Monday, November 30, 2009

Raw, adjective: 4. painfully open, as a sore or wound


Silence on the blog front means that Rach has been tied up - quite literally bound in Baddha Parsvakonasana, et al - at a teacher training for the last week or so, and will remain so for the week to come.

Big and little things cracking open. All in the presence of one very beautiful man (that would be him at left), and 45 googly-eyed teachers. Reports to come.

In the meantime, a thought to ponder: what the hell is up with the whole yogi-tribe-extended-gratuitous-hug thing? You know what I'm talking about, dancers and body workers and hippie granola types, because you see it there, too. They're the kind of hugs where people you just met yesterday are grabbing you with big smooshy faces and cow eyes and not letting go for, like, a minute, while your arms flail about you like rag doll limbs trying desperately to pry your torso away. Dude. What is that about? How is that authentic? Holy affectation, right? As if the longer you squeeze, the more lurve will come out, just like toothpaste at the end of an empty tube?

I may be kind of soft and squishy on the insides when it comes to certain things like skies and songs and sweet peas, but there's a hard little ironclad bullet at the base of my heart that really hates this gratuitous hug crap. Or maybe it's just the stoic German Protestant farmers' blood in me. Either way, it rankles my aspiringly-peaceful mind.

Just sayin'. Erm. Namaste.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.


Bundt Cake Saturday! (on Wednesday)

Morning: crisp
Mood: squashed
Music: Bright Eyes

Aaaand here we are for another [delayed onset] addition to the Bundt Cake Saturday canon. It's a cool morning here, bright, clear, crisp; hardly feels like Thanksgiving's around the corner, other than the telling lines at the grocery this morning. I'm happy to avoid the traveling masses and be quietly ensconced at home, where Chocolate Peppermint baby bundts bake in the oven and my newest vinyasa sequence downloads for a quick practice while they cool.

But we'll save that holiday recipe for another time. Here's a new fall cake that I discovered a few weeks back; after making two solid gingery variations, I've decided it's one for the Top 10 list. This one's a great way to bake with the seasons while venturing outside the usual apple/pumpkin/spice suspects found in autumn.

When my sisters and I were in elementary school 4-H pursuing the illustrious South Dakota State Fair Purple Ribbon (don't tease), we used to bake with zucchini fairly often, usually because my father's huge garden plot in the backyard produced obscene amounts of the green squash and we could never find enough ways to use it all up. It never failed to surprise me that such an ostensibly savory creature could produce such moist, sweet variations of breads and cakes. That in mind, I've been looking for a good squash recipe in the last few months, even though my zucchini won't come from the backyard this time around. I finally found it in this

BUTTERMILK SQUASH CAKE WITH SPICED VANILLA ICING

Insane, no? It is seriously as good as it sounds. If you've procrastinated on finding a recipe to take to your annual Thanksgiving gathering tomorrow, this just might be your guy.

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 Tbs. distilled white vinegar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup buttermilk
2-1/4 cups peeled and grated butternut squash

Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease and flour your bundt pan. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the oil and beat until combined, about 15 seconds. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well on low speed. Add the vinegar and vanilla and mix again until just combined. Add half of the flour and the baking soda, salt, ginger, and nutmeg, mixing on low speed until just combined. Add half of the buttermilk and mix until just combined. Repeat with the remaining flour and buttermilk.

Grate the squash and fold it lightly into the batter. Pour into prepared pan and bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes; then carefully invert the cake onto the rack to cool completely.

Ok, just a few things on this: the instructions above are taken from the original, which admonishes you to oh-so-carefully stir the ingredients together. Let's be real. I just dumped that shit in and beat it with an electric mixer until it was well-stirred. Feel free to do all that fancy mixing and folding and whatnot, but your cake will still rise if you don't. Just sayin'.

