Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sunday Breakfast Ritual: photos and recipes

Savory Double Potatoes

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
-4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2" chunks
-4 cups Strong stock (mushroom, veg or beef)
-Olive oil
-Black Pepper
Bring stock to a boil, add potatoes, reduce heat and simmer until al dente (@ 20 min). Drain well, preserving stock for your gravy. spread potatoes out in casserole, allowing to "dry", about 5 minutes. Drench (yes drench, not drizzle) potatoes in olive oil, about 1/4 cup, then toss gently. They will absorb much of the oil. Before putting potatoes in oven sprinkle with fresh pepper to your liking and drizzle top of potatoes with more oil. Cook potatoes in oven uncovered for 20 minutes, then remove and turn to brown on other side. Return to oven and bake until edges are deep golden; about 20 minutes. Serve with eggs any style, topped with your favorite gravy and fresh chives or chopped parsley (a *must*!). I like to add sauteed mushroom or Niman Ranch balck forest ham. This is really best all in one pile as you will see below. Also really tasty with the addition of cheese melted on top..of course!
Lemon Rice Pudding

-1.5 cups dry long grain rice (Basmati or jasmine)
-3 Cups milk (rice, almond, soy, cow, whatever)
-3/4 cup sugar
-2 eggs
-Juice of 1 lemon, plus zest (optional)
-2 tbs butter, softened
-1 tbs vanilla extract
-1 package favorite fresh berries or 1/2 cup berry preserves to top
-handful of toasted nuts (pistachio, almond or macadamia are nice)
-1/4 tsp nutmeg
Prepare rice according to package directions, Transfer to 4 quart dutch oven or large sauce pan. Add milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to med-low simmer, cover pot. Blend sugar, eggs, butter, lemon and vanilla in a bowl big enough to fit double the ingredients. Blend well with a wire whisk. Prepare ice bath: In a bowl large enough to fit a second bowl inside, place 3 cups ice then fill bowl with enough water to cover ice completely. Set aside. Uncover simmering rice blend and add a couple ladles full of the rice to the sugar-egg blend stirring. This is called tempering and it keeps you egg from becoming itty-bitty scrambled chunks, which is yucky. Now pour the tempered egg mixture back into the pot. Stirring constantly (scrape the bottom!) bring pudding to high heat. The pudding will thicken and begin to boil, but you will have to watch for thick inconsistent bubbling as it will not appear the same as boiling soup or water. Allow pudding to boil while stirring for 1 minute, then pour into the bowl which will fit into your ice bath. Place the pudding bowl into the ice bath and continue stirring for about 3 minutes, until pudding has cooled slightly. Serve warm or chilled topped with berries and toasted nuts. Yum-ola!

Thanks for the help boys!

Yay! Breakfast is ready!

Notice the teapot theme on my P.J. pants. I really wanted you to see that! I love those pajamas.

MY plate!!! Savory Double Potatoes, Sauteed mushrooms, poached egg and brown breakfast grraaaaveeee. Topped with chives! Oh, don't forget the sourdough toast for soaking up all that gravy. Sorry there is no gravy recipe here, but I eyeball this and add lots of random things. Here are some tips:
-Make a red wine sauce (Google it) with your remaining stock.
-Make gravy just like thanksgiving day, but add lots of fresh herbs like thyme, savory, parsley and basil.
-Add a little tomato sauce or juice to your gravy recipe for an added punch of flavor. Also, a dash of soy sauce, Worcestershire or splash of balsamic vinegar for a flavor kick.

Nico tells stories...



Isaiah just eats.

You gonna eat those potatoes Joe?

Post your food and yoga questions here! If you are thinking of asking it, so is somebody else. I'd love to find answers for you! Thanks for reading. Peace, -Jen

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Death of a Friend and the Experience of Yoga

I lost a friend recently. My friend Cynthia was talented. A deep thinker, a questioner of all things existent, Cynthia was brilliant. Intelligent was an understatement when it came to Cynthia Smith. And though Cynthia was brilliant, she also struggled. I got to spend time with Cynthia in her best times, and she sometimes shyly opened up to me during her dark times. This last December of 2010 when Cynthia passed, the cause of her death was both mysterious and also very clear. Considering she struggled with life itself, though the details of her passing may never completely surface, all the evidence (which I won't elaborate on) points to her taking her own life and in my heart I am sure that is what happened.

