Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sweet Potato Pie - Community and Gratitude

Every time I say the words "sweet potato pie", I think of that old country song. "...sweet potato pie and I shut my mouth..." Song of the South by Alabama. Then my head goes to American Pie. What would an American holiday BE without pie?!

We have pies for every occasion and season. We gather, we celebrate and we eat pie. Thanksgiving ushers in pumpkin pie. Maybe apple, pecan or a cheesecake grace our tables. But, what about sweet potato pie?

I never tasted it until I made one from scratch. The key is in the buttermilk hand rolled pie crust and the oven roasted sweet potatoes. Buttermilk makes a tender crust and roasting the sweet potatoes provides a lovely caramelized flavor and color. Add a few secret ingredients and you're set to "shut your mouth".

Spend time with your loved ones. Take a moment to give thanks for what you have and what/who you are. Gratitude.

No time to bake from scratch? No worries! Pick up one of these beauties for a donation to Just B Yoga between $10 and $15. Pay what you can. All proceeds to benefit Just B Yoga. Buy one before or after either Thanksgiving Day class (8:30 am - full class, 11:00 am). Support yoga and tai chi in Lansing AND eat a pie.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Make it Easy - Use Good Stuff

I love this time of year. Fruits and veggies are abundant here in Michigan. Even with the drought, we have so many options! When in doubt...choose good shit!

An organic free range tiny 3 lb chicken. Zucchini and summer squash from a local farmer and friend, Green Eagle Farms. Tiny red skin potatoes from the Lansing City Market. Aw yeah.

Boiled the potatoes for 30 mins, drain water, add Greek yogurt and smash.

Slip your hand between the skin and meat of the chicken. Make space. Get in there. Don't hurt the skin! Melt butter and fresh parsley. Stuff it between skin and meat. Add some lemon basil, thyme and a few smashed cloves of garlic. Do the same with the cavity. Tie it up with kitchen twine. Cook, breast side up, 45 mins at 350 F. Raise temp to 425 and cook 20-30 mins more, until the juices flood out and run clear. Use juices + vermouth + flour to make gravy!

Meanwhile, cut up and sauté veggies. I added some leftover corn. Succotash! Lightly season with salt, paprika, garlic and onion powder.

Drool. Serve. Savor each bite of local summer farm goodness. Give the cat a chicken scrap when he asks nicely. Make stock out of the little chicken. Breathe in, breathe out, enjoy.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Eggplant and Keeping it Simple

I haven't baked much lately. The latest were vegan strawberry muffins to celebrate a friend's liberation. Tonight, I decided to play with simplicity and an eggplant.

Slice eggplant into quarter inch slices. Salt and let sit 30 mins. Preheat the broiler.

Olive oil a baking pan and place eggplant slices on it. Oil tops. Broil 4-5 mins. Meanwhile, slice a tomato and separate basil leaves. Crumble some blue cheese.

Turn eggplant and broil on the other side 4-5 mins. Take out. Remove to a plate.

Place 1 basil leaf, a few strips of tomato and some blue cheese on eggplant. Roll up. Skewer with a toothpick. Repeat. Devour.

Simple and tasty. Finding grace in food. Enjoy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Freedom and Cake

This past weekend was one of the best of my life. It was spent with Belinda and Monica and amazing yogis at the Yoga Service Conference, at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. It is going to take me some time to decompress and sift through the ideas, concepts and realities that I gained from the conference. In the meantime, I wanted to share some new happenings I found in my last two asana practices.

James Fox, founder of Prison Yoga, explains that yoga is a three layered cake. Mindfulness on top, pranayama in the middle and asana on the bottom. Pranayama is the middle layer because it affects both of the others. Thus, I say asana practice because it is simply one of the eight limbs of yoga. Asana does not equal yoga.

On Sunday, Seane Corn led us through a sweet physical yoga ritual practice. We languished in our sun salutations. Different presenters that had led discussions over the weekend were asked to speak to who they serve, so that we could dedicate each sun salutation. Wow. A slow, methodical and intention filled practice with over 150 folks who are dedicated to their own practices and to serving others. That made for a powerful class. Full body prayer.

