Give in to Comfort (+ Recipe)

O’ tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort and joy… I’ve never stopped to consider these lyrics before, but giving a nod to a holiday classic, I’d have to say that word choice here is key. Tidings of comfort can allude to many things, such as that of family, of warmth – both physical (hanging fireside with hot cocoa) and emotional (open hearts and widespread generosity), of abundant food and ideally of relaxation. To feed yourself [and others], to love yourself [and others], to celebrate love, life and gratitude for all that you have. For an old church hymn, they’ve covered a lot of ground. (Good work, ye merry gentlemen!)

Of course, like any good celebration, the holidays come with their fair share of temptations and frustrations (and did I mention, expectations?). So, if you’re like me, the pre-Thanksgiving time is marked by a bit of anxiety. Excitement for a season of family and friends [with their respective social outings and get togethers], and a looming hope that you don’t get too carried away – with your holiday shopping, long-nights out and working overtime, heated dinner-table discussions with relatives, or double chocolate fudge [martini] indulgence. How do we walk the fine line between indulging in the comfort of the season and not over-indulging? It’s a difficult balance made much simpler by approaching the season with mindfulness – remembering that indulgence foremost means caring for yourself.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you look forward to the comfort and joy of the holiday season! (And to relieve any lingering anxiety over all the goodness yet to come…)

Bubble baths. To me, bubble baths are the ultimate form of indulgence. For you, it may be something else – perhaps reading a book or having a glass of wine by the fireplace (actually, I change my answer…) Take time during your time off this holiday season to indulge the way you want to. Too often in the past, I’ve felt the holidays have come and gone without allowing myself any time to relax. But I’m giving you permission – you can even put it in your calendar! – to make time for yourself, as often as you can, to indulge this holiday. (I’m talking bubble baths, candles, home facials and red wine…) You’ll be just as grateful come January, when you return to your routine feeling rested and rejuvenated 😉

Taste everything. As I’ve said before: Food is love! And you deserve only the best. But, of course, the best includes Gramma’s seasonal batch of double chocolate fudge and late-night pizza with high school friends. Don’t deny yourself a single thing this holiday, but do allow yourself [in most cases] just a taste. (Don’t panic – for me, this translates as one piece of fudge or 1-2 slices of pizza. Make it as realistic as it is delicious.) Ultimately, you have control over how much of what ends up on your plate. Start off with a taste of everything you want – one or two spoonfuls (use your judgment) – and then pick the thing (or two) you liked the most and go back for more! For dessert, go for that big ol’ slice of pie – but be kind to your body, pick just one (big) or two (small) things. And if you’re feeling bummed about missing out on a second piece of pie or that other tasty treat in the back, take one home for tomorrow or split with a friend. (I sometimes have to remind myself, there will be many more chocolate chip cookies in my future. No need to eat them all now!) Allow yourself to indulge in all the comfort of the season, while remembering to care for yourself foremost. This is key to avoiding next-day belly aches and painful hangovers at the holidays – and throughout the year, tried and true!

Stay Well. A lot goes on during the holiday season, you could even say it’s gained a reputation for stirring the pot. High emotions – of grief and loss, of being over-worked and exhausted, of frustration and anger, of fears and expectations for the coming year – often associated with the season are compounded by high stress, a natural derivative of the holidays. Acknowledge this, and even excuse yourself in advance. If and when things do come up, let them and then let them go. Take care of yourself and care for others. Greet stress  with as much compassion as you can muster. Remember that over-indulging in one thing, won’t relieve the burden of another. Give yourself the courtesy of acknowledging what you’re feeling as it comes up, and then take a step back and check out the big picture (“I’m really exhausted from being so busy.” Or, “I just miss my family, a lot.”) Then, from that place, decide how you’ll react. Take a nap, cook dinner for a friend, call a loved one, or hit a yoga class; indulge in a way that’s constructive and that won’t further aggravate yourself or others. Give yourself some love, and stay well.

Coincidently, these three are also a recipe for joy. I didn’t fully understand the meaning of joy, nor did I take much interest, until I challenged myself to follow these steps to the best of my ability, everyday (about a year ago this holiday). Since then, my constant belly aches have gone away, stress has become more manageable, I get sick less, I feel better, and I eat everything I want (but usually, just a taste). Caring for yourself is foremost. Once you can sustain a healthy balance of giving unto others (i.e. work, friends & family) and giving in to comfort – there is only joy. (Although, I’ll be the first to say this is an ongoing process, it’s certainly a commitment worth making to yourself, and for others.)

