[Retreat dispatch] Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Repeat.

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani food

WRITTEN ON SATURDAY, MARCH 9, 2013 AROUND 5:45 P.M. WHILE 37,000 FEET IN THE AIR. :-)

The Michigan contingent of the Xinalani retreaters are on the plane ride back from Xinalani. We’re on the same flight as all the university students ending their Puerto Vallarta spring break trip, so there’s a lot of hangover discomfort in the cabin — drawn shades, kids holding their heads in their hands, requests for extra glasses of water and soda. The 10 of us who just spent a week eating three lovely meals a day, on the other hand, are returning home with a spring in our step.

“Are you kidding me?” seemed to be the refrain at each meal this past week. We had lemongrass juice (my personal favorite). Tamarind juice. Papaya juice. Desserts included tamarind popsicles (a big hit with everyone), avocado mousse (outstanding) and chipotle truffles (yes, they were as good as it sounds). Several of us became inspired to go home to replicate some of the hot and cold soups we oohed and aahed over, including fava cream soup and basil cream soup.

The only downside to the way we ate this week was that we all overate (the exception was our teacher, the only one who had the self-discipline to skip dinner entirely each night because, at 7:30 p.m., it was served too late to not interfere with the morning Mysore practice). We had the best of intentions to not eat every beautiful morsel that appeared on our plates, but for the most part, we weren’t successful.


Five of us took a cooking class with the retreat center’s jolly chef. For me, more important than the preparations was the reminder that cooking should be done with ample heapings of joy and enthusiasm. Chef Feliz Cabrera clearly loves his craft, and it was important to him to see that his guests were both happy and happily nourished all week.

On the first day he promised us: “Every day, the food gets better and better.” He was right.

Xinalani board and meal


On my lap here is Salt Sugar Fat, which I’m nearly halfway through reading. It was a wonderful week for contrasts, eating the way we did at the dining table while reading on the beach about the science and marketing behind America’s processed food industry. The chapter on Coca-Cola’s tactics provided this interesting tidbit about a 2005 study produced by the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council with tips on how to better persuade teens and adults:

The study included a ‘shopper destiny map,’ done up in bright yellows and reds to mark the ‘hot spots’ where most shoppers go. Whisked through the front doors, they typically start at the right side of the supermarket — moving counterclockwise and, in a surprise, from back to front. Thus the main racks of soda should be placed toward the rear of the store, on the right side. By contrast, much of the center of store has light traffic, the report warns, calling the area the ‘Dead Zone.’

Coca-Cola, in this study, also urges grocers to find ways to catch shoppers off guard. Federal health officials who are righting the obesity epidemic advise consumers never to enter a grocery store without a shopping list, which helps to ward off the impulse to load up on sugary, salty and fatty snacks . . . . ‘Sixty percent of the supermarket purchase decisions are completely unplanned,’ the Coke study says. ‘Anything that enalbes the shopper to make a faster, easier, better decision’ will help spur those unplanned purchases. (p. 112)

Earlier this year, I started making a weekly meal grid the night before my weekly grocery shopping trip. It has done wonders for me on three fronts:

  • Spending less money
  • Making better decisions
  • Wasting less produce

I love my new system because it keeps me on the straight and narrow when I shop, especially by preventing me from buying too much produce that will go bad before I can get to it during the week. It also helps me prepare more flavorful and nutritious meals that are just as fast as spontaneous dishes.

Now, with my Xinalani inspiration, I’ll have to start picking up lemongrass for juices and beets for roasting. And it’s equally exciting to see fresh uses for stuff I already buy every week — like using avocado for mousse and fava beans for a creamy soup. As for the fun and pride in preparing the food itself, I’ll just have to channel Chef Cabrera and picture him in my kitchen, ready to regale taste buds with his next creation.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flushing away bad eating habits (my TMI post on acid reflux)

Garden hose

Before I get to how excited I was to see today’s Acid Reflux and Ayurveda: Pitta Party post on the most excellent Heavy Metta blog, I have to tell you about last night, one of those times when life throws a big fat wrench into your plans.

Around 12:30 a.m., about an hour after I had gone to bed, I found myself hunkered down in the bathroom, throwing up my diner. It would take two more rounds over the next couple of hours for my body to be content that enough had been ousted. It didn’t feel like food poisoning to me, because the expulsion lacked a certain . . .violence. It was quite matter-of-fact, very workmanlike: Hello, dinner, welcome! And . . .  oh, you’re leaving so soon? And out the front door nonetheless? Well, OK, goodbye!

Reflecting more on it this afternoon, it occurred to me that it could have been a really, really unfortunate acid reflux reaction. I suppose it could have been something else too, but that’s the theory I’m rolling with for now.

I’ve had acid reflux for years. Doctor’s orders? No coffee, no caffeinated soda, no chocolate. I ignore two of the three (not a big soda drinker). While I had been better about coffee for a few months, I’ve been back on the bandwagon for the past few weeks. And over the course of the day, I realized, I had had many of the most common triggers, in addition to morning coffee: garlic, onion, tomatoes, processed chicken (funny, because I rarely ever eat chicken anymore), potato salad (I never eat this stuff, but I did yesterday as part of my lunch — didn’t even enjoy it), high acid fruits and cranberry juice. Add the typical low-grade levels of workday stress and it was probably a perfect storm.

