Sunday, November 25, 2007

go ahead and dream

"What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"
-- Mary Oliver

(photo taken by Start Skydiving - my first skydive on July 22, 2007)

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

happy thanksgiving!

Every day should be Thanksgiving Day. And no, not just for the food... but for the people in our lives who make us laugh, surround us with positive energy, and stand by us during the best and worst of times, and everywhere in between. For adventures and quiet moments. For dreams fulfilled and yet-to-be-fulfilled.

Thank you, all, for making my life full.

As each day comes to us refreshed and anew, so does my gratitude renew itself daily. The breaking of the sun over the horizon is my grateful heart dawning upon a blessed world. ~Adabella Radici

(my adorable nephews, Lorenzo and Martin - photo from Cathy)

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake

As much as I love the tropical climate I grew up in, living here has made me feel a different kind of appreciation for nature and the changes each season brings. Even the food is seasonal -- autumn brings to mind pumpkin and warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg.

Chocolate, of course, is an all-season thing. So here's a recipe that gives chocolate an autumn spin:

Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake
This is my "veganized" version, adapted from The Bittersweet World of Chocolate: Supporting Fair Trade

3/4 cup non-dairy, non-hydrogenated margarine (Earth Balance is great for this)
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
egg replacer, equivalent of 2 eggs (I use Ener-G egg replacer; follow instructions on box)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (great for added fiber!) or unbleached flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup grain-sweetened carob chips (you can also use semisweet chocolate chips if you're ok with dairy ingredients)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a loaf pan, or line with unbleached parchment paper.
2. Melt the margarine gently in a pan. Remove from heat.
3. Mix in the sugar, pumpkin, vanilla, and egg replacer. Sift in the baking powder and baking soda gradually, stirring to prevent lumps.
4. Stir in the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and salt. Sift in the flour and cocoa; mix well. Then fold in the nuts and carob (or chocolate) chips.
5. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the top and bake for 45 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, and then invert into a plate. Allow to cool on the rack.

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

slow down with yin yoga

A few days ago I looked at my calendar and realized, I did NOT overbook myself this weekend! So it will be a pretty quiet, and hopefully relaxing two days. Over the past several weeks (or maybe months!) I've gotten so caught up in schedules and commitments, places to go to, people to see, art shows and exhibits to visit, and workshops to attend -- which are all really fun anyway. And on top of that, papers to write and chapters and articles to read for school After coming down with a cold, I realize my body is telling me, "SLOW DOWN."

I've come to LOVE yin yoga. I have to admit, at first it took some getting used to, with my multi-tasking, Energizer-bunny personality. Yin yoga was quite a departure from the more aerobic nature of vinyasa and power yoga. In yin yoga, restorative stretches are held passively for at least 3 minutes or so. Instead of actively engaging the muscles, we try to relax the muscles as much as possible in order to stretch the deeper, connective tissues, especially around the joints. A lot of the yin yoga stretches focus on the lower back and the hips, where there is a LOT of connective tissue. Keeping the connective tissue flexible through these long stretches will help slow down the hunching and stiffness as we age, as the connective tissues "dry up".

Here are some of my favorite yin stretches:
seal (also called cobra in hatha yoga): a gentle back bend
sleeping swan (also called pigeon): great for opening the hips
shoelace: a nice alternative to sleeping swan, if hips feel extra tight
butterfly: great for stretching and decompressing the spine, especially the lower back
reclining twist: great for releasing toxins, improving digestion and elimination (twisting positions "massage" the internal organs in the abdominal area -- imagine wringing out toxins from your body as you twist!)

and of course, the best one of all:

For more information on yin stretches, see

And here's a tip that helped me become more patient while holding a yin stretch: choose a nice relaxing CD, and hold the pose for the length of the song--most songs are at least 3 minutes anyway. In between songs, take a moment to move around a little. You'll feel a bit achy after a yin stretch, after being still for several minutes. This achy feeling should go away though.

Remember, in a yin stretch (or any stretch for that matter), you don't want to be in pain. You want to stretch deeply enough to feel that you ARE stretching, but not too deeply that it becomes too intense and you can't be comfortable in it.

With the busy holiday season fast approaching, find time to slow down, breathe, and restore your body, mind, and soul with some yin yoga!

photo taken by Dad, August 2006, Saco River, New Hampshire

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happy weekend!

