Monday, April 16, 2012

Balance


According to Dictionary.com Yoga is a 'union of the self with the Supreme Being or ultimate principle' or is 'any of the methods or disciplines prescribed, especially a series of postures and breathing exercises practiced to achieve control of the body and mind, tranquility, etc.' I don't buy the "control" factor, but the word union and the pairing of mind and body are certainly words that resonate.

Balance is something I am constantly striving for.  I'm sure most people are.

A while back I had one of those ZING! moments.  I realized that it's all about finding a good balance.  As we become adults it's all about finding balance between having fun and work.  It's not something we would have been capable of as teenagers.  We dutifully went to school and did our homework (well, some of us did and some of us didn't but that's neither here nor there), we played, we grew and we learned, but once you're an adult you have to be responsible for yourself.  You have to pay bills and feed yourself and make sure that you treat yourself if you're sick or you do what you need to do to make sure you survive.  Your parents are no longer responsible for your survival at this point.  

As an adult we get older and go through challenging times where that perfect balance may be too difficult to achieve or maybe that part of us that wants to have fun outweighs the part of us that should be working.  The older we get we aren't just balancing work and play, we are balancing a family, relationships, children; it's all about trying to balance everything out.  If I kept going with a list of all the things we balance on a daily basis, my head would likely explode!  But all that aside, I find that practicing yoga is helping me with my balance.

The balance is not just physical (balancing stick pose, half moon pose, eagle pose, the list goes on...) but mental as well.  It can all be very Cartesian.  My mind and body are connected, therefore I need something that unifies it ~ my breath!  I asked my daughter tonight what she thought yoga was all about.  "Doing deep breaths," she said.  I was so proud.  I know it's more than that, but there is something so basic and instinctual about breathing and it really is the core of yoga.  When you get into other forms and styles, like Bikram, the breathing is less emphasized but you still need to know how to do it and stay balanced.

Today was class number 16!  I'm more than half-way finished with my 30-Day Challenge at Indie Yoga.  I am so proud of myself.  Before now I was a once a week studio yoga person.  I would occasionally use my yoga DVDs or do Zumba on the Wii but this was pushing my body far more than I ever have before.  It's exhilarating and tiring (talk about balance, I fell asleep on the couch twice this week), yet oh so rewarding.  I can feel a difference.  I can also feel the muscles telling me to take it easy on certain days and not push too hard.  Now that's finding a balance in body.

I just wonder, after these 30 days are over, how will I get my balance back?

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Budding Yogi

So I'm starting to feel a bit like a yogi...well, almost.  Today was Day 6 of 30 in the 30-day Yoga Challenge, a little Vinyasa 1.  This one was different, we used the blocks between our thighs during our down dogs and our chaturangas. Now, doing a true chaturanga requires strength in the upper arms (of which I have little) and core (which I am still working to restrengthen after two kids).  I never really considered the role your thighs played in the whole process until today.  It was different.

That's what's great about yoga.  The poses can often be the same, but the feeling is always different.  I guess that can be the same for any class you take.

Last night was class number 5.  I took the Vinyasa 2 class and it was a little tough.  The evening classes are more challenging as the day rolls to a close and I've been working so my brain and body have been chugging along for 12 hours already.  My upper thighs were sore, my core was feeling weaker and so my up-dogs to my down-dogs were all mushy.  We did a lot of warrior 2 and warrior 1 poses and chair poses. My thighs were done.  It takes a lot of energy to keep myself from laying on my mat in child's pose and closing my eyes, drifting off to yoga sleep.

But I am determined!  I will conquer these 30 days.  I will complete this challenge!

Now I must sleep or my joints and muscles will be screaming at me in the morning; not due to soreness, but due to lack of rest :)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How do you Yoga?

Today was day number three of 30 in the 30-day Yoga Challenge...

Usually the first thing I do when I enter the yoga studio/practice room/sanctuary (what-have-you) is lay down my mat and my towel and place my water bottle nearby.  Then I sit myself down and take a look around the room to see what everyone else is up to.  When I first started taking yoga I had no idea what you were really supposed to do.  I didn't read up on it or research any moves.  (Now there's a whole site for beginners, see here). I'm sure most people do what I did and just say, "Hey, I think I'll try that yoga thing people keep talking about."  