Live well and be well! ‘Tis the season of comfort & joy! I’m looking forward to spending quality time with friends and family in the coming weeks and wish you all of the comfort and joy that this season brings!

————————————————————————————————————

As the weather gets cooler – and the urge to curl up on the couch gets stronger – I thought I’d share a recipe to put aside for your next night at home. Just keep a box of Annie’s handy and add other goodies as you see fit! Bon appetit…

This is a favorite variation to spruce up my favorite comfort food. I encourage you to add, subtract and modify to make it as delectable for you.

Veggie Bomb [Buffalo] Mac n’ Cheese
(Makes enough for two, or one with leftovers!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Box Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese (I love the “white shells,” but you can use any brand or variety you like. I’d recommend sticking with organic or whole wheat, if possible.)
  • Buffalo Sauce (Franks or any variety. Hot sauce works, too!)
  • Almond milk (or soy or organic dairy. I wouldn’t recommend using coconut milk here, as it’s consistency isn’t ideal for the “n’ cheese” to follow)
  • Kale and/or Spinach (or any dark leafy green in your fridge)
  • Celery, 4 stalks chopped
  • Consider adding: chopped tomato, red, green or hot peppers, onion or broccoli, as desired

Protein, optional:

  • Tofu (firm, cut into cubes), boneless chicken (thin tenders are easiest) or chicken sausage

Directions:

  • Cook pasta according to box. Chop celery and put aside.
  • In a frying pan, layer the bottom with buffalo sauce (no oil necessary, but optional) and allow protein to cook in sauce. Tofu can be heated 5-10 minutes; chicken may take longer or can be pre-cooked. Add celery to frying pan and let simmer.
  • Once pasta is cooked to taste and before draining water, turn off stove and stir in leafy greens as desired. (The hot water in the pot will cook up the greens without overcooking the pasta. If you forget and drain accidentally, that’s all right – just add greens to frying pan with celery.)
  • Drain water, add milk n’ cheese, stir and let sit a minute or two for sauce to thicken.
  • Combine all ingredients and enjoy!

Also – if you’re in need of any ideas for your Thanksgiving potluck, I’ll be cooking up some California Oatmeal Cookies with cranberries and dark chocolate chips 😉

Stay Well ❤

Amy

Personal Photo: Santa Monica Pier summer concert series, circa 2013

It’s Your Year

Last week, I discussed yoga as a process of becoming.

This past weekend, I was exposed to exactly the sort of setting where you would expect the winds of change to come sweeping through: Off the Mat, Into the World’s 4-Day Advanced Leadership Training in Ojai, CA – of all places, my favorite place.

It was there that I felt very aware of a newness to myself, my being. Who is this girl, so lucky to be attending this workshop in this beautiful place? Who has such a strong, intuitive (asana) practice? Who speaks so confidently of her experiences in politics and global affairs, which have prepared her for this discussion in social justice yoga? Sometimes our process of becoming isn’t so pretty – and more likely than not, you won’t even know it’s happening. It’s darkness; it’s bitterness, fear, angst, and frustration. But in the inevitable moments of light that follow, you can look back on yourself and how far you’ve come, and realize gratefully that that whole time, you were just becoming.

Today I changed the name of my blog (and Facebook page) to “A Year in Yoga.” I did this because it’s never really been about “my year,” as I created it of and for all of you. I created this blog as part of a greater vision – for peace (inside and out), for justice (in the form of our own tolerance, acceptance and harmony), for empowerment (in understanding our own unique capabilities, our gifts, and finding the strength to live in that light). I have been so moved and inspired by the many women – and few men – who have reached out in response to my posts over the past three months, and shared a bit of their process with me.

It is important that the name reflects the fullness of this collective effort; to cultivate greater virtue in our lives is “A Year in Yoga.”

I was moved – or rather, moved myself – into the yoga community, in search of conversations surrounding the difficult questions: How do we stop the fighting? The destruction? The war, the hurt, the suffering? If it is innate in us to care for one another, at least when residing in close proximity, how can we work towards extending this sense of responsibility and compassion to the global community? To come from a place of love and to admit you are a work in progress is to live in yoga. No asana required. (Despite our Western spin, yoga is not the same as asana, or physical yoga postures. Simply living life truthfully, with compassion, patience and mindfulness, is living in yoga.)