Some thoughts:

  • Can the yoga asana practice do anything about acid reflux? Friends have told me the control of stress alone is helpful. What about the digestive juices themselves?
  • Eating ginger before a meal has helped me in the past, but I’ve let that slip because I thought things were under control. I’ll have to start again.
  • I’ve found Nexium to be the only thing that has really helped me, but it’s so expensive under my current health insurance plan that I’ve stopped filling the prescription in the past few months. (It costs me $90 a month, because my infinitely wise insurance company refuses to believe the other stuff truly doesn’t work for me. After last night, though, I’m back on Nexium too, expenses be damned.

Very helpfully, Maria over at Heavy Metta posted a whole post earlier today about acid reflux, Ayurveda and pitta-types. Me, pitta? Had she read my mind? 😉 Check out her blog, even if you don’t care about acid reflux, because you get choice lines like this one, found in the section on Mastic Gum:

. . .I’m just a very curious layperson who loves Ayurveda and who happens to do a lot of nutrition-related research for a living at my day job. I don’t advocate any particular kind of treatment, but information is always helpful. And where else will you get Ayurveda, health and heavy metal in the same blog? Freaking nowhere, man!

Screenshot of Heavy Metta blog

Screenshot of the Heavy Metta blog post “Acid Reflux and Ayurveda: Pitta Party”

By the way, my dinner tonight was much improved. I prepared a remix of a great little recipe for Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero from SmarterFitter, one of my favorite food blogs. My visit to Tuscany last year instilled an appreciation in me for those oh-so-simple-and-plain cannellini beans, and I’ve been looking forward to trying this SmarterFitter recipe. Rebooting the way I eat — I don’t want to spend my nights last last night ever again — seemed like the perfect time.

Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero

Do you live with acid reflux? What do you do?

(Photo credit: Don’t Breathe by JenSmith826 via Flickr Creative Commons. The actual photo is pretty cool — an experiment in narrative structure. Head over to see.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Unpacking my patterns of excess

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Packing up -- so many boxes

I know I’m in good company when I say that I don’t enjoy the moving process. Packing up belongings is hardest — the unpleasant surprises you unearth, the reminders of challenging people or periods in your life, the discomfort of tossing crap you want to shed but that you’re not quite ready to let go of quite yet. Unpacking at least allows for new beginnings of sorts — old item, new place.

This weekend, I listened to an old Yoga Peeps podcast with James Bailey on the science of ayurveda while tackling the emotionally toughest section of the apartment for me — stacks of old personal and professional documents that should have been recycled or shredded years ago.

In any case, the part of the podcast that struck me most was when the interviewer asked Bailey about whether he sees recurring patterns. Yes, he said — the vast majority of tendencies you’ll see in Western cultures are patterns of excess:

We tend to see an overnourishment of the body, overnourishment of the tissues. There were times in our ancestors’ histories and their lives where deficiencies were the threat to society. . . . But these days, these nutrients are available in mass quantities and overmanufuactured, basically. So we have proteins and fats and sugars and carbohydrates that are available and cheap — really cheap. Anybody can afford to get access to these nutrients, and in ungodly amounts, lending towards severe diseases of excess. . . . Obesity is one, diabetes is one, cancers and some growths and tumors are others — hypertension and so on. These are the diseases of our day — chronic because they are lifestyle-based. They come down to choices. (This section stars roughly around 17:45 in the podcast.)

A pack rat by nature, and surrounded by stacks of slips of paper I should have slipped out of my life long ago, that observation deeply resonated. At least moving forces you to go through piles and open boxes and make decisions about how many physical mementos linked to emotional baggage you want to carry on with you to the next space you occupy.

And I started to wonder whether one of the more potent — and therefore emotionally difficult — aspects of maintaining a consistent Ashtanga practice is that you are confronted each day by some manifestation of excess in your life. Yes, you have to face areas of depletion as well — for starters, there’s lack of sleep, lack of hydration, lack of will, lack of time and lack of space.

But areas of excess require decisions to let go. In the beginning, there’s the typical realization of too much fat on the body (or, to put it more politely, adipose tissue), too much food in the belly, too much stress absorbed into muscles. Looking back, I think I had worked marichyasana D as far as I could (given the proportions of my arms to the rest of the my body) when Tim Miller basically looked and me and suggested I consider shedding a few kilos (this reminds of a blog post title that made me laugh: “Marichyasana D — ‘D’ is for diet“). Looking back, I think he was right — but it would be some time before I was motivated to make any real lifestyle changes.

Every day, month after month, year after year, you can choose to face your areas of physical, mental and emotional excesses and not change anything about your life off the mat — it seems to me that the practice doesn’t judge. On a personal level, what I have found after nine months of a consistent practice is that the desire to continue habits of excess starts to diminish on its own. And thank god, because I still don’t have the willpower to totally avoid, for instance, cheesy breadsticks even though I know there is nothing to gain, from a nutritional point. (Literally as I’ve been writing this paragraph, my husband offered me a bite of his breadstick and I totally took one, because it looked pretty damn good.) The difference now is that I’m pretty satisfied with, say, one bite, whereas a couple years ago, I would have probably eaten two or three breadsticks.

