Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eating Omily: "It's The Great Pumpkin...!"

Is it just me, or is Fall going by even faster than Summer did? Perhaps things will slow down after Halloween...the preserving kitchen isn't shut down yet: I still have a batch of green beans to blanch and freeze or dry, a couple pounds of beets to pickle, a last few chili peppers, more cabbage than we can possible eat fresh (sour kraut, anyone?), and of course, the onslaught of pears and apples has only begun!

I've often bemoaned the vast ignorance of seasonality in this country. Most of us don't know when things grow, let alone where, and see nothing wrong with asparagus taking up shelf space next to water melons in January. In spite of such wonderland-inspired conundrums, there is one fruit whose seasonality is ALWAYS respected. One big, beautiful product of the vine that I NEVER see between the months of December and August...whose delicious fruits are left to be savored at the proper time...I speak, of course, of the Pumpkin.
You may perhaps feel a little confused: sure, pumpkins pop up in cardboard bins in groceries this time of year, and if you're feeling festive you may just haul one home, scoop it's guts out and give it a charming face, but you don't EAT those things, do you??

Yes and no: pumpkins that are for jack-o-lanterns are bred to be large, have smooth symmetrical faces, a deep orange color, and be mostly hollow with a relatively thin shell. Pumpkins for turning into pumpkin pies, pumpkin breads, pumpkin icecream, etc. are bred to grow in cans.
That's a lie: there is a wide variety of pumpkins that are good for eating. They go by various names: pie pumpkins, sweet pumpkins, sugar pumpkins, baking pumpkins, eating pumpkins...They are usually smaller than their carvable brethren, and should you be brave enough to take one home and hack it up, you'll find that it's NOT hollow, but full nearly to the center with sweet, yellow pumpkin flesh. Packed into that center space are the seeds and orange stringyness that hang out in empty air and get scooped out of a jack-o-lantern.
To make yourself some pumpkin puree for a pie, or soup, simple cut a sugar pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and strings, lay it cut side in a baking dish, and roast at around 375 for half an hour or more, depending on size, until it's very tender. Scoop the flesh away from the skin, mash up, and if still to wet for your use, cook it on the stove to evaporate more water away.
Even if you aren't quite ready for pumpkin pie from scratch, your goofily-grinning jack-o-lantern has something tasty to share with you: as you scoop the goop out, one messy handful at a time, take a minute to separate the seeds from the goop, placing them in a separate bowl (which is what I'm doing with my scarily large arm in the first picture). Give them a wash, pat them dry, and then spread them out on a baking sheet in a single layer. Sprinkle them with salt, and if you want my recipe, allspice, and maybe a pinch of pepper, cinnamon, and/or chili pepper. Slide these lovelies into a 375 degree oven. If you pull them after ten minutes the shells will be still be a little tough, and a sweet, nutty flavor will predominate. Let them stay for fifteen minutes, and the shells are perfectly crisp, and a toasty, almost popcorny flavor predominates.
Gobble a few while they're still warm, then toss the rest into trail mixes: absolutely delicious, autumnal, and full of manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, triptophane, iron, copper, vitamin K, zinc, and protein! There's a lot more besides; these nutrients are the ones that pumpkins are a 'good', 'very good' source of. They also contain healthy fats, and if you eat them shells and all, which you will if you put allspice on them, you're also getting a decent amount of fiber.
In this picture you can see my seeds cooling, the charred chilies steaming their skins loose in a bowl covered in plastic wrap, and the first bag of apples of the season just waiting for me to do something with them...such is my life.

So go get a pumpkin, already!
Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hot Peppers, Haunted Houses, and Who Are You, Anyway?

So for the past few weeks I've been fussing about with the concept of, "self-identification." For example:

I am Emily.
I am a girl.
I am married.
I love chocolate.
I can't resist those little candy pumpkins even though they have corn syrup, etc. in them.

Ideas like these are how we place ourselves in the world. They give us a sense of security and belonging. Even if it's not such a good thing we're identifying with:

I have a quick temper.
I am self-centered.
I am not flexible enough.

We still have a sense of pride in that idea, because it is Us, and we like to think we know who We are.

To some extent, this is simply a manifestation of our psychology, neither good nor bad, just a natural tendency. The trouble is, if we ask ourselves who we are, and we answer with:

I am a yoga instructor.
I like to cook.
I have a vivid imagination.

we've sort of pacified the urge to get to know ourselves without actually having gotten to know ourselves. Those things are all things that we've taken on throughout our lives. Most of them are apt to change sooner or later. Does it make a lot of sense to put something so permanent and solid as "I am" in front of them? Hmmm...

Also interesting: we are sometimes quick to identify ourselves in a certain way, and slow to let go of that identification even if it is no longer accurate: The person who lost tons of weight, but still hides under baggy clothes, the person who used to struggle in school and has more than caught up, but will continue to proclaim her or his slowness in full view of a great grade card.

