Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Mat & Me

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
First let me begin this post by acknowledging that some of my readers will be convinced that I have gone off the deep end. But I'm counting on the few I know that have some yoga experience to understand what I'm talking about.

My yoga mat, even though this one is brand new, is my own personal clubhouse.

And I am the only member of the club.

I'm the only one that steps on my mat and I have a entry ritual too, just like any other club might have for its' members.

I unroll my mat green side up. It doesn't have a top and bottom per se. It is actually intentionally reversible. The bottom is a light blue and has a different texture to it. But when I unrolled it for the very first time last week I knew immediately that the green side was the "up" side. This is a permanent decision now, because when I washed it I draped it over the shower rod in the bathroom and later when I pulled it down the blue side got a snag from the shower curtain rings. I felt slightly sad when that happened but not a lot. It was sort of like when you get a new car and get that first scratch in it. It's over then. No more worrying about the first scratch.

So I unroll my mat by flipping it out and then I straighten it. If I'm fortunate enough to be on a surface that has no lines then the straightening is pretty simple. But on surfaces where there are lines, like edges of linoleum or wood or some other flooring material, I have to straighten the mat so that it lines up with those lines.

I never, ever step on my mat with shoes on. So I remove my shoes and lay them aside and put my red shawl and my strap within arm's reach. I also put my socks there in case I need them during svasana.

When I step on my mat, the world around me dims. It's kind of like bokeh in a photograph. A good photographer will adjust their aperture to put the subject in focus and then blur out distractions in the subject's background. Really cool bokeh, really strong bokeh, will cause the background to have very little definition...sometimes you can't really even see what the items in the back are. It's like that when I step on my mat.

The amount of dimming is controlled by me. If I am interested in the other students, I'll tune in my ears and open my eyes to what is going on around me. If I'm not, I will tune in only to the teacher's voice or the music playing. Much of the time I will go a step further and close my eyes.

When I'm on the mat it's just me and the asanas or pranayama. I work out my body and think about how grateful I am that it serves me so well. Sometimes I get frustrated with it. The Foot of Doom really caused endless trouble not just with my body but also with my mind and spirit as I struggled to do asanas and fought through pain and frustration. All of that happened on my old mat. I find it interesting that the pain left right as the new mat arrived. It's like a whole new practice right now.

Yesterday I wrote about using Yogi Liz's mat for a while. Her mat has affirmations and signatures on it from various teacher training things she has gone to. As I used the mat I would read these writings and feel affirmed myself, even though I knew they were intended for her. It was sort of like staying at friend's house while they are out of town and then rifling through their correspondence. A little weird.

I do not always practice with a mat. Especially at home. But when I use a mat, I use my own. It is like my own special home. I succeed and fail on it. I am happy and joyful and sad and frustrated and angry on my mat. It is my clubhouse.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

(Re)New(ed) Feet on a New Mat

Feet on Mat
Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
So you've all been listening to my ENDLESS whining about my "foot of doom," as my jazzerbuddy Terri calls it. No? Then you must not be reading me on Facebook.

Lucky you. I'm a champeen whiner!


First I broke (a stress fracture) the 3rd metatarsal on my left foot. In the process of having that taken care of, the "ultra-fashionable" boot they had me wear caused my somewhat dormant Plantar Fasciitis to come roaring on with a vengeance.

Well, I think I'm close to declaring myself HEALED!

How did this happen? Well, the treatment ranged from Earth shoes (x2), Super Feet insoles, distance Reiki healing, prayer, laying on of hands, acupressure massage by my massage therapist, athletic tape, very old Birkenstock sandals, icing and...a thicker yoga mat for those times when one MUST be!

Yogi Liz graciously allowed me to borrow her personal Jade Harmony mat for a bit to see if the thicker mat would benefit. You'll see in my next post why I felt particularly touched that she would allow me to borrow her mat. Mats are very personal, somewhat intimate items and to loan it to someone else...well, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't let just any old tom, dick or harry use mine.

But the thicker mat really helped keep me in yoga during the last couple of very painful weeks.

The Jade Harmony is a rubber mat. Quite thick and quite heavy. And the rubber smell never really goes away. To wash one is a major commitment as they can take days and days to dry.

So I decided to order a thicker mat of my own. While I like the Jade mat, Liz was able to order me a Kulae (pronounced coo-lie--long 'i') wholesale. So I was able to get an $80+ mat for about $36. The Kulae is made of TPE or Thermo Plastic Elastomer. It is a composite material that is 100% biodegradable and recyclable, and is 100% free from PVC, Chlorides, Dioxins, Latex and Rubber (free from allergens). It's a resilient, highly elastic material that is composed primarily of styrene-butadiene-styrene block copolymers. (this whole last bit was stolen directly off the Kulae website. I'm pretty sure they won't care.) I bought the Kulae Ultra, which is almost 1/2-inch thick. Pretty spongy.

So now I'm breaking in a new mat. The hardest part is getting it to be not slippery. I've washed it once already and will probably have to do that again another time or two.

But my feet don't care. They are HAPPY!


Monday, November 16, 2009

Backyard Headstand or "Dump-the-Migraine-Pose" or "Look Mom! No Feet!"