Diet-wise, I feel that my body’s intelligence about what I consume has been dusted off and is slowly but surely gaining authority in this mind-body system of mine. I am quite certain I have to credit practice for this — I don’t see other factors in my lifestyle that could have triggered the change. These days, I don’t feel like I have to consult labels or more gastronomically yogic friends — for the most part, I have a sense of what will feel good after I eat it and what won’t. Last week, for instance, I was stuck in a six-hour-long website writing and editing session. When I was asked what I wanted to order for lunch, I got my sandwich, but I insisted on one of those ginormous cookies as well. I knew, going in, that I would enjoy it then, but feel it a couple hours later. But the trade-off was worth it to me. (If you’ve ever been stuck in  marathon sessions related to building websites, you probably know what I mean.) So I still have patterns of excess — don’t even get me started on the criminally delicious ice cream cake my colleagues got me last week for a belated birthday gathering — but at least I am being present when those decisions are made.

Well, I suppose I should get back to packing up my stuff so we can finishing moving out of this little one-bedroom apartment into a house. I am really hoping and determined to check my pattern of excess — as it relates to useless and no longer necessary stuff, anyway — at the door of this new home. Wish me luck — and the good instincts that seem to develop from continued practice.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Venus in transit, Rose in kitchen: Coincidence, or the beginning of an era?

 

Lunch bento box

I don’t know if it was the effect of yesterday’s rare Venus transit, but I was inspired to pick up an updated bento box called the Laptop Lunch as a way to eat healthier — and tastier — lunches. Here’s what I came up with given stuff I already had in the fridge and cabinets.

Bento box annotated

  1. Cheese and prosciutto roll-ups in a spinach wrap
  2. Cajun kale chips
  3. Salad with Champagne dressing
  4. Quinoa with mozzarella and sundried tomatoes

This Venus transit isn’t slated to happen again until 2117, so I hope my motivation to prepare these more balanced bento box lunches isn’t nearly as rare as today’s astrological phenomenon.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lowering the ugh factor: 7 things I’ve done for my digestive system

Photo of ginger via london_lime's Flickr photostreamToday’s mail brought the regular round of advertising circulars. Ponderosa Steakhouse’s unlimited sirloin steak and shrimp offer on weekends. Applebee’s new — NEW! — blackened chicken penne and Bourbon Street chicken and shrimp. Jet’s Pizza.

Eh, eh and eh. None of it is at all appetizing.

(OK, full disclosure: the pizza is still kind of appealing.) The larger point is, the longer I practice Ashtanga consistently, the harder it is for me to eat out. Like many teenagers, I developed a taste for awful fast food in high school — the Mexican pizza at Taco Bell, the fish sandwich at McDonald’s, the curly fries at Arby’s. While my eating habits have improved — slowly — over the years, I have terrible proclivities compared with the yogis I know. I don’t like juicing. I have zero desire to eat raw food. And so on.

Over the past year or so, however, what’s been exciting for me is that I’ve been craving better food, even if I haven’t necessarily been eating better food.

Is it possible that I’ve been retraining my cravings? I hope so (pizza cravings notwithstanding).

Now the big challenge is making it happen: Craving better food and then converting that craving into action by actually eating better food. This is hard because it would require that I spend more time acquiring and preparing food. In my current kitchen calculus, if it takes four steps, it’s on the time-consuming side. And I consider tearing off the packaging to be one step. I know, I know  . . .

It’s not just a matter of principle for me. I really need to eat better, because it’s been affecting how I feel. This past December, after my tests for celiac problems came back negative, I devoted a blog post discussing that ugh feeling plaguing my digestive system. A follow-up blog post listed some great suggestions shared with me.

I’m cautiously happy to report that I’ve been feeling better over the past few months. Here are some steps I’ve taken — thanks the advice of a range of people and, in one ironic case, a fast-food delivery joint — since December:

  • Practiced nauli more consistently in the morning.
  • Started taking probiotics (one capsule daily).
  • Dramatically reduced my coffee intake — down to about one or two cups a week at this point. (I’ve substituted this habit with a pomegranate oolong tea latte from Biggby in the mornings. While this is an improvement, it’s also expensive to do this several times a week, so I have to wean myself off this soon too.)
  • When possible, switching from cow’s milk and soy milk to almond milk. (Looking back, soy milk never sat all that well with me. But I had this idea that it was healthier. Almond milk rocks! Who knew.)
  • Started ditching bread and wraps as much as possible for lunch (hello, sandwiches held together with large Romaine lettuce leaves!).
  • Began to eat a little bit of shaved ginger sprinkled with cayenne before dinner.
  • Started eating smaller dinners.

I’ll elaborate on three of these.

Nauli

Here is what Lisa Walford has written about nauli:

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that Nauli stimulates the digestive fire, thereby removing toxins, indigestion, and constipation. It is considered a Shat Karma, which is an internal cleansing to aid with excess phlegm, mucus, or fat.

If you don’t practice yoga, I know nauli looks crazy. But trust me — it’s not painful. I think it feels pretty good when you’re done — it’s hard to explain, but I sort of feel as if I’ve stirred the pot and prevented stagnation.