One panelist shared testimonials from her prison outreach group. A woman who has been sentenced to life in prison at the age of 17...said that through her yoga, she has found freedom. She will be behind bars for the rest of her life, and yet she feels free. If she can find moksha, freedom and liberation, who I am not to access that freedom in every breath? How dare I not practice to my full potential in every moment? How dare I not serve? Be present; be here. Float. Fly. Speak the truth. Be brave. Walk with confidence. Relax.

This does not simply apply to being on my yoga mat in a class or at home. No, this applies to every breath I take. Within every action and interaction, I have the opportunity to completely be. From the moment I wake up until the instant I go to sleep every day. I can choose.

Tonight, as I found my ashtanga practice at Hilltop Yoga, I could not stop thinking about the different groups the Yoga Service Council members serves. Sex traffic victims. Prisoners. Juvenile detention centers. Children. Teenagers. Addicts. Victims of natural disasters. Community. Our neighbors. Everyone. As Seane says, "we are one." I am they. They are me. Each movement tonight had me thinking of a different group, of a different individual, of my fellow yoga service warriors. Breathe. Move. Flow. Find my freedom. Float to the top of my mat. Hold that half headstand a little longer. Find that bind. Breathe and move with intention and focus. Practice to my edge on the mat and off the mat.

I walked away with the reminder on my wrist - a bracelet that says "off the mat, into the world".

I am a proud new member of the Yoga Service Council. I am thrilled to keep practicing my practice with a new illumination. Truly, who am I not to find my freedom in each moment? As yogis, we work within to work without. The revolution begins on the inside.

Much more. Much later.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Pachem & Community #LoveLansing

Rina Risper has invited you to Keep the P.E.A.C.E. & Stop the Silence March - Saturday - April 28, 2012, said the little red flag on my Facebook account. Hm. What's that?

P.E.A.C.E. Police enforcement and community engagement. Dona nobis pachem. Latin for "give us peace". I sang that song acapella so many times in my Catholic church choir. The song sweetly demands peace.

On Saturday, I demanded peace along with almost 300 others.

I admit, at first, I ignored this simple electronic invitation to join my community in a walk against violence on Lansing's streets. I wasn't sure if it was "my kind of event." What does a walk truly do? Are we really changing anything? Who would go? Would I be the only person like me? AKA someone who has barely seen violence and might not be able to understand or to identify? Would I be judged for being some silly middle class white girl from the countryside who thinks she knows something about any of this?

Then, Belinda created a rallying cry for the community to truly be and act as community, with her blog post (excerpt below),

"Our children are being shot and killed. Our elderly are being abused. Our neighborhoods held hostage. Even as that is true, Lansing is also a victim of the PERCEPTION of being OVERRUN with crime. Across Twitter and Facebook the criticism and jokes about the degradation of our city is troubling. We can’t turn our backs and run. Don’t leave and turn around and criticize from outside. What did you do when you were here? 

What voice did you speak with?

What did you do to be heard?

What did you do to change the PERCEPTION and display another side of our community? The creative and innovative side? The generous and supportive side? The resilient and brave side?"

With this, I realized that while I may not be the 100% perfect fit to blend in at this event...this is my community. This is my home. I live in Lansing. I am Lansing. I have an obligation to support, to show compassion, to activate change. Community. Compassion. This was an opportunity to be and to live my yoga. I was in.

I showed up to the rally and quickly made friends with Diane, a mom in Lansing who was also simply invited via the Facebook event. Her 20 year old daughter questioned why she was going. She thought it was "being fake" to march in some demonstration. Her mom took the time to explain that this was important to her, and she came to the march. Her daughter didn't join her...but Diane made a statement and took a stance to support her community. That conversation happened. Diane took action.

I struck up a conversation with the all-weather-prepared Marvin, who had a long coat, a furry hat and a huge umbrella. Marvin is a former MSU administrator who is working on his second Master's degree and looking for a new job in policy and/or helping people to achieve their potential. He realized he saw me speak at a job fair downtown. He told me that seeing someone like me at this kind of event humanizes me. I didn't realize I had been dehumanized. Solid reality check. Thank you, Marvin. Community. We are one.