Really, I learned about yoga when I was thirteen or so while visiting my aunt in South Jersey.  My other aunt's boyfriend taught Tai Chi and Yoga at the Twelfth Street Gym in Philly.  That was an interesting place.   My aunt's boyfriend was named Chik and he was from Istanbul.  I only remember seeing him with a shirt on a few times; his typical attire was baggy yoga pants, sandals and his ponytail.  To me, as a thirteen year-old, he screamed YOGA.  I think he still teaches at that gym...

Nostalgia aside, I've always done yoga here and there, mostly at home with my DVDs.  I started practicing in studios about five years ago off and on, but really committed to doing yoga at a studio at least once a week last summer.  It's been very good for me, especially since my job keeps me in a seated position typing on the computer most days.  Those hip flexors are thanking me for my commitment to yoga.

Thanks to a good friend and a nearby yoga studio, I'm getting into my yoga groove.

Back to the whole preparation for class thing...How do you prepare?  Like I said, I'm pretty easy.  I don't need complete silence or complete darkness, nor do I have a ritual before class.  I look around before my classes and see people laying in savasana or in child's pose.  Others are lying on their stomachs or sitting cross-legged on their mats with their wrists resting on their knees, thumb and pointer fingers barely touching.  Now that is a yoga preparation pose!  I still feel like a novice, despite my knowledge of most positions or asanas.  I couldn't have told you what a frog pose was until today, as I am constantly learning things, but I could still do a basic sun salutation and do a darn good downward dog.  I just find all the little idiosyncrasies people have fascinating.  I'm sure I could do a study on yoga behavior...men vs. women, hot yoga vs. room temp, mirrors vs. no mirrors, the possibilities are endless!

As for the 30-day Yoga Challenge:

Day 3: Vinyasa 1.  Despite having skied yesterday for the first time in eight years, I am not sore today.  I believe that's because of all the darn chair poses I've been doing and the umpteen million we did last night during the Candlelight Yoga.  This morning's class was awesome.  I must say, Charity is a great teacher and her music rocks!  Last night our instructor said something that made me think; she said that those of us who are doing the 30-day challenge will have a great first two weeks, then we may hit a wall.  I'm hoping that doesn't happen.  I am hoping my goals for this challenge will push me through to the end.  By the end of these 30 days I want a stronger core, greater flexibility and greater peace.  Hey, no laughing, everyone needs goals, right?

I am looking forward to my fourth class, perhaps my favorite class: Surf Flow, Vinyasa 2...

Stay tuned for more yoga!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Yoga: 30-Day Challenge!

First, let me start by saying, I am no Yogie.  I don't consider myself to be a guru or even an expert.  I just like to do yoga.  It's good for my muscles, good for my joints and it's good for my mental well being.

Image courtesy prweb.com

Second, consistency is key.  And balance, balance is also key.  Consistency is key to a lot of things (keeping your blog followers being one of them), and I could write an entirely different blog post on the art of balance (we'll save that for another time).  I've also found that consistency and balance go hand in hand with a positive, well-rounded yoga experience.  You must be consistent in your practice; weekly, daily, monthly, whatever your thing, keep it consistent.  Balance is essential but it's not something we are all born with nor is it something that comes easy to most.  You can develop both consistency and balance, but you have to actively develop these two things.

I am on my way to developing my consistency and balance, all the while challenging myself to 30 yoga classes in 30 days.  This is all thanks to Indie Yoga in OB.  There are some great incentives for finishing, but I'm really going for the personal satisfaction of completing 30 yoga classes in 30 days!

Yesterday was Day 1.  Hot yoga, which is a variation on the Bikram yoga.  It was an awesome class, and if I could finish out my last eight Bikram classes through my Living Social deal at Indie, I would.  It wasn't as hot and we were only in the class for an hour and fifteen...it's amazing how long that last 15 minutes lasts.