Started ditching bread and wraps as much as possible for lunch

This has made a huge difference to how I feel during all afternoon on a workday — and I’m as surprised as anyone to say that I got the idea from a fast food place. A freaky fast fast food place, in fact — Jimmy John’s Unwich. It’s a regular sandwich, except it’s got leaves of lettuce holding it together rather than a wrap or bread. I’ve been packing my own lunches with my own lettuce-wrapped creations, including breakfast sandwiches. They’re delicious, and I don’t feel heavy or bloated afterward.

Began to eat a little bit of shaved ginger sprinkled with cayenne before dinner.

This is an Ayurvedic thing. I don’t know anything about Ayurveda, but this is what the California College of Ayurveda says about poor digestion:

The symptoms of poor digestion include excessive gas, constipation, diarrhea, burping, burning, vomiting, indigestion, bloating and pain. In various forms, Western medicine has given them names such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colitis and pancreatitis among many others. Through the eyes of Ayurveda, the practitioner comes to an understanding of the cause through examining one’s lifestyle. Faulty eating practices are the number one culprit, poor food choices and poor food combing are next in line. Together they make up the major causes of digestive disease.

Why ginger and cayenne? According to this same site:

Kledaka Kapha [subdosha governing the protective secretions which line mucous membranes] can also be too high. When this occurs it suppresses the agni resulting in slow digestion and possible nausea. This condition results from too many heavy, sweet foods and is best treated with the category of herbs called dipanas which increase agni and diminish kledaka. This includes the Indian herbs chitrak and the Ayurvedic formula trikatu as well as common pungents such as ginger and cayenne pepper.

Interested in learning more? I am too. You can start by following the Jangalikayamane blog and reading “How Jedi Knights Should Eat” from the AY:A2 blog. Here’s a juicy excerpt from that blog post, which several yogis I know have welcomed not only for its ideas, but for its perfect timing in their lives:

In any case, those years of “research” and strict food rules did teach me a lot, and did render my digestive fire extremely strong and healthy. Luckily, I kept coming to my mat every day without a break, so gradually I started understanding surrender. Now that I’m more interested in radical acceptance of my own social, temporal, and environmental contexts, and of my own desires, it is easier to nest my eating habits not only my body’s energy economy, but also in the context of personal and environmental relationships.

Had I been more in contact with my own wisdom in those days, my relationship with food would have balanced discipline with contemplation. Turns out that the Ayurvedic approach to eating does just this. The way I’ve been learning it, Ayurveda is not a set of fixes or healing strategies. It’s a holographic map of the whole web of manifest reality. The Ayurvedic approach to eating isn’t an arcane prescription for fixing one’s doshas; it’s a set of practices for becoming conscious of the inner and outer webs of our being.

You don’t even have to study it. Just imagine. What if you showed up to your hunger, and your food, the way you show up to our yoga room and to your physical practice? So… you’d put time and awareness in to getting the conditions right. Do a gratitude ritual. Care about where the recipe and the ingredients come from. Practice in silence, and in excellent company. Breathe. Act with clear, loving attention. Regard strong thought and emotional patterns with a bit of cool skepticism. Take a long finishing sequence to absorb the benefits.

Quick fix? Yeah right. Not in ashtanga and not in eating. This practice teaches us that our bodies are vehicles for past and future choices. Love the rough spots into fluidity, day by day, and let the painful stuff get easier. Recognize that especially deep patterns got there as a result of grasping and repetition, and we don’t get out of them for free.

The yoga thing is about action and observation, and finding that these two are not separate. Action can be luminously conscious. Takes practice.

So, how about applying that “99 percent practice, 1 percent theory” concept to food?

(Photo credit: “Ginger” via london_lime’s Flickr photostream.) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Florence travel journal (part 2): Eating our way to culinary innocence

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 2: ‘A tavola non si invecchia.’(‘At the table, one does not age.’) On eating our way to culinary innocence

 

–>A tavola non si invecchia
–>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I’m already missing
–>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I wish I had tried
–>It’s the end of the meal as we know it, and I feel fine(!)
–>Catch up with Florence travel journal (part 1): Firenze as home base

>>’A tavola non si invecchia‘<<

I was born in New Orleans, where it’s said that locals are already thinking about the next meal before finishing the current one. So I love that there’s an Italian saying that goes, “A tavola non si invecchia,” which translates to, “At the table, one does not age.” When done right, food fuels the soul. Food brings us familiarity and comfort when we need it, surprise and inspiration when we’re ready for it. When done wrong, food can be soul-sucking — reminders of what’s lacking not just in our personal lives, but what’s wrong with the society in which we live.

What was so wonderful about eating these long, leisurely meals in Florence was that we got to experience how food is community. How strangers who don’t speak the same language can laugh together over something happening in the restaurant. How tourists can get a glimpse, however uninformed, about a region’s history through a simple meal.

A McDonald's billboard near the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Needless to say, we didn't eat there.

In one short week in Italy, Scott and I enjoyed so many memorable meals. I think about our gastronomic journey as one that returned us to culinary innocence. As two people born and raised in America — a country that can, for the middle and upper classes at least, too easily be a land of excess and waste — we were reminded that abundance does not equal gluttony. Simple can be refined. Eating meat, when the animal in question was not as a matter of course raised and killed as part of an ugly and despicable industry, can feel joyful.