Also, in terms of your vegetables: the first time I made this, I used three kinds of squash, just to mix things up. The blend of zucchini, banana squash and yellow squash made for a colorful and interesting, texturally-varied cake. I definitely recommend giving that a whirl. The second time around, I picked up an organic butternut squash from Whole Foods and grated that in, raw. It turned out a cake with a particularly butternutty flavor, and was more monochromatic in color. So go with whatever you've got, and trust that it will be fine.

(And on that note: if you're short of time and don't mind keeping a dirty secret, switch out the flour/sugar/soda/etc. for a yellow cake mix. I won't judge. And they'll never know.)

Now, on to the icing and garnish. You'll need:

2-1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 Tbs. buttermilk; more as needed
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. table salt
1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, buttermilk, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt until smooth. Add more buttermilk, a few drops at a time, as needed, until the icing is pourable but still quite thick. Pour the icing back and forth in thick ribbons over the cooled cake.

I left out the table salt in my icing and it turned out just fine. Don't worry so much about the exact proportions; just add your buttermilk and sugar until the icing is your preferred consistency. Maybe add a little powdered ginger, too, if you're especially fond. It's intuitive, baby. You know.

The magic ingredient here really is the chopped crystallized ginger. I can't tell you how many people remarked on how much they loved that finishing touch. Sprinkle the ginger on top, before the icing cools. Let it set for a few minutes before serving or transporting the cake.

The second time I made this recipe, I chopped up some organic unsulfured dried cranberries and sprinkled them on top with the crystallized ginger. The vibrant red berries made for a pretty autumnal addition. Get on with your fall color palette already.

And that's it. Enjoy. And know that you're getting your daily veg serving along with plenty of ginger (digestif!) in this recipe, as well.

Recipe courtesy finecooking.com

Monday, November 23, 2009

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture


It's that time of year again: Buy Nothing Day rolls around this [Black] Friday, which means that for you more rebellious spirits it's time to put those shopping bags in the closet and bask in the beauty of a quiet, simple, Wal-Mart-free post-Thanksgiving Day.

I've never been a fan of the institutionalized cultural binge that is the traditional American Thanksgiving feast. It always seemed absurd to me to fly across the country to gather with my family just to stuff our faces for a few hours before succumbing to the obligatory food coma and then passing out in front of the TV. (And that means we're consciously grateful, how?) It's always seemed more appropriate to really practice gratitude by observing a day of fasting, which can be a conscious reminder of how much we take our usual nourishment for granted (and not to mention a shout-out of solidarity to the damages done to Native Americans when their lands were co-opted by frontier-minded Puritans, but that's another story).

Adbusters and its ever-expanding Buy Nothing Day campaign have stepped in to provide that kind of cultural "fasting space" on the day after Thanksgiving, the time when the consuming hordes descend on the mega-malls to pillage the aisles for cheapie Christmas bargains. In the interest of subversion, not to mention aparigraha (non-grasping, living simply, etc.), I say: ditch the sales, skip the crowds and marinate in the long empty hours of a life made of your own wild volition, sans unnecessary consumption. Use your day off, in the words of Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn, to "live without dead time."

Now that's an idea to be thankful for.

Buy Nothing Day Headquarters (Adbusters)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


This morning's NYT takes on the oxymoron that is "competitive yoga." Read the quick article for an understanding of the elements at play in the Choudhurys' attempts to make yoga an Olympic sport.

Richard Rosen of Oakland's Piedmont Yoga Studio is quoted in opposition to the idea of competition; he, like many, finds the concept "silly" and antithetical to the tradition's emphasis on self-transformation and acceptance. Fellow detractors can breathe easily, though; it doesn't appear that Bikram and Rajashree will break into the Olympics anytime soon. The piece really highlights the ways in which this push for competition remains steadfastly stuck in the Bikram tradition.

