Monday, September 29, 2008

it was THAT kind of Monday morning

Do you ever wake up in the morning and feel like you only slept for an hour? I did this morning. I don't know why, but I tossed and turned last night until almost 2 am. That's even after a 5-6 mile walk and about an hour of yoga. I even had my relaxing tea ritual after dinner. As far as I know, lemon verbena tea (which I had last night - a whole teapot) contains no caffeine. So this morning, I stumbled out of bed and needed a quick energizer.

Here's my solution to hurried mornings...

Banana-Peanut Butter Smoothie

1 ripe banana, peeled and frozen
1-2 tablespoons natural peanut butter*
locally sourced raw honey**, to taste
a dash of ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground cloves
vanilla soy milk

Process the above ingredients in a blender until smooth. Smile in enjoyment. To quote this friend, it's "delicious yummy-ness."

The carbs-and-protein combination of this smoothie keeps me going through busy mornings at work and all the way till a late lunch. The cinnamon is great for keeping your blood sugar levels stable as well.

*For me it HAS to be Santa Cruz organic, creamy, light roasted peanut butter. I tried this smoothie with the "regular" roast (or I guess a darker roast?) of peanut butter and I didn't like it as much because the dark roast overpowered the subtleties of the honey and cloves. Ok, I know I sound strange, complicating the matter. It's all a matter of preference. But YES I obviously love peanut butter and I claim to be a PB connoisseur. :)
**I like the spring variety of honey, which tastes lighter than the summer varieties. YES I obviously like honey. Especially if it's from Bee Haven, one of the vendors at Findlay Market.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

holding on to summer... plus another recipe (Zucchini Date-Nut Bread)

I love this time of year. As much as I do not like saying goodbye to summer, late September also means cooler mornings and nights, the start of Cincinnati's "20 Days 20 Nights" arts festival, and LOTS of end-of-summer produce.

Well, not from my "garden".

My cherry tomato plant didn't do so great, but it wasn't bad for a first try either. They were actually really sweet. I know cherry tomatoes are small, but they shouldn't be that small. Oh, well. Maybe it took after its caretaker.

These tomatoes (below) were SO good. Plump, juicy, and really pretty. I was torn between wanting to slice one of them right away (or just bite into it, really) and wanting to photograph them.

heirloom tomatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, and grape tomatoes from a friend's garden

At any rate, one of my favorite things to do with home-grown tomatoes is to just slice them, season them lightly with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, sprinkle some fresh chopped basil, and drizzle this olive oil on top (just a warning: it's not cheap, but this is my olive oil indulgence). Then mop up the olive oil with this bread. Aaaahhh... simplicity and perfection.

And what to do with an abundance of farmer's market-fresh zucchini? Zucchini bread!

Here's the recipe...

Zucchini Date-Nut Bread

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (you can also combine 1 1/2 cups regular whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup sorghum* (or 1/4 cup molasses)
1 cup turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 medium zucchini, equivalent of 2 cups grated (I used a food processor)
Ener-G egg replacer, equivalent of 3 eggs (follow instructions on package)
about 1/2 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup chopped dates, coated lightly in flour (this prevents the dates from sinking to the bottom of the bread while baking)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 8x5" loaf pans.
2. Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to blend well, then set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together oil, sorghum or molasses, sugar, and vanilla. Add zucchini and mix thoroughly. Add Ener-G egg replacer, and mix until blended.
4. Beat in flour mixture just until blended. Take care not to overmix! Fold in nuts and dates.
5. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes, then loosen the sides of the bread and invert onto a serving plate.

For an added treat, I also mix some Tofutti cream cheese with a little confectioner's sugar and vanilla to spread on the sliced zucchini bread. Yum!

* Sorghum is a natural, unrefined sweetener. I bought mine from Old Kentucky Home, one of the vendors at Findlay Market.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

living without

Cincinnati was struck by a severe storm last Sunday. Gusty, howling winds strong enough to uproot trees. I am one of the fortunate ones to live in a place where the electricity came back on after 24 hours. Some have had to deal with the power outage all week and are expected to have electricity this weekend.

