Yoga teacher Rod Styker says “Meditation Matters Most” and he makes a strong claim. It’s an opinion that I’ve grown to understand more deeply as I increase my understanding of yoga.
It really wasn’t until my teacher training with SRI Yoga in early 2013 that I was made blatantly clear that meditation was an essential part of yoga. As a practitioner, I had felt the strong ability to reside quietly inside my body/mind following a great yoga class, but I had not connected this to a meditation practice. It turns out that one of the main points of yoga (asana) is to make our body limber and comfortable enough to reside in meditation. That is why it is so beneficial to do a physical yoga practice (asana) ahead of meditation so that the mind has time to slow down and transition into stillness.
I have been a seeker my entire life, but never had the courage to meditate. I bought books and researched a million ways to meditate – stare at a flame, continually remove thoughts from your mind, focus on your breath – but the research always left me frustrated because I wasn’t able to try something for long enough to see how it worked. It was probably my inner voice telling me I was doing it wrong and I needed the confidence of a teacher and my inner self to jump in and just try it. I was an avid runner for a period of my life and I believe this was my form of meditation. But, it’s best to do a seated a meditation according to my teachers, so that the mind can reach deep calm. It really wasn’t until I had a consistent yoga practice that I was able to sit and meditate. As a yoga teacher of all ages, I would venture to say that most people find it hard to sit still.
Rod mentions the practice of “Japa” in his piece. It is a practice that has been taught to me by my teachers and it is the most consistent meditation that I have ever practiced. It involves the repetition of a mantra and mala beads are used to facilitate this focus and assist in doing a certain number of them.
What I appreciate about “Japa” meditation is that similar to reading a book when I’m tired, it makes me aware of my thoughts and helps to calm them. Upon repeating the healing words of my mantra, thoughts start to arise in the background. I continue to return my focus on my mantra and the thoughts come in waves and I can see them passing. The point of meditation is to calm the waves of the mind and this practice for long periods of time brings me insight and steadiness.
I love how Rod Stryker describes the inner comfort that is found in his meditation practice: “With my surroundings constantly changing, it’s vital to my teaching and my well-being that I am able to access a place that feels like home.”
How profound it is to turn inward and find comfort. The potential to feel renewed power, grace and mindfulness is huge. But the most important part of meditation is consistency. We might not have the most profound meditation session or we might not always feel great afterward, but it is this commitment to the process to the unfolding that true wisdom will result. I’m still working on the consistency part!
Read more of Rod Stryker’s article at Yoga International:
Floating in mediation. (Photo: Louography)
In my yoga classes, I’ve recently asked the students if they’ve seen the film Birdman and not one person has said yes. I bring up Birdman in class because it has a fantastical opening scene with the main character of the film floating in lotus position as he listens to his inner voice. And so, for fun I started incorporating what is known as “Toelasana” into my classes, which is a great way to build abdominal strength and work on that “floating” feeling that assists us in moving gracefully on our mat.
I not only enjoyed Birdman for the aspirational opening scene, but the film itself is a perfect metaphor for the deeper work that we do in yoga. The work to uncover our inner voice, become aware of our habits and internal stories, remove blockages and come closer to our true self.
Perhaps these are universal concepts and I’m just that yoga teacher always making yogic connections, but hey that’s what I do and honestly it’s fairly easy to use a yogic lense for everything since everything is yoga. And, this is what happened this past November when I saw Birdman.
Pasta e Fagoli Using Cranberry Beans:
It’s definitely summer in San Francisco and this means that soup is on the menu on those days that the weather decides to get cloudy. By now you are probably aware of my love for heirloom beans and that I’ve recently joined a CSA that gives us incredible varieties of them and has been encouraging me to cook more often.
When dry, Cranberry beans are a gorgeous shade of red and the shape is quite round. When you soak cranberry beans they double in size and I’ve found it difficult to find a use for them in recipes, because unlike my white beans that are super tasty to eat on their own, the cranberry bean is quite starchy and prone to falling apart.
However, I was determined to do this bean justice and this Pasta e Fagoli recipe was brilliant! It’s hard to describe the emotional satisfaction of finding the perfect place for this beautiful bean to shine. But, I am sure you can imagine it. One of my housemates commented that he would pay $10 for a cup of this soup, that’s how much he liked it.
Italian soups are one of my favorite things to cook. Why? Because the ingredients are simple, yet there are always subtle understandings of the ingredients and the way they play together that get incorporated into the process. For this soup the two lovely secrets are the parmesan rind and the play between the pasta and the beans. The simple addition of a Parmesan rind while the soup is boiling creates a creamy and flavorful broth. What gives the soup it’s signature consistency is in the title. The ajou of the beans and the starchiness of the pasta work together to create a silky broth that takes this soup with simple ingredients to a whole new level.
The other thing I love about this recipe is the parsley. This leaf is so subtle in taste that it’s easy to dismiss, however I am coming to appreciate Parsley it for it’s fresh, verdant ability to brighten such a hearty soup for the summer months.