Today a new sun rises for me,
everything lives, everything is animated,

everything speaks to me of my passion,

everything invites me to cherish it.

-Anne De Lenclos

I don't know about you, but I get excited about Saturday mornings... It's the beginning of a promising, fun-filled weekend. Saturday morning is for allowing the morning sunshine to awaken me leisurely, and not stumbling to hit the snooze button of my alarm clock. I think about what I can do to unwind and regroup after a busy week -- taking long walks, practicing yoga, baking, meeting friends for coffee. I try to do at least one thing (or two or three) I'm passionate about, to renew my energy. I think that's why I find my weekend walks to be so sacred -- I'm not in a rush to finish a certain number of miles by a certain time, unlike some weekday walks in which all I can spare is 30 minutes. And in some of those weekday walks, I'm not really walking sometimes. I'm thinking about a million different things, multi-tasker that I am. On weekends though, I just walk, breathing in the energy of the earth around me. And truly, the earth has so much to offer this time of year -- the leaves changing color, the crisp, cool air... I can't help but feel incredibly blessed.

So this weekend, find something you are passionate about. Find something that will make you feel refreshed and re-energized, and do it. Whether it's for half an hour, an hour, or two... do nothing else but that one thing. "Everything invites [you] to cherish it."

Happy weekend!

photo taken by Mom, November 2006, Alms Park, Cincinnati

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Global Vegetarian Cooking

I love food. Especially world food. I have had the good fortune of meeting wonderful people from different parts of the world -- Turkey, India, Lebanon, Brazil, etc -- and they all willingly share their love of food, culinary expertise, and pride in their culture. While I was living on the university campus, potluck dinners took on a new meaning. I reveled in the international flavors reminiscent of the centuries-ago spice trade. Each time I visited one of my friends, there would almost always be some amaaazing home-cooked dish in the kitchen, whatever time of day.

So you can imagine my delight when I saw this book: Global Vegetarian Cooking: Quick and Easy Recipes From Around the World (by Troth Wells) at Ten Thousand Villages, a gem of a store in O'Bryonville, Cincinnati. With recipes such as Muhamara (a Turkish dip), Harira (a Moroccan bean stew), Gibneh (an Egyptian pate) and Pilao (an Indian rice dish), I could not put the book down. The photos were equally lovely -- the photographer captured not just the food of the country, but the country's beautiful people as well.

The only thing that saddened me was that there were no recipes from the Philippines. :-( Well, hopefully there will be a 2nd edition. Hmmmm..... maybe I should write to the author? Filipino cuisine is a mixture of Spanish and Chinese heritage, combined with creativity and necessity to suit our appetites, as well as a "waste not, want not" attitude. Another interesting bit of trivia: we like to eat 5 or 6 times a day. Anyway, I started to make a mental list of Filipino vegetarian dishes.

- lumpia (similar to Chinese spring rolls)
- lumpiang ubod (vegetables in a crepe-like wrapper with a sweet, salty, sour, peanutty dipping sauce)
- adobong kangkong (sauteed garlicky leafy greens)
- white bean stew (my late grandpa says that the recipe was from his mother or grandmother-- the original Spanish-style recipe has pork and ham bones, but I've adapted it and made it vegetarian. My great great grandmother must be turning in her grave, bless her heart)
- arorosep (my dad's favorite side dish - a cold salad of seaweed, tomatoes, and onions. I love seaweed, but even this is an acquired taste for me)

Ooooh and let's not forget the sweets:
- turon: sweetened plantains and langka wrapped in a wonton-like wrapper, fried to a crisp with bits of caramelized sugar all around
- suman: sticky rice steamed with coconut milk, ginger, and sugar, wrapped in banana leaves. My grandma used to make the best suman. It's a labor intensive dish, which sadly I have not learned to make.

These have eggs and dairy, so they are not strictly vegetarian, but they are SO good.
- polvoron: like a crumbly shortbread cookie. My mom makes the best polvoron, and it's one of the special treats I get when she comes to visit. She would make a big batch and painstakingly mold and wrap each little cookie.
- bibingka: a cake made with rice flour, cooked on banana leaves over hot coals, with shredded coconut, muscovado sugar, and kesong puti -- a local cheese, a cross between goat cheese and feta cheese, but in my opinion, a cheese category in its own right

To complete the picture, imagine eating all of the above by the ocean, on large banana leaves that do double duty as a tablecloth and plates (think eco-friendly, disposable but biodegradable china) spread out on a long table, the sea breeze, and a big noisy family.