Also also interesting: The concept of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe you're actually struggling no less with math concepts than the kid next to you, but you keep telling yourself

I am bad at math.

Until you accept it, and stop asking questions, practicing, and working toward improving your skills.

Or maybe you keep saying to yourself:

I am a kind, and patient person

Even though you snap at your siblings more than you should, until one day you realize you don't snap at your siblings! At least not as much...

As with any grand and difficult concept, in my explorations I'm starting very slowly with a couple of deeply entrenched self-identifications that I'm not too emotionally invested in:

I can't eat spicy foods because I am a sissy and I don't like it when my mouth hurts.
I can't go in haunted houses because I am a sissy and will have a nervous breakdown, or at least cry in front of all my friends.

The beginnings of this mission began long before I put together what I was doing: back in June one of the first Farm shares I received for the season contained a few chili peppers. The gentleman asked me if I wanted them, and I said yes, because though I hate spicy foods, my husband is a big fan. I took them home, told my husband they were there, and promptly ignored them. The next week I picked up my share, and there were a few more. I put these into the drawer, and noticed the ones I had gotten last week were still there. Hmmm...I hated to see them go to waste...I pulled out my preserving cookbook and spotted a recipe for pickled peppers, which assured me that the pickling process would tame the heat in the peppers. It seemed worth a try. Since it would take me all summer to acquire the two pounds of peppers required for the recipe, I started slicing up and freezing the chilies as I acquired them.

They say you should wear gloves when you cut up chiles. I figured this was only if you're dealing with habaneros or something. Big miscalculation. I have NO natural resistance to capsaicin whatsoever, and by the time I seeded and sliced a handful of peppers all ten fingers were absolutely smoldering. It took bleach to remove the capsaicin enough to bring the burn down to a tingle. I was pretty certain I hated spicy foods.

But the next time I cut up peppers, the gloves were so obnoxious I took them off, and when I was finished, my fingers barely tingled. Which made me think I was building up a tolerance to capsaicin, which made me wonder if I could learn to appreciate spicy foods, which threw into question the deeply entrenched concept of my not liking spicy foods, which made me feel a little uncomfy, which reminded me that in yoga one of the ways that we get down to our real, enlightened selves is by peeling back the layers of what we are not: I am not my job, my preferences, my name, my relationship status, my religion, my political affiliation, my health status, etc. etc. etc.

So, ok, let's play with this idea that maybe one of my self-identifications is wrong.

I pickled the peppers, and tasted one the next day: oh man, so delicious. The sour brine really brought out the bright flavors of the peppers! My tongue burned a little toward the front, but you know, it wasn't really a big deal.

So the later on when I charred a handful of peppers that didn't make it into the canner, I tasted them...before they were charred. Ok, burny...but no major crisis. After charring, they were sweet, fruity, smoky, and still a little burny.

The next Friday at the Farmer's Market, I picked up a hunk of hot pepper maple sugar candy to nibble on the way home. That was a tough challenge because it was so delicious I wanted to suck it all down right away, but they weren't kidding when they said HOT pepper! I'm still working on whittling it away. In the meantime I'm cooking with the pickled peppers. Tonight we'll be using them to top our weekly pizza!

The haunted house challenge was sprung on me in an equally unexpected way: my dear friend who is moving far away early next month decided to celebrate her birthday with dinner with friends, followed by a trip to one of Manhattan's premier haunted houses, followed by drinks. She said that if I wanted to go I had to tell her so she could tell her Dad how many tickets to buy. My mouth answered before my brain had gotten anywhere near a decision. "Yeah, sure, we'll go!"

Now, the last time I went to a haunted house, I was, I think, ten or so. It was the premier haunted house of Galion, Ohio, population: 10,669. The town, not the haunted house. I hid my face in my Dad's coat and cried the entire way through. Everyone else had so much fun, and laughed about it later. I felt embarrassed and left out, and from that experience learned that I can't go in haunted houses because I am a sissy and will have a nervous breakdown, or at least cry in front of all my friends.

In spite of this, I wasn't actually too nervous about the haunted house outing, until we got in line for it the night of. Once again my mouth was way ahead of my brain, going on and on about how maybe haunted houses should have a safe word so you could get out easily, and you know, they can't touch you, right? Because you could sue if they did? I was equally quick to deny all allegations of being totally freaked out, which was a big fat lie.

The haunted house was Fairy Tale themed. It was supposed to be like a sick pop-up book. So when we got to the front of the line we were greeted by a clearly unhinged and emo Rapunzel. "Hold ON to my HAIR!" she shouted/wailed/lamented. We were one over the outside limit for groups permitted to go through together, a fact that was fortunately overlooked, but even with Rapunzel for a guide, there just wasn't quite enough hair for everyone to hang on to. I watched Rapunzel's wig slide half way off her head, revealing that she was in fact a he. She staggered back through the line: "Give me some SLACK!" she moaned. "I've ONLY been growing it for TEN YEARS!!" It took me a second to realize I was snickering. I was laughing, while holding onto fake hair, preparing to be dragged BLINDFOLDED into a haunted house! Of course, I defaulted to my old trick of burying my face in the coat of the person in front of me once we were inside, a trick all the more ridiculous as I was blindfolded.

