Mac-un-Chz

“What’s this yummy concoction?” Matt said after taking a bite.

mac no chz

Aha! It’s mac-un-chz! And it’s delicious.

Eating veg-strong can be invigorating; I do feel spunkier relying on plant-based foods. But, at least for this on-again, off-again sort-of -vegan, it hasn’t always been flavorful or fun.

Even though my parents accommodated childhood vegetarian explorations, and adult forays into raw and dairy-free, I come from meat-eating people, some who worked the land, reverently hunting wild game, and slaughtering and eating animals they raised with care.

My relatives are also gracious and curious world travelers who value and emphasize eating what’s served and trying new things. I  internalized these values and abide by them as much as I can endeavoring, like my hero Peace Pilgrim, to savor and appreciate any edible shared by a host as the gift that it is.

At home, though, vegetables and fruit rule the roost. And this time around, partly in honor of Prince (whose 1984 Purple Rain Tour remains the best show my teenaged self ever saw!) and largely in an effort to practice ahimsa, I’m giving mostly vegan another go.

[Click here for an interview I did with Breeze Harper of Sistah Vegan. Breezie offers her take on compassion, race and the environment.]

It’s working out well for this body, budget and mind so far. (Everyone’s different. Do what suits you!) For now, that means plant-based plus a few eggs a week (from my local CSA) and yogurt at breakfast. Once in awhile, butter comes into play for almond cake.

As for many Americans, macaroni and cheese is my comfort food. I’ve eaten it any which way–with fancy white cheeses, plain old orange cheese (what my family called “rat cheese,” because sometimes it baited the rat traps…what can I say? I grew up in a D.C. row house), fluorescent from a box, organic from a box, scooped from the steam table, unwrapped on the tray table, fresh, frozen as a main dish or a side.

Well, readers and friends, I present a plant-based macaroni and cheese that Matt said was “the best I’ve ever had.” And, having lived with me for lotsa years, he’s eaten lotsa macaroni and cheese and attempts at mac-un-chz.

This recipe is adapted from one that came through the Animal Place Sanctuary Sweets email. If you’re wanting to be Veg Strong, I suggest subscribing. The email service offers more than sweets.

Mac-un-Chz (aka Yummy Concoction) adapted from clean food dirty girl

  • Soak 1/2 cup raw cashews in water to cover. Set aside.
  • In a small covered saucepan, simmer for 20 minutes in 2 cups of water : one peeled and chunked russet potato, 2 carrots, one small onion, 2 cloves garlic.
  • Meanwhile, start cooking macaroni or other noodles of your choice.
  • After 20 minutes, place cooked vegetables and cooking liquid in a blender, along with the drained cashews and about 1/2 cup nutritional yeast. Blend until smooth and creamy. Add water if needed but be conservative.
  • Return sauce to pan. Add powdered turmeric (I used at least one Tablespoon), a dash of ground sage, a dash of dried basil and dried parsley, 1/4 teaspoon good quality horseradish, fresh ground black pepper and salt to taste.
  • When macaroni is cooked, drain. Place back in its pan and douse with olive oil (optional). Top with the sauce, stirring to combine. Enjoy!

Notes:

I have a regular ol’ blender. No high power needed.

The concoction thickens and turns creamier when you let it sit with the lid on, stove heat off, for 5-10 minutes.

Served here with diced fresh tomatoes marinated in lemon juice and olive oil with a tiny bit of sugar, salt and pepper.  They’re what I had on hand. Mac-un-Chz would also be delicious with a side of tender steamed broccoli garnished with lemon or a fresh green salad.

The concoction reheated superbly in the microwave.

 

 

Teaching yoga like a sailor

Teaching yoga feels to me like hanging my heart on the side of the ship of a lesson and setting sail with the crew of students. I love the adventure, the camaraderie, the discoveries, and aligning with the forces of the moment while surrendering to the rhythm of the day.

