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 🙂

 

The Science of Sitting

When you hear the word “meditation,” what do you imagine? A group of Buddhist monks in temple, chanting and burning incense. A flashback to Woodstock with a field full of hippies sitting silently, listening intently to their guru (or spiritual teacher). Or, if you’re a bit more familiar, you might imagine an individual much like yourself sitting perfectly erect with each thumb and pointer finger touching together in the quintessential “Om mudra.” All of these images are valid representations of meditation. But if you’re like me, these vague portrayals are hardly enough to motivate you to adopt a daily practice, or to spend $200 on a five series class explaining what the point of all this is anyway. Experimenting on your own, or trying out a few YouTube tutorials is an option. But if you’ve tried, you’ve likely found that after two minutes – which feels more like twenty – your mind is in a million places, you’re restless, achy, and aggravated. Enter the oh so popular excuse – and one I’ve previously exhausted myself:

 “I can’t sit still long enough/my mind is too busy/I don’t have enough time to meditate!”

Well perhaps, it might be helpful to know the “why” first. You know meditation is good for you. The highly popularized benefits of relaxation and mental clarity are certainly enticing enough. And even corporate leaders like Oprah Winfrey and Rupert Murdoch vouch that meditation is useful for stress management and good decision-making. (Check it out here.) But how do you get there? And what is this all about, really? The answers to these questions have helped motivate my meditation practice and changed my perspective on yoga. Here’s what they don’t tell you, that I hope will help you along the way…

Yoga is an ancient practice, arguably dating back to 300 B.C., which has been passed down throughout history by way of individual, one on one instruction with a guru. Yoga’s classical definition is simply “the science of the mind” consisting of eight limbs of yoga intended to guide your path to enlightenment, or self-realization. The third of these eight limbs is “asana,” or a series of physical sequenced postures generally referred to as “yoga.” Ancient yogic texts insist that the other seven limbs are the most important steps to experiencing the full benefits of yoga. However, asana practice is intended to prepare you for the process of self-analysis and centeredness, by helping us clear the mind and prepare the body for long periods of stillness. (Savasana, anyone?)

When you leave a yoga class, you’ve likely felt what I fondly refer to as the yoga high. It’s a mental and physical buzz, or internal vibration, which leaves us feeling clear-headed, relaxed, and (relatively) stress-free. A former boss of mine who occasionally practiced yoga, used to joke: “If you want anything from me, just ask me after yoga class!” What you’re experiencing is a meditative state, and when you practice more frequently, this sensation lasts longer. While few ever complain about their post-practice buzz, this is also the reason why yoga is often associated with free-loving cluelessness and detachment from reality, which threatens its credibility and relevance as a useful everyday practice. (Revisit 1960’s Woodstock for a moment, and you’ll see what I mean.)

Although I’m not a scientist, I believe learning the mechanics of what’s happening during meditation is key to understanding, and thereby motivating our practice. My method of learning has always been: don’t ask me to do something until I fully understand why I’m doing it. (Sorry Mr. Murphy, the Pythagorean theorem just wasn’t happening…) But if you’ve ever wondered “why meditation?,” learning a bit of the science behind the practice is a great place to start.

Looking to science, specifically quantum physics, we know that all solid objects are composed of molecules, or a group of atoms which are uniquely formed to create physical matter and are perpetually in a state of subtle movement. Through meditation and asana practice, we are stimulating the vibration of our own molecular composition. When thinking of yoga, it might be helpful to think of body, mind, and spirit, and consider “spirit” to be the energy inherent to your molecular composition. Asana practice and conscious breath work (or pranayama) get this energy moving. Simultaneously, you are clearing the mind of restless thoughts by focusing your full attention on your breath and bodily alignment. (If you’ve tried Triangle pose for any length of time, you know that this process alone is a feat! Don’t get frustrated, you’re not alone. Practice makes perfect!) And while stretching deeply into postures like Warrior II or Pigeon pose, you are preparing your body to sit comfortably in meditation, a.k.a. Criss-cross applesauce or Lotus pose. Once these three things – body, mind and “spirit” – are in sync, then you experience real yoga and the benefits of the practice begin to take shape. In fact, the word “yoga” means “union” in Sanskrit, and represents this very process of convergence.