While we couldn’t take those meals back with us, we did take back with us the inspiration we felt while dining in Italy. Between the two of us, Scott is the only one who can actually put together a good meal. He’s an excellent griller, for instance. But left to his own devices, he too easily resorts to college-era habits of eating greasy, cardboard pizza. Most 11-year-olds probably have a better sense of how to work a kitchen than I do, and while I have good tendencies toward healthier foods, I also eat way too much in any given setting.

In any case, we’ve decided we are going to try to get ourselves into better dietary patterns. We’re excited to start trying to prepare meals together not as a chore, but as something to look forward to each week, much like our salsa dancing lessons. We’ll start with very, very simple dishes, such as cooking pasta and adding a couple dashes of white truffle oil, and going from there.

>>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I’m already missing<<

In restaurants around Florence, you have an antipasti (appetizer), followed by a primi piatti (first course, usually a pasta) and the secondi piatti, a second, usually meatier course (or fishier, depending on the region you’re in). Some places offer a vegetable with the main dish, and at others, you have to order a separate contorni (side). I always loved it when fried artichokes was on the menu as a side — Italians do beautiful, beautiful things with artichokes (carciofi). Then, of course, there’s dessert, such as cantucci with Vin Santo, followed by — if desired — espresso and perhaps a digestive liqueur (digestivo) such as limoncello, if you want sweet and refreshing, or grappa, if you want quite the opposite.

Here are five dishes I’m already missing.

Pappardelle di cinghiale

I. Love. Pappardelle.
I. Love. Pappardelle.
I. Love. Pappardelle.

It’s my favorite pasta of all time — topping even gnocchi, which is saying quite a lot. The first time I had pappardelle was, funny enough, in Miami, at an absolutely fantastic Italian restaurant (Hosteria Romana, if you are ever in the area). I loved pappardelle on first bite. (No matter what the cuisine, I like my noodles flat and wide. In Chinese cooking, I’ve preferred dishes with the big flat rice noodles for as long as I can remember.)

Unless I’m going to all the wrong joints, it’s rare to find pappardelle in the U.S. I bought some pappardelle back with me from Florence, though I know we won’t be having it di cinghiale, the traditional preparation with wild boar sauce.

>>Where I had my favorite pappardelle di cinghiale: Where didn’t I love pappardelle di cinghiale? But if I had to choose, I’d have to split it as a tie between: Buca Mario in Florence and Trattaoria del Pennello in Florence. And, although not made with wild boar meat and sauce, a special shout-out goes to Peperoncino in Florence, which didn’t have pappardelle di cinghiale on the menu but made a custom order of pappardelle for me.

Bistecca alla fiorentina, or a steak for a giant?

So there’s a special breed of cattle found in Tuscany called Chianina. They have distinctive long, white hair. Chianina make incredible bistecca alla fiorentina, which looks like a T-bone steak cut for a giant. I didn’t order it myself, but I tried it when Scott ordered it. It was simple and perfectly cooked — amazing.

>>Where I had my favorite: Buca Mario in Florence

Fagioli all’Uccelleto — only Tuscans can do beans like this

It sounds kind of unsexy, but the bean dishes offered by Tuscan restaurants are excellent. One of our guidebooks said Tuscans are nicknamed mangiafagioli, bean-eaters, because of their fondness for these beans. The SmarterFitter blog has an interesting take on — along with a good recipe for — Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero.

>>Where I had my favorite: Pangie’s in Florence. I wish I could remember the name of the actual antipasti, but Pangie’s lathered olive oil on a large piece of bread, topped the bread with a green that tasted like a cousin of spinach, and put the beans on top of all that. It probably doesn’t sound very good, but somehow all the ingredients come together to leave your taste buds with an unexpected and very welcome pop.

Crostini with porcini mushrooms (or really, anything al funghi)

I had a piece of out-of-this-world crostini (small rounds of toasted bread brushed with olive oil) topped with a delicate but intense spread I couldn’t even begin to describe. It was made from porcini mushrooms and if I could bottle that stuff and ship it to Michigan, I would in a heartbeat. Incredibly, I also had crostini with chicken liver pate that didn’t make me want to throw up. (I have a visceral reaction to how liver smells, and after having it once as a young child, I’ve never been willing to try anything with liver again — until now. Whatever these restaurants did to the liver pate to make it tolerable crostini — and perhaps even slightly enjoyable — I’ll never know.) People say Tuscan cuisine manages to make tripe — which is also found in Chinese cuisine, which is how I know I don’t like it — tolerable as well, by stewing it with tomatoes, sage and parmigiano cheese. Despite the reviews of Tuscan preparations of tripe, I still had zero interest in trying it.

>>Where I had my favorite crostini: Ciro & Sons in Florence

And so ends the search for the perfect tiramisu

About 10 years ago, I decided that I loved tiramisu enough that I would start a worldwide quest to find the best tiramisu. Since tiramisu is the most classic of Tuscan desserts — made of ladyfingers, mascarpone and coffee — it’s not surprising that in Tuscany, you don’t have to search too long for a gorgeous execution of tiramisu. I had two of the best expressions of this dessert that I’ve ever had, two nights in a row. One seemed to be a more traditional, homemade preparation. It had the perfect consistency and taste. The other seemed to put a modern twist on the dessert. I loved them both, and I’ll always think of those bites I enjoyed whenever I have my OK tiramisu in American restaurants.