N. Artsay, active probably 19th century, Ship under Sail, National Gallery of Art

Again and again, I return to this beautiful piece of Bei Dao’s poem for inspiration.

 

The sea spray washed the deck and the sky

the stars searched for their daylight positions

on the compass

true, I’m not a sailor

but I’ll hang my heart on the side of the ship

like an anchor

and set sail with the crew

– Bei Dao, from “Harbor Dreams” in Rose of Time, translated by Bonnie S. McDougall

All that’s left is doing

Re-reading Barbara Stoler Miller’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, I paused.

…when a man finds delight
within himself and feels inner joy
and pure contentment in himself,
there is nothing more to be done.

That word “joy” fascinates me in shape, sound and sense.

Inner joy and pure contentment.
Each springs from acting (i.e. being) without attachment to results. Since results are future-oriented, it means acting without anxiety, without worry.
  • It’s arriving at your favorite class to find the studio has a sub, then setting up your mat to receive what the unfamiliar teacher offers.
  • It’s turning your world upside down by bringing hands to the floor and feet to the wall in an inverted “L,” teacher and friends to “spot” you.
  • It’s taking a break from the computer to roll the ankles and wrists, to breathe with awareness for 30 seconds (about 6 breaths).
  • It’s setting the smart phone down to push your child on the swing, she moves away and returns….
  • It’s saying, “thank you” while looking into the giver’s eyes.
  • It’s accepting that socio-political news is dismaying, taking a breath, and tending a corner of the world.
  • It’s appreciating bright spots in the news cycle, or in the day, and releasing a thank you sigh for those.
  • It’s playing when you’re playing, resting when you’re resting and working when you’re working.
  • It’s living for stretches of time in that elusive “flow” we experience in making art, making food, making love, in running, swimming, writing, or what have you.
Because the experience of contentment is not sitting on one’s hands or throwing up one’s hands exclaiming, “Well, then, there’s nothing for me to do!”
Inner joy and pure contentment mean there’s nothing more to be done in terms of speculating on what’s to be done.
That means taking care of what’s right in front of us, our lives, with an awareness of the infinite intersections and interstices of each life with anotherand acting with clarity.
During summertime where I live in Harpers Ferry, families and friends are having fun. People cool off in the rivers, tubing and paddling, sets of cyclists pedal past our house, hikers set down their packs for breakfast at the cafe next door. Birders are on the ridges. Tourists soak in ranger talks on the history of what occurred not-so-long-ago right where they’re standing now.
When we’re having fun, we let go of worry. The challenge is to let go of worry when we’re in a mode other than “play.” Take a look at the origin of the word “worry.”
Old English wyrganstrangle. In Middle English the original sense of the verb gave rise to the meaning seize by the throat and tear, later figuratively harass,whence cause anxiety to (early 19th century, the date also of the noun).
Yuck!
Regular old actions become murky with worry. Worry throttles simple decisions. Worry is about control. Effort is about releasing control.
Take a look at the origin of the word “clarity.”
Middle English (in the sense glory, divine splendor): from Latin claritas, from clarus clear. 
“Yoga lessons and yoga practice,” I tell students, “are preparation for what you do with the balance of your day, your life.”
With asana, we accept that yesterday we could touch our toes and today we can’t. We allow ourselves to be surprised when we forget that our knee hurts because it doesn’t just then. Though it may another time. With meditation, we sit or walk for the sake of it. Paradoxically, while seemingly doing nothing but breathing, the mind declutters, the heart calms, the stomach soothes. There’s a symbiotic quality to the goal-less goal of un-fixedness:
Acting without attachment to results leads to contentment and joy.
Contentment and joy lead to acting without attachment to results.
Then there’s no more to be done. Because what’s to be done is done before you know it and all that’s left is doing.

