Food for the Body

Thoughts about eating well to feed your body and spirit.

Heat Advisory (and Gratitude)

It was already hot when I went out into the garden after I sat for meditation.  I try only to water every third day it does not rain and have used soil supplements such as “soil moist” to make that possible, but it was critical that I water so that the plants survive today’s blazing heat.

Before I went out, while listening to the weather forecast, I drank my second glass of filtered tap water.  I thought how lucky I am to have fresh drinking water from the tap, shelter from the heat, ice if I want it, and water for the garden.  All those warnings to stay inside, keep cool, and drink plenty of liquids are meaningless unless one has access to those things.

I am grateful, too, for my practice.  I know that a slow, quiet practice helps keep me cool and rested,  and that I can get extra enjoyment from the way the heat warms my muscles without any effort at all on my part.  In the heat, stillness is so welcome that sitting is as sweet an activity as I could know.

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An Excellent Sufficiency, Homegrown Tomatoes (and the Isha Upanishad)

The Isha Upanishad starts, “That is fullness (purna).  This is fullness.  Fullness comes from fullness.  Take fullness from fullness, and the remainder is fullness.”

My maternal grandfather died when I was just a toddler, so I never got to know him.  My mother used to tell us that when he had eaten enough at a bounteous meal, he would say “that was an excellent sufficiency and any more would be a superabundency.”

On Sunday I went over to Lovejoy Gardens to my little plot (approximately 3′ X 7′ raised bed on concrete, half shaded by a fence) and harvested tomatoes.  There were about 15 ripe tomatoes.  The first thought was that it was too many tomatoes.  Then I thought of all the neighbors I had who didn’t have their own tomato plants.  I knocked on one neighbor’s door.  He gave me tea while I played with the cat.  I gave him tomatoes.  I went for a massage in the afternoon.  I brought tomatoes.  I was sent home with freshly made spanakopita.  I invited another neighbor over for dinner.  We at pesto with basil from the garden and cucumber and tomato salad (cucumber, tomato, and shallots all from the garden drizzled with a little of the best balsamic vinegar and seasoned with just ground sea salt and pepper).  We had a lovely visit, and I sent him home with tomatoes.  In the next day or two, I will make a batch of tomato sauce and put it in the freezer and have someone over for dinner another night.

There is only “too much of a good thing” or a “superabundency” if we hoard it or try to ingest it all ourselves out of fear, greed, or desire for power or control.  When we have enough ourselves and then share the abundance, we simply create more abundance.  Once again, I am given again from my garden another sweet insight into the yoga teachings.  I am also reminded by this small example that I could share even more broadly from my blessed lot of fullness in global society.

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What Grows in a Very Small Space (and living freely within limitations)

Sometimes when I am blogging about my garden — the joys I experience and its wonderful produce — I feel like I might be presumptuous.  I am no Christoper Lloyd or Alice Waters.  I just have a tiny space behind my urban, rowhouse that I have turned into a personal celebration.

A visitor from out of town graciously commented that in some ways the limits of my garden make it even more wonderful.  In this sense, I know, perhaps best,  from my garden the yoga teaching that ultimately to find freedom in this life we need to celebrate all we are within our limitations to find an inner space of unbounded, liberation.

(Shown here, cucumbers, mint, nasturtiums, peppers, greens, sage, savory, basil, okra, onions, more peppers, red and yellow cherry tomatoes (well picked), brandywine and roma tomatoes, eggplant (slow to start this year), echinacea, lavender, orchid.)

cucumbernasturtium-pepper-mint-eggplantpot-garden

brandywine-romaechinacea-lavenderorchid

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Potage D’Ete Au Mid-Atlantic (and jivan mukti)

potage Could not resist the french name.  More fun than summer local vegetable stew.  An alternative name could be:  how to make three okra and six beans into dinner for two.  Or maybe four.  When I was out in the garden this morning, I simply picked what needed to be picked.  Featured here:  three okra, six beans, one jalapeno, two ancho chiles (one partly dried on the plant), two large tomatoes (both of which are only partly viable), two ripe and one green (fell off while I was picking the ripe ones) roma tomatoes, one very small garlic clove, baby leeks, garlic chives, tarragon, parsley, dill, and herb fennel.  Serve over quinoa, couscous, rice, or pasta, and it is easily a meal for two.  Add some red beans or other dried beans, and it could be dinner for four.