>>Where I had my favorite tiramisu: Tie. Buca Mario in Florence and Ciro & Sons in Florence

I’m also missing pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese that’s aged for two months and has, to me, a sharp edge. And then there’s cantucci, a small, hard, almond cookie that’s the Tuscan version of biscotti. In Florence, many restaurants offer a dessert of cantucci and Vin Santo, a sweet wine you dip the cantucci into to soften it up so it’s perfect for consumption.

But where’s…

Are you wondering if I forgot about the gelato? Many people think Italy has the world’s best ice cream, and that within Italy, gelaterias in Florence do it better than anyone. I have to admit that I don’t love gelato! I really like it, but don’t go gaga over it.I know this is hard to believe, but I prefer high quality, creamy small-label ice cream choices in America, such as lavender ice cream from Jeni’s in Columbus, Ohio. My single favorite flavor of ice cream might be green tea cream.

We did stop by one shop near the Arno River for some gelato. I got hazelnut (Italians know their hazelnuts!), and it was delicious to be sure. But I didn’t really seek out the best gelato, so sorry, no recommendations. You’ll have to visit and find out for yourself.

Like some other European countries, dinner starts later in Italy — around 9 p.m. One of the many ways to out yourself as an American tourist is to head over to a restaurant at 7 p.m. for dinner. I also like to eat dinner pretty late, which runs counter to eating well in the United States unless you’re in New York or L.A. It’s always a treat to be in a place where late dining is the norm, so while not a specialty, I will also miss this aspect of Tuscan dining.

>>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I wish I had tried<<

In a shop near Ponte Vecchiowe picked up Tuscany at the Table, a great little book that talks about the history of dishes from Tuscan province and offers recipes from each locale. (I’d link it for you, but I looked the book up on Amazon, and don’t see it.) Of the many interesting tidbits I’ve learned from this book is that Tuscan bread is traditionally made without salt. That would explain why, if there was one thing we didn’t love in Tuscany, it was the bread. It seemed to lack some flavor. I had assumed this was because Tuscans viewed bread as a vehicle to sop up sauces. But this book explains that:

Olive oil reigns supreme in the dishes often accompanied by Tuscan home-style bread, strictly salt-free. The origin of this usage dates from the 12th-century, when Florence and Pisa struggled for supremacy. The Pisans closed their ports to the Florentines for the salt trade, and they responded merely by breaking bread that is ‘sciocco,’ without a grain of salt.      

Not surprisingly, the book has a whole chapter on wine and talks about how, beginning in the 15th century, the production of Chianti was governed by precise procedures dictated by the “Chianti League.” Panoramic wine tours are now offered along 14 routes of the “Strade el Vino.” There are the well-known reds of Chianti Classico, Morellino di Scansano, Bolgheri Sassicaia, Solaia, Tignanello and Brunello di Montalcino. Did you know this region produces white wines and roses? They include Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Bianco di Pitigliano, Val di Cornia and Rosado di Toscana Igt.

So, here are five Tuscan specialties mentioned in this book that I would have loved to have tried:

  • Marzolino — another type of sheep’s milk cheese
  • Budino di riso — sweets with a rice-pudding center and sugar on top
  • Baccaialata — Salted cod cut in strips, dressed with tomatoes, chopped onions, carrots, garlic, celery, pepper, olive oil and parsley, and baked
  • Topini (“little mice”) — A smaller variation of potato gnocchi
  • Gnochi mes’ci di castagne — Rectangular-shaped gnocchi made of chestnut flour, excellent dressed with olive oil and grated pecorino  

>>It’s the end of the meal as we know it, and I feel fine(!)<<

A major theme for me in 2011 was struggling with how to close the gap between wanting to consume healthier food and actually changing the way I eat. I have frequent discomfort most days of the week from acid reflux and a feeling of bloatedness.

In Florence, even when keeping with the local tradition of two- to four-hour meals and even while eating a ton of carbohydrates in the form of pasta, my acid reflux barely bothered me and my digestive complaints stayed mostly under control.

What happened?

My theories include:

    • We ate better food, period. Our very first dinner in Florence was at Buca Mario (which I highly recommend, if you ever go), a nice restaurant, where everything was homemade and the ingredients were fresh. It was then that I realized how odd it was, after a large meal, to feel clean as a whistle, digestively speaking.
    • The bigger the meal, the slower we ate, allowing for ample time to digest.
    • When we ate, we focused on the experience of eating. We weren’t at our desks working. We weren’t watching TV.
    • We were on vacation. No deadlines! No emails. I wasn’t stressed. I think this is huge. Even though food is my main concern right now, I feel as if stress contributes significantly to my acid reflux.)
    • I didn’t eat any processed foods. When we did eat cheaply and on the go, it was still something like a panini — something that, while the ingredients were hardly great, had been made earlier that day. (By the way, in Italy, if a restaurant offers something on the menu that’s been frozen before, this item has to be marked with an asterisk. How amazing is that? Can you imagine how many crappy restaurants here would have to star their entire menu?)
    • We were usually doing something — walking somewhere, on a train headed somewhere, looking at something, etc. The point being that we were usually engaged and therefore not in a position to snack. My biggest problem when I’m at the office all day is grazing. At home, I’m trying to do better, but there is definitely snacking going on.
    • I didn’t have eggs in the morning. Our hotel offered a lovely and free breakfast buffet. The mornings I stuck to croissants, meat, cheese and fruit, I felt fine. The one morning I had eggs, I did not feel so fine. I will have to continue to experiment with this one to see if cutting out eggs does indeed help me.

