29 October 2018

Adventures in Yoga

To my surprise, I have begun a regular yoga practice. The sound healing and meditation workshops I've attended have all been held at yoga studios and, after one workshop, I somehow got it into my head to enroll in a five-week basics of yoga beginners course. Then, because that clearly wasn't enough, I signed up for a bunch of chair yoga sessions. And I'm loving them both. Yoga is, to my astonishment, something I can do.

Previously, whenever I'd thought of what kind of woman did yoga, I'd visualize Fit White Non-Disabled Lululemon Barbie. And, sure, one of the studios I attend is full of that type of woman, but they're not going to the same classes I am. My classes are full of people like me, who are gamely trying their best while frequently lacking elegance of movement. Warrior (Virabhadrasana) III, for example, is a right bastard if you don't have good stability. I do not have good stability and weeble-wobble with my leg only partially raised before I retreat back to Mountain Pose (Tadasana). I do a really good Mountain Pose.

As for chair yoga ... well, anyone who tells you chair yoga isn't "real" yoga is speaking nonsense. It may be gentler, with the traditional poses modified for accessibility, but it is still a very active and mindful practice. The chair yoga class I take uses a combination of sitting and standing positions. With the standing positions, we use the chairs as a support to adapt freestanding traditional forms like Tree Pose and Down Dog. Everyone takes whatever amount of support they need from the chairs. Some practitioners Down Dog to the top of the chair back. Others Down Dog to the back of the chair seat. It is all about working at our own pace within our own range of limits and abilities.

Anyway, I come away from yoga with a brain that feels relaxed, loose, and languid while the pleasant burn in my arms and legs serves to remind me that I am killing it at downward-facing dog and plank pose. The good brain feels don't last, no, but it's brilliant while it does and gives me a goal to move toward -- I will find a way to one day always feel that way.

25 October 2018

Vegan Pumpkin Stew @ Buddha Bistro

The yoga studio I attend most often -- The OM Center for Yoga & Massage -- has a small cafe called The Buddha Bistro attached to it. The Bistro's seasonal "Pumpkin Love" smoothie with its strong pumpkin (not spice) flavor is a definite favorite and I keep meaning to try to make my own version at home, because there is simply not enough pumpkin in my life this autumn. Anyway, a few weeks back, the Bistro posted a flier for forthcoming cooking classes, including one for a vegan stew in a pumpkin. I've always wanted to try making a stuffed pumpkin, but I'd been intimidated by what I presumed was a huge amount of work. The class seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out just how hard it could be.


Turns out making a stuffed pumpkin is dead easy. Or, at least, the way we did it in class was dead easy. Yes, it's a bit time-consuming, but there's enough break between steps that you could go read a book or sort laundry or write another angry-yet-persuasive letter to your senator. You could even roast the vegetables and stuff the pumpkin well ahead of time, delaying the baking stage for days. Stuffed pumpkin doesn't necessarily look like a make ahead meal, but it definitely could be.

The only thing I would caution you about is seasoning. Season generously. Very generously. The amounts listed below are the bare minimum you should use. At the very least, heap your spoons. When you're prepping the pumpkin, you're going to think "Oh, my cake, that's too much!" and panic a little, but then you're going to start eating the pumpkin and find yourself reaching for the spice rack.


Buddha Bistro Vegan Pumpkin Stew
Serves 4-6

1 sweet (baking) pumpkin
2 medium white potatoes
2 small red potatoes
½ sweet potato, peeled
8 baby carrots
½ butternut squash, peeled and seeded
¼ head cored red cabbage
½ red onion, skinned
3 Brussels sprouts, trimmed
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp sage
1 tsp + 1 tsp salt
1 tsp + 1 tsp pepper
½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 Tbsp thyme
½ cup + 2 Tbsp neutral cooking oil
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1 Tbsp corn starch
½ cup vegetable broth

Preheat oven to 435°F. Line a three quarter size sheet pan with foil.

Chop potatoes, carrots, and butternut squash into thumbnail-sized cubes. Slice or shred red cabbage, onion, and sprouts. Combine all vegetables together in a larger bowl with sage, salt, pepper, pie spice, thyme, and half a cup of oil. Spread evenly across sheet pan and roast for about 25 minutes or until vegetables are almost cooked.

While the vegetables are roasting, mix the vegetable broth and corn starch together. Set aside.

Scrub the pumpkin clean. Remove the seeds and guts. Prick all over the inside and outside of the pumpkin with a wooden skewer. Sprinkle the inside with remaining teaspoon salt, pepper, and dried sage. Set aside.

Reduce oven to 350°F.

Put your mostly-roasted vegetables in a large mixing bowl, add starch mixture, and stir until evenly coated. Pack it all inside your pumpkin. Place the top on the pumpkin and rub with the remaining oil.

Wrap pumpkin in aluminum foil and place on a quarter sheet pan. Bake at 350°F for 2-3 hours or until the inside of the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork.

Carefully remove foil. Place pumpkin on serving platter and admire.