We are all always in a perpetual state of change, growth and evolution, although we rarely realize. Approaching life with this awareness has its perks. Nonjudgment of yourself and others (ahimsa) is a practice which requires conscious cultivation, but ultimately takes the pressure off; allowing us to be more patient and easy on ourselves, and to have greater empathy toward others in acknowledgement of whatever war they’re fighting (or challenges they’re facing) themselves. This means acknowledging that you and I are both enduring similar, however very distinct, journeys toward becoming whomever or whatever we are intended or going to be. Here, we can relax in knowing that we can’t have all the answers.

Imagine what it would mean for families, for communities, for countries, for the environment, for your children (present or future), if everyone in the world approached life with nonjudgment and compassion toward themselves and others. You and I can’t change the world, but (a much larger, global) we can. We starts in communities, with individuals. All over the world, people are increasing their awareness and acknowledgement of the necessity for sustainability, for the preservation of our Earth, for future generations. Every yoga practitioner, protest attendee, business owner, community leader and politician who supports this cause, is a single “I.” I urge you to consider how you’re contributing to the inevitable change, growth and evolution that is becoming all around us, and in you. It doesn’t have to be here or there, right wing or left wing, working or upper class – you are individual, and your process is different from theirs or mine. But bringing a greater consciousness, or mindfulness to your daily life – to be present in acknowledging the impact of our daily choices and accepting responsibility for the effects of our actions and thoughts – is what the world desperately needs. The world needs you and me, because if not us, then who?

You’ve inspired me with your stories of success and struggle, because however personal and distinct from my own, I too feel the heaviness life sometimes brings and don’t want anyone to ever have to stand in it alone. This is empathy. This is peace, however small. And (despite the cliché), it starts with you. It really does.

I dedicate this venture forward, to you. It’s your year (in yoga, or however you choose to live it). And it’s time to start asking, “Who am I becoming?”

Be present, and you’ll know. I look forward to seeing all that flourishes.

Unconditionally here,

Amy

It's Your Year

Last week, I discussed yoga as a process of becoming.

This past weekend, I was exposed to exactly the sort of setting where you would expect the winds of change to come sweeping through: Off the Mat, Into the World’s 4-Day Advanced Leadership Training in Ojai, CA – of all places, my favorite place.

It was there that I felt very aware of a newness to myself, my being. Who is this girl, so lucky to be attending this workshop in this beautiful place? Who has such a strong, intuitive (asana) practice? Who speaks so confidently of her experiences in politics and global affairs, which have prepared her for this discussion in social justice yoga? Sometimes our process of becoming isn’t so pretty – and more likely than not, you won’t even know it’s happening. It’s darkness; it’s bitterness, fear, angst, and frustration. But in the inevitable moments of light that follow, you can look back on yourself and how far you’ve come, and realize gratefully that that whole time, you were just becoming.

Today I changed the name of my blog (and Facebook page) to “A Year in Yoga.” I did this because it’s never really been about “my year,” as I created it of and for all of you. I created this blog as part of a greater vision – for peace (inside and out), for justice (in the form of our own tolerance, acceptance and harmony), for empowerment (in understanding our own unique capabilities, our gifts, and finding the strength to live in that light). I have been so moved and inspired by the many women – and few men – who have reached out in response to my posts over the past three months, and shared a bit of their process with me.

It is important that the name reflects the fullness of this collective effort; to cultivate greater virtue in our lives is “A Year in Yoga.”

I was moved – or rather, moved myself – into the yoga community, in search of conversations surrounding the difficult questions: How do we stop the fighting? The destruction? The war, the hurt, the suffering? If it is innate in us to care for one another, at least when residing in close proximity, how can we work towards extending this sense of responsibility and compassion to the global community? To come from a place of love and to admit you are a work in progress is to live in yoga. No asana required. (Despite our Western spin, yoga is not the same as asana, or physical yoga postures. Simply living life truthfully, with compassion, patience and mindfulness, is living in yoga.)