I walked with my neighbors. I introduced myself to my community. Was I the minority? Yep. I wasn't an elder or young adult related to or friends with someone who was shot on our Lansing streets. I don't live in a particularly bad area of town. But I felt at home. I was invited. I came. I supported.

Take the invitation. Support your community. We are one. Rina says it best, love people.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mostly Vegan Bunny Food Cake

This is the first Easter with little fanfare. Dinner was comprised of poached salmon, kale and potatoes. Dessert, I decided, needed to be a bit special. I made a carrot cake - vegan - but with cream cheese frosting.

My mind and body needed today. Power Yoga - 1.5 hours. Bicycling - 1.5 hours. Meditation - 1.5 hours. Next up? Baking and wine.

Vegan Carrot Cake - adapted from multiple recipes
2 cups flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 cup sugar
3 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup chopped almonds
1/4 cup coconut
1 T cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 t cloves
1/2 t vanilla

Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet. Preheat oven to 350F. Combine mixtures. Pour into 2 pie or cake pans. Bake 40-45 mins. Let cool.

Beat cream cheese with milk and add powdered sugar to desired thickness. Mix until desired consistency. To stay vegan, try tofutti, soy milk and powdered sugar.

Frost one layer. Add next on top. Frost. Devour. Add another glass of wine. Breathe. Have a fabulous day.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Spiders and Yoginis

Today, one of my incredible teachers shared a quote that turned into a beautiful metaphor. Spiders. Yoga.

"A single spider is silent. They cultivate silence. Even the ones that do make noises will normally remain as still as they can, waiting. So much of what spiders do is waiting." ~ Neil Gaiman, "Anansi Boys"

Sitting; holding still; just being...are huge pieces of a yoga practice. The last four limbs of the eight limbs of yoga focus on simply being - pratyahara (sensory withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (devotion) and samadhi (union with the divine). Meditation is not easy. Silencing the mind clutter is not easy.

Being present, aware and in this moment from breath to breath is not easy. It is easier to run, to move, to stop being uncomfortable and to continue to clutter the mind. It takes effort to breathe through tough spaces. It is hard to sit in it, whatever that it may be at that particular time and place.

As another great teacher told me this weekend - breathe in it and through it, don't just breathe around it. 

Back to the spider.

A spider spins a web with a purpose. The architecture and placement varies from species to species. A corner of the garage, between blades of grass, on a tree branch or in a blueberry bush. Once spun, the spider sits on the web and waits. It positions it's body and legs in particular places on the web so that it can observe the entire web. It feels, looks and listens. It rides the wind, weather and all outside influences. The spider waits for good things to come. It does not actively reach and search and exhaust itself trying. It simply exists.

We can learn many lessons from all of the creatures in this world. But today, I'll accept the gift of focusing on the spider, and do my best to sit and breathe and be. Move with the wind and with the river, instead of against it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I can't do Yoga.

I can't do yoga. I'm not flexible enough. I'm too old. I'm too fat. I don't have the clothes. I don't have a mat. I don't have the money. I don't have the time.

You do. You aren't. You can do yoga.

If you can breathe, you can do yoga. Yoga means to yoke. I think of it as knitting the bones and flesh to the spirit and the mind. Yoga creates a union within ourselves and with the universe. It is easier to experience and feel than to explain, but it is worth explaining to those who are interested but unsure.

Focusing on your breath draws your attention to your body. Hm, what is that tight hip muscle? Oh, that shoulder stretch feels so good. I haven't taken a deep breath all week. This is the only hour I have to myself today.

Focusing on you creates a nurturing self care and self love place. It is only from that place that we can help others. Inhale. Exhale. So simple and so hard. Moving our bodies while focusing on our breath and ourselves allows us to recognize things within. Deal with our crap. Breathe and let it go, slowly work on it or move to the next mental challenge.

We do this work on our mat - we flow - so that we can flow within the world off the mat.

If you can breathe, you can do yoga. Yoga is about union and intention. Focus and breathe while sitting and you're doing yoga. The first step is easy - just try it - the rest is hard but you choose it. You can choose how hard you work and how deep you dig. Yoga is a choose your own adventure book. You can even flip back and choose a different route. All paths go somewhere.

