeling I had. I was sitting in a chair by the window, although the day is gray and cloudy.

I won't print it all because it's long--just the relevant excerpt:

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.
The pungent oranges and bright, green wings
Seem things in some procession of the dead,
Winding across wide water, without sound.
The day is like wide water, without sound.
Stilled for the passing of her dreaming feet...

As for what I'm dreaming about: I'm dreaming that the snow-burdened world outside the window will wake up! Wake up! Warm up!

My next ambition is to work through Rick Bayless's cookbooks, recipe by recipe, so I can teach myself (or he can teach me) authentic Mexican cooking. A nearby Mexican grocery I recently discovered should be able to supply me with all the necessary ingredients. When we visit Oaxaca for Christmas this year, I want to know what I'm tasting, and have a basis on which to base any additional cooking wisdom I might learn there. So, stay tuned for some Mexican cooking!

"I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings..."

Friday, February 29, 2008

Spaghetti Dinner

We haven't had a sit-down family dinner since before we went to New York, so despite protests from the kids that they would rather eat downstairs in their rooms, this was the order of the evening: Spaghetti, salad, broccoli, and crusty multi-grain rolls, with grape juice for the kids and a locally produced Malbec for me, from Wallace Winery in West Branch, Iowa. It was a nice dinner, full of laughter, especially when Ben absent-mindedly started to pour vinaigrette into his wine glass, then panicked when he realized what he was doing. That laughter continued until the end of the meal. And that's what family dinners are all about.

Spaghetti Bolognese

spaghetti (lots of it)
1 pound vegetarian crumbles or local organic ground beef from a small farm
1 yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon each: oregano, basil, and thyme (all dried)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (optional, but gives it a Greek taste)
1 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 28-ounce can tomatoes (diced or do it yourself)
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 4-ounce can tomato paste

1. Cook a large amount of spaghetti, according to package directions (in my house, we like to have leftovers noodles for late-night hunger attacks). Rinse, drain, drizzle with a little olive oil, cover, and keep it in a big shallow bowl in a warm oven until ready to serve.

2. In a large saute pan over medium heat, cook the crumbles or beef with the onion until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and carrot, and saute for two minutes. Add the spices, salt, and pepper, and saute for another two minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes, sauce, and paste. Stir until combined, then keep stirring until the sauce bubbles. Cover, lower the heat, and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes.

4. When the sauce is finished, taste and add more salt and pepper if you think it's required. Serve in a big bowl separately from the spaghetti so people can create their own preferred pasta-to-sauce ration. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if that's what you like. (My kids do.)

I also served this, as you can see, with crusty bread (I broke mine open and drizzled with olive oil, then sprinkled with a little bit of Himalayan pink salt), salad with your favorite vinaigrette, broccoli with a little butter, and a robust red wine.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Back from New York

I'm back from the Big Apple, where I did a lot of eating...and no yoga at all. Covering the Westminster Kennel Club dog show for Dog Fancy magazine is a big job, but always one I embrace whole-heartedly. I had an amazing trip, as usual. To read about it, see my travel blog: Eccentric Planet.

But here are a few highlights of really great meals I had there.

Vegetable Pad See Eil (Thai) at Pam Real Thai Food:

Pink Cake at Amy's Bakery:

Roasted Vegetable Panini at the Tick Tock Diner:

Vegetable sushi at Kang Suh (Korean/Japanese):

Butternut squash soup with wild mushrooms and macaroni and cheese at the Hudson Cafeteria:

Mmm...I get hungry just remembering.

Meanwhile, I'm back home, back to yoga, and back to cooking. I've been eating up leftovers and making things I've made before, but had a really rigorous yoga class this morning. It's good to be back, and I'm getting geared up to cook again, so stay tuned for more innovative meals ASAP.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Maybe if I WAS Catholic...

I would have been more successful with this Lent business. Three days into my Lenten fast, I was having coffee with my friend Rachel and she asked if I wanted to split a pecan coffee cake. "Sure!" I said blithely, and was all the way through it before I realized it (obviously) contained sugar. Just as well, I decided, because I was headed to New York City and I knew I would be faced with some spectacular pastries (and indeed I was). I guess it wasn't the right time for a sugar sacrifice.

I've just returned from New York and will probably spend the week catching up on my travel blog (eccentricplanet.blogspot.com). In the meantime, tonight I made a delicious Sunday dinner. Roasted chicken (free range organic), gravy, salad, grapes, biscuits with butter, and a gorgeous--and easy--potato galette. Here's how I made the galette:

2 pounds russet potatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups mixed shredded cheese (I used muenster, Swiss, and cheddar-jack)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Peel the potatoes, then grate them. I used my Cuisineart with the grater blade. Put the grated potatoes in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out the moisture.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil, then half the grate potatoes, pressing them down with a spatula. Cover with the cheese, then cover the cheese with the remaining potatoes. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Press and shape with the spatula, to keep it flat and round. Peek under occasionally.

3. When the bottom is golden-brown and crispy and holds together, put a baking sheet over the skillet and carefully flip the skillet over so the galette lands on the baking sheet. Return the skillet to the stove and add the remaining oil.

4. Carefully slide the galette back into the skillet and cook until the other side is golden brown and crispy. Keep pressing and shaping with the spatula so it's nice and round.

5. To serve, slide the galette onto a large round plate and cut into wedges with a pizza cutter. Top with green onions or mushroom gravy.

Note: You can also toss sauteed onions and/or mushrooms into the shredded potato before adding it to the pan.

At least I didn't have any dessert.

Dinner is served:

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lent Begins

Let me start by explaining that I am not Catholic. However, I do enjoy the spiritual exercise and personal discipline of giving something up for Lent. This year, I've decided to face a demon I've conquered in the past, but which has recently crept back into my life: processed sugar.

Emmett (my nine-year-old son) is joining me in our Lenten vow to exercise all processed sugar from our lives. No white sugar, no brown sugar, no cane sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, no dextrose or maltodextrin or any of that processed stuff. Pure molasses, agave syrup, real maple syrup, and brown rice syrup are o.k.

We've already had quite a time finding Emmett something for lunch. Even the wholegrain bread I bought last week contains high fructose corn syrup. But he finally settled on some organic corn chips with melted cheese and apple slices with natural peanut butter. I rolled up leftover tempeh bacon in a whole wheat tortilla with hot sauce and spinach leaves, and helped finish the apple slices and pb. It won't be easy and we may occasionally eat something by accident that has a little sugar in it, but we are not going to eat any desserts or sweets and we will be reading labels. I hope this sets a good example for Emmett and makes him even more conscious of what he puts into his body--since he tends to be so fond of junk food.

For a snack, I enjoyed the luscious and delectable, 100% raw Organic White Chocolate Yoga Bar, by Everythingraw (http://www.everythingraw.com/yogabar.htm). Can I describe how delicious this is? Creamy, chocolaty, nutty, everything I could ever want in a candy bar--but with no sugar, so I am entirely virtuous so far, half way through Day One of Lent.

By the way, today was a snow day, school cancelled. I think we must have gotten at least 12 inches of beautiful snow. See Ben plow.