It has been over a month since Cynthia's passing. And though I have lost loved ones before, I have never lost such a close friend so tragically. To add to my experience of tragedy, our last interaction which happened over a year ago led me to believe that we may not actually be able to be friends any longer. But something happens when a friendship fallen-out ends due to the loss of one of those people's lives. I discovered that there was no way ever, that we could have not been friends. Because I loved Cynthia deeply. True friendship based on love is much like the True Self. It needs nothing to sustain it. For regardless of all events, the bond remains. Only our attitudes, or our thinking, can change. Grudges count as part of the attitude and I believe that what Cynthia and I had developed were grudges against one another. This has of course effected how I feel about losing Cynthia. More importantly it has effected how I feel about the type of friend I want to be. And I was far from the perfect friend (we all are sometimes!) I wanted to share a few insights that I have gained from experiencing this loss.

I have been practicing bhakti yoga, which is to say the yoga of devotion. The idea itself can be misleading as many people view bhakti as a religious devotion to God devoid of the asana we so adore in the west. But we can practice devotion to whatever we believe God to be. So if you perceive asana to be the divine earthly representation of God, then you can practice bhakti through asana. Lately I have developed a strong sense that God not only exists in all things, but that we can experience God most powerfully through our relationships. Devotion to relationships has become my bhakti...I have long way to go! This loss, given its circumstances is proving to he a gigantic lesson in my deepest spiritual beliefs. And as such a loss does, it has caused me to question what I truly believe. The biggie: could yoga have healed my friend? And if so, why didn't it? Alas, yoga is and has healed me. But here's the thing; I chose yoga and to make the question even more complicated, the fact is that I chose yoga because it seemed to have chosen me. And my healing process began a long time ago, before Cynthia was gone. Yoga can only heal what is hurt. So any wounds inflicted are bound to be tested by my practice.

Like many, I have always believed in speaking only kindly of others and truthfully to them. But have I truly practiced this? I have not. Looking back on certain interactions that seem harmless, I realize that on a deeper level I have participated in unkind speech regarding my friend. I was also dishonest with her about "little things". In retrospect, my dishonesty seemed tiny at the time, but now I know, that though it takes real courage, full-on honesty (in which kindness is employed) is never regrettable. Am I beating myself up over it? I am not. I do have some regret, but it is the kind of regret that creates change. I am grateful to have it so profoundly brought to my attention by means of loss. I realize now what kind of friend I want to be, not just for myself, but for the entire world. Every single interaction we have with each other creates a reaction. Reaction is a form of action itself and like dominoes there is no end to the consequence of one action. No end at all. Not from the beginning of time. This is the law of karma, and when you think of karma that way, like the domino effect, you can see how it is not just about you as an individual. Like a wave in the ocean, we may each represent one molecule of water, but we are all part of the same wave.

The most phenomenal thing about this experience is that though I am grieving, I am also deeply peaceful. This sense of peace comes from knowing that nothing in earthly existence is permanent. We work so hard to preserve so many things; the earth, beloved objects, our youth, and our relationships. But all must come to an end. And what is left of the impermanent is what can never be destroyed. That is Pure Consciousness where, according to yogic views, we are destined to dissolve into. To dissolve into Pure Consciousness is self-realization. In self-realization we know that we are not truly the self-oriented, individualistic creatures we believe ourselves to be. To dissolve into pure consciousness is to know that I, you and my friend are one and the same. That when we grieve because we lose someone, the grieving comes because we feel certain we have lost a part of ourselves. We are both right and wrong. The loss like everything else is temporary. Because what is real can never be destroyed. Only the egoic connection, the belief that existence on earth is what connected us, is destroyed and we struggle to all ends trying to make sense of what feels like an amputation. But if you lost your arm, would not still be you? Though our cells and every element of our bodies is constantly dying and being reborn, then is this body who you really are? Discovering the True Self, and understanding the connection with all of humanity that is eternal begins with understanding that we are not the bodies we think we are.