I'll resist the urge to give you a blow by blow account of my adventures, in case, you know, you wanted to actually go to this haunted house and be surprised. Suffice it to say that, the blindfolds came off, I was separated from my group and beset by a couple of demons, clutched my husband's hand till I cut off the circulation, screamed with or without provocation, AND had an amazing time, and was a bit sorry to see it end. You should go. It was uber fun.
I'll also add, to be fair, that veterans of hardcore haunted houses a bit jaded in all things mock-terrifying may find this one less exhilarating than I did.

So, I won't be eating habanero relish anytime soon, or buying tickets for Blood Manor for that matter, but I've verified to myself that identifying as a person who can't or won't do things is usually not terribly accurate, and could be costing me a great deal of enjoyment.

"Hold ON to my HAIR!" Hahahahahaha...oh man, I wish I had a recording of that...

But what was I saying? Oh yes, to figure out who and what you are, begin with who and what you are not. Happy Halloween!

Live Omily,

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Eating Omily: A Tale of Redemption Dipped in Peanut Sauce

I might not have always made this perfectly clear, but there has been ample evidence of it here and there: I am a hardcore believer in the importance of eating local: it's my way of practicing Ahimse (non-violence; one of the yamas and niyamas) as applies to what I eat, but in practice; I'm not a purist. I drink coffee, I use ginger, nutmeg, and other spices in everything, I use cane sugar in my baking, I eat avocados semi-regularly, and in spite of my series of posts on convenient foods for locavores, I succumb to the ball of wholewheat pizza dough at Trader Joe's (only 99 cents!), the pouch of ready-made fondue, the frozen multi-grain croissants, more often than I should.

This doesn't bother my conscious too much because eating local has always been a work in progress for me: it started with a weekly trip to the Farmer's Market to pick up the cheapest veggies I could find, and a willingness to check the stickers on the apples at the grocery store, and it has evolved to the point that all fruits, veggies, meat, honey, beans, corn meal, fruit juice, maple syrup, and most cheese, breads, grains, and fruit spreads (that I didn't make at home from Farmer's Market Produce) are procured there.

Once I use up the wholewheat flour I have at the moment, I plan to start buying that from the Farmer's Market too, and then I hope to get in to the habit of making and freezing pizza dough weekly, so that will be one more thing to check off the TJ's list.

So my point is, if you stumble upon one of my local-eating diatribes and feel implicated, and incapable of making such a massive lifestyle shift, rest assured, I felt the same way. Take whatever small steps you feel comfortable making, and the big changes will happen almost without you noticing, or at least minding! I offer you this story as an example of small steps, and doing your best instead of beating up on yourself (another beautiful and essential aspect of the yoga practice):

The Little Asian Dumpling that Could (Be a New Yorker):

My husband is a huge fan of these:
I've let this one slide because he's willing to get the vegetarian variety, which spares animal suffering, and we don't eat them too often. One day however, I happened to look too closely at the package:

"Hand-Made in Taiwan" What? Seriously?? Freakin' Taiwan?? Suddenly I saw factory workers gently pinching dough as it flew down an assembly line...the little dumplings being rushed into massive blast chillers, then bagged while workers in parkas looked on checking for mistakes...the bags being loaded onto planes (ships?), still in freezers, and sent around the world to the Trader Joe's distributing center in California. Still being held at that frozen temperature, the little lovelies were loaded onto trucks and shipped across the country, finally unpacked and tossed without a backward glance into the freezers at the 6th ave. and 21st street location. No one heeding the dreadful waste of energy required to keep packages of frozen gyozas frozen while they traveled further than I have been in my entire life!

"Alright," I said, "we're going to have to look into an alternative for these."

In spite of my righteous indignation, I knew better than to stand up on a soap box and announce to my sweet, patient husband that we would NEVER BE EATING THESE EVIL GYOZAS AGAIN!

When I found myself in possession of not one, but two, colossal heads of cabbage, I knew the perfect use for them. My husband and I walked the couple blocks over to the ethnic grocery store in our neighborhood and found a package of wonton wrappers: only $1.99 for like one-hundred of them. I don't know where they were made; the distributor is in New Jersey, though, so hopefully at least this continent.

Skip started thawing and separating the wrappers while I chopped fine and cooked cabbage, radish, onion, garlic, and ginger: the rough equivalent of the filling in the beloved Trader Joe gyozas.

I spooned a teaspoon or two of filling into the center of each square, dampened the edges of the wrapper with a fingertip dipped in water, then folded it over diagonally and pressed to seal the edges. When all the filling was secured in a wonton, I wiped out the pan I had cooked the filling in with a paper towel, added a generous pour of olive oil, enough to easily coat the bottom, and put the heat on medium-low. When the oil was hot enough to ripple when I tilted the pan, I started adding wontons, flat side down. I managed to get half the batch into the pan.