We are all always in a perpetual state of change, growth and evolution, although we rarely realize. Approaching life with this awareness has its perks. Nonjudgment of yourself and others (ahimsa) is a practice which requires conscious cultivation, but ultimately takes the pressure off; allowing us to be more patient and easy on ourselves, and to have greater empathy toward others in acknowledgement of whatever war they’re fighting (or challenges they’re facing) themselves. This means acknowledging that you and I are both enduring similar, however very distinct, journeys toward becoming whomever or whatever we are intended or going to be. Here, we can relax in knowing that we can’t have all the answers.

Imagine what it would mean for families, for communities, for countries, for the environment, for your children (present or future), if everyone in the world approached life with nonjudgment and compassion toward themselves and others. You and I can’t change the world, but (a much larger, global) we can. We starts in communities, with individuals. All over the world, people are increasing their awareness and acknowledgement of the necessity for sustainability, for the preservation of our Earth, for future generations. Every yoga practitioner, protest attendee, business owner, community leader and politician who supports this cause, is a single “I.” I urge you to consider how you’re contributing to the inevitable change, growth and evolution that is becoming all around us, and in you. It doesn’t have to be here or there, right wing or left wing, working or upper class – you are individual, and your process is different from theirs or mine. But bringing a greater consciousness, or mindfulness to your daily life – to be present in acknowledging the impact of our daily choices and accepting responsibility for the effects of our actions and thoughts – is what the world desperately needs. The world needs you and me, because if not us, then who?

You’ve inspired me with your stories of success and struggle, because however personal and distinct from my own, I too feel the heaviness life sometimes brings and don’t want anyone to ever have to stand in it alone. This is empathy. This is peace, however small. And (despite the cliché), it starts with you. It really does.

I dedicate this venture forward, to you. It’s your year (in yoga, or however you choose to live it). And it’s time to start asking, “Who am I becoming?”

Be present, and you’ll know. I look forward to seeing all that flourishes.

Unconditionally here,

Amy

Squash Rings & Sweet Potato Fries (Recipe)

Happy Friday, All!

As much as I love the summer, there’s something so special about the slow, creeping in of cool crisp air against the California sunshine. (It’s probably my East Coast roots…) Autumn is officially here.

Before I start work today, I wanted to share a new recipe in hopes that it might bring some joy (and deliciousness) to your corner of the world this weekend. I tried it out last night, and am still savoring the gratification of a new, healthy take on a favorite comfort food…

I’ve included some extra notes for your reference, and perhaps to introduce some new staples to your kitchen cupboard. I hope you – and those lucky enough to share – enjoy!

I give you: Roasted Squash Rings & Sweet Potato Fries (Serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Squash*
  • 1-2 Sweet Potatoes, medium to large size
  • 3 Tablespoons of oil (Your choice: I used olive oil I had previously infused with basil and garlic, but coconut oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil are other good options)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (Try sea salt or Himalayan rock salt, if you’re feeling adventurous – the latter is available at most ‘higher-end’ health food stores and packed with 80+ organic minerals)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (To taste – I overdid these a bit, which is fairly easy to do. Beware!)
  • Black pepper, freshly ground (Using a grinder is preferable to preserve its quality until consumption, but ‘table’ black pepper does just as well!)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment (wax) paper, or cooking spray if unavailable.
  2. Slice each squash in half horizontally (to preserve circle-shape) and scoop out seeds with a spoon. Then, slice into ¼” rings. Cut sweet potatoes into halves, and then again as needed into small chunks. (They won’t look as clean cut as store-bought fries; see my photo above for shape and size reference.)
  3. In a bowl or plastic bag, toss squash rings and potato pieces with the mixture of oil, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Oil should just lightly coat ingredients.
  4. Place squash and sweet potato pieces in a single-layer on the prepared baking sheets and roast in oven 30-40 minutes, turning them over halfway through. Should be fully cooked and lightly browned on each side.

Walah! The perfect snack to cozy up with on your couch this weekend. Pair with your drink of choice (last night, for me, was red wine) and consume slowly, deliberately, and mindfully to fully indulge in what truly is a taste of the season.

Sending sunshine ❤
Amy

*I used Delicata squash, a long yellow variety; however, any squash should do. I’d be interested to hear your variations – Butternut Squash Rings?! Yes, please.

Thank you to my friends at Farm Fresh to You for providing this recipe for Squash Rings (originally adopted from Urban Chickpea) along with my produce delivery this week. The featured ingredient, Delicata squash, was also provided, perfectly ripe and newly picked from San Diego. Yum!