Originally uploaded by Food Fanatic
I posed the question whether one should go to Jazzercise for a migraine or do yoga.
Yogi Liz suggested headstand, shoulderstand, plow, svasana and alternate nostril breathing first. If I felt like Jazz after that, go then.
Well, I was so relaxed from laying in the backyard watching the birds that I skipped Jazz after all.
But I did get Taylor to take this photo. I'd been wanting a photo of my headstand. He popped off about a dozen shots. After about 8 he was ready to leave, and then I decided to try straightening just a little more. I'm glad I did. My legs were probably at about a 330-335 degrees in those photos. I'm much happier with this. Maybe tomorrow, if it's not really cold out, I'll get him to shoot Wheel pose.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Too Ugly to Photograph

But this has got to be the BEST potato soup I've made to date!

1 large leek...chopped
1/2 large onion...chopped (just to add a little bit of a sharper onion flavor)
2 cloves garlic...smashed, chopped

Throw that in a pot. Keep it low because you don't want the butter or the onions and stuff to brown. Salt liberally, Red pepper flakes liberally, cracked black pepper liberally. Once the leeks start to break down, pour in some vegetable stock that you forgot you had open.

While that simmers for a bit:

3 large potatoes, peeled and cut up
3 or 4 carrots, peeled and sliced thick

Put that in the pot. Add stock until you have the amount you want in there. Add dried basil, bay leaf, and then adjust salt and peppers. And then? If you think it needs just a little more richness, add the rest of the butter that you were too scared to put in the first time. Or maybe cream, or just some milk. Whatever.

Simmer until the potatoes and carrots are done. Smash them around a bit with your potato smasher.

Eat it.

WHOA! A great post-yoga late supper.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Strozzapreti with Roasted Tomatoes

I made this recipe the other night for supper. It's from the New York Times: a series they call "recipes for health.," I've tried a couple of the recipes now and I have to say I'm hooked! I'll try to go back there every week and see what's up.

Anyway, strozzapreti is a hand-rolled, hollow pasta. In Italian the word means "priest choker." Rather than summarize the origin of that, I'll past the Wikipedia story about it here:

"There are several legends to explain the name "priest choker".

One is that gluttonous priests were so enthralled by the savory pasta that they ate too quickly and choked themselves, sometimes to death. Another explanation involves the "azdora" ("housewife" in the Romagna's dialect), who "chokes" the dough strips to make the strozzapreti: "... in that particular moment you would presume that the azdora would express such a rage (perhaps triggered by the misery and difficulties of her life) to be able to strangle a priest!" Another legend goes that wives would customarily make the pasta for churchmen as partial payment for land rents (In Romagna, the Catholic Church had extensive land properties rented to farmers), and their husbands would be angered enough by the venal priests eating their wives' food to wish the priests would choke as they stuffed their mouth with it. The name surely reflects the diffuse anticlericalism of the people of Romagna and Tuscany."

Ha! I do have to say that the explanation about choking the dough to make it is pretty accurate. And it is a very thick, chewy pasta. So as a food it is highly choke-able. At any rate, it was fun to make and the guys immediately volunteered that we should have it again. I do have to say, though, that it took about an hour to make the pasta. I suspect each time I make it, it will take less time. I had a pretty good rhythm going by the time I was half-way through the batch so it went a lot faster. It doesn't really make a huge pot of pasta. But it's so thick and filling that it was plenty for the three of us with another small serving left for my lunch. The recipe says it serve two, but I think you'd be uncomfortably full. Also...I almost forgot...another reason I like this recipe is because it calls for fresh tomatoes, which I love. But fresh slicing tomatoes are a no-no in our house when they are out of season because they taste so plastic. Cherry tomatoes, however, are pretty good and available all year around.

Strozzapreti with Roasted Tomatoes

12 oz (about 22) cherry tomatoes, halved
3 T olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
2/3 C finely grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
1/2 C firmly pack fresh basil or parsley leaves

1 C grano duro flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs

First the sauce:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, gently toss the tomatoes, 1 Tablespoon of the oil and 4 of the garlic cloves. Spread the mixture on a baking sheet, cut sides of the tomatoes up. Roast until soft and collapsing, about 45 minutes. Do not allow them to dry or brown.
Meanwhile, in a food processor combine the remaining garlic clove, cheese and basil or parsley. Process until very finely chopped. It will look granular. When the tomatoes are done, immediately spread the cheese-herb mixture on top of them and mash them lightly with the back of a spoon so the cheese melts. Drizzle with 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.

The strozzapreti:
Mound the 1 cup of flour on the counter, make a well in the center and drop in the eggs and flour. Using your hands, mix the eggs in the well, gradually pushing in more and more flour to make a pasty dough. Add more flour if needed, but don't let it get too stiff. You don't want it to be too sticky to shape with your hands and you don't want it too stiff and dry. Think about play-dough. Make it a little bit stiffer than that.
Roll the dough out onto a floured surface (wooden surfaces work best) until it's as thin as you can make it. Be sure you have enough flour down that you can pick up the dough easily. Cut the dough into strips about 1 inch wide and 3 inches long. Don't worry about being exact.
Pick up a strip and wind it around a skewer. Bamboo would best but I just used a metal kabob skewer. Squeeze it onto the skewer (choking the priest) and then slide it off the end. It takes a little practice to get it down, but after several you'll figure out your own technique. Lay the strozzapreti out on a plate until you are all done.

Cook the strozzapreti in a large pot of boiling salted water. You want the pasta to be tender and slightly chewy, but cooked through. When it's done, drain it and pour into a large bowl. Immediately add the tomato mixture, tossing quickly.