Now, I had thought that the wontons would cook just like the dumplings: getting carmelized and crunchy where exposed to the heat, and then sticking like mad, requiring a splash of water to release them. Wonton wrappers, however, are basically mini eggroll wrappers: when cooked in oil they blister up and become irresistibly golden and crispy. In just a couple minutes, they released from the pan on their own and flipped over easily, revealing that perfect fried-color that is such a struggle for me to achieve with grilled cheese. I finished frying the whole batch in less than ten minutes, piled them up on a big plate, and sprinkled them with salt.
The husband, meanwhile, was stirring peanutbutter (another un-local staple...hmmmm...) into Trader Joe's soyaki sauce to create a flavorful (and protein-packed) dip.

We made nearly twenty wontons. We ate every single one. They were so nom: warm, crunchy, and the perfect blend of sweet and salty with the peanut sauce dip...
And, now we have tons of wonton wrappers in which to wrap up...eggs, cheese, and pickled peppers for breakfast! Nutella or chocolate and marshmallows for dessert! Cheese to serve alongside soup for lunch! We can even make pork or seafood dumplings, just like the ones at Trader Joe's that I won't let us buy!

The moral of the story is simple: we took something super un-local, and made it much more local: we don't know where the wonton wrappers were made; possibly a factory in Jersey, possible across the country, possibly right next door to the frozen gyoza factory in Taiwan, but even if they were made there, we've still improved the quotient by filling them with local and sustainably grown veggies, and by buying wrappers that weren't sucking up energy being kept frozen for their whirlwind world tour!

Yay! There are probably thousands more awesome filling ideas for these little guys. Do some experimenting, and share what other things are amazing in a wonton wrapper! And of course, if you stumble upon a source for local (whole grain perhaps??) wonton wrappers, do not hold out on me! Maybe we can bring these little dumplings all the way home!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Eating Omily: Ascending the Food Pyramid to Bring Down My Stone Tablet Plate

I distinctly recall being little enough that we lived in our old house, and I more or less lived in the area of the basement given over to my play house: carpeted with remnants, filled to the brim with toy furniture, and an orphanage's worth of dolls. I didn't realize at the time what a lucky kid I was...that play area amounted to about 300 square feet, never mind the permanently set up school area behind it that was a good 100 square feet at least. I had some of the best educated stuffed animals in the tri-state area, although their education may not have been entirely accurate...Good Lord, I know people living in apartments barely that big!

But I'm digressing big time. Taped up to the side of the adorable wooden pantry where I kept my plastic dishes and silverware, and the plastic pretend cake set complete with little changeable decorations and glow-in-the-dark candles...sigh...was a picture of the current food pyramid. My focus as an ankle-biter was on that top little triangle mysteriously scattered with little dots and triangles. What the hell was I not supposed to eat?? The writing on the side said sweets, and fats. So why wasn't there a slice of cake or a donut visually represented? And what about that bottom layer? I knew for a fact I ate no where near that much bread everyday!
I may have been least my reading level was always several grades ahead of the rest of my education, but my point is that I was a little kid who ate what my parents served me and thought chocolate cake for breakfast would be pretty awesome, and I thought the food pyramid was pretty stupid: difficult to understand, and not practical to follow.

A few iterations have come and gone, notably this model, which was pinned to the wall in my cafeteria from middle school on. It attempts to emphasize all things in moderation and the importance of exercise, but, you know, pretty much makes no sense.
And now we've done away with that Egyption-inspired artifact all together. What we've got now is: My Plate.
So if you want to know about exercise you're just going to have to go to the website, you guys!

One of my favourite local-eating cheats that my husband and I partake in once the weather turns is to buy a pouch of fondue at Trader Joe's. It's not a total cheat, because we chop up our supply of local fruits, veggies, and breads for dippers, although we do always buy some cured Italian meat to dip, too, which is totally not local. So I piled the dippers high on a big plate, and carried in the fondue, to which I had added sauteed garlic and powdered ginger to help ward off the tickly-snotty feeling I had noticed in my nose the other day, and plunked these things down for our dinner, and my husband got so excited. He insisted on taking a picture. Here it is.
OMG, Epic Win! We were eating My Plate! Except, you know, they were recommending something like a cup of reduced-fat milk, not a GIANT STEAMING VAT OF MELTED CHEESE!!!! But, close enough. We also had figs, and pickled chili peppers for dipping, and some pumpkin ale. So finally, after something like 20-years of food pyramid failure, not only has the government managed to produce something that makes sense in terms of what you should eat, but we've managed to follow it. My six-year-old self would be so proud. She also wouldn't touch that icky cured beef shoulder...but what does she know??