There are two that I consider truly inspirational when it comes to cooking. One is my ancestral home of Thailand, which I have been to and hope to return to some day. The other is Italy. I’m so grateful that I had the chance to visit Italia for the first time and bring back all these lessons from the dining tables there.

>>In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Can’t they just label food ‘good for you’ and ‘bad for you’?

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A client sent our office a box of fabulous Fabiano’s chocolates, a favorite in Lansing, Mich. The guessing game of what filling awaits a bite used to be fun. While the giddiness is still there for me when it comes to a holiday gift box of good-quality chocolates — will it be salty? maple-infused? — I have to be more careful, thanks to blood work a couple years ago showing my allergy to peanuts and, surprisingly, sesame seeds and derivatives (hummus, made of tahini, is out, for example). This afternoon, I bit into one, immediately realized it was peanut butter, and spit it out. Undeterred, I enjoyed a few other pieces featuring everything from a raspberry burst to a minty center.

The peanut and sesame seed/oil allergies are known quantities. By comparison, with my recent negative results for gluten sensitivity, I don’t know what else compromises my health. The food journal I’ve been keeping hasn’t exposed any magic bullet yet, but I want to share some of the recommendations I received in response to my post on the celiac tests in case it helps anyone else struggling with a similar question to mine: What am I eating that makes me feel bloated and ugh so much of the time?

Not so fast

Juliana (Yoga Daze blog) and Emily (Love and Cinnamon blog) cautioned me against completely trusting the blood work for signs of celiac disease, saying either they or someone close to them also tested negative, cut out gluten anyway, and experienced a remarkable and positive difference. Hannah (Balancing on Two Feet blog) suggested an elimination diet. Read their full comments.

Chuck corn

Stormy Nosse, an ashtangi I met last year at the Ashtanga Yoga Center, shared her thoughts based on experience and years of studying nutrition. Her advice: Consider cutting out corn. On an intuitive level — based on how ubiquitous corn-based products are in our country, this piece of advice really appealed to me, and I’m already trying to implement it. I try not to eat tortilla chips like I used to, but I do snack and I do crave chips, so I’ve tried chips made from lentils and from black bean, and really like both.

Examine thyroid issues

Dave from Jackson Hole, Wy. asked if I had ever considered hypothyroid issues, and pointed me to “Thyroid ‘Hell’th,” D’ana Baptise’s blog posts chronicling her journey with this issue. In the last installment of the 2009 series, Baptise writes:

I felt compelled to spend time on this topic because I knew there were a lot of us feeling like something is just wrong, and yet we aren’t being taken seriously. I also wanted to write to say that even if you are the most staunch ‘all natural, completely organic’ person, you may still have thyroid issues and no amount of organic spinach will cure it or help you feel better.

Baptise goes on to list what she has found to be helpful. Read the entire post here.

Not more than a day apart from when Dave wrote me about hypothyroid, a friend of mine stopped me at the yoga studio to ask if I had looked into thyroid issues. She had had adrenal drainage problems, and when she addressed that, symptoms similar to mine went away.

I’m definitely going to ask my physician and acupuncturist about thyroid issues.

Thanks to everyone who shared their experience and advice with me. I’m convinced this is all a good thing — a way for me to finally pay closer attention to what I put into my body. Rather than rely on external markers of healthiness — i.e., what’s supposed to be good or bad for me — I’m really working to slow down and tune in to what my internal machinations are telling me about how various foods affect me. That brings me back to the food journal. I guess there has been one clear result — and it’s that as much as I have come to love it, the protein-packed wonder known as quinoa does not make me feel very good. Quinoa leaves me feeling bloated, with the urge to burp to relieve the pressure. Guess I can’t stock up on quinoa cakes from Plum Market’s deli case the next time I’m in Ann Arbor for an Ashtanga class.

(Photo credit: Quinoa by edibleoffice via Flickr Creative Commons.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The celiac disease test results are back. And they say…

This WebMD photo is explained with the following description: "In people with celiac, the body's immune system is triggered by gluten in food. Antibodies attack the intestinal lining, damaging, flattening, or destroying the tiny hair-like projections (villi) in the small bowel. Damaged villi can't effectively absorb nutrients through the intestinal wall. As a result, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals get passed through the stool. Over time, this can lead to malnutrition."

 

I’m logging into Google Docs so I can write down what I just had for dinner. I’m seven days into keeping a food journal, and I’ll be honest — I was pretty lazy about details the first several days. For instance, for Dec. 2, all I have written down is: “Lunch: Smoked salmon bagel sandwich.” I know I ate a lot more than that.

