Right Relationship with Food–Lessons from Kripalu

Sweet potato and hazelnuts, black beans, greens: a small window into the cornucopia of food at Kripalu.

Glazed sweet potato with hazelnuts, black beans, greens: a small window into the cornucopia of food at Kripalu.

Two problems:  we were on a schedule (breakfast at 8, lunch at 11:30, dinner at 6:15). And it was a buffet.

Granted, a buffet heavy on vegetables: kale and pepitas–kale and other steamed vegetables at every meal actually!–, saag (spiced spinach), curried cabbage, whipped squash, salsa and guacamole, and so on. Heavy on fresh fruit, too. Some meat if you wanted. Tofu baked and seasoned with sesame seeds, soft chunks in curry, cutlets, diced. Salads and soups at every meal.

Also more carbs than available in my kitchen: banana bread and pappardelle and rice, quinoa and egg rolls and kamut and millet and loaves and loaves of bread. Not to mention my favorite, the maple-nut scones. And the ginger ones. And those scones with the currants. Oh my.

Spanakopita, beans and greens.

At lunch, phyllo covered spanakopita, along with squash, saag, beans and greens.

–All food I didn’t have to research recipes for, shop for, haul up three flights of stairs, chop/slice/dice, sauté/steam/boil, measure then serve. No dishes to wash. No dealing with leftovers.

This was problem number one.

The second one? At home, the meal “schedule” is: wake with the sun, drink water and tea until fruit calls, usually around 10 a.m. Slowly prepare scrumptious dishes on the cooking days, nibble and nosh on them for lunch and dinner, attending closely to hunger and fullness.

At Kripalu we were up way before the sun, on the yoga mat at 6:30 for an hour and a half, followed by the first meal, morning session, lunch then afternoon session followed by afternoon yoga, dinner, then evening session, shower-bedtime-boom.

Cold seaweed salad with toasted sesame oil, fine-chopped broccoli salad, carrot salad too! Must try them all.

Cold seaweed salad with toasted sesame oil, fine-chopped broccoli salad with red onion, carrot salad too! Must try them all.

With these unfamiliar food and time boundaries, desperation set in:

What if I get hungry? 

I am working very hard, after all, pushing myself physically, mentally, and spiritually!  Eating keeps me awake and alert.

I have paid for all these meals. 

Such nifty recipes deserve a taste; then if they’re good I can try them on my own.

What if I don’t like what’s served tomorrow? 

The cafeteria line closes at 7:30, then there are just things to drink. What if I get hungry before bed? In the middle of the night? Before morning yoga?

(Whining) Because I AM pushing myself physically, mentally and spiritually, I want to have fun food!

So I started having three full meals–breakfast just a little vanilla soy yogurt–and some granola and soaked prunes, that’s good for me. Of course the daily egg dish was comforting and warm. Ohhh, better try the scrambled tofu, it looks good. Don’t I need vegetables too?

Almonds with the yogurt and soaked prunes.

Almonds with the yogurt and soaked prunes for breakfast–and then some.

Even though it was Silent Breakfast, I found myself shoveling in big mouthfuls, swallowing before really chewing thoroughly.  We only have an hour before class and I have to do my writing! 

During other meals, I laughed and ate, chatted with one person and ate, got serious with someone else–and ate; at the end, surprised, each time my plate was scraped clean. Already? Is that all?

Comfort food after our first practice teach session: spinach fettucine with mushroom cream sauce.

Comfort food  I gobbled down after our first practice teach session: spinach fettucine with mushroom cream sauce. Yes, I felt comforted. Very.

Feeling bloated the umpteenth day in a row (for some reason, I wonder why?) one breakfast I decided to take a small bite of yogurt-and-seeds, deliberately put the bowl back on the tray, pick up my keyboard and write a while while chewing; then lean over and pick up another spoonful, and so on.

With this slowed-down approach, I could feel tender resistance from the sunflower seeds between my front teeth, spreading sweetness from the soft prune, savory egg on my tongue. Ahh, this is better! Not just flavor but sensation, and a sense of fullness earlier than anticipated. Choosing to leave some on the plate, in the bowl, especially if it didn’t appeal.

Take some, just a little, a few.

Take just a little, some, a few. Space on the plate is OK.

Then to myself–Remember your old habits? YOU put your fork down between bites. YOU pay attention to the texture and flavor. YOU ask: am I full now? am I putting this in my mouth merely because it is on my plate?

Smaller portions each day, I took bowls instead of plates, so the meal wouldn’t look so overwhelmed by empty space around it.  The daily menu board helped: is the  emphasis today on lunch or dinner? Do I want the Thai lunch–or the Mexican dinner instead? 

Can you see how the choice was difficult? Tofu with kale and pea pods here...

Can you see how the choice was difficult? Sesame tofu perfectly crisped with kale and pea pods here…

Indian curry cauliflower and peas, here,

Indian curry cauliflower and peas with chutney here (note the kale)….

Coconut curry sauce, tofu, broccoli and red pepper.

Coconut curry sauce, tofu, broccoli and red pepper (kale was in the other bowl).