Initially, the power outage made me feel non-productive. I needed to get on my computer to work on some things I needed for the week. I wanted to upload photos. I wanted to check email. Ah, the need for makes me wonder how we lived without it.

Later, I ended up liking it. After checking on some friends and asking if they were ok, I decided I was just going to take a nice, 20-minute power nap, then read something for pleasure. I actually went to bed at 9:30 pm, which in my life is unheard of. It felt refreshing to be disconnected, for a change.

I remember how, back in my home country, we would get hit by tropical storms that made power outages last for days and days. As children my siblings and I would rejoice at not having to go to school. We would welcome the cooler winds that the storm brought, maybe float paper boats in puddles. We would use oil lamps that looked like (and probably were) from the era of Spanish colonialism in our country. We would find ways of enjoying our time, just being together as a family.

This time, I savored the feeling of not needing technology, even temporarily. It's amazing too how we can get used to life's little luxuries. At 6 o'clock on Monday morning, taking a cold shower was almost torturous (ok, so maybe that's being overly dramatic). How could I have gotten used to warm water, when I have been taking cold showers all my life in the tropical heat back home?

Needless to say, the power outage became a welcome respite, to go back to simple pleasures. And to realize that there are things I can live without sometimes.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

the gift of memories... and a recipe

(My 2 nephews, walking across the Purple People Bridge, Cincinnati/Northern KY)

Me (to my 8-year-old nephew): Hey Martin, I have a surprise for you!

Martin (excitedly, without skipping a beat): Banana muffins?!

Not surprisingly, my 2 nephews associate their Tita (Aunt) Mia with food. I'm taking that as a compliment.

Almost every summer when we get together, they seem to have a favorite food/snack of the moment. During the week we spend together, they would ask me everyday, "Tita Mia, when are we going to bake (insert snack of the moment here)?"

One summer it was mini pizzas on pita bread. They loved getting involved in the kitchen--spreading the pizza sauce, putting their own choice of toppings (and luckily they ended up eating even peppers and olives), and grated cheese. Of course, more cheese probably went into Lorenzo's belly than onto the pizza. That same year, we even made spinach and black bean enchiladas. I was pleasantly surprised that they ate it, vegetables and all.

Another summer it was my homemade granola. They snacked and snacked on it. Martin asked me about every ingredient that was in it. He would take a handful of granola, put it on a plate, and spread it out so he could see individual ingredients. "What's this one?" he would say. I would answer, "Oats." Then he would put it in his mouth, taste it, chew on it, and mull over it a little. Then he would ask, "How about this one?" I would answer, "dried blueberries." And it would go on and on. Walnuts and almonds. Dried cherries. Sesame seeds and flaxseed.

This summer it was my cinnamon crumb cake and banana chocolate chip muffins. Oh, how we made a mess in my kitchen as I let them stir the flour with the other dry ingredients. We mashed bananas. We added chocolate chips. Once it was baking in the oven, I turned the oven light on and they crouched in front of the oven, looking through the glass and watching it almost in reverence. I'd announce when it was done, and I'd have to ask them to wait for it to cool a bit before digging in. Martin would even ask for hot herbal tea to have with his cinnamon crumb cake. You'd think he was growing up in England.

How I cherish these moments. I'd like to think they'd remember it for a long, long time, as I too remember those moments with my mother in our kitchen back home. I was probably not more than 5 years old. I had my own little apron, my own little oven mitt, mixing bowl and spoon. My mom would put some flour and whatever ingredients she could spare in my bowl and I would start mixing (and making a mess) alongside her. I remember how, when we were little, my siblings and I would help make chocolate chip cookies. And how the chocolate chips had to be rationed, 2 chips per cookie, to make the chocolate go a long way. Of course, one of my brothers tried to sneak in an extra chocolate chip or two. Years later my mom would tell me how we were on a strict budget then (hence the rationed chocolate), and yet we never felt deprived. Silly as it sounds, I was almost shocked when I first saw and tasted American commercially-made chocolate chip cookies that were studded with chocolate chips. But back then we never knew the difference and didn't care that we were only allowed 2 chocolate chips per cookie. I just remember those afternoons of baking as fun family time.