Let me know if you have a chance to make this soup! If you ever purchase cranberry beans then I believe you have to.
You can find the recipe I used, here: Cranberry Bean Pasta e Fagoli
Green Tea Chia Pudding
Chia seeds are funny. Everyone knows them from their heyday as part of everyone’s favorite “chia pet.” I also now know what it was the Mexican restaurants were adding to their agua frescas. What really turned me on to eating chia seeds was the book “Born to Run” – which highlighted them as a “superfood”.
What helps in my love for the Chia seed is that I enjoy a “smooshy” consistency. Not everyone resides in this camp, but if you do love these types of food you may also enjoy mochi, gummy candies and chocolate pudding.
I have a pack of Chia seeds in my cupboard – a last-minute impulse buy from Trader Joe’s and I was delighted when I cam across this recipe from green beauty enthusiast, Sophie Uliano for Green Tea Chia Pudding.
What encouraged me to make this breakfast dish was that I had all of the ingredients: Matcha powder, Chia Seeds yogurt and Agave Syrup. It’s really simple and the caffeine from Matcha powder is quite delightful and does not create a crash for me.
All you do is soak two tablespoons of chia seeds in water for an hour. Dissolve a teaspoon of matcha powder into the mixture, add a few tablespoons of yoghurt and a dash of agave syrup and wala!
I have to admit, it’s odd to feel full off of chia seeds. But I love this green pudding and feel great having it for breakfast. It’s light, yet filling.
More specific details on this recipe can be found, here: Green Tea Chia Pudding
What are your favorite recipes this week?
Heirloom beans, heirloom tomatoes. What does it mean when my food is an “heirloom”?
A few years ago I had established a routine for myself: shopping weekly at the farmer’s market and tending daily to my garden. I learned so much about food during this time and the term “heirloom” was one of my many lessons.
An heirloom is a treasure that is passed down through the ages and in this case the treasures are seeds. These heirloom seeds are the original seeds of different vegetables and bean varietals before the introduction of hybrid-breeding and Genetically Modified Organamism’s (GMO’s). They are also seeds that have been around for over 50 years that have a long history, often focused in certain regions and sometimes connected to different cultures.
In modern farming, seeds have been modified in order to yield larger and heartier crops. As awareness spread about the importance of preserving “heirloom” beans and vegetables, the public has been more supportive of farmers producing these unique treasures. Farmers, from home gardeners to local producers, have also taken it upon themselves to do the work of preserving these heirloom varieties by growing them. Such a tasty museum! The Ark of Taste is a project that travels the world collecting seeds and stories and encouraging their reproduction.
My Radical Anarchist Bean
Heirloom beans found their way into my life at the inner sunset farmer’s market in San Francisco when Fifth Crow Farms sold me brown paper bags filled with bright cranberry beans and names that captured the imagination – “Old Indian Woman Beans.” They also sold amazing sweet peas, which is how I was first lured in and how it became my favorite farm to purvey.
Once I became aware of them, I understood why I was paying a bit more for my tomatoes or beans. I started to notice them more often. In a fun romp through Golden Gate Park I saw that there was a free Anarchists fare being held. A group of farmers were there selling heirloom seeds. They had my favorite – “the hutterite” bean – and so I purchased my magic seeds and planted them. As a gardener who loved visiting her plants everyday I considered those beans radical like the anarchists I bought them from. That little bean tried to grow in what was the foggier side of San Francisco and it never made it beyond an inch and it only delivered one bean. But you bet I honored that bean by boiling it up and eating it. However, I have never tried to grow them again. Now that I’m in warmer climates, perhaps I should!
Learning to Cook Heirloom Beans and Wishing I Knew the Secret
I have to admit my first time cooking beans was not ideal. The biggest challenge was knowing when they were done. I overcooked them into a mushy mess.
The directions to cook beans are really simple, but when recipes are simple there are usually secrets that lie between the lines. Secrets that are best passed down orally, because it’s a more intuitive direction than a scientific one. And that’s why “heirloom” beans have also found a special place in my kitchen. Not only are they gorgeous and unique (and delicious!), I feel more connected to their history and to the ethos behind them that is promoted through what is known as the “Slow Food Movement“. It is the connection we have with our food that supports a healthy environment, sustainable farming practices and in turn a more enjoyable and healthy meal.
The Slow Food Movement is aptly named, especially when it comes to enjoying heirloom beans. Armed with my “How to Cook Everything” book by Mark Bittman I was on a mission to learn to cook and have fun doing it. There is no way I could have ever learned without doing. Through trial and error, I ultimately learned to slow down.
My Secret to Cooking Beans
My secret to cooking beans is patience. I have cooked beans many times in my life, but whenever I am asked how long they will take, I never know whether to answer 1 or 3 hours. That’s how present I become when cooking beans. They are done when they are done. And they require attention to ensure that they are salted at the appropriate time and removed from the stove at the right time so they can finish their last bit of cooking and be the perfect consistency. I take a lot of pride in my beans and love the process as much as the end result. Yum!