I am beginning to really understand the benefits of my yoga asana practice. Sometimes we need to act physically when dealing with great challenges. Yoga for me, has provided a practice for dealing with the pain that comes into the body which is always accompanied by emotional pain. So I treated my self to a deeply spiritual yoga practice full of joy and pain, dedicated to my friend as well as to myself. I felt the emotional pain of my experience safely flood my body with each breath. I was able to release some of that pain by exhaling. For each pose that came with ease I was reminded of how easy love affairs with friends can be. With each challenge, each point of wanting to be done with certain poses, I was reminded that friendships come in a single package, and what comes in them is inseparable; the pleasant from the unpleasant. Yoga has and continues to teach me that skillful, conscious breathing with each and every life challenge acts as a vessel upon which I might travel across the sometimes calm and other times raging ocean of this life. Breath is as much the ship as it is the life preserver. Yoga has provided me with myriad practices that help me perceive life from the viewpoint of the true-self. All is temporary, and nothing that is real can ever be lost, changed or die.
The game here on earth is hide and seek with that truth. For my friend Cynthia, I think she was done counting and calling out "Ready or not, here I come!", then feeling at a loss for where truth and joy were
hiding. For some reason, those two made themselves very elusive to her. I do know that I will continue to share the effect yoga has had on my life. And if through me, people stumble upon it as a practice that makes their life a better place, then I feel more purposeful and grateful for it. But I have to accept that one thing I cannot believe is that my beliefs could have saved her. Because the fact is that they did not. Nor did her own spiritual beliefs. No, I only know that what I believe and practice has thus far been able to save me.
Many blessings,

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sunday Breakfast Ritual

Here's the part where I write about something that makes me insanely happy...just because I feel like it.

If any random person were to ask me what my favorite day, activity or part of the week was, it would take no more than one second for me to answer: Sunday morning-ish. Ah, better just say Sunday. See, a couple of years ago I made a general commitment to stay home every Sunday, consume a criminal amount of coffee and an equally criminal breakfast type brunch meal. In the "criminality" of it all, I am allowed a full day to bask in the charm of my family while partaking in the gift of food.

Sunday usually begins with a mild attempt to sleep in. But Isaiah, my four year old is expert at making sure I don't sleep too long as he crawls int bed with me around 8am snuggling up momentarily then demanding "Get up Momma." I usually grudgingly oblige and as we make our way out to the living room Isaiah holds hims arms up commanding me once again "Carry me to the couch Momma." But that's not the last of it because the final request is that we cuddle on the couch. He must know me well, because the moment I insist that I need to get up to make coffee he lets me go and gets up to play. My husband Joe and older son Nico are quite the champion "sleeper-inners", all sound and motion drifts past them like the lofty dreams they must be lost in. They must be dreaming of Sunday morning itself!

Part two of Sunday morning is where I sit on the couch with my coffee reading Oprah, Martha Stewart or some candy fashion magazine which does nothing but entertain me. Ahhh, life is good on the couch every Sunday at 9am. Where's the breakfast you say? Isn't it 9am already? Well, around here we like to make it sort of an all-day affair, so better to start later. Anyways, before the meal portion of Sunday begins there are several other obligations: Let the cat in and the dog out. Watch She-Ra or Clone Wars or Robotek (yes, Robotek). Let the cat out and the dog in. Break up some tiffs between our boys who are probably tiffing because they are hungry (hey, it has it's charms). Use brushing teeth as a means to distract boys from argument over watching Elmo or even more Clone Wars. Let the cat in and the dog out. Realize the pets are whining because they too, are hungry and aren't really asking to be let in and out. Feed pets. 10 am rolls around. And finally...MUST - MAKE - PANCAKES. And soon, or else the morning loses it's "charm".

SO I finally get around to making breakfast. Did I mention that this is may all-time favorite meal, ever? And having cooked professionally for about 15 years and still counting (many of them doing lots of breakfasts!) , this is sort of my time to bust a move in the kitchen. I mean, heck I've got all day!