I stopped eating the salads. Usually when dining out, I choose something I wouldn’t or don’t make at home–sudden lightbulb! I make leafy green combinations at home, easily.  So I took the things I don’t do as much on my own: julienned beets. Fresh peas. Risotto. Home-made naan (just one). Chilled cucumber soup.

Beets and a cinnamon apple salad.

Beets and a cinnamon apple salad with raisins and walnuts.

I skipped lunch and took a stroll one day, after “hoarding” a scone from breakfast in case I got hungry. And a banana. Then I didn’t even want them, not until long after the hike, during the mid-afternoon break.

Next longer walks to the pond or around the lake settled my stomach, as I decreased the load of comestibles, helping my sleep as well as digestion. I began to feel more myself.

Then I realized I love interacting with people but actually need quiet and writing and aloneness to feel safe and sane.  Now at some mealtimes I chose a blanket on the grass, a nap in my room. Even photography on my own.

Heavy June rains on peonies outside Swami Kripalu's meditation garden.

Heavy June rain on peonies outside Swami Kripalu’s meditation garden.

Reflections at Monk's Pond

Variations of green at Monk’s Pond

More than half the days gone, to figure out the food piece, and then the personal space piece–I’ve had these revelations before.

But I hadn’t run into these particular challenges before–not for this long, not under these circumstances–with the skills I’d been developing for years.

At a certain point, I paid attention, saw the need for change, and acted on it. I celebrate finally seeing what I was doing, regardless of how long it took me. My knowledge is now reinforced.

But wait, there's more! Garlicky polenta with Italian vegetables....

But wait, there’s more! Garlicky polenta with Italian vegetables and parmesan….

The colors were spectacular!

And a plate of pretty colors! I don’t have to eat them all–but I’m gonna be more aware of color and texture again, when I cook for myself.

School over, I am coming back to a home routine:  doing my own shopping, steaming my garden kale (yes, I still love kale!) and yellow beans, fiddling with local cheese and watermelon and new recipes. Being aware. Thinking about my choices, then making and enjoying them.

Maybe I’ll stop eating after 7:30 pm like at yoga school. Maybe I’ll soak prunes for my mid-morning yogurt.  Maybe–no, for sure–I’ll remember that “problems” are actually wonderfully sacred learning moments.

Clouds over the Mohawk River.

Summer abundance of plants and clouds at the Mohawk River.

**Recipes for many of the dishes here can be found in the series of Kripalu seasonal cookbooks or at http://kripalu.org/article/270/  .

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Popovers, and Peace with Myself

Popovers in all their particularity–and fullness.

I hadn’t ever eaten them, I don’t think, before last year.

I learned to use a borrowed Bennington Potters smooth-glazed stoneware 6-count muffin pan.  (Metal just doesn’t work the same.)

I have discovered much, in my new friendship with popovers.

***

From a friend’s five-ring, first edition (1950) Betty Crocker Cookbook:

Beat together just until smooth: one cup sifted…flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 cup milk, 2 eggs. Pour into well greased, deep muffin cups, three-quarters full. (Oven-glass cups make highest popovers). Bake at 425 degrees, hot oven, until golden brown, 35-45 minutes. Serve immediately. 

Amount: 5 to 9 popovers, depending on size.  It is not necessary to preheat baking cups.

***

An oven light reveals them becoming the “high hat muffins” Betty describes next to her typical mid-century artificially colored photo of breakfast on a red-checked tablecloth.  The clock’s slow countdown gives me time to watch and muse.

Sometimes the edges pull up in one direction or the other, sometimes they rise evenly–inflating caramel, tan, and white, puffing like out of control teenagers careening around corners, not caring where they spill, yet contained by their individual muffin cup.

A half dozen “high hat muffins”

Bulge, distend, inflate, expand, enlarge, all the synonyms for the process, feel kind of distasteful, instead of the happy idea of claiming volume, having plenty of room. We aren’t supposed to take up too much space, are we? especially women. Popovers stretch out as they heat and settle back in as they cool; it’s not their nature to be tiny, uniform and controllable, and I realize it’s not mine either.

In addition, each one tastes good, regardless of lumpy or cracked shape.

Remember that, I tell myself, when you are poking your belly as you look in the mirror. Remember that we all feel good, warm and toasty, to someone ready for our toasty-ness, our hidden steam–and that first person, who should love us best, is our own self.

The phrase “muffin top” comes to mind:, we don’t like to spill out, be exposed for our size.  Is a muffin top to be ashamed of? When we squeeze ourselves into tight clothes, our softness squished hither and yon, we are measuring against only one standard; I remind myself that muffin cups are there to hold and separate the baked goods, not painfully compress them.

All the different ways the popovers rise up makes each one itself. Not that we want to be overly heavy or fool ourselves if we’re being unhealthy. We just want to appreciate our popover-ness, our crispy freshness, our lovely expansiveness.

***

So after the 35 to 45 minutes, at the height of puffy but not to dark brown yet, it’s time to pull them out.  They deflate and darken a bit with rest, settle into their-selves, creating a little place for the knife to slide in and deposit butter without too much steam burning fingers. The defined crispy edges, crunchy and chewy to the tooth, lead to an airy eggy center, filling but light enough. I usually add a smear of summer blackberry preserves or honey.