Poets seeking…

Plate 50: Sacred Heart: From Portfolio “Spanish Colonial Designs of New Mexico.” 1935/1942, National Gallery of Art

Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom
found the bond of existence and non-existence.

from Nasadiya: The Creation Hymn of Rig Veda, translated by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty

An Imagining or Memory

Walking through Harpers Ferry and up on Bolivar Ridge, I see so many white-tailed deer, particularly goofy yearlings, figuring out how the world works.

Seeing them puts me in mind of this poem.

An Imagining Or Memory

My father and I; fall forest;
 one deer in a clearing. I break a piece of Hershey bar,
   extend it with my nine-year-old arm,

and the animal’s velvet lips take it.
 Ears twitch; tail pops; the deer hops,
   then it ran; the rest of my life began.

- Alexa Mergen

The singular role of home practice

Home practice plays a singular role in anything we decide to do well.

When I lived as a poet and worked as a one-on-one writing guide, there’d come a point when I told my students they didn’t really need me anymore. And I was glad of that. They’d learned enough to serve as their own teachers.

The task at that point is to establish a steady home practice.

For a poet that means solitude and quiet, an awareness of one’s creative rhythms, a reading habit, participation in the broader poetry conversation (through submissions, attending public events, reviewing books) and discipline.

Discipline, along with dedication and devotion, are the three legs of any creative practitioner’s stool. When I was teaching myself–with the help of live mentors and books–how to live a creative life, I referred back to studying guitar for 10 years, from ages nine to 19.

Now that I live a yogi’s life, allocating the majority of my time to teaching and studying yoga, I see equivalents between music and yoga studies.

  • the metronome ≈ breath
  • chair and foot stool ≈ sticky mat
  • guitar ≈ body
  • score ≈ reference books
  • tuning fork ≈ internal awareness
  • capo ≈ blankets, yoga straps and blocks
  • practice room ≈ practice room

guitar 2

There’s no magic number of hours, days, weeks or years that indicate when a person is ready to become her or his own teacher. I ask my yoga students to commit to eight weeks of study, whether they are brand-new to the practice or established in it.

Some feel complete after eight weeks, wanting no more than a few poses and a breath technique to keep them comfortable and clear-headed in daily life.

Others study with me for years, circling through the recursive process of learning where we acquire information, practice it and refine our expression of it.

My own home practice these days relies on a deep listening born from decades of poetry and yoga study.

Sometimes I picture in my mind’s eye the teachers who have gifted me with awareness tools and catch phrases that echo in my ears.

Books and articles are teachers. Living now in the small town of Harpers Ferry, nature is my teacher, too. I study how birds move, scootching my own shoulders around in imitation. I’m curious about the spring in the step of the deer bounding away. I’ll walk up a grassy hill in a park near my home to lie face-up to the sky and feel my way into the back body.

It’s as if the whole world is breathing when wind moves through tree branches.

curve of the earth squat

Occasional workshops in DC and other points nearby with teachers I respect recharges my home practice. The effect of receiving new insights at a satisfying workshop is like cleaning windows: The house hasn’t changed, but light seems brighter.

In excerpts from this interview on home practice and a teacher’s responsibilities, yoga doyenne Judith Hanson Lasater also draws a comparison with music. Her words apply to pursuing and teaching any art.

To me, an experienced practitioner is one who has his or her own home practice and only comes to class as a way to refine or get fresh info or be inspired. But increasingly, people don’t have a home practice, they go to a lot of different yoga teachers, depending on what is convenient and nearby, just to get the workout. So they are not incorporating what they learned in class on their own mat at home, and from there understanding and filtering what works best for them.

….

To be an intermediate or more advanced student, you need to have a home practice almost every day of the week. A beginner is someone, no matter how proficient, who just comes once a week or twice a week to a class and hasn’t incorporated it into their own home practice. So I have a much longer term view of this as a serious practice.

You can make an analogy to playing a musical instrument. When you have your lesson, that’s not your practice, that’s your lesson. The work is when you leave your lesson, you go home. And the next day, what do you do the next day? Do you practice what you learned? Do you try the new techniques? Do you make the corrections that were suggested? Do you pay attention? That’s when you really learn, when you make it your own. And that only comes from a willingness to commit to your home practice.