I'd love to try this again, with turnips and parsnips instead of the white potatoes. Also, maybe some mushrooms? Definitely more sprouts. Seriously, you could use whatever fall or winter vegetables you like.

While I ate this pumpkin without any accompaniments a little whole berry cranberry sauce or pickled red cabbage wouldn't go amiss.


17 October 2018

Wordless Wednesday: River & Sky

The sky and the river; the river and the sky.

15 October 2018

Adventures In Sound Healing & Meditation

My therapist suggested I try meditation as a means of managing my anxiety -- another tool in the "mental health toolbox" she's helping me assemble. I didn't think reading a book on meditation would help me much and the YouTube videos I tried to watch just gave me the fidgets, so I decided to do the easy thing and download a bunch of free apps.

Of the three I downloaded -- Calm, Deep Meditation, and Headspace -- I've found Headspace most beneficial. The ten day starter program is free when you download the app and is then $12.99/mo or $94.99/year. After doing eight days of the starter, I bought a year's subscription with zero qualms. Headspace is a very straightforward app with lots of cute, engaging illustrations. It feels friendly and I use it every day.

I especially like that I can adjust the length of every meditation session so I can slot a little in wherever it will fit in my day. Most days, I do ten or fifteen minutes on my lunch break followed by forty five minutes before sleep. To be fair, I seldom make it through my bedtime meditation without falling asleep. My therapist insists this is okay as the active intention is there.

Because I have socialization issues, I've recently (gently) pushed myself to try a few "real world" sound healing and meditation workshops. Part of me has been very cynical about the whole experience -- sure, the vibrations from the crystal singing bowls are going to do some magic woo with my chakras. But there is something extremely calming and, dare I say, healing in lying quietly in a dimly lit room with a bunch of strangers, just being. So I'm going to do more sound healing and meditation workshops. As I told my therapist, even if I don't think I'm approaching the practice the "right" way or getting the "right" things from it, it does help dial down the noise in my head.

My APRN and I are still working on the right pharmacological treatment -- I've tried several different medications of varying doses and my anxiety is better, but not still not good. If I was a 9 out of 10 at my first appointment, I'm down to a 6 now. We all want me to get to 0, so we keep plugging along.

10 October 2018

Adventures in Anxiety

I have, over the course of my anxious life, experienced several full-blown world-is-ending anxiety attacks. I've always considered the one I had on the London Underground at rush hour (freshly deplaned, completely jet lagged, and on my way to the In-Laws) to be the worst:

My heart raced. I felt weak, light-headed, dizzy. My hands went numb. My chest was crushed under an invisible weight. I could not breathe. I lost control. I was consumed by dread. I was going to get off that train and out from under the ground or I was going to die.

Obviously, I didn't die. But I felt humiliated by my brain and angry at my inability to regain control before I completely lost it in a crowd of strangers. It was not going to happen again.

It did. Oh, it did. Not as badly the next time or the time after that or even the time after that. But each attack was still a terribly humiliating and angering experience.

And yet I did not seek help of any kind or even admit to myself that I needed help. And years went by and I was mostly okay and that was good enough (wasn't it?) then ... doom came upon me. Stalked me. Lived inside my gut. Whispered in my ear. Everything was bad, no good, terrible ... doomed.

Finally, I saw a psychiatrist who prescribed a low dose antidepressant. And, for a while, everything was okay again. Not, in retrospect, great or even good, but not doomed. Alas, for a variety of reasons that mostly boil down to "I felt I'd gotten as well as I could with her," I stopped seeing the psychiatrist and stopped taking the antidepressant.

I was okay for a few months, maybe even half the year, before everything started to spin out of control again. I knew I needed help, but on the bad days the thought of making an appointment to talk to someone about medication and therapy was too much to bear and, on the good days, it simply didn't seem important enough. Also, with the world being a garbage fire, I told myself it was hard to know whether my feelings were really that abnormal.

Then one beautiful day this summer, I found I couldn't leave the house. Couldn't even go out on the back porch without breaking out into a sweat, feeling like I couldn't breathe, and that my legs might give out beneath me. I became increasingly agitated -- I wanted to go out, I had things I needed to do, I was letting myself down -- and had a full blown room-dimming chest-crushing panic attack.

I knew what it was and that I wasn't going to die, but as I lay myself down on our bed and tried to breathe my way through what my brain was telling me was definitely the end of the world, I rather wished I might. Once the attack passed and I had a good cry, I felt exhausted and strangely calm. The sudden all-pervading sense of doom had retreated to the edge of my perception.

Thankfully, I had the sense to ask for help. I tried to find a new psychiatrist covered by my insurance, but those I worked the courage up to call where either not taking new patients or could not see me for months. I knew I didn't have months -- as days passed I began increasingly to feel I was holding another attack back through sheer willpower -- so I called a therapist recommended by a friend and she saw me that same week. It felt like a miracle. I liked her immediately and now see her weekly. With her help and the medications prescribed by an APRN she recommended I feel better than I have in years.

