Food for the Body

Thoughts about eating well to feed your body and spirit.

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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Pulling Purslane for Breakfast

Look before you weed:  some plants you are throwing out or composting might make a great addition to your diet.

Purslane and dandelion greens make a delicious addition to the other greens in my garden — chard, spinach, arugula, mache, lettuces, amaranth, etc.  Instead of pulling the purslane and dandelions as invasive weeds when they are growing in between the bricks of my patio, I let them get big enough to eat, and then pull them to include in salads and stir fries.  I also pull small purslane plants and relocate them into hanging pots along with my geraniums and into other little empty spaces.  After having been encouraged to volunteer more freely for a number of years, the purslane is now appearing on its own in more places, mostly in places where other plants would not thrive without a lot of watering.

As both purslane and dandelions are volunteers (a/k/a weeds), they are free, hardy, prolific, and drought-tolerant.  I find purslane especially attractive if kept picked as any other forking herb or green.  Both purslane and dandelions are highly nutritious, especially purslane which is a great plant source for omega-3 fatty acids (see link above).

This morning, I threw some purslane into a warmed tortilla, along with avocado, sprouts (I am always sprouting something on the kitchen counter these days), a little local  goat cheese, and a few slivers of vidalia onion.  Densely nutritious, delicious, fairly good for the environment, and satisfying.  What a great way to start the day.

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One Perfect Snow Pea,

a pole bean, and two radiantly golden cherry tomatoes.  I have been waiting months for those four exquisite bites.

Turnip greens and amaranth, included in my morning meal.  Two baby japanese eggplants, one hot pepper, a handful of scallions will go into something with tempeh.

The last of the radishes and two beets will be delightful with vidalia onions — all lightly pickled.

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Gifts of Onions (and Eternal Truth)

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend gave me a box of perfect vidalia onions.  She had been given two boxes.  She said, “These onions were so good; I wanted to give them to someone who would truly appreciate them.  I first thought of you.”  I was delighted, “yes, I’d love some vidalias.”  They are exquisite.  I’ve been making delicate sautes, grilling them, dicing them into salads, and marveling at their sweetness.  I passed a few on to others that both would fully appreciate the onions as a culinary matter and also know my friend, who is a former co-worker.

Last night I went to take class at Willow Street and was talking a little with the work study students at the desk after class before heading home.  “Would you like some onions?” asked one of the work study students, who does great work with the Fresh Farm Markets around town.  “Oh, how lovely, no, no thank you,” I replied, “A friend just gave me a box of vidalia onions and I have shallots, baby leeks, spring onions, and garlic chives in my garden.”  “I think you have enough in the allium family already,” she agreed, “would you like a cucumber?”  “A cucumber?  Yes, that would be great.  I’ve only gotten one ripe one so far; they aren’t liking the cool wet.”  She gave me a cucumber and a zucchini from a farm visit she had done that morning, which made my evening (I am so easily pleased).

This morning I wondered about these offers of onions.  It is not as though it is a regular thing for me twice in a space of a couple of weeks to be given bounteous offers of exquisite onions.  Did it mean something?

Onion comes from the same latin root as “union.”  Unlike garlic, in whose family onions belong, onions grow a single, undivided bulb, which is the likely reason for the development of the word onion.  From sketchy researching on the internet, I find onions are also the symbol of “good” and fullness — hence the onion domes in architecture.  The ancient Egyptions thought the onion a symbol of eternity (layer upon layer of being) and truth.  Yes, I like thinking these onions (those I took home and those that were gifted instead, no doubt, to some other appreciative soul) were meant to bring me to think of good, of union, of the eternal truth in gifts and shared pleasure in sharing delicious, healing, fresh food with friends.

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World Wide Knit in Public Day (and Vikalpa Samskara)

World Wide Knit in Public Day is this weekend — June 13th (and 14, 20, and 21).  What will you be knitting?  I have started a pair of leg-warmers.  The pattern was really for ankle warmers, but I have chosen to make them longer than the pattern suggested.  The nice farmers who raise the sheep, spin and dye the yarn, and sell it at the Dupont Fresh Farm Market, called them “yoga socks.”  The yarn is beautiful.  The sample pair looked like something I would want on my feet in colder weather.  The project was small enough to tuck into my carry bag.  Definitely a go for summer knitting (unlike the three-quarter finished mohair shruggy that has become a lapful of furry stuff).

“Why are they so short?” I asked.  “We had originally designed them to be longer, but our teacher said we might need to grab our ankles?” they explained.  “When would you do that, when it would not matter whether you were touching fabric instead of your skin,” I puzzled out loud, not out of criticism, but really wanting to know, thinking maybe in Pilates.  The farmers could not really think of a reason.  I bought an extra skein along with the kit to make the — oh, let’s call them footless socks — calf height.  The yarn has a bit of a stickiness to it, so they are not slippery.  They will be good to wear for yoga.