Ok, I'm homesick now....

Anyway, back to my point about the book: a must read for foodies!

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Happy Fall!

"This tree is my constant mindfulness companion, mirroring to me how present and open I am to the freshness of the moment." - Mark Coleman, Awake in the Wild: Mindfulness in Nature as a Path to Self-Discovery, 2006

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Diwali blessing

May the light of love and devotion shine brightly in your hearts.
May the light of understanding shine in your minds.
May the light of harmony glow in your home.
May the light of service shine forth ceaselessly from your hands.
May the light of peace emanate from your being.
May your presence light the lamps of love and peace wherever you go.

- Diwali blessing by Swami Chidanand Saraswati (Muniji)

I thought this would be timely, since this weekend marks the celebration of the Diwali festival. It is also called the Festival of Lights, and one of the traditions is to light lamps as a sign of celebration and hope for humankind.

Have a great week!

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World Peace Diet

Yesterday I attended a workshop by Will Tuttle, PhD, author of a new book entitled the World Peace Diet. He talked about the philosophy of veganism, a lifestyle that remains elusive for me. When 2007 began I set a goal for myself to adopt a vegan diet on most days of the week (as a baby step, knowing that 100% vegan is a HUGE commitment). I'll be the first to admit that after the first two months of 2007, I began to stray. Sure, over the years I've given up red meat, chicken, and fish... but CHEESE??? Parmigiano-reggiano, goat cheese, gouda....

Veganism, however, goes beyond food. Here's the Wikipedia definition:
"Veganism (also strict or pure vegetarianism) is a philosophy and lifestyle that seeks to exclude the use of animal derived products for food, clothing, or any other purpose.[1][2] Vegans do not use or consume animal products of any kind.[3] The most popular reasons for becoming a vegan are ethical commitment or moral convictions[2] concerning animal rights, the environment, or human health, and spiritual or religious concerns.[4][5] Of particular concern are the practices involved in factory farming and animal testing, and the intensive use of land and other resources required for animal farming."

Aside from talking about this philosophy within the context of health and the environment, Will Tuttle also framed the idea of veganism with the larger concept of spirituality, particularly in respecting the interconnectedness of all life on the planet and including all living beings in our sphere of kindness. He asserts (and this is probably an oversimplified interpretation) that peace and the sustainability of life, largely depends on our choices, especially our food. His ideas, grounded in extensive research on anthropology, the great religions, and culture, are quite powerful, and I can't even begin to repeat all of them yet. I'm still in the stage of processing everything. But this seems to be why my attempts at trying to go vegan fell through... I was not (and admittedly, still am not) in that place yet spiritually.

Spirituality is a journey, after all... it's based on experience, and the reflections, insights, and growth that results from it. I've gone on spiritual retreats in the past and experienced that "post-retreat high" that can be so common after a powerful experience... and along with that "high", feeling that I'm a completely different person and can change the world. But that "high" diminishes. Because it is unrealistic to expect a 180-degree change within a day. Meaningful change is gradual. Real change comes from learning, questioning, understanding, and accepting... then translating that into action.

But going back to the idea of "interconnectedness"...
The word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj, which means "to yoke" or "to join". Yoga is about union -- union with our true self, union with others and all life, and union with the divine. I'm still wrapping my brain around these concepts, because they can be interpreted on so many levels.

One on level, this sense of union brings about respect and compassion for all life. And I think this can be manifested in various ways, just depending on each person. Each of us carves out his or her own path, and there are different paths to peace. The question is, which path is the most meaningful to me? Which path do I believe in? It's always hard thinking in terms of absolutes, in terms of black and white. Life always comes in shades of gray. Thinking in terms of absolutes makes me feel stuck sometimes. Right now, I'm in a place where I think, "do whatever you can -- a little is better than nothing." As juvenile as that may sound. Maybe I'm letting myself off the hook too easily. But I think a good place to start is by being conscious of the kinds of choices I make on a daily basis.

Before I ramble too much (if I haven't already), I thought I'd post this quote, since today it really speaks to me about this concept of union and our true nature as interconnected beings:

“I had the sense that all things, the sand, the sea, the stars, the night, and I were one lung through which all of life breathed. Not only was I aware of a vast rhythm enveloping all, but I was part of it and it was part of me.” - Howard Thurman

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