Squash Rings & Sweet Potato Fries (Recipe)

Happy Friday, All!

As much as I love the summer, there’s something so special about the slow, creeping in of cool crisp air against the California sunshine. (It’s probably my East Coast roots…) Autumn is officially here.

Before I start work today, I wanted to share a new recipe in hopes that it might bring some joy (and deliciousness) to your corner of the world this weekend. I tried it out last night, and am still savoring the gratification of a new, healthy take on a favorite comfort food…

I’ve included some extra notes for your reference, and perhaps to introduce some new staples to your kitchen cupboard. I hope you – and those lucky enough to share – enjoy!

I give you: Roasted Squash Rings & Sweet Potato Fries (Serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Squash*
  • 1-2 Sweet Potatoes, medium to large size
  • 3 Tablespoons of oil (Your choice: I used olive oil I had previously infused with basil and garlic, but coconut oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil are other good options)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (Try sea salt or Himalayan rock salt, if you’re feeling adventurous – the latter is available at most ‘higher-end’ health food stores and packed with 80+ organic minerals)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (To taste – I overdid these a bit, which is fairly easy to do. Beware!)
  • Black pepper, freshly ground (Using a grinder is preferable to preserve its quality until consumption, but ‘table’ black pepper does just as well!)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment (wax) paper, or cooking spray if unavailable.
  2. Slice each squash in half horizontally (to preserve circle-shape) and scoop out seeds with a spoon. Then, slice into ¼” rings. Cut sweet potatoes into halves, and then again as needed into small chunks. (They won’t look as clean cut as store-bought fries; see my photo above for shape and size reference.)
  3. In a bowl or plastic bag, toss squash rings and potato pieces with the mixture of oil, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Oil should just lightly coat ingredients.
  4. Place squash and sweet potato pieces in a single-layer on the prepared baking sheets and roast in oven 30-40 minutes, turning them over halfway through. Should be fully cooked and lightly browned on each side.

Walah! The perfect snack to cozy up with on your couch this weekend. Pair with your drink of choice (last night, for me, was red wine) and consume slowly, deliberately, and mindfully to fully indulge in what truly is a taste of the season.

Sending sunshine ❤
Amy

*I used Delicata squash, a long yellow variety; however, any squash should do. I’d be interested to hear your variations – Butternut Squash Rings?! Yes, please.

Thank you to my friends at Farm Fresh to You for providing this recipe for Squash Rings (originally adopted from Urban Chickpea) along with my produce delivery this week. The featured ingredient, Delicata squash, was also provided, perfectly ripe and newly picked from San Diego. Yum!

California Oatmeal Cookies (Recipe)

It’s been a busy weekend, and I have to say my own reminder to “slow down and enjoy,” worked. Putting aside my school work today – after a nonstop week – I allowed myself a glorious beach excursion and am feeling entirely renewed and refreshed!

In celebration of my boyfriend’s birthday, we drove up the coast to Ventura for a brewery brunch and beach day (followed by epically delicious fish burritos on the pier, of course). I always love driving up the PCH, but especially today – having just marked my first year in California – I was struck by the first hint of autumn as it steadily engulfed the northern suburbs, seemingly overnight. It’s a bit different here than on the East Coast but regardless, in all corners and landscapes, autumn is my favorite season. The crispness in the air and the cool breeze, sweeping in merrily like an old friend, these moments are just as real here on the Westside. (Bring on sweater weather!)

So naturally, to properly conclude Matt’s birthday celebration and welcome in our good friend Autumn, I had to make my “semi-famous” homemade oatmeal cookies – traditionally, my grandma’s secret recipe. But, of course, I adapted the recipe to include my own spin – and if I may – a taste of the West Coast 😉 I thought I would share* because it’s a great example of how to make something classic and impressive, using what you have and made the way you want it (as delicious – and nutritious! – as humanly possible, for you).

I’d love to know how yours turn out!