I’ve never knitted on double-pointed, size 2 needles, in the round before, though I happened to have four in the house (picked up at a yard sale for a $1 a decade or two ago and put in the sewing box).  I tend not to knit from patterns for whole projects.  So I had a little learning to do.  The pattern did not explain how to use the double-pointed needles; that knowledge was assumed.  I am not used to the contraints of following a pattern.  Doing so, on occasion, though, forces me to learn a new technique.  It took my a couple of hours to get into the rhythm, but now I’ve eased into the project.

I sometimes seek the same type expansion with cooking.  Though easily able to cook something delicious without a recipe with most ingredients, sometimes I pick out a complicated recipe just to expand my skills in the kitchen.

Yoga, most of all, benefits from a combination of free exploration and attentive development to the knowledge imparted by a teacher.  We are most full and expanded when we combine experience and teachings.  We receive the teachings and then we practice again and again to make it not just our own experience, but part of our being.  This process is called vikalpa samskara.

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“The Yoga That Destroys Sorrow”

“For him who is moderate in food and play, moderate in performing actons, moderate in sleep and waking, for him is the yoga which destroys sorrow.”  Bhagavad Gita, 6.18 (trans. Gitartha Samgraha, in Abhinavagupta’s Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita).

Food here, of course, is more than what we put into our mouth.  It is everything that comes in through the senses.  Play, too, is beyond what we do for “fun” in this society.  How much these words have kept their truth since written; what different meanings they carry in our time of technological marvels.  What does “moderation” mean to us?  Does moderation have an implicit relativeness?

Since I first read the Gita in high school, I have been contemplating this sloka and resonating with it.  Now, I come back to it over and over again, as my understanding of the rest of the text deepens and my practice grows.  It is still giving me food for thought. (Pun intended).

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Six Hours of R&R (A Simple Extravaganza)

I woke completely refreshed this morning, even though it was a very long work week, I taught two classes yesterday, I have lots to do today, and it promises to be a stressful work week coming. The sense of well-restedness is thanks to the six (or was it seven) hours of nurture I gave myself at the end of the day yesterday.

First I walked to a late afternoon appointment with my wonderful massage therapist, Patrick McClintock. My walk to see Patrick  is a beautiful walk 14-block walk through Capitol Hill. I strolled home afterwards, stopping at the grocery store to pick up soy milk and a couple of other items I like to have in the house (no more than I could carry easily), then walking through Lincoln Park on my way home.  Taking my time on my walk, I visited with a few dogs and neighbors who were out.

For dinner, I made a stir-fry of tempeh and radish greens (greens and herbs came right out of the garden).

  • In peanut oil (or other oil that can take high heat; not olive oil with asian flavors); slice a clove or two of garlic, mince some ginger, saute until garlic is translucent; add sliced onions and saute until translucent (when you add onion or onion parts depends on whether you are using onions, green onions, or scallions — white onion or onion parts go in before the greens, green parts go in after bitter/firm greens or with tender greens); add diced tempeh (or tofu or leave it out and add minced toasted nuts right before serving); saute until onions and tempeh are turning golden; splash with rice wine vinegar and Braggs liquid amino protein or soy sauce; quickly stir to integrate flavors; add greens and fresh herbs from the garden; saute until wilted; add splash of sherry, white wine or water; saute until liquid has evaporated. Serve with any grain or asian-style noodles.

After dinner, I read for a bit. Then I gave myself a mini-facial and pedicure. At twilight, I sat out back with an herbal infusion made from mint and lemon balm from the garden and watched the moon rise — it was a glorious moon.

I followed this simple, extravaganza with a long practice of restoratives, supine poses, and forward bends, and took my savasana into bed for the night.

Maybe you cannot fit in this much, and I do not do this much R&R in a single block every week — some Saturdays I want to go out on the town. Try to make part of some of your weekends (especially critical if you, like I, work six days a week, not five)  restful without having to go away — perhaps including one of the Serenity Saturday workshops at Capitol Hill Yoga when you can.

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“A Balanced Diet, in Moderation, Is the Best” (Yoga of Eating Part IV)

Geeta Iyengar, in Yoga, A Gem for Women, sums up the proper diet according to Ayurveda as follows:

“A balanced diet, in moderation, is the best.  Ayurveda says that the stomach should be filled with two parts of solid food and one part of water, and that one part of the stomach should be kept free for the movement of air.  Food which is not congenial to the system should be avoided.  Too oily, dry, spicy, and sour foodstuff are not good for the system.  A diet which is balanced, light, varied, and well cooked is ideal for health.”

In other words, to be healthy, we should eat fresh, varied, well-prepared, tasty food.  We should eat with sufficient awareness to know enough the effects of what we eat on our energy level, sleep, digestion, and ability to move and think that we know what is good for our system in small, large, or any quantities (and eat mindfully in accordance with that knowledge).  We should not eat to the point of fullness and beyond (this is a common suggestion in the West for losing weight, i.e., stop eating when you are full or right before — think getting away from the unrealistic American portion size).  Any other dietary practices should serve to find this place of moderation and enjoyment, the two real keys to health and happiness with and in eating.  Diets that take us away from balance will be hard to follow, unhealthy, and cause all sorts of other shifts in our mind-body.  What is best for you depends on your own knowledge of yourself and your environment.

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