Breakfast. Often it's good old fashioned pancakes with butter and warmed maple syrup, more coffee, and fresh orange juice. Okay, "fresh" from a can of frozen O.J., but I do put it in a really nice pitcher! On occasion, Belgian waffles with fresh berries and sour cream, Niman Ranch bacon and fried eggs. When I'm feeling supper snazzy I like to make fancy breakfasts like I did at Chateau Du Sureau when I prepared breakfast for their hotel guests. This would be something like roasted ruby-red grapefruit crusted brown sugar and brandied cherries as a first course. Hey, if you really want your breakfast to seem hoidy toidy, you have to serve it in courses! For the next course, seared herb polenta with perfectly poached eggs, Black Forest ham on top all doused in red-wine porcini sauce. Sometimes I make crepes Suzette which is stuffed with raspberries and sugar. Sometimes I make French toast with old bread. I thoroughly enjoy the process of heating the griddle, cracking eggs and even cleaning up as I work. In the act of preparing food, everyone thinks I am oblivious to their existence. I listen to the banter of my boys, the chatter of Joe and the sizzle of bacon. I turn a pancake and Isaiah hums a tune while he fidgets with Legos. I mix the juice and Nico shouts "Dad, watch this!" while he does some crazy Ninja jump from the couch. I set the table and Joe cracks up over the hilarity of kids. This is a day and time set aside for pure joy and nothing but.

I have this ad stuck in my head as a result of my loose habit of paroozing all manner of not-so-life-enriching magazines. It is an ad for a cruise. The picture is of a couple sitting on their balcony over looking a stunning view of Alaskan glaciers. The table in front of them is set for breakfast with white table cloths and beautiful china. When I first saw this ad I was a new mom in need of a break. I stared at the cruise ad for quite a while, finally understanding why people went on them. It's not just to do nothing I'm sure. It's to experience that sense of indulgence and luxury that many of us crave and all deserve. That ad struck a nerve in me. A nerve that came with instructions: On Sunday, when the week both ends and begins, in the morning when there is freshness and all things are possible, that is the time to relish all "normal" things that I most enjoy in life. And it's an immense reminder to me. The things I most enjoy are simple and unfathomably precious: time with my children and my husband, appreciation of good food, and forgetting the troubles of my immediate world as well as the bigger world. Everyone deserves this, especially people who are experiencing deep struggles.

When it's finally time to eat, the table is dressed in white. Favorite plates are set and silverware rests on cloth napkins. I beam at my feast and pour orange juice into jelly jars. Coffee gurgles once again as a second pot brews. There is festivity about our home. Whether it's eggs Benedict or flapjacks, the table is set as though we are royalty or as though it is Christmas day. Everyone literally cheers as I call out "Come to the table! Breakfast is ready!" And that alone is worth the effort. There we sit in our pajamas doing the most important thing in the whole world, enjoying our lives. As is often said, but less often practiced: There is no time like the present. The time I dedicate to practicing the yoga of being in the present is every Sunday morning, when it is simple enough for a beginner like me.

Stay tuned with The Yoga Teacher for breakfast recipes, photos and more. Coming soon!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Change, Courage and Making it Happen

Many of us are on a mission to re-vamp our lives for the up-coming year. But most people who create lengthy lists of resolutions will sadly fail at making their visions reality. Why? I believe we are over-come with collective motivation. All at once, the masses decide to over-haul their lives and do almost everything differently! Lose weight, save money, make more money, get healthy, learn to surf, run a marathon. We want so badly to do all of these things in quest for the ultimate achievement: happiness. We embark on what feels to be an exciting journey with expectation and curiosity. For about a week after New Year's day, we collectively throw ourselves into life changing patterns of behavior and then...

And then life continues as usual. The world around us behaves exactly as it always did and the way we behaved in the past is the most comfortable means of continuing interaction with everyone in our lives. Part of the fear of change is knowing our desire to change may elicit negativity in others, most especially family and friends even when we want something good for ourselves. When we change on a deeper level there is a noticeable shift in how we live and those people lose a certain part of connectivity with us, and we lose it with them too. For instance, we may lose an eating or gossiping buddy. That fear can feel crippling and the people in our lives feel inadvertently betrayed. So instead of being supportive, they may actually make sub-conscious attempts to sabotage your efforts. And in your fear of losing someone, you may do the sabotage all by your self.