One of the things I like about eating from the garden is the necessity of being creative.  Cooking from a cook book, who wants an ingredient list this long?  I could also be disappointed that no one of my plants is giving me enough to create a dish out of mostly one or two ingredients.  If I were getting these ingredients from the store, I would get more okra or beans or peppers.   There is a great joy in finding a sense of abundance and sparked creativity and celebrating pleasure, art, fulfillment, delight, offerings with what we have been given, whether it is the food from our garden, our bodies, our talents, our families, or the time and place into which we were born.  In finding the highest sense of abundance and creativity within our limitations, we are truly experiencing the yoga concept of jivan mukti, living liberation.

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Ways to Eat Day Old Bread (Is that “fresh” food?)

Ayurveda says one should only eat “fresh” food.  What does that mean?  How does that translate into having delicious food making the best use of every bit of it without waste and without having all of our time being devoted to creating it (from start to finish).  Is making a fresh dish from a food item from yesterday’s meal “stale” food?  I don’t think so, but then, I am not an ayurvedic practitioner.  I am fairly certain it is less “stale” than “fast” or packaged food.  And I am too much the New York grandchild of peasant immigrants to forego making the most optimal and complete use of all the food that enters my kitchen.  Also, the simple efficiency of leftovers are too important a component of having the most personally and lovingly prepared food I can with my life style.

Here are some of my favorite ways to eat bread the day after it was a fresh accompaniment to a salad, sandwich, or larger, festive meal.  (Obviously, this is not for all of those who cannot or do not like to eat bread, which I think of as indeed the staff of life.)   Here are some of my favorites, not in any particular order:

Crostini/Bruschetta (topped with tapenade, salsa, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, etc.)

Bread salad (with the best of the summer tomatoes and fresh basil)

Croutons (for salad or soup, my favorite is rubbed with a little garlic)

Red pepper spread with pomegranate molasses and walnuts (bread is the thickener)

Skordalia (also can be made with potatoes or a mix of bread and potatoes)

Stuffing for squash

Bread crumbs for a whole variety of things

Savory bread pudding

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Choices, A Cardinal in the Grapes, and Viveka

This morning while I was out in the garden, I heard a chirping right above my head.  Within arm’s reach was a bright red male cardinal perched among the grapes effusively talking.  (I planted a tiny red, concord grape vine about six years ago, and it has flourished beyond my wildest dreams).

There were enough ripe grapes for me to pick a handful for myself.  I have bird netting, but I have not put it over the grapes.  They did not do so well this year, many turning brown prematurely because, I think, of the drought-ridden winter followed by the extra wet and cool spring.  I am grateful that I will not be dependent on these grapes as food for myself to survive through next winter (I’m pretty sure; if not, I have bigger things to worry about).

For the joy of having the birds come visit so fearlessly and delightedly, and because the grapes are not fantastic to eat, I leave all, but those I get by the small handful a couple of mornings a week for a few weeks, to the birds.  Maybe next year I will net the grapes, but then I’ll have to have a canning party to make jam.  In the meantime, I’ll marvel that every bird in DC seems to know when my grapes ripen.

We make decisions like this all the time.  With how we shop, what we eat, what work we choose, how we travel, we are making decisions about habitat and environment for ourselves and hosts of other beings.

In yoga, the process of ever refining our understanding so that we can be more in touch with how we act impacts our life force and our relationship with all around us, is viveka, or discrimination.   Just as the more we practice on the mat, the more we develop awareness of what leads us to feel more in tune and more celebratory of life, so too, we want to use that yoga refinement and discrimination to inform our acts off the mat.

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Slowing Down (and vinyasa krama)

I wanted to share this article on “ecotherapy,” a term I had not heard before.  I found the article interesting because for years now, I have gradually practiced all the elements listed in the article as treatment for depression, not because I had been told by a therapist to do so, but because, despite my feeling the repercussions of going against the grain, I felt happier and healthier settling in one place, traveling more slowly, connecting with my pets, and tending a small patch of nature.

These shifts in lifestyle simply feel to me more in alignment with my own nature and that of the earth.  I found, incidentally, it gave me much more time overall to do things.  People ask me how I do so much (usually referring to the day job, the yoga teaching, the gardening and cooking, the volunteer work).  Thinking of the way they live, and what they do, they ask when do I rest?  I say that my life is in fact rather slow and restful.  I rest when I meditate.  I rest when I am taking the time to make a home-cooked meal — every day when I am in town, often two or three times a day.  I rest when I am tending the garden.  I do not think of cooking and gardening as chores, but as ways to nurture myself.

I rest when I am commuting because it is on foot or sitting on the bus or metro (note:  instead of getting anxious or angry when metro is slow, think of it as an opportunity to draw into yourself and meditate, contemplate, or read).