How do you do with following the food pyramid my plate? Eating healthy is probably still an instinct, but it gets shouted down pretty effectively by clever marketing and the sheer quantity of shit food available to us everyday. Most of us could use a refresher as to what's good for our bodies in what amounts and what's not. Go to the website and do some research; you might be really shocked. Taking good care of yourself physically is a vital component of Ahimse: non-violence in Sanskrit, and perhaps the first tenant of yoga.

There's something else awesomely delicious that I'm really excited to share with you, but it's just going to have to wait. A GIANT STEAMING VAT OF MELTED CHEESE!!!! Is just too good a note to end on.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Learning What I Un-Learned When I Learned to Fly

My husband, usually in response to totaling the expenditures related to my habit, has asked on many occasions, "But WHY? Why do you love aerial so much??" I've usually responded with much scoffing and eye-rolling, and pontificating on the importance of having a Passion, etc. etc. etc. So, you know, I wasn't really saying anything.

So last Thursday, my instructor, Cody, says, "This week, we're going to focus Remember when we started doing this, how we did it because it was fun? Let's remember to have fun today. I mean, why DO we do this?"

"Because it makes me feel sexy!" someone shouted from fifteen feet in the air.

"Because it makes me feel powerful." I said without thinking.

"Yeah, those are good reasons!" Cody nodded, but her reply was lost on me because the tectonic plates of my personality were shifting, throwing up mountain ranges of understanding, as earthquakes of suppressed frustration rippled around, searching for a weak spot to send up a plume of lava...

The weak spot it found was my blog; aren't you lucky??

Those shifting plates brought long-buried layers of experience to the surface: twelve years of gym class. And that volcano-epiphany was that what I learned in twelve years of physical education is that my body wasn't much good for anything.

I remember gym class back in pre-school and kindergarten. It was super-fun. I loved playing with the parachute, walking on the balance beam, crab-walk races with my classmates, trying to do somersaults in a straight line, running fast and still trying to listen in Red Light, Green Light...I never asked myself if I was good at any of these things. I don't remember if I ever won those races, or if I was called out too frequently in Red light, Green Light. I never tumbled off the balance beam, pretty sure I'd recall that.
And, somewhere around first grade, there was this curriculum that the teacher had to follow: there was homework and quizzes! What in the hell do you quiz kids on in gym?? Well you can bet it wasn't the finer points of somersaulting.

Each unit of each year would find us learning about, and playing a different sport: volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball, etc. Obviously these sports develop strength, speed, hand-eye coordination, team work, all that stuff, but they're all...pretty similar. Each a unique game, yes, but similar in the sense that they all require your body to operate in similar ways. The theme is really simplistic, but the rules are really specific, and can be a bit tricky. And I had to learn this stuff for homework and quizzes. Fitting these Sports in didn't leave a lot of room for Red Light, Green Light, or Monster Ball, let alone hauling out a balance beam and spotting each kid, or unrolling mats.

What I'm getting at is, as a 3-6 year-old, I was taught that using my body was fun, and within certain guidelines (don't fall off the beam; don't roll off the mat; no hitting) there wasn't really a wrong way to do it. Any way my body moved was great.

As a 6-16 year-old, I was taught that there were very specific outlets that were permissible for me to use my body, and if my body could do these specific things, then I was Athletic, and worthy of praise from teachers and classmates, and if I couldn't, then, you know, I wasn't athletic, and hey, that's ok, too, you just won't be getting an A or picked first any time soon.

I didn't get good grades in gym. Ever. I flunked it in Junior High.

I hated playing sports; I wasn't good at them, and I hated how much pressure was put on me to be good at them so my team wouldn't lose and I'd get a good participation grade that day, but somehow it never clicked that I used to love gym. It never clicked that I used to love using my body, that I used to trust it to do what I asked of it, and I used to be proud of what it could do. I just swallowed the script being handed to me, that I wasn't athletic, which made sense since I was such a bookworm, and it was a total inconvenience if anyone was forced to be on my team in gym class.

Seriously? What the feck? This makes me so angry. I can honestly hardly believe it.

Even when I ran cross country in Junior High I accepted that I would never be GOOD at it and just enjoyed myself. When I played tennis in high school and was the only student on the team not allotted enough matches in games to earn a varsity letter at the end of the season, I wasn't angry. I mean, I wasn't GOOD at tennis. I wasn't athletic. I was lucky they even let me play, right? Even when I went back to cross country at the end of cross country, and held a solid spot as the fifth member of the varsity team, I chalked that up to cross country not being a popular sport. I wasn't GOOD at cross country. (Never mind that, to this day, with no conditioning, I can run three miles in about twenty-five minutes, which isn't winning a race anytime soon, but aint too shabby, either.)

During most of these years, I was also on a dance team through a studio in my town, and though I loved loved loved to dance, I also accepted that, you know, I wasn't GOOD at dance. I mean, I couldn't even touch my toes. So, obviously, I shouldn't be investing too much into this emotionally, shouldn't be practicing daily or anything. Just enjoy it while it lasts.