….

So an important part of the student-teacher relationship is about understanding the interpersonal dynamics and understanding who you’re teaching. You’re not teaching a class. You’re teaching a human being. And understanding how to speak to them with their language, how to touch them with respect after asking permission, and how to use your touch and your words to encourage them to grow at their own speed, those are key skills of a yoga teacher.

So it’s not about pushing students physically. It’s about reflecting back to students where they’re holding on mentally, and encourage them to let go of some of those mental limitations that may or may not have a physical expression—if and when they feel ready. It’s more important to me that we help people understand that they’re prisoners of their thoughts, not of their hamstrings.

Many wise teachers have told us that we are the prisoners of our thoughts, and to help people live a full, rich, and happy life, free from the mercy of your thoughts and beliefs—that, to me, is our job as teachers. The way I actually say this to the teachers I train is, “The job of a yoga teacher is to reflect back the inherent radiance and inner goodness of each person.” And of course, the only way you can do that is to find it in yourself.

That’s what we’re really doing on the mat. That doesn’t have anything to do with dog pose. Dog pose is fun. Dog pose is a technique that slows us down. It’s like a speed bump that slows us down so we can become aware of how we’re holding, how we’re resisting, how we’re breathing. And those skills, those skills which come from the residue of awareness, are life skills that we can carry with us everywhere, until our whole world becomes our yoga mat, every moment becomes an asana. Because every moment, we’re aware of what thoughts are ruling us, what position we’ve been holding too long, what misalignment in our back we’re maintaining, because we’re tense or we’re stressed. And that, to me, is what we as yoga teachers are about. And the asana is really not the yoga. It is the residue the asana leaves in our minds and bodies and hearts that is the yoga.

So if we teach from that perspective, we teach with kindness. We teach with respect. We teach with empathy. And when you have kindness, respect, and empathy, there’s another word for that which is compassion.

Read the full interview here.

Thank you, my students, for providing me with opportunities to teach you!

Thank you, readers, for your curiosity.

Be well.

Lisa’s Easy Yummy Almond Cake

So many people have requested this recipe.

It’s a go-to, light enough for an afternoon tea or coffee break and special enough for dessert. I’ve written out the formula in a Facebook post. But when baking the cake today, I thought, “Why not post it as Lisa wrote it?” So here it is.

Fresh out of the oven!
Fresh out of the oven!

With thanks to Lisa, my college friend. She and I both wanted to be journalists in those days. We were putting ourselves through UC-Berkeley and always hungry and broke. Once a week, we’d pool our coins and buy as many newspapers as we could afford then sit in Sproul Plaza and analyze each story.

Lisa and her mother and their family and friends hosted me for many a Thanksgiving dinner in their California foothill town. (I brought the homemade cranberry sauce!) Her mom also tolerated our driving up the hill on weekends to do our laundry.

A kind and generous person, now a school teacher and mom extraordinaire, Lisa shared this recipe, her grandmother’s, with me  and now I with you.

Enjoy!

image1image2

Prioritizing positivity

Joy is not happiness. Happiness connotes a light-hearted luckiness.

A neighbor described her happy daughter to me as “someone who always walks on the sunny side of the street.”

Happiness, in spite of all the eye-rolling that the spate of happy-formula self-help books has generated, can be cultivated. Happiness, like a lot of things Westerners want, is a state.

Joy, as William Wordsworth poignantly notes, surprises.

Joy is spontaneous expression.

Like a good idea, joy arises from being in receptivity, of allowing, like a sieve, to let every emotion pass through body and mind.

Joy is a boon, to be welcomed, not sought, like finding a stand of ripe wild grapes on a summer walk.

Happily, happiness can be pursued, apparently, by simply prioritizing positivity.

IMG_0064-2

Whoa, if this holds true, yoga might be a happiness avenue.