Popover releasing steam, ready for butter and jam

After cooking, you have to eat them right away. Even an hour later, they just aren’t as tender, tending to be eggier, heavier instead.

Precisely because of that short peak, popovers are not popular.  I am the first to admit my royal role as Queen of Leftovers, doggy-bagging at restaurants or preparing extra portions so I can have something tasty tomorrow as well as today.  Popovers teach me a lesson in Right Now.

They only require a few things: flour, milk, eggs, salt. The right kind of pan, a hot oven, and enough time.  Blended components change and shift before your eyes, and then you get to savor them in your mouth. On these cold or snowy late fall mornings, you can share the making and tasting with family, a friend, or yourself–good company, all.

We, like popovers, are delicious, delicious beings–if we let ourselves be at the temperature we need, for long enough, in the proper container, no more than a few ingredients, then water and oxygen moving in and out with a sense of plenty–plenty of space, plenty of time to be spent on just this one thing, making and eating popovers, making and being ourselves.

Delightful, savory, just right. Aren’t we all?

Eating Out: A Light-Hearted Post

Since I am on my way out of town once again, here are some meals to sink your eyes into, from local non-chain restaurants.

OUTDOOR FARE

Ok, seriously fried food: crab cakes and onion rings, outdoors at The Boardwalk, Lake George NY. The view of the water and people para-sailing was more fun than the food; washing lunch down with local brews helped.

I ended up taking most of this home, and reheating it in the toaster oven over several days. Also had to make big piles of vegetables to eat with it, as I am just not used to the oil.

P.S. Never reheat crispy/fried/texture-driven food in the microwave; it’s such a disappointment.

Next, cheeseburgers with slaw on top at Jumpin Jack’s Drive-In, Scotia NY, with a side of excellent onion rings; rode up hungry on bicycles for the first summer visit and on a motorcycle for the second. A large sweating cup of icy unsweetened tea rounded out the meal.

Last summer we saw television pictures of Jumpin Jack’s under water from Hurricane Irene. Apparently they are all dried out now and back to long but quick-moving lines of customers again.

I don’t eat that much red meat, so when I do it has to be worth it.  Even then, I usually split a burger with other people, and nibble on two or three onion rings. Ok, maybe four. I really, really enjoy the zesty crunch of the coleslaw as my teeth sink into the salty cheese and meat.  All right, maybe five onion rings, you know, if I’m really hungry.

BREAKFASTS

Oh my heavens, mascarpone-stuffed French toast topped by fruit compote at The Parkside House, Buffalo NY.  The Parkside is a B&B three blocks from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House (note the FLW inspired china).

This meal kept me going for absorbing architecture in the morning, followed by three hours of hiking Niagara Gorge at Whirlpool State Park. Thanks, Chris and Jonny–breakfast was delightful.

Home-made waffle and broccoli rabe (aka rapini, a brassica related to turnips of all things!) & mushroom omelet, with some of the least greasy breakfast potatoes I have ever eaten. Someone was bringing in fresh local bunches of chard, for lunch I presume, as I sat drinking tea.  Skyport Diner, Schenectady NY

DINNERS

Crab cake with–get this!–lemon & vanilla-bean aioli (kept thinking there was something “chocolatey” about it ’til I double-checked the menu) over mango coleslaw, at Waters Edge Lighthouse  Restaurant, Glenville NY.

I suspect most people who dine out have a food they just must sample and compare to previous versions whenever they see it. Mine used to be chicken fried steak with sausage gravy (known in Yankee country as “southern” or “country” fried steak), but since I spend most of my time in the north now, I eat much less meat and fried food–oh, and I’ve eaten more than enough chicken fried steak for several lifetimes—I am now a crab cake taster. This exquisite cake proved one of the best ever, not too bread-y or fried-tasting, accompanied by such exotic flavors! What’s your “search out food”?

The chicken satay appetizer (big enough for a meal), again at Waters Edge Lighthouse. Note the Mohawk River flowing by behind the food, and yes, boats are bobbing there with the sun reflecting on them. Eating on the water is wonderful—especially when Hurricane Irene is not overflowing the banks; this was another restaurant that flooded last summer.

Vegetable samosa nestled behind a bowl of shrimp masala at Shalimar in Delmar NY. The creamy masala sauce with its peppers and onions is best eaten by dipping garlic naan (bread) into it, though you can eat an awful lot of naan in the process. I am also partial to the bund gobi aloo (cabbage and potatoes) all golden and yummy.

NOT DESSERT—INSTEAD, PRETTY COLORS TO FINISH WITH.

The beer flight at Madison Brewery, Bennington VT. The color, just look at the color and the varying opacities!—so many shades of red, amber, gold. Included in this sampler were Crowtown Pale Ale, Sucker Pond Blonde, Wassick’s White Wall (the cloudy one), Buck’s Honey Wheat, Willoughby’s Scottish Ale, and Old 76 Strong Ale.

Cheers, summer!