My freshman year of college I started doing yoga, and wow, it was really hard for me, but that was fine, because it made perfect sense that I wouldn't be GOOD at yoga! I loved yoga from the beginning because from the beginning the teacher said, 'It doesn't matter.' How well I did the pose, or how much of the class I could get through without taking a break didn't matter at all. No grades, no getting picked last.

And then, with all that conditioning under my belt, a friend of mine said, "I know this girl who teaches donation-based circus class on Sundays. Want to come?" I had no idea what a circus class would entail, but it sounded fun, so I went, and before the day was out I was inverting and doing tricks on the trapeze, and it was just so much fun! By the end of class I was too tired to even enjoy free time, but I still knew I had to go back, and I did. After a few weeks, as I was leaving, I mentioned something about not knowing where I could go with this, and before I could say, "you know, I'm not athletic. I'm not good at this." My teacher said,

"You could go far, Emily. You have so much natural ability."

The First Fecking Time In My Life Someone Said That To Me. I was twenty-three. (Although, to be fair, my cross country coach was a sweet, supportive man who always encouraged me to stick with the sport; I chalked that up to cross country's not being very popular at our school, too.)

And I kept coming back. I would have anyway, but those words meant so much to me, the idea that there was hope that I could this. And within a few weeks, my body responded. I was stronger, I was more flexible, and I was building skills. I mentioned to people that I did aerial and their response, once I explained what it was, was, "Wow! You're so brave! I could never do that..."

Me? Brave?? Capable??? Powerful??? It was the best feeling in the world.

Being up there is the best feeling in the world.

I would never have gone back to that second, third, and fourth class, would never have pursued it this far, based solely on a teacher's encouragement, or on getting my ego stroked. I fell in love with aerial dance from Day 1: it combines the beauty of grounded dance forms with profound strength and strategy. It uses your whole body, and your whole brain. But as much fun as it is, could I have invested as much emotionally and financially into it if it was only fun, just one more thing I would never be good at? No.

Aerial makes me feel powerful. It is the first thing I've ever done in my life that has made me feel that way. That is why I love it.

And yes, it does make you feel pretty sexy, too. :-D

Live Omily,

Friday, October 14, 2011

Eating Omily: Spirited Offerings

I'm really enjoying feeling the air get more brisk, and watching the leaves change. I'm getting so excited for Halloween! On Thursday my friend Emily, two of her friends, and my husband all went on a walking tour of haunted spots in the Village area of Manhattan. It was a dark, damp, chilly, breeze night: just right for trying to spot ghosts! It was important to keep our bodies warm and our spirits up while looking for spirits, so I turned to the aid of some spirits!

Which brings me to my #1 Favourite Fall Recipe: Mulled Wine!*

Emily and I mulled two bottles of wine and brought it all with us in three thermoses and a pint glass...and the two of us and my husband polished it all off sometimes around the tale of Houdini possessing cats in McSorely's Pub. We remained toasty, and in high hopes we'd see a ghost until well after the tour ended! So how do you prepare this hauntingly Autumnal concoction?

First of all, find a source of cheap, but decent quality red wine. It should be fruit-forward, but not sweet, and good enough to drink alone, but in a basic way. Any subtleties will be lost in the mulling process.

I'm a fan of Trader Joe's Cabernet Sauvignon, which is $2.99 in these parts.

For each bottle of wine, I add a quarter cup of sugar. That subtle touch of sweetness draws out the flavors of the mulling spices; feel free to add more or less to taste, but know that I am not one to use any sweetener if I can help it, and I find it really makes a difference.

For the spices you can throw in whatever you have, if you keep whole spices around: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, ginger or peppercorns are sometimes used, get creative! Orange peel is a classic addition for a reason, but it'll be good without it, too.

Lately I've been cheating and using Trader Joe's mulling spices: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and orange peel all in a handy tin complete with suggested directions which my recipe is based off of.

Use roughly two heaping tablespoons of spices per bottle of wine. Put the wine, the sugar, and the spices in a pot over low heat, stir until the sugar is dissolved, then put the lid on and let the wine just barely simmer (a couple bubbles every few seconds) for twenty minutes or so. You can leave the lid off if you want to let a significant amount of the alcohol cook off, resulting in a softer more fruity flavor, but less bang for your buck.

It's delicious warm in a mug or a thermos obviously, but any leftovers only get better if left to sit in the fridge with the spices: more flavorful and mellow, and equally awesome served over ice.
Nom! The recipe for the warm salad shown in the picture is in this post.

One more perfect Fall recipe; one of my hands down favorite meals in terms of comfort, nutrition, and ease of preparation (assuming you cook). This recipe is adapted from a recipe found in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver, my favorite eating local book ever.

To serve two, start with one small roundish squash, such as acorn or delicata, and between one and two cups of prepared beans, along with some basic soup ingredients and herbs, whatever you like is fine.

Cut the squash in half, rub with olive oil and salt, and roast at 375, cut side down, for about half an hour, or until very tender.