On the yoga mat, we prioritize what’s possible by placing ourselves intentionally in time and space, then breathing and moving. That’s pretty positive.

What will happen? We find out along the way. (Moments of joy?)

There are other ways to get your grin on. This from the study published in the journal Emotion.

The integrative model of sustainable happiness…, in which a genetic set point, circumstances, and intentional activities make up a person’s chronic level of happiness, suggests that engaging in pleasant activities may be the most effective route to increasing happiness. Indeed, the results of many positive psychology interventions provide evidence that engaging in certain activities may make a difference. Research on interventions, such as writing gratitude letters, engaging in acts of kindness, and learning how to meditate, reveals that incorporating pleasant activities into one’s life reliably yields increases in happiness…. In addition, an effective strategy to increase positive affect among individuals suffering from depression is to schedule pleasant events, such as playing with pets, into everyday life…. In summary, there is reason to believe that people who seek positivity, by habitually taking into account their potential happiness when organizing their everyday lives, may be happier.

Life is complicated and awash with suffering.

How we choose to spend our time has everything to do with balancing our efforts on the air mattress of ease.

 

Crisp cabbage salad

Make this crisp cabbage salad and nibble on it for a few days.

crisp, raw cabbage slaw

Combine in a large bowl some oil (olive is fine) and some apple cider vinegar with a pinch of sugar or a dab of honey, salt, ground black pepper and fennel seed. Stir in handfuls of crisp, shredded red cabbage, a diced fresh navel orange, blanched sliced almonds and raisins. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for at least six hours before enjoying. Great picnic food. Yummy!

Thank you, Ann Menebroker

Life is the/equivalent of all/that is good. 

Can you think of someone in your community who you may not know personally and who affects your life?

One of those people for me was Ann Menebroker. I’m saddened to learn today of her death on July 9th.

Ann Menebroker, March 30, 1936 – July 9, 2016

I met Ann first through her writing. Shortly after I moved to Sacramento in 2005, I came across Tiny Teeth at The Book Collector. I kept the poems close, rereading often.

When Ann attended a reading of my own poems, she offered kind words of support. These words, and the spirit behind them, influenced me to stick with the slow, impractical, private act of making poems. I noticed Ann in the audience at every one of my subsequent readings.

Around the time of Yoga Stanza’s first anniversary, I requested her permission to publish Marble, a beautiful poem about light, the moon, looking and love. These two stanzas call on the reader to feel into boundaries of what and where.

Hold a marble in your hand.
Something about
being round deserves
touching,

as if its shape
could go in all directions
but actually goes nowhere
and everywhere.
Poetry is mostly a localized art.
We poets live in marshes among other red-winged blackbirds flashing our epaulets, singing to each other and sometimes the sky alone.
In 2015, I moved away from Sacramento to my hometown of Washington, DC, which happens to be Ann’s hometown, too. I’ll never see Ann again and can commiserate with the other birds of the common poetry landscape we shared only through the magic of the internet. I can say, “Thank you, Ann Menebroker.”

What I remember from brief conversations was how she looked directly at the person to whom she was listening, with the spaciousness of generous attention that is a form of unencumbered affection.

Look fully at someone today, a dear one, an acquaintance or a stranger.

Embody love in action.

Find more of Ann’s poems here, including this one about how much can happen in a morning.

CHICKEN SALAD WITH GRAPES
(for Dennis)

He calls before noon
on Saturday from San
Francisco where he’s
walking to the Farmer’s
Market to pick up quail
and look at the wines
being offered. It’s beautiful
in both our cities. I have
a mild hangover, and am
eating chicken salad
with huge purple grapes
mixed in. Life is the
equivalent of all
that is good. I take
a walk through my
city. An ambulance
sirens by, an old
woman stumbles and
falls. The purple
grapes seem too large
an idea
for my mouth, the
way truth feels when
you suddenly swallow
it whole.