California Oatmeal Cookies (makes 2 dozen)

  • 1 ¾ cups Whole Wheat Flour I actually used what we had in the cupboard: good ol’ enriched white flour. But, next time I would try Whole Wheat flour or there are great substitutes like coconut, soy or almond flour that you can find in a Whole Foods, and are gluten-free – and delicious!
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Powder – $1.99 at Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) – Note: different then Baking Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda – $1.99 at Trader Joe’s, but check the back of your fridge first!
  • 1 cup Organic Coconut Sugar – I used “Organic Coconut Sugar” from TJ’s this time around (no regrets!), but I would advocate for any raw or organic sugar first, then cane sugar, then synthetic sugar/artificial sweeteners – if you’re going to make cookies, you should do ‘em right!)
  • 1 teaspoon Sea Salt – I used sea salt because – especially when paired with dark chocolate – it just seems to make everything better! Pink rock salt (i.e. Himalayan) is also great if you can find it, as it’s chock-full of minerals for detoxification (if you go this route, make sure you get “table/cooking salt” as there are other varieties for bathing, etc. as well) And if all else fails, there’s nothing wrong with iodized [regular old table] salt!
  • 2 Cage-Free Eggs – If you can afford to go cage free and/or organic, please do! (Just think of a bunch of chickys playing in the grass and laying eggs versus being cooped up in a dark shed – that always gets me. Support Chicky Playtime, Go Cage Free!)
  • ½ cup Coconut Oil – I was excited to use coconut oil because I was curious how it might change the consistency. I have to say they look and taste very much the same, with a little hint of coconut. (Also from the sugar. We’re on a coconut kick!) Other options here might include: vegetable oil, olive oil (earthier taste, better for your heart), sunflower oil (try Whole Foods for this), applesauce or your favorite butter or margarine – there are also a few good coconut oil-based margarine brands out there! (We love a brand called, Melt.)
  • 6 tablespoons Molasses – I went straight for it on this one and used the real thing.
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla syrup – Ditto.
  • 2 cups Gluten-Free Quick Oats* add later – I used TJ’s steel-cut, gluten-free quick oats because that’s what I had on hand. Any oats will do (including Quaker) as long as they’re “quick” oats.
  • Any Add-ons: Your chance to add in whatever you like (and they can be different each time you make them)! Some ideas might be dark chocolate chips, raisins, walnuts, chopped almonds, apricots or figs. 6 oz. of one goody is enough for the whole batch – if you plan to use several add-ons, remember to use less of each. (I made some plain, some with dark chocolate and chopped walnuts and paired with vanilla soy ice cream (non-dairy is happier to digest, especially for late night snacking. And still delicious)…Mmm)

325 F for 12-15 minutes

  1. Combine ingredients in a bowl (ideally, in order as listed) and stir until the mixture is even and doughy.
  2. Add in Quick Oats (& add-ons) and roll into dough using spoon, until even throughout.
  3. Use tablespoon to drop dough onto greased pan, do not flatten out.
  4. Heat in oven at 325 F for 12-15 minutes.

Enjoy! And remember to keep some, and share the rest with family and friends (and classmates and coworkers and mail-carriers). Because, food is love ❤

Happy Autumn,

Amy

Clean Eating Connoisseur (+ Recipe)

Once a week I receive a large package on my doorstep in the middle of the night. Like Christmas elves of organic produce, the local farm folk tip toe to my stoop and leave a box full of crisp, yummy delights hand-picked just for me! (I guess Santa’s preoccupied with the late-summer harvest.)

I rant and rave about my weekly produce deliveries to anyone who will listen – not only because it does feel like Christmas every Thursday! – but mostly because these deliveries are what effortlessly pushed me over from being a Lean Cuisine-loving, perpetual dieter to a self-proclaimed, clean eating connoisseur! They took all the guess-work and effort out of buying produce (which for a novice can feel very overwhelming), and now – a year later – I’m comfortable hitting the produce aisle for what’s ripe and in-season, including fruits and veggies I’d never tried or heard of before.

But the best part is that it gets you cooking. Being in transition has meant constantly looking for cheap and easy meals – so I’m adamant about not letting things go to waste. As a result, I’ve been cooking up a storm (to my boyfriend’s delight) making asian stir frys, veggie pastas, and colorful summer salads until my heart’s content. Becoming comfortable in the kitchen is all about practice, and experimentation. I’ve never been one for following a recipe to the T (sorry, Gramma), but believe that if I’m going to cook with what little time and money I have, it better be quick, easy and delicious. The same outcome can be achieved by hitting your local grocery store, farmer’s market, or registering for your own weekly, biweekly or monthly produce deliveries.* (Click here to find CSA deliveries near you – See below for more info.) Always try your best to find what’s fresh and “in season.” A farmer’s market is a great place to learn, and have fun while you’re at it!