While the squash roasts, prepare the soup. My soup template is as follows (and is based off of the master soup recipe found in The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, a really amazing cookbook that focuses on ingredients and techniques instead of nit-picky recipes.):

Dice half an onion, and saute in plenty of olive oil, and maybe part of a bell pepper if I have one around, or some sliced carrots. Once it has a head start, I add a few thinly sliced garlic cloves, and salt liberally. Once that saute is smelling delicious enough to eat with a spoon, I add some dried herbs: I like a bay leaf, oregano, thyme, and let those heat up. Then I add the cooked beans, water to cover, and for this soup, I add allspice and ginger for some Autumnal warmth. I let it simmer for a bit, and then, Ta-Da! It's soup!

When the squash is roasted, use a big spoon to scoop out the seeds and the stringy bits. If it's an acorn squash, it will look like this (minus the picturesque platter and springs of thyme, unless you're into that sort of thing):
But any roundish squash is fine.

and is the awesome part...

Ladle the soup into the squash halves, and serve. As you eat, scoop bites of tender, sweet squash up with the soup. It is perfect, delicious, beautiful, and fancy-looking without being hard. It's vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and impressive enough for a dinner party. Make this dish!!

Enjoy Autumn, it's a really special time of year!

*Ok, I know, wine is not a spirit, but that was a perfect segue; don't judge me!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Addressing Things that Begin with 'Ps' with Meditation and Turmeric

I'm on a regular schedule now: three studio classes a week, no excuses. It feels good to be back into a routine, knowing no matter how crazy my week gets I WILL be on the mat at least three times.

Today I woke up to kiss my husband good-bye, rolled over to go back to sleep, and immediately felt a nagging pain in my right hip. I attributed it to having spent too much time sleeping on the other side, causing my leg bone to be out of alignment and under-supported (damn child-bearing hips).

I woke up to my alarm a couple hours later, and staggered out of bed, with the actually worse than naggy once I started to use it feeling none diminished. It took me breakfast, coffee, and free-association before I remembered what this sensation portended: I had strained my psoas in class yesterday. Lame! We only did two Crescent Lunges, and I didn't even go that deeply into them! It was probably the transitions from lunge to Warrior III and Standing Split. The temptation to stretch it to relieve the discomfort is as strong as last time, even though this time I know better: stretching will prolong it, rest and heat will heal it.

So, you know, if you take a tough yoga class, and later that day or the next day get a funny burning kind of pain in the front of your hip socket with or without a strong urge to stretch, you probably strained your psoas. Don't stretch it. Apply moist heat one or twice a day, and continue to baby it for a few days after it stops hurting.
This is a psoas. Notice that it is a big-ass, and important muscle. It connects the upper and lower halves of your body. Any kind of lifting knee toward your chest action is managed primarily by your psoas. Why don't you give it a nice pat, and say 'Hello' and 'Thank you'?

I've never sustained a serious injury yoga-ing. I strained my psoas once before during a class that was very Crescent Lunge heavy. Actually, it wasn't as bad as this, I just proceeded to make it worse by trying to stretch it till it quit feeling funny. So how did I not notice by body needed a break? Well, my job writing takes up twelve hours of my week that were all in use before, so I've been flirting with the line between stressed out and mentally unstable for a couple weeks now trying to find a way to fit in everything I want to do in a week.

I know I desperately need these three yoga classes to get me out of my head and into my body and slow me down a bit. But a yoga class isn't magic: it's totally possible to spend that whole hour or ninety minutes going over your to-do list, or telling yourself how much you suck at this, or a million other not-so-yoga-esque things. I had some lovely moments of being present to my breath, of just observing and feeling my body move without getting hung up on being tired, or how tough the second half of this sequence was going to be, but clearly I wasn't present enough to notice when my psoas muscle announced it needed a break.

Which is frustrating, because I'm not sure what I can, or should, do about that. I can't realistically reduce my schedule any appreciable amount at the moment. And my schedule is obviously interfering with my sleep, and with my remedy for that interference, yoga! I've got to stop making excuses and meditate more. Maybe that's the missing puzzle piece, and my cranky psoas muscle is my body's way of telling me that Asana practice is just not going to cut it anymore, time to level up. Hmmm...

Alright, I'll give that a shot for the rest of this month, and I'll keep you updated on my progress. Without an accountability partner I'll never manage.

On another note, I don't think I previously mentioned that I have eczema, which is an autoimmune inflammatory skin disorder-no biggie, I just get patches of red, itchy flaky skin in pretty predictable areas when my skin's too dry, or I'm under a lot of stress. It's gotten a lot worse under the previously mentioned stress, and I was beginning to think I'd have to call my dermatologist and try the next stronger level of topical steroid. This is something I was not happy about, because as you use stronger stuff to treat it, the condition tends to escalate to psoriasis, and from there many patients develop rheumatoid arthritis, a far more serious autoimmune inflammatory disorder in which your body attacks, and destroys, your joints. I'm a write/yoga instructor/aerialist. I need my joints. Having heard a lot about the amazing anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, I bought a bottle turmeric extract for only $10, and I'm thrilled to report that after less than a week after I started using less than the recommended dose for the minimum recommended times daily, my eczema is almost completely back in remission.