And those are the gifts that matter--experiences and memories.

So maybe I'm not the giver of expensive presents, but I can say I am the supplier of homemade play dough/baked goods/granola for my 2 little sous chefs.

I'm looking forward to more kitchen memories... in a few years, when my newborn nieces Alexi and Paulina are a bit older, they will be in the midst of the action too.

More recipes are in order...

Meanwhile, here's the recipe for my Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins.

1 tablespoon ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons water
4 medium, very ripe bananas
4 tablespoons grapeseed oil, or other neutral-flavored vegetable oil
1/2 cup natural maple syrup or honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or maple extract
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (non-dairy)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Meanwhile, grease and flour a 12-cup muffin pan, or line with unbleached paper muffin cups. Mix the ground flaxseed and water in a small bowl, and set aside to thicken for 10 minutes.
2. In a bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Add the oil, maple syrup, and vanilla or maple extract. Mix until blended. Stir in the flaxseed and water mixture. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
4. Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture, reserving 1/4 cup. Take care not to overmix! Mix the reserved 1/4 cup of flour with the chocolate chips and nuts (dredge them in the flour). Fold in the chocolate chips, nuts, and remaining flour.
5. Spoon into the muffin pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes.


* When I have very ripe bananas but don't have time to bake (on the rare occasion that I don't MAKE time to bake), I mash them and put them in zip-lock freezer bags, and label the quantity. I then freeze these for later use. I like using them in smoothies too - in a blender, throw in your choice of berries, canteloupe, peaches, mangoes, or whatever fruit is in season. I also add about a tablespoon of expeller-pressed flaxseed oil. The frozen bananas make the smoothie so.... smooth (duh) and almost creamy!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

in pursuit of inspiration

One Thousand Mile Stare, photo by Lisa Kristine

I came across Lisa Kristine's photo gallery when I was in Sausalito, California, this summer. The landscapes and portraits were larger than life, the colors vibrant, and the textures so real you can almost reach out and touch them.

What I also loved is this statement:

"I want to welcome [viewers] into the exploration of our mysterious life with a spirit of importance. And astonishment. And hope." - Lisa Kristine

I find this to be an invitation to life itself.

(I wish photography school were in my near future. Not yet, but it's in the horizon somewhere.)

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Monday, September 15, 2008

antidote to exhaustion

I have been SO tired recently. I don't know what it is. Low iron? Caffeine withdrawal? Slowing-down metabolism? Quarter-life crisis (or more like "approaching-thirty-crisis")? A friend of mine says that as you approach thirty, the warranty's over. I'm trying not to believe it yet. But still.... here I am, tired, tired, tired.

Not enough sleep? Not enough fresh air? Not enough exercise?

For some reason, the "not enough's" seem so hard to fix.

Except for "not enough yoga".

Several years ago when I first started practicing yoga, I had an all-or-nothing approach. But if you find yourself juggling work, school, kids, chores, etc (all that plus triathlon training like this gal), and feel that you can only stretch for 10 minutes, that's perfectly fine. A little is better than nothing.

Here are my favorite stretches, especially when all the energy I have left at the end of the day is only enough for a few stretches before bed.

Child's Pose
Get into hands and knees position, or "tabletop". Shift your hips back and rest them on your heels, bringing your head towards the floor (or bed, if that's where you are!).

Try these variations: knees together with your torso resting over your thighs; or your knees separated, with your belly resting between your thighs. Relax your head, the back of your neck, and your shoulders.

Then slide your hands forward to Puppy Pose:

I love this pose. It's a more relaxed version of Downward Facing Dog. It's great for stretching the shoulders and lengthening the spine. It's also a good variation to down dog if your wrists are tired.