Years. Which is not to say I am anywhere near well yet, but I can see more clearly the size and scope of my anxiety and am learning beneficial ways to manage it. I'm reading books, listening to podcasts, journaling, and all that shizzle. Some of it seems very unscientific and I have to fight my own cynicism, but I'm definitely improving. It's astonishing and a little bit scary. I've been anxious for so long. Who will I be when I'm not anxious?

Wordless Wednesday: Wild Asters

Wild asters blooming along the Farmington River.

07 October 2018

An Excess of Eggplant


Look at that handsome Under-Gardener with his arms full of aubergines. Does he look a bit stunned by the number of fruits cradled in his arms? Does he wonder what suspicious aubergine-enriched meals await him?

As you can see, we are suffering from an excess of eggplant (that's "aubergine" if you're English). When I planted three wee, spindly seedlings in May I hardly expected them to amount to much. At best, one might thrive while the others dwindled and died. More likely, none would survive to fruit. And then, this.

These plants aren't anything special -- just your classic Italian eggplant -- and I did absolutely nothing for them aside from a bit of fertilizer early on. But the amount of fruit coming off them since late August has been, well, bonkers.

So what do we do with all that eggplant? While I've taken an occasional basket to work, mostly we've just eaten them.

Betty Crocker's "Baba Ghanoush" is definitely my go-to recipe. It's easy, delicious, keeps well, and is well-suited to my snacky lifestyle. I've tried other baba ghanoush recipes, but Betty Crocker's is the one I keep coming back to. The addition of roasted chickpeas just gives it that extra bit of something.

I've also made Martha Rose Shulman’s "Lasagna with Tomato Sauce & Roasted Eggplant" from the New York Times with fabulous results. It reheats well, so don't be concerned about the amount of leftovers it makes.


In a pinch, I roast cubed eggplant with cherry tomatoes, onion, and garlic and then toss the vegetables with cooked multigrain pasta, feta, basil, and lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Most recently, I made Betty Crocker's "Stuffed Eggplant." This was an delicious, easy Sunday dinner that even The Husband enjoyed. I did make some alterations to the recipe, cooking the onion, pepper, and garlic together in the olive oil, then adding the beef so I didn't dirty two skillets. I also used a blend of shredded cheddars instead of pecorino Romano, because cheddar is all I had.


And there are still more eggplant.

05 October 2018

Around Connecticut: The Sweet Beet


I've been following The Sweet Beet, a vegan health food market in Granby, on Instagram for almost a year now and their postings invariably fill me with a strong desire to get in my car and head north. Unfortunately, Granby is about 45 minutes from here and that always seemed like a long way to go to get a smoothie or chickpea salad sandwich. Until Friday, that is.

This was my Friday off -- the perfect time to tootle around the northern part of the state, admiring the fine beginnings of fall, collecting my farm share, and drinking vegan yumminess. I headed north from West Hartford after therapy, reducing my trip to a mere half hour. Pulling into Sweet Beet's shared parking lot, I found myself full of a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I had looked forward to visiting for so long ... surely I had overhyped the place in my head?


Happily, no. The Sweet Beet is charming and staffed with very nice, helpful people who want you to have an exemplary shopping experience. I obtained the "Candy Corn" smoothie (boo-nana, pineapple, mango, turmeric, carrot, hemp, cinnamon, and coconut ... best smoothie I've had in 2018) of my recent fantasies, as well as a number of interesting krauts and pickles, several store-made ready meals for work, and a few mini cupcakes ("Sweeties") to share with The Husband.

04 October 2018

Easy Salmon & Summer Vegetable Bake

I love my farm share, but there comes a point every week where I become overwhelmed by the contents of my kitchen and feel ALL.THE.VEGETABLES.MUST.GO. This salmon dish is one of my favorite easy ways to use those vegetables up as it makes for both a filling and colorful supper. Prepping and assembling the dish only takes a few minutes and then I can just ignore it as it bakes.

I like to serve this over rice, drizzled with the delicious pan juices, but sometimes the tomatoes aren't so juicy and then I serve it with mashed potatoes. Basically, we like carbs.


Easy Salmon & Summer Vegetable Bake

Yield: 3

Ingredients

  • 1 lb boned salmon fillet
  • 8 oz small zucchini, sliced into ¼-inch thick coins
  • 2 oz coarsely chopped shallot
  • 6 oz small grape tomatoes
  • 3 oz red, yellow, and orange bell pepper strips
  • Olive oil
  • Penzeys "Florida" salt free seasoned pepper (or what have you)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Lightly oil a 13x9-inch baking dish.
  3. Place salmon in dish and surround with zucchini, shallots, tomatoes, and peppers.
  4. Drizzle salmon and vegetables with olive oil. Season as needed.
  5. Bake 30 minutes or until salmon reaches 145°F and flakes easily with a fork.

03 October 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Sage

Love the soft, velvety texture of sage leaves.