You certainly can do yoga. Try a donation based studio like Just B Yoga, free or $5 classes at a studio like Hilltop Yoga or Yoga State or any other studio that looks appealing to you. Develop a home practice and go to a class less often to save $ and to dig deeper on your own.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Stay and breathe vs. running as fast as you can

I'm afraid there will be no sleep tonight until I articulate at least one of the thoughts floating through my mind. Tomorrow marks the beginning of the last weekend of 200 hour yoga teacher training at Hilltop Yoga. This end is only the beginning. I am going on to do 300 hours of teacher training at that studio, teach free and $5 classes there, and I hope and desire to teach elsewhere in Lansing. There is something deep inside of me that recognizes this practice and this need to teach  and that piece feels complete and comfortable being in it. That something needs to learn to override my mind and words more often. I'm working on it by not working on it.

One thing, out of many, that I have realized in the past eight weeks is just how often in my life I have chosen to run as fast as I can rather than hold still and breathe and be in an uncomfortable space.

Yes, holding utkatasana, chair pose, a little longer, a little deeper and with less muscles straining is a tough thing to do...but it is oh so worth it for the release, the uttanasana, the forward fold at the end. Life seems to be like that. Hold on in the uncomfortable spaces. Stay on the bucking bronco. Ride the wind. Keep climbing that mountain. The rewards at the end are immeasurable. The satisfaction of knowing you gently but firmly navigated yourself through trecherous waters is far greater than letting it all go and never trying at all.

In our fast paced corporate American lifestyles, it is oh so easy to keep going, going, going. Work on this, finish that, get this next big thing. Noise, noise, noise. More, more, more.

Like the Energizer Bunny, we keep beating that drum and marching in circles. Going, going, going. But where are we going TO? Where are we getting ourselves? Hold still. Be where you are. Sit in it. Deal with what is on your plate first, before you ask for more. All things that sage and beautiful teachers, within me and without, have taught me. I'm learning, even if I'm slow to hold onto this lesson.

Coming into pigeon pose, eka pada raja kapotasana, can at first be very difficult. It might always be very challenging. When I first came into that pose, I could not get my elbows to bend, much less think about getting my chest onto my leg and my forehead to the ground. Breathing into that space, melting away that tension and fight and all other manner of unnecessary garbage, allows us to find a comfortable seat in that posture. Sitting in it and working through it is the only way out.

To get to that other side, it is necessary to first walk through. Take a flash light, take a guide book, take a friend...but stay with the challenge and navigate through it. Choose to stay and breathe.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

It is all a practice and a journey.

I have intentionally avoided writing about my experience with yoga teacher training. I have done this because it is such a tough, beautiful and personal journey. Not only am I learning how to teach yoga physically, spiritually and mentally, but I'm also learning how to accept the good pieces of me, be okay with the junk I carry with me, and how to walk in this world with confidence. Quite a lot to learn in an eight week program.

In eight weeks, I will learn the foundations of teaching real yoga. I will not learn all of the secrets of life in eight weeks. I will not be done learning how to be a good yoga teacher in just eight weeks. I will not know everything. That is the incredible piece of this life and journey. I will never be done learning...and that is brilliant. What I learn will help me learn more and allow me to practice and teach with greater intensity and intention.

Every breath provides us with another moment to start fresh, to begin our practice again. Yoga helps us realize this life is a practice and not a perfect. It is OK to screw up. It is OK to walk out into the world with the best intentions, mess it all up and start again in the next moment.

Ahimsa. The first Yama. Non-violence. I think of ahimsa as compassion. Compassion for myself has been one of my most frequent yoga class intentions. I am here. I am being and doing and when I forget or slip up, I can start again. I'm stronger than I think I am. I know more than I think I do. I need to trust and to remember ahimsa. We are all strong, we all know a lot and we are able to get a "do-over" in each breath.

We have all heard that you must love and care for yourself before you can honestly do so for others. This is true. Nourish self so that you can nourish the world. Community. Support. Strength and courage in each step and breath. Just be and do. One of my all time favorite quotes is "do or do not, there is no try" ~Yoda. Ahimsa. Shanti. Peace.