Day 2, today, H2O Candlelight Yoga.  It was quite a class!  My hubby and I went skiing (well, he snowboarded) earlier today.  We got in about ten runs and my thighs were already feeling the burn.  Tonight in class, we must have done chair pose about the same amount of times.  I was really feeling the burn at that point.  I'm excited to see what the next 28 days brings!!
Image courtesy abc-of-yoga.com
More on balance and consistency tomorrow.  Now, I'm a bit pooped.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Enchilada Casserole, Slow-cooker style

Ah, my masterpiece!

So yesterday I prepared my first (of many) slow-cooker recipes from Stephanie O'Dea, the chick who cooked with her crock pot each day for a year.  I decided to start with the Enchilada Casserole because I had been staring at the corn tortillas in our fridge for over a month (thank goodness they last that long!).  I was excited too, because I've always loved enchiladas and the silky, spicy enchilada sauce that is drizzled over the top of them.  I can usually tell how good the Mexican food is at a restaurant based on their enchilada sauce.  You have to be careful eating out, though, most places use flour as a thickener in their sauces and I've had to resort to using the table salsa at many a Mexican restaurant.  Anyhoo...

I had my crock pot, my tortillas and my enthusiasm; now all I needed was chicken, black beans, bell peppers, cheese and enchilada sauce, of course!  My husband called to say "Hi," and I told him what my plan for dinner was.  He suggested how I make it, meanwhile, I searched online for a recipe and came up with Emeril's Easy Enchilada Sauce.  I read him the ingredients and he suggested I go with his recipe, which didn't call for flour.  Yet his version called for chopped onions, garlic, carrots, celery and more, when Emeril's only meant pouring or spooning ingredients into a pot and mixing.  Because he thinks like a chef, his mind immediately falls to fresh ingredients where mine is more in line with Semi-Homemade.  I decided it would probably be better to go with my husband's (by the way, his name is Mike) recipe.  Now, I've tried to get him to write down recipes for me before, but it's usually a pinch of this, a bit of that and about so-much of the other stuff.  But by now he knows I need an actual recipe so this is what I got:

Mike's Enchilada Sauce
3 T. olive oil
3/4 yellow onion (or one small onion), roughly chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 of one jalapeno (seeded and without the rib), diced
1 carrot, diced
1 rib of celery, diced
splash of white wine
24 oz. of chicken stock (Mike makes his own)
10 oz. of tomato sauce (Mike's own, frozen)
2 T. cumin
1/4 c. chili powder
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large sauce pan, add onion, garlic, carrot and celery and cook on medium heat until soft and onion is translucent.  I would have also added the jalapeno here, but I looked all through the fridge and couldn't find it, oh well!  Less spice is fine for the kiddos anyway.  Add the splash of white wine (I used a little German Riesling).  Let that cook out and then add the chicken stock and bring that to a simmer.  Add the tomato sauce.  Allow all of that to come to a simmer and add your salt and pepper and taste (doing this I could only think of Mike nodding with approval - I usually tend to under-season things).  Add the remaining spices.  Allow to simmer a bit more, then taste.  Add more chili powder to taste.  Let it cook down a bit more, it'll likely be very thin.  I ended up letting it simmer for another ten minutes or so before I pureed it all with my hand-held mixer.  I made a bit of a mess and didn't get it as smooth as I would have preferred, but we don't have a blender and I was working with what I had.  To thicken it, you can cook it down a bit more, but I didn't want to risk it being too thick so I kept it thinner.

I let the sauce cool on the stove and I was off to the store for some ingredients.

Enchilada Casserole, Slow-cooker Style
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (use left-over if you have it)
2 bell peppers, one yellow, one red, diced
 1 can of black beans, rinsed
 2 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
6 corn tortillas
26 oz. (approx) enchilada sauce

I didn't have any left-over chicken, which would have been easier, so I cooked the chicken in the oven at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.  I shredded the chicken while still warm, shredded the cheese, rinsed my black beans and diced my peppers.  

I put all the shredded chicken into the enchilada sauce and let the chicken soak it all in...(I love the shimmer off the sauce).

Then it was time to grab the corn tortillas and start layering them in the crock pot.  Yay for 'assembly required'!