My Recipe for Cooking Beans (With a Few Intuitive Tricks):
1. Soak beans (I like to cook one cup of dried beans at a time) in a bowl of water, cover with a plate for at least eight hours and up to overnight. Be sure to switch out the water in the morning. What you are looking for is the skin to wrinkle and the bean to rehydrate and eventually fill the expanded skin so that no wrinkles remain.
2. Rinse the beans. (Many say that this soaking process removes chemicals that lead to flatulence.)
3. Saute onions, celery and carrots in a pot (if you only have onions that’s fine). Once onions are translucent, place beans in the pot and fill the pot with water up to your knuckle.
4. Add bay leaf and a few cloves of garlic (which turn into soft, golden heavenly surprises when the beans are done) and bring to a boil.
5. Once it reaches a boil, bring down to a simmer.
6. Cover the pot halfway and be watchful. This is the secret part. You can’t get distracted during this 1-2 hr period. You must relax and keep an eye on the beans. If they need more water, heat up water in a kettle and add until it reaches 1/4 inch above the beans. Over time, you will also find the perfect amount of cooking liquid for the process so that you can finish with a nice bean ajou at the bottom of your pot which is flavorful and keeps the beans moist.
7. When beans are getting close to done – add generous pinches of salt proportionate to beans.
8. When beans are getting really, really close to done – cover and take them off the heat and let them continue cooking in the pot with the lid on. This is another key moment in bean making to ensure that you don’t overcook your beans, resulting in their inability to stand on their own without falling apart.
* Add a little bit of butter or ghee to your beans to coat them when they are hot.
* Saute veggies and top the beans with them.
* Create a simple pesto and swirl it into your bowl of beans.
* Serve an egg on it for breakfast.
The pressure is on from my new box of farm fresh veggies! I must cook them up within a week before it’s time to pick up my new CSA box at the Castro farmers market on Wednesday. It’s summer so it’s nice that many of the greens were fresh lettuces and the box also included strawberries, but there was also the inclusion of everyone’s favorite staple crop – beets.
My mission upon receiving these beets was to finally use the beet greens. There’s a weird psychology that arises when veggies are farm fresh. They are dirty and raw – raw like you just hunted them from the ground. Maybe I’m alone in this squeamishness, but I have to be honest that it took me a while to come to love fresh veggies that had dirt I had to clean off from them and a few bugs here and there that made their way into my kitchen. This was the reason for my initial apprehension in cooking beet greens, they seemed unnatural and experimental to me. They are also huge and take over a shelf on your fridge!
I was doubly intrigued to use the beet greens alongside the beets in a dish to honor the vegetable in all its glory. I landed on this recipe from the New York Times: “Pappardelle With Beets, Beet Greens and Goat Cheese”.
Cooking the Beets
I turned my oven to 400 degrees, covered my elongated beet roots in olive oil and placed them in a glass cooking dish uncovered because I was out of foil (most recipes say to wrap it in foil). After cooking them for about an hour – I googled “how to know when my beet is done” and it turns out this is a very popular question for rap artists regarding “beats”. I discovered my beet was done when a knife could slice through it easily and I made sure to cook it enough so that the sweetness from roasting had time to set in. I then learned that beets have skins to remove so once they were cooled I began to use a knife to gently scrape off the outer layer (who knew?!). Soon my hands became bright red and the beet cooking adventure was full on!
Cooking the Greens
I followed the New York Times Recipe and first blanched the beets in boiling water for a minute, placed them in a cold bath and then squeezed them out. I separated the greens from the stem and chopped them up separately so they were more uniform. I then followed the recipe and sauteed both the stems and the greens and the beets with garlic. A sauce was later created by adding pasta water and goat cheese to the pan to pick up the flavors and the pasta once cooked is added with a little more pasta sauce resulting in a meal of different bright red shades.
What I Loved Most
From the root, to the stem, to the leaves – each part of the beet offered a different taste that was extremely delicious and varied in texture. The beet greens are now a delicacy in my tongue/mind memory and they did a great job of picking up flavors such as pepper and salt and served as flavor bursts throughout the dish.
Nathan loved the meal. I was excited that we had eaten so many beets in one sitting and knew they were prized for their health benefits. I researched their history and looked up their benefits. Turns out historically they were prized for their greens and it wasn’t until the Romans that the root portion was cultivated and prized as an aphrodisiac. Another article supported this theory mentioning that beets have high levels of “boron” which increases the production of sex hormones in the body. Beets have many more benefits for tonifying the blood and the liver, but sexy Roman talk was the most playful topic for newlywed conversation.
I expect we will receive more beets in our CSA box and I will definitely be more excited and prepared to cook the greens. We are thinking that a nice borscht would be the next experiment we perform on the beets. Perhaps I could make the beet greens a crispy topping for the soup. More research on that later!
If you want to create this recipe I describe you can find it here: “Pappardelle With Beets, Beet Greens and Goat Cheese”.