So, you know, if you're dealing with any kind of autoimmune inflammatory disorder: Crohn's Disease, Irritable Bowl Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, Eczema, Psoriasis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, etc., absolutely go buy turmeric and give it a try. Of course, keep right on taking any meds you've been prescribed as they've been prescribed to you, but do discuss any changes in your condition (fingers crossed: improvements!) with your doctor, as a change in treatment may be warranted.
Fair warning: it doesn't taste great, and it will stain anything it touches a vivid shade of yellow. Here's 19 more great things about turmeric!

Live Omily,

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Eating Omily: Additional Blog, Pop Culture Reference, and Recipe!

Here's the link to the final round-up of Footnetwork's Healthy Eats' Brown Bag Challenge blog posts. Lots of great food blog links are on here, so you can read what they like to pack for healthy lunches, too!

I also feel the need to apologize for going Netflix on your collective ass: it may seem like I'm blogging less, but actually I'm blogging more; you just have to go somewhere else to read it!

I'm the main contributor for Namaste Yoga and Tranquility Center's blog these days, so I'm posting like clockwork twice a week over there, which is making it really difficult to continue to post three times a week over here, although at least I'm getting two posts in a week. If you sometimes feel this yoga blog is a little low on, you know, yoga, you should hop on over there and check it out:

I will, however, offer you this delicious autumnal recipe which is perfect for those days that you just need to hack something to pieces to get your stress under control, or you want to work toward lessening that underarm jiggle:

Hearty Winter Squash Warm Salad

Preheat the Oven to 400 degrees (or so)

Take one smallish winter squash, and peel, seed, and cube it. Toss the cubes with olive oil, salt, and dried herbs (time is nice; rosemary or sage would be, too), and roast for about half an hour, until tender on the inside and a little crisp on the outside.

While the squash roasts, cook two slices of bacon on the stove until nice and crispy. Chop up a crisp, sweet apple or two, and some onion. Put the chopped apple and onion in a bowl with the crumbled bacon, and pour a couple teaspoons (or you know, almost all...) of the bacon fat over them. When the squash is ready, add it to the bowl, and toss to coat everybody with happy bacon fat!

Serve warm with a mild, crumbly goat cheese (like chevre) and balsamic vinegar (which no one will use because that bacony flavor is perfect all by itself).
And don't worry; this is the time of year that your body is craving extra animal protein and fat! Go for a lean breakfast and lunch if you're trying to curb your saturated fat intake, then dig in!
Might I add that's a glass of mulled wine there, which is the perfect pairing for this dish. I'll come back to that recipe, promise. It's super easy.

I'm sorry, I see no way to make this one vegetarian. I doubt veggie bacon can work this kind of magic...but I would love to hear about any veggifying experiments!


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Falling into Something New

I love this time of year so much; it feels amazing to slip into my favourite jeans again, wear cozy pj's at night (although in this town that only lasts until the heat gets turned on, then I'll be opening the windows trying to cool it down...). It's time to break out the French onion soup, eggplant parmesan, chicken pot pie...and of course, mulled wine and cider. Even though nature is beginning to wind down, maybe because of vestigial school associations, it still feels like a time of new horizons for me.

Maybe I'll pause for five or ten minutes at the beginning of these brilliant blue October days to meditate, like I've been promising myself I'd do forever. Maybe I'll kick up into my forearm stand, and float there, effortlessly, breathing into the powerful backbend, and dipping my feet down for Scorpion Pose! Maybe my hamstrings will release just a bit more, maybe I can start volunteering for the therapeutic riding sessions at the stables in my neighborhood...

My yoga journey has carried me so far. I remember a selfish girl, prone to sullen moods when things didn't come easily, who believed that it was a waste of time to try to change yourself, who felt small and helpless. I remember how she threw herself into her faith, wanting God[dess] to do it for her. [S]HE had another plan entirely! Walking into that yoga class changed everything; everything is still changing.

Rest assured she still makes appearances from time to time; I still feel so young, like such a newb! But naivete can be an amazing gift: approaching every moment with the understanding that you don't know what it will hold; that it has something to teach you. There is a Buddhist saying that in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few. We are all beginners at life. Pretending to be an expert will only narrow your path.

If you've thought about starting a yoga practice, but haven't done it yet, any day is an awesome day to start. Find a studio, pick a class, and dive in, with no anticipations or presumptions. I would love to welcome you into my classes; follow the link to my facebook page for information about where I teach and when. The days are getting shorter. Instead of hunching your shoulders, open your heart, and breathe deeper than ever!

And on a practical note, try incorporating some extra ginger and garlic into your diet: traditionally these are warming and drying herbs, and it's scientifically proven that they have anti-inflammatory properties, and function as broad-spectrum anti-microbials.

Live Omily,