Come up to hands and knees in tabletop. Your wrists are directly beneath your shoulders and your knees are about hips-width apart.
Inhale, lift your right arm up to the side, parallel to the ground.
Exhale, thread your right arm in between your left hand and your left knee, then rest your right shoulder all the way down to the floor. Your right arm is extended across the midline of your body, resting on the floor.
Feel the stretch in between your shoulder blades, and breathe. Aaaaaaahhhhh.

Come back to tabletop, then switch sides:
Inhale, lift your left arm up to the side until it's parallel to the ground.
Exhale, thread your left arm in between your right hand and your right knee, then rest your left shoulder all the way down. This time your left arm is extends past the midline of your body and rests on the floor. Breathe, exhaling to release tension in the upper back and shoulders.

Come back to tabletop, then shift your weight forward and lower your body all the way down to the floor. Position your hands in front of the shoulders, then inhale to lift the chest and shoulders up into a gentle back bend, or Sphinx Pose:Relax your shoulders away from your ears... hold for a few breaths. It's like a more relaxed version of Cobra Pose. then exhale to slowly lower chest and shoulders down. Rest here and then move back into Child's Pose to counter-stretch the back bend with a gentle forward bend.

Then move to a comfortable seated position and do your choice of a passive, restorative forward bend. Legs can be extended in front of you...but don't worry about making them perfectly straight. You can bend them as little or as much as you want to. You can even put a pillow underneath your knees if that's more comfortable, or if there's tension in your hamstrings.
If you prefer, you can bring the soles of your feet together so that your legs are in a diamond shape. Or you can bring your feet closer to your pelvis in a "butterfly" shape.

Or you can bring your legs out wide:
Lots of options for a forward bend. It's your yoga practice, so you choose! Whatever forward bend you choose, relax into it as much as possible.

As you inhale and exhale, visualize letting go of your day. Inhale: "Let..." Exhale: "Go..."

Once you feel you've had enough of a stretch in a forward bend, GENTLY come out of may feel a bit of an ache in your lower back after the passive stretch, so be patient with yourself. Isn't that a nice thought? How often are we patient with ourselves?

Then lower all the way to the floor.

Happy Baby (who can resist a stretch with a name like that?). This is great for opening the hips:

Legs-up-the-wall Pose
So simple, but blissful! I've fallen asleep like this, seriously.

Reclined Twist (do both sides)
Possible props: try a pillow underneath your stacked knees, or in between your knees. It will be more relaxing if both shoulders are resting on the ground, and if your knees have to be propped up to do so, then prop them up!

Think positive thoughts, like "I did my best today. Tomorrow is another day."

Drift off into sleep.

(photos from Yoga Journal and Yin Yoga websites)

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

(not an) everyday miracle

I am the proud aunt of 2 new nieces, Alexi and Paulina, born about 3 weeks apart on opposite sides of the world: Alexi in New Jersey, Paulina in my home country, the Philippines.

Precious bundles of joy. Can't wait to meet them in person!

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

moment of clarity

(photo from

There's just something magical about moving through water. This is the place where I am most present with my breath, my body, my mind.

Just a few more days before the pool closes for the season.... (sniff)

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don't just look... notice.

Lesson #3 from my nephews: Stop and smell the flowers. (or look at a hairy, creepy bug... or whatever it is they are looking at)

I love how wonderfully in-the-moment my nephews are in the photo above.

In our yoga practice, let's also notice.... how are we breathing? Are we breathing with a steady ease? Or does it become choppy during a challenging pose?

At home, notice how a family member/friend feels... do we stop and listen?

At work, also notice... are we hunched over as we type on the keyboard? How do we breathe as we finish a project to meet a deadline? Do we interact with our coworkers/clients hurriedly or do we really pay attention?

Towards ourselves, do we give ourselves time to pause within our busy workday?

I'm ready to light a candle, make myself some tea and sit on my balcony. And do nothing else for at least five minutes.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

If you can walk, you can dance.
If you can talk, you can sing.
If you can move, you can play.

Zimbabwe Proverb

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