Don’t overwhelm yourself. Go ahead and grab your favorite fruits and veggies, but also try one or two things that are new to your kitchen each time you hit the store. (My seasonal favorites lately have been heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, watermelon, and the ever-delicious fresh mint and basil.) Once home, consider what is already in your cabinets and what old or new creation you might cook up. A quick Google search (or my personal favorite: all recipes.com) will give you guidelines, times and temperatures to bring your creation to life. But don’t feel obligated to follow it exactly. You can add things you like, subtract things you don’t like, and replace comparable items with what you have at home. Don’t stress – so what is it’s not a five-star feast? It’s still healthy and delicious! And as you go, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, creating your own personal arsenal of 20-minute meals that feed your body, mind and soul.

A favorite meal I recently added to my home cooking arsenal is what I call an “Eggplant Bake.” Straight forward and simple, it takes little to no preparation and allows you to put a delicious, but often befuddling, seasonal vegetable to use: the eggplant. Here’s my own take on the dish, which runs a little longer at 35-45 minutes with prep time. (But remember, cooking can also be a meditative process – Take the time out for you, to be and live well!) Feel free to try it out, and make it your own…

Eggplant Bake (feeds 2-4, with leftovers)

Ingredients:

  • 1 eggplant
  • 2-3 tomatoes (depending on size, use your judgement)
  • greens of your choice (spinach, kale, arugula, swiss chard – oh my!)
  • cheese of your choice (I used parmesan and fresh mozzarella)
  • olive oil
  • basil, oregano, and/or italian seasoning; salt & pepper

*To make this meal more filling, consider adding a quick & easy whole grain like couscous, whole wheat pasta, or brown rice (Uncle Ben’s is ready in 90 seconds!). If you have a bit longer to cook, try a heartier grain like barley, quinoa or farro – Mmmm!

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add and spread 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in baking dish. (Can also use cooking spray, but olive oil makes your heart healthy – why skip out on the extra goodness?)

2. Slice tomato and eggplant in 1/2 inch rounds (no need to peel!) and place a single layer of eggplant in baking dish. Place a small handful of greens on top of each round and cover with tomato slice.

3. Add cheese – Don’t be stingy, but be mindful. Add seasoning and additional olive oil (sparingly) as desired.

4. Bake for 30 minutes. Switch to “broil” and bake an additional 5 minutes. (It takes a bit of extra time, but I promise it’s worth it.)

5. Enjoy! My final product is depicted above. I’d love to see yours!

Note: Dish is best served when you enjoy the process, and pair with wine and friends. Remember, food is love. 

 

Bon Appetite xx

Amy

 

*A bit more about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA):

Investing in weekly, biweekly, or monthly produce deliveries can be a fun and affordable way to jumpstart your new hobby of cooking up your own “clean eating” creations. (I pay $25/box and still grab protein (beans, tofu, chicken) and a few favorite items at the store – This way I spend less than $200/month on groceries! And eat damn well.) Often times, you can even choose what arrives in your box. Not a carrot fan? No problem, swap in potatoes or peppers instead!

Check online if there is a CSA group in your area. These are the folks, or “elves,” that coordinate with local farms to deliver fresh, delectable, and affordable produce to your door. This way, you’ll also know where it came from, how it was grown (often, organic), and even who’s growing it! To find out if there’s a CSA near you, click here.

As an example, this week my box looks like this:

  • 1 lb. Heirloom Tomatoes
  • 4 Barlett Pears
  • 1 Cantaloupe Melon
  • 1 bunch Celery
  • 1/2 lb. Gypsy Peppers
  • 1 bunch Red Chard (luscious greens!)
  • 1 bag Red Grapes
  • 2 Yellow Nectarines

Mmm, can’t wait to dive in! Happy eating 🙂

 

Food is Love.

Like many, I struggled for a long time with my eating. Although I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, I knew that my relationship with food was unhealthy, and that I didn’t want to live my life that way. I developed a regular gym routine, deprived myself of desserts and stocked my freezer full of Lean Cuisines; but never felt any relief from the stress of trying to be “thin.” (Sound familiar?) But still, I always had this itch inside me that insisted: There is another way, something better.