Not having moved or changed jobs in years, even though there have been serious challenges with both where I live and my job, I had the time, money, and energy that would have been used up in a major upheaval, to engage in the study and practice to become a certified Anusara yoga instructor, and before that, to study  drawing and photography and to exhibit my art.  Staying in place, I continue to have time to study and to read (not watching TV helps alot, too, for finding time).  The choices are different with children in the house, but it is still possible to make choices that require less racing around for the family.

This, to me, is a larger aspect of vinyasa krama, the art of sequencing.  When we sequence how we move in space and time in a holistic, sensitive way that honors the rhythms and cycles of our bodies and the earth’s, then we feel less trapped or overwhelmed.  When I was trying to keep up with society, I was often sad and anxious.  Now I am much less so.  I have often attributed it to these choices.  Now, I see, society has given us a word for it —  ecotherapy.  With a word coined for it and put in the press, will people feel more comfortable practicing it?

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In Watermelon Sugar (Starting Each Day Anew)

I have in my library books in which just one phrase or just the very beginning is most resonant.  It is this time of summer, when the light seems endless, and the heat just setting in as if on a permanent basis, that my thoughts turn to watermelon in food, and again in literature.  I think of watermelon differently each summer from the perspective of having lived another year, and the same in having experienced the taste and the thoughts of the taste so many times before.  When it comes the time of year when thoughts of watermelon spontaneously arise,  I revisit these words:

“In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar.  I’ll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.  Wherever you are, we must do the best we can.  It is so far to travel, and we have nothing here to travel, except watermelon sugar.” (R. Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar).

Refreshed, I put the book back on the shelf, look forward to eating watermelon from the fresh farm market, and set the intention to start each day with open, receptive, and unjaundiced eyes, ready to learn and experience the same old things as glorious new ones, and to do the best I can.

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Gardening, Cleaning, Cooking (and Vinyasa Krama and Kali)

Vinyasa krama is the art of sequencing.  How a yoga practice or flow is sequenced can determine whether it is uplifting or inward going, exhilarating or calming.  When we are trained and attentive, we start to know the most optimal order to open our bodies and our focus to align with the time of day, the season, the weather, our mood, and our health.  This incredible art helps us be positioned and aligned in a way that we feel free in time and space, rather than being constrained by time and space.

This morning while I was out in the garden, I was thinking a lot about vinyasa krama and the goddess Kali — goddess of, among other things, time and change, and thus, of sequencing.  I woke very early, brought to consciousness by the long light of the solstice even through closed curtains.  As I went about my morning, rinsing the sprouts while heating the water for my morning coffee; cutting back the greens and herbs before starting breakfast; doing the major pruning and clean-up before doing more decorative garden work; finishing cooking before taking out the recycling; applying a facial mask before starting to vacuum; never walking up or down the stairs empty-handed; waiting to gather the bills until after I was clean and waiting for friends to arrive, etc., I realized how important sequencing is to the richness of my days.  By knowing the best way to order tasks for my needs, my day is simultaneously productive, unhurried, and enjoyable.

By the time my friends arrived around noon, I had meditated, taken care of the garden, gathered food for my own breakfast and to share with friends, talked to neighbors, cleaned the house and myself, done a little asana, written in my journal, and sorted the mail.  Had I not known from long experience and conscious attention how to sequence all the different elements, knowing which ones went together, which took longest, which ones if done earlier or later would create double clean up, etc, I would have been tired and the tasks unfinished.  Instead, after brunch, I came home to a tended garden, a freshly made bed, and time to enjoy a quiet evening.

These sequencing principles also apply for me on major projects at work.  If ordered one way, the work is exponentially harder, the deadline a fearsome thing; if ordered another way, everything comes together mostly as it should when it should.  When I order my work with attention (this assumes others cooperate with this endeavor), I have time to do a good, careful job and still take breaks, eat well, and leave the office in time to take or teach yoga class.

Whether you are doing your home yoga practice or cooking or working, choose to sequence the elements of your practice, your activities, or your day, with attentiveness, reverence, love, and respect, and Kali will support you and not show you her most fearsome face.

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Eagerness (and cherry tomatoes)

I am looking forward to going out to the garden to forage for things to bring to work with my lunch.  I know there will be at least four or five tomatoes, and I am expecting a small cucumber.  The greens and fresh herbs are a given.  Having exquisite fresh food and making sure I take at least 15 minutes to savor it always makes a hectic day a much better one.

Don’t have time to garden?  Try joining a CSA.

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