First two tortillas, then some of the saucy chicken.  I added black beans, then cheese, then peppers.  Repeat that for two layers.  On top, I finished with the remaining two tortillas, shredded cheese and the last bit of sauce. I realized then that I could have added some corn to the layers, but that will have to wait until next time.

I placed the lid on the crock pot and cooked it on low for four hours.  I resisted the urge to peek (as Stephanie's post said we shouldn't peek on this particular slow-cooker meal), but did lift the lid twice as that fourth hour was nearing the end.  My nostrils were filled with a spicy, cheesy aroma that made my stomach growl.  The kids were hungry and Mike was excited to taste my concoction.

The end result:
Yummy goodness.

I must say, if I was at a restaurant, I would have been impressed.  The sauce turned out great, the meal was fabulous and my son had seconds!  Then again, so did Mike and I!  I am also very pleased with my first attempt at enchilada sauce from scratch.  Much better than using the canned version.

On a side note: I think I've been completely overdoing it on the cheese.  Last night's meal had 2 1/2 cups of cheese and tonight's meal (an incredible frittata Mike made) was smothered in the stuff.  Needless to say, my whole cutting back on dairy has been shot and I may have to go dairy free for a week to recover.  Hopefully I'll make it this time ;)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

FOOD and my crock pot!

You know what I love about the internet?  Blogs.  Food blogs, to be exact!  There are millions of them.  Do a search for food blogs and you come up with 1,260,000,000 of them!  I like to bake, and I have to eat gluten-free, so before Ms. Hasslebeck on The View had her on GF book and before more stores and restaurants started serving gluten-free food, we had blogs.  Obviously I'm not telling you something that you don't already know.  Just Google your desired dish, or even just the ingredients you have, and boom, thousands of options for your nightly dinner or dessert!

Something I've been talking about getting for a while is a crock pot.  We had one way back when, and never used it.  Now, with the two kids and my hubby and I busy with work, easy meals are far more desirable.  What easier than a crock pot meal??  I do casseroles, rice, pasta, etc. but you can't quite get the same effect as you do with a slow cooker.  A couple of months back I saw one on sale at the grocery store and picked it up!  Total impulse buy ;)

The first thing my husband did when I brought it home was give me an odd look and asked, "Why did you get that?"  "To cook our family fabulous meals!" I said, "Of course!"  Well, I think I've said this before, but my husband is a chef.  Chefs don't slow cook in crock pots.  They spend hours prepping their meals, tasting as they go, cooking on pallet and instinct.  I am not a chef.  It's my little joke.  It's kind of terrible really, but I tell people, "I don't cook, so I married a chef."  Technically he wasn't a chef when I met him, but he was going to culinary school.  What can I say, the way to my heart is through my stomach!


So back to my slow cooker.  The first thing I made was corned beef and cabbage.  It turned out well.  It was an easy first meal to make.  Add meat, add seasoning packet, add water and when you're ready, add carrots, potatoes and cabbage.  Done.  Easy.  So despite my husband joking about the fact that I bought a crock pot, who did I find using it a week later to prepare sausages and cabbage (yeah, okay we eat a lot of cabbage...my kids love it!)?  The guy who laughed at me for buying it!  C'est la vie.  He knows convenience when he sees it.

For my next recipe, I sought out an expert.  Stephanie O'Dea cooked with her slow cooker each day for a whole year, and documented it.  Another fabulous use of the blog.  You can see her list of recipes here.  And to top it all off, she cooks gluten-free!!  I found my inspiration through Pinterest.  It was a picture of Stephanie hugging her crock pot with the most glorious smile on her face.  Sure some of her recipes were flops, but she made it the whole year.  I decided to start trying at least one slow cooker recipe a week (at least my husband can say I'm cooking!).

Tonight's recipe is Enchilada Casserole, slow-cooker style.  Stay tuned for tomorrow's post to see how it went and to get the recipe.  PS I made homemade enchilada sauce, primarily because my hubby laughed at the idea of buying canned sauce and exclaimed how easy it was to make and second because I wasn't sure if I'd be able to find gluten-free sauce without having to drive all the way out to Whole Foods.  I based my recipe off of Stephanie's enchilada casserole, but changed a few things.