I started Bikram yoga in 2010, my sophomore year of college and the height of my “health” obsession. After three years of almost-daily practice, I felt great and was my instructor’s favorite, having seemingly mastered the 26 posture series. Of course, I hardly basked in this accomplishment, and instead sulked in my frustration that I needed to do more, be better and look better. How was it that I was killing myself in the hot room, and still didn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model? In my unceasing frustration, food became my solace – and my secret vice. My anger at myself for over-eating resulted in self-hatred, and the cycle continued. My “health” obsession – always grappling between not eating enough and binge eating – had become very unhealthy…and then, finally, something clicked.

I remembered a challenging time I’d experienced while studying abroad in Costa Rica. To help cope with my discomfort and anxiety, I had yearned for yoga. But there was no Bikram yoga studio in San Jose, so I took up classes (in Spanish) at a local vinyasa studio. Here, yoga made me feel safe and confident because, when there, I allowed myself to let go of my fears. This had never been the object or focus of my Bikram routine (which for those who don’t know, is a highly physical, half-naked practice in a 105 degree room, leaving few thoughts to ponder “letting go”). So, by shifting my attention and setting the intention to explore and let go of my fears, on and off the mat, I hoped to relinquish myself from nagging insecurities and food anxiety – Forever. This is when yoga clicked for me as something to dedicate myself to – not for the physical, but for its psychological promise: to be liberated and finally be comfortable in my own skin, just being me.*

What I learned in this process regarding my eating, is that diets don’t work. The nature of a diet is exemption or exclusion. They’re not saying what you can eat, they’re telling you what you can’t. And who wants to live their life being told what they can and can’t eat? Where’s the enjoyment in that? Think about it. I’ve done it, too and that’s no way to live. There has to be a better way.

I also learned that by confronting my insecurities, I was free to focus on caring for myself. What I live by now (and have lost 20 lbs doing) is simply practicing self-love when it comes to food. Think about your spouse or your children (present or future) – What would you want them to eat? Probably, things that are good for them. Food that gives them energy to sustain themselves for business trips and soccer games, but that also tastes really good. They deserve only the best. Well, so do you. And more likely than not, if you start feeding yourself this way, the one’s you love will soon follow. This display of self-love, and analysis of your own thoughts (about eating or otherwise) is the key to happiness, and is a living practice of yoga. More specifically in yogic terms, this can be considered a practice of ahimsa, or non-violence against yourself or others. (Read more about practicing ahimsa, here.)

Practicing ahimsa when it comes to food means creating a diet with no exemptions and no exclusions, but plenty of love and education. As a general rule, I discovered: things that come from the Earth will give you sustained energy and are jam-packed with nutrients to support your overall health, while things that come in a box or package are inherently endowed with chemical preservatives and sugar, or “fake” surge energy. So, learning about fruits and veggies is the only road to happy, healthy eating. But don’t worry, there’s way more out there than you find on your plate at the Olive Garden. And I promise, even if you’re “not a veggie person,” there’s plenty to learn and love. But still keep in mind: You’ve gotta live! Eat what you need, but also eat what you want. (A personal favorite in our house lately has been Tollhouse cookies. How can I say no?) Be smart, and care for yourself. Create balance, not restriction. Don’t limit yourself, just love yourself. It sounds corny, but I promise it works. And soon this newfound contentment will seep into other aspects of your life, and you’ll be brighter. And you’ll stop weighing yourself – and judging yourself. Because you’re happy, finally, just the way you are.

I feel incredibly blessed to have reached this conclusion, and I want this for everyone – especially my lady friends, everywhere. You deserve only the best. Feed yourself, love yourself. Food is love.

A post will follow with a recipe to get you started. I always encourage substitutions and new creations when it comes to cooking. Make it your own, from what you have at home, and make it something that you and your family will love.

In the meantime – Chow on, with love Xx

Amy

 

*Note for the Soul Seeker: What ensues when you make this commitment, to “let go” and allow yourself to explore your deepest fears, is a real challenge – but it is the real practice of yoga. Things come up, and you start to deal with what you might have otherwise, gratefully, left buried deep inside. To the soulful explorer, I’ll say – as was advised to me – just trust. This means letting go of knowing what the end result will be. Will this work (to address whatever vice you’ve developed)? Will you really be happier afterwards? Let it go. And trust yourself, that if you’ve taken this step toward self-exploration, then you know what’s best for you. And you do. So follow it, see where it takes you. And feel free to report back – the road ahead gets bumpy, no need to go it alone.*