I’m trying to do better. Today’s entry (so far):

  • Breakfast: Coffee with creamer
  • Lunch: Salad that included cheese, stuffed olives, pumpkin mousse, pasta
  • Dinner: Veggie chicken patty, spreadable cheese, gluten-free bread
  • Snacks: A chunk of an oatmeal raisin cookie (stopped because not sure if it had peanuts)

I’m resistant to this whole food journal thing because I don’t want to track every single thing I eat or drink. You might remember that just before Thanksgiving, I went in for long-overdue blood work to determine if I’m sensitive to gluten. I was worried, but I was looking forward to knowing.

Now I know. And what I know is that I don’t know. At the end of November, I found out none of the tests indicated I have any kind of sensitivity to gluten. That means I’m back to square one. My doctor’s office suggesting keeping a food journal for two weeks and then going to discuss. I’m grateful I don’t have to avoid gluten. But the test results also mean I can’t narrow down the reasons why I feel that I must be somehow mistreating my gastrointestinal system, since I feel bloaty and ugh much of the time.

One thing I’ve noticed from being better about the food journal is that I put a whole lot of different food items and beverages into my body each day — many more than I thought. Lots of little things here and there. If I wanted to truly isolate food sources, my diet would look completely different.

A gluten-free zone?

So the question is: Should I try to cut out gluten and see how I feel? The same I started my food journal, my sister’s friend posted this on Google+:

I’ve been eating #glutenfree for about 5 months now and have noticed a significant improvement in my health. While I didn’t test positive for Celiac, there is definitely a scale of gluten tolerance…

It is interesting that they’re finding a huge increase in gluten-intolerance in general these days. I wonder if it has anything to do with the GMO crops or other modern day agricultural changes…

At least today there are tons of gluten-free options available in grocery stores – from mixes and flours to packaged cookies and even bread!

Baking is one of my first loves and was the hardest to reconcile when I first cut out gluten, but I’ve found great success in flour blends, sometimes better than wheat flours!

She included a link to this New York Times Magazine storyabout that asks, “Should We All Go Gluten-Free?”

Comparing blood samples from the 1950s to the 1990s, [Dr. Joseph A.] Murray [a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.] found that young people today are nearly five times as likely to have celiac disease, for reasons he and others researchers cannot explain. And it’s on the rise not only in the U.S. but also in other places where the disease was once considered rare, like Mexico and India.

Celiacs aren’t the only ones who are grateful. Athletes, in particular, have taken to the diet. Some claim to have more energy when they cut out gluten, a belief that intrigues some experts and riles others.

Then there’s the question of cutting out wheat.

I’m not cutting anything out just yet. So…I guess I’ll keep a food journal for a few weeks and then go from there. I know I can start by eating less in general — that’s a given. I’m hoping the discipline I’m gaining with a six-day-a-week practice will make this an easier process.

(Photo/cutline credit: WebMD.com’s “Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Celiac Disease”)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Feeding the body, mind and spirit: An exercise in less is more

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On the first day of this Ashtanga yoga retreat held in the sacred space of California’s Mt. Shasta region, Tim Miller explained the itineraries for yoga practices, open discussions, hiking trips and — last but not least — meals. He told us the retreat aims to feed our body, mind and spirit.

We have been fed in abundance when it comes to fodder for the mind and spirit. Not so when it comes to sustenance for the body.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve eaten very well, with breakfast buffets that have included yogurt parfaits, lunches with veggie goat cheese wraps and dinners featuring risotto and corn cakes. What’s key, however, is that we’ve been fed, but not overfed.

The result? With just a day and a half left in this weeklong retreat, my gastrointestinal system feels better than it has in a long time. My acid reflux hasn’t acted up at all. My little purple pills — my prescription Nexium — have stayed in the little Altoid case I use to hold my assortment of reflux pills, vitamins, and the like.

I’m not the worst eater you’ll find — it’s not as if I live on fast food back home — but I am not the poster child of someone who maintains an enviable diet either. With the exception of the occasional omelet or scrambled egg plate, I don’t cook. If I do make something for myself at home, it’s most frequently achieved by assembling wraps, sandwiches and the like.

But my real downfall when it comes to food is portion size. I have that skewed American perspective of what constitutes an acceptable meal. It’s the perspective that makes us as a society view plates of food the way you might see things in a carnival funhouse — totally out of proportion. This was totally driven home to me during a visit in 2005 to Thailand, where my parents were raised. The portion sizes all seemed to be about a quarter of the typical American meal.

And yet I returned from that trip and continued eating the way I aways have.

This week, however, I have avoided getting seconds when that’s been an option, and I have been moderate about desserts. I usually skip the bag of chips put out with our bag lunches. Even though I’ve been expending a great deal of calories through our daily yoga practices and our hikes, I haven’t been hungry at all — proving once again that so much of what we think is our body talking is really our mind talking.

When it comes to healthy eating, food, much like words, falls into the category of less is more. I’m going to take this feeling and these meal habits to heart when I return home and try to get myself on a better eating routine than I currently have.

Sleep, on the other hand, does not for me fall into the category of less is more. Since I’m getting up at 6 a.m. for our last pranayama (breathing) class, I should call it a day. Goodnight.

In this series:


© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.