So, in understanding the why, we shouldn’t be concerned with quantum physics on our mats. Rather, applying the “why” to your practice is as simple as remembering your last yoga high and striving to reach it again and again. Then, try sitting in this stillness. Over time, you will learn to get there faster and stay there longer – using asana (physical practice), pranayama (conscious breathing), and even mantra (chanting) as different means to get you there. There is no right or wrong way, and every day will be different. But by playing with these techniques (have fun!) and challenging yourself to return to focus on your breath or alignment, the true benefits of yoga will unfold for you. Why? Because the science is there.

And I’m always here to answer your questions along the way.

Sending you good vibes! xx

Amy

My Year in Yoga

Sometimes following your dream means going down the unpaved road. The challenge is to trust that what awaits you at the end of the road is far beyond your wildest expectations. From a fellow traveler, do trust. You won’t be disappointed.

Those who know me well are well aware that the past year has been a little bit – or, a lot a bit – out of the ordinary. Moving to California was one thing, but forfeiting my career in government affairs, vowing to take up Yoga Studies, and accepting a graduate assistantship in religion and ecology – I think it’s safe to say I may have lost a few people along the way. But that’s okay, because my new venture is all about awareness. My love affair with yoga has thus far centered around my own growth and discernment, facing the harsh realities of post-college life and working them out on my mat. Through my five years of regular asana practice (or the physical practice of sequenced yoga postures as we all know them) I’ve found more self-confidence, focus and ambition than I ever imagined possible. In short, I believe my regular yoga practice has put me on the fast-track to becoming the best version of myself, and with this comes an overwhelming sense of contentment, and happiness. Goodbye fears, insecurities, and anxiety! Hello fabulous and all authentic me! It takes consistency, but pays off 100 fold. I’m in the best shape of my life, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and I’m pursuing my dreams in a way I never could have imagined: by obtaining a Masters of Arts in Yoga Studies degree from Loyola Marymount University (LMU).

Now I want to give a disclaimer, because I realize in my very introduction I’ve painted myself as an over-enthusiastic (perhaps unstable), yoga obsessed 25-year old – nothing too original about that. But what is unique is that my journey in Yoga Studies has begun, and will continue, in unadulterated openness. I was drawn to the M.A. of Yoga Studies program and to LMU for their explicit over-arching mission for universal acceptance. If you don’t already know, LMU is a very catholic university. But the mission of this program is to explore commonalities of diverse religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity – to uncover the historical emergence, and contemporary significance of yoga. I don’t think there’s one way to find happiness, contentment, and a trim physique in this life. There are many. And people are unique, and deserve infinite opportunities to explore themselves and their interests to find their own path to obtaining these things. I do believe, however, that yoga is a powerful tool in this pursuit; the actual benefits of which have yet to be thoroughly researched and documented under the scrutiny of Western culture. While mainstream society begins to embrace the proven health benefits of yoga in hospitals and doctor’s offices throughout the country (woop, woop!), there is still more. I believe yoga has extensive socio-economic benefits through which yoga can fundamentally empower and transform individuals to do better for themselves and their families, despite perceived limitations of background or circumstance. This means: raising families above the poverty line, rehabilitating troubled or imprisoned youth, eliminating social side effects of mental illness, inspiring decision-makers to better serve the public and our environment, increasing the number of minorities in public office, and the list goes on…At a time when our country and our world are imploding with violence and chaos, and our leaders have proven ineffective to assuage the storm, I believe this awareness holds the key to restoring individual contentment and promoting universal acceptance in the U.S. and across the globe.

So, here I am, a part French-Canadian/part English/all-American Westerner devoting my life to Yoga Studies to explore just that. I want to give you the proof you’re looking for, that yoga is valuable to you and the people you love, beyond a 60-minute destress session and the potentiality for six-pack abs (although these aren’t bad side effects either). Armed with a B.A. in Public Advocacy, several years of government affairs work in the public and private sector, a published manuscript on the socio-economics of gender disparity, and a new endeavor as Assistant Editor for an academic journal in global religions and social ecology, I won’t let you down. (And I hope you’ll check back for small bits of enlightenment I discover along the way.) Challenge accepted.

I look forward to sharing and always appreciate your thoughts and reflections.

Keep on flowing xx

Amy