I like many, used to fall victim to the 100-goal resolution list every year. And every year, no more than a week would go by when I'd buckle and every habit that provided my creature with the comfort of familiarity would return. Every year disappointment showed up at my door like a pathetic moocher needing a couch to crash on. And every year I'd sigh and say to disappointment, "Come on in, let's have a stiff drink while we lick our wounds". Phew, that sounded super pathetic. But it's true. I could not for the life of me create the change I wanted. So I stopped making resolutions. And having had a ten year or so break, I'm back. But the way I resolve to change itself, has changed.

See, through my studies and practice of yoga I started to realize that no problem is EVER what it appears to be on the surface. EVER. And so to think that simply motivating to create change by changing the surface appearance of problems won't work either. The more we attempt these changes without actually exploring what seed the problem has rooted from, the more discouraged we become. It's like noticing a weed in the garden and saying"Oh, look at that weed. I hate it. It's ruining my garden. I am going to chop it off." As we all know, the appearance of the weed bothers us, but it is the roots of the weed that cause the real damage. We feel like failures. We feel incapable and inferior, when that is not at all true. It's just that looking at the problems that cause the problems seems daunting and, well, scary. For instance, as someone who has lost weight (and now keep it off) it took realizing that I was padding myself with fat to protect me from experiencing physically intimate relationships. I was afraid of my own sexuality. I also ate to distract myself from a deeply unhappy adolescence. The same can be said for my former smoking and drinking habits. Once I realized that I was hiding myself in fat and slowly killing myself in order to avoid certain aspects of life, I also realized that I needed courage to embark on real romantic relationships and distance myself from the home I grew up in.

To take it a step further, I had to understand what exactly courage is. Courage is not fearlessness. It is not bravery. Courage is way beyond all of that. Courage requires faith. Faith in whatever happens because what you are doing is frightening and you will feel scared and want to quit. Courage is not something you do...rather it is that special energy that gets you through the scariness. It reminds us that "this to, shall pass"' whatever it is. Courage invites us to experience fear and pain and explore their meaning. Courage does not look ahead or behind, it can only exist in the present. Courage walks with you in steps that are as tiny as you need them to be, but it also tells you when you can go bigger. If your goal looks like a big pool of frightening possibilities, then courage is the stroke you use to swim across. Courage is what we instill every step of the way with. It is a whispering voice that says "Yes" to you over and over again. The job of courage is simply to en-courage.

Courage continues, year by year to be a constant in my life. I find that sometimes I need more, and sometimes less. But it is an unfaltering friend and ally.

So as 2011 approached I asked myself where I find fault in my life. The answers were easy to come by, because I used courage to examine myself with a gentle yet discriminating heart. I found that I often leave things half finished, leaving loose ends at work and home. I fiddle around on with social networking and web-surf longer than I should. I often manage my time unwisely. I procrastinate on important things because I often fear the outcome of the choices I may make, as though any outcome could be "wrong". Yoga has taught me that there can be no wrong outcome. I get to choose my reaction to the outcome. So the surface appearance of my resolution is fast decision making and action...knowing full-well I will make mistakes. But the deeper resolution is actually learning to surrender to every situation and every moment without anxiety.

Now that I have learned a more sophisticated approach to change, I was able create guidelines for myself that will help me along the way. For instance, I put myself on a strict "computer time limit diet". This means 20 minutes for social networking and several other reasonable limits I set for myself. Two days in so far and I am so glad to not be staring at facebook for 1 hour straight...or more. And the best thing is that I now really understand what it means to resolve to do something. Resolve itself requires courage, and a "no looking back" attitude. It requires me to experience the inevitable, but temporary discomforts of change. And all of this means what we are all egtting after: happiness, contentedness, a sense of accomplishment.

Change Always starts with a little (or a LOT of) courage. I'd love to hear how courage has effected your life. When do you most need courage? What are your goals for 2011 and how will you achieve them? What other elements will be involved getting the results you seek? And most importantly, what now, in your life is so good that you feel compelled to change? What are some effective ways you have created lasting change in your life? I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments.

May you have a most blessed, prosperous and peaceful year,