View in Old Town, Lansing

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Putting Things in Perspective: Coal Miners, Bakers, HR & Yoga

Black History Month has me thinking about my family's history. History is important.

I have always identified most with the Polish-Catholic Dryzga side of my family. My dad's side of the family loves to have big celebrations with family and friends. Three generations bake Polish Coffee Cake and create big, beautiful gardens (Grandpa, Dad and me). We get emotional about everything, smile and are loud in most social situations. I love my family. My husband and I stopped by my Grandparents' house on the way back home to Lansing from our weekend trip to Tawas. My Grandma was a homemaker and my Grandpa worked for Dow Chemical and served in WWII. A recent TV show on geneology prompted me to ask about what my GREAT grandparents did for a living.

My Great Grandpa (Grandma's side) worked in management at a crane factory in Bay City. My Great Grandma was a homemaker and pressed clothes to make extra money for the family.
My Great Grandpa (Grandpa's side) came over on a boat from Poland to Ellis Island. He was a farmer and listed his skill as a "butcher". He worked in Cleveland as a butcher for a few years before coming up to Bay City to work in the coal mines. Apparently, there were coal mines in Bay City and Auburn and Unionville! My Great Grandma was a homemaker. She also rolled cigars in small shops in Bay City. My Great Grandpa developed black lung disease and died because of it.

I'm the great grandaughter of a coal miner. Whoa. This may not sound like much, but, it means a lot to me to know exactly what my family has done and gone through so that I can live and breathe as I do today.

My mother's side is the Bissonnette family. They are French-Canadian. My Grandmother was a nurse and my Grandfather, in addition to serving in WWII and being a sharp shooter, did many odd jobs to keep the family going. He cut blocks of ice out of the bay for people's ice boxes (pre-refrigerators, we still have one at my parents' house), sold pots and pans door to door and did a lot of general handyman things. They had eight children.

My Great Grandpa (Grandpa's side) isn't someone we talk about much. What I do know is that he had alcohol problems during the Great Depression and he spent all of the family's money on his habit. He then left my Great Grandma by herself with her children. My Great Grandma worked as a nurse and ran a bakery out of her home. She baked molasses cookies, sugar cookies and bread and my Grandpa took his little red wagon and sold it door-to-door in the morning before he went off to school. The baking gene runs deep. To my knowledge, my Great Grandpa and Grandma (Grandma's side) were farmers up in Greenbush.

Because of all the things my family has done and sacrified, I'm alive. I get to have a job, live in a city and state I love, go for walks in the woods, practice yoga, grow a garden, cook and bake, spend quality time with my husband and pursue a yoga teacher certification, among many other things.

My mom's response to "what is your purpose in life" was to say that her children are her purpose in life. At the time, I didn't understand what she meant. I understand a bit more now. I'm lucky to do the things I'm doing because of the sacrifices that have been made and the gifts that have been given by my family members before me. I'm the product of farming, butchering, coal mining, ice cutting, baking, nursing and more. I'm lucky enough to have a home, to spend time with incredible family and friends, to work with people for a great local company AND get to practice and, soon, teach this awesome thing called yoga.

Yeah, I'm blessed and grateful and happy to have every breath. Life is beautiful.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Tasty Cape Cod Bran Muffins

Winter is a great time of year for healthy muffins. I love baking up a batch of pumpkin, banana, five spice squash and bran muffins. There are many unhealthy bran muffin recipes out there in the world. Butter, sugar, more butter and the time you add the bran, they are nutritionally defunct. Enter the Recipes from a Cape Cod Kitchen.

This little cookbook was published in 1946. Recipes were written before the time of cream of something soups and short cut methods. They were even written before solid temperature gauges in ovens, as there are many vague oven temperatures such as high, moderate and low. For baking, moderate is always 350F.

 I found it at an antiques fair in Cape Cod. This bran muffin recipe is one of the few recipes in this book that I have used over and over again. I use it because it is simple, it is healthy and most of all it tastes good! Please see the picture below for the ingredient list. The average baker should have most of these ingredients in house. I really like that in a recipe. Bake at 350 for approximately 25 minutes. I hope you try it and enjoy! This muffin is a great way to welcome an easy and healthy 2012.