I'm glad for that, in spite of my Bikram roots. I don't think competition has any place here. The article's headline says it all:

Is the Spirit of Competition in the Soul of Yoga? (NYT)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture


Variations on a Theme
~

Bird of Paradise

They grow, unaided, in the front yards of dark-shingled Berkeley Craftsman homes. They turn the most generic bouquet into a wild tropical spread. They balance on one [shaky] leg while the other [shakily] extends to the sky, breathing, bound. They inhabit unassuming little spaces on Polk Street. One less-fortunate version will probably hold court on your dining room table a week from tomorrow. I wish the Broadway musical version would go swiftly, unceremoniously away, forever. And, back in the day, more Continental types used the term to describe a cute chick.

Hello, little birdie.

Meet my newest favorite asana: Bird of Paradise (more formally known as Svarga Dvidasana), which is kicking my ass on a regular basis these days. It's a balancing asana in which, arms bound, you essentially haul your heavy leg up and extend it (ideally) somewhere near your ear, while you're just chillin' on one foot, trying not to fall on your face. Check out this YouTube demonstration for a killer example of the crazy strength, balance and flexibility required here - and then grin when you see the flock of birds flying at the end:



Pretty great, huh?

In less bendy topics: I've strolled up and down Polk St. countless times over these six years now and have always been intrigued by the little music-slash-yoga studio perched on the slight incline between Jackson and Pacific, charmingly called Bird SF. It seems like a quiet little space, usually uninhabited, but they advertise yoga and music and jazz bands for teens and rock and gee-tar lessons for kids, and I can't help but smile and nod and send a gazillion hopeful vibes that it's still there every time I pass. You just want this kind of place to succeed.

Check out their excellent website for more; it's a periwinkle-colored, multi-use space that seems to have really found its own niche. What a great combo of the embodied arts, and all in one space. Makes me wish I had kids so I could take them to some badass rock guitar lessons, followed by a yoga class, followed by a recording session. Although I'd probably just want to leave them there when it came time to take them home again.

Finally, pick up a stem or two of Bird of Paradise next time you're at the flower shop. They'll last for days and brighten a room with a decidedly exotic kind of vibe.

Bird of Paradise Asana
Bird SF
Bird of Paradise ~ The Flower Expert

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.


A warm welcome to any of you who've found your way here via my recent article in Yoga Journal on baking as meditation. I'm so glad you're here.

If you'd like to read more about my Bundt Cake Saturdays, just click on the "baking" tab below; there, you'll find a year's worth of photos, recipes and stories at your fingertips. I hope you'll enjoy perusing them as much as I did creating them.

A few personal favorites: maple pecan, sour cream walnut streusel, caramel apple, rhubarb pecan, and blueberry cream. (And, of course: don't forget the buckled-in bundts, and the baby bundts, too - and, for the strong of heart, the bundt Barbie.)

Recipes are always welcome! I've got a backlog of the last few months' cakes to blog, so keep checking in for new creations. Yesterday we shared Mocha Frangelico; the week before, it was Buttermilk Squash. So stay tuned for those new autumn recipes, and in the meantime: Bake. Breathe. Bundt.

(P.S. Did you know that today - November 15th - is National Bundt Cake Day?? No joke. Enjoy.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Raw, adjective: 4. painfully open, as a sore or wound


Let me introduce you to someone.

I'm lucky enough to be studying intensively with Rusty Wells for the course of these autumn months, and what a total pleasure it's been (perpetually sore muscles and all!). If you're not familiar with Rusty and his charismatic blend of vinyasa and open-hearted philosophy known as Bhakti Flow, you're really missing out.

Head on over to Yoga Tree Castro for a taste of Rusty's radiant, energizing teaching style. Not only is his work steeped in rich yoga philosophy, it's also buzzing with athleticism and bumping with great beats. Rusty is one of the best examples I've ever experienced of a yoga teacher who really lives his art. Talk about praxis.

You'll no doubt be hearing more from me about Bhakti Flow in the weeks to come, as I spend my waking hours studying the ins-and-outs of this particular vinyasa style. In the meantime, wander on over to Rusty's site and check out the wealth of information there. You can read up on Sanskrit terms courtesy of the Feuersteins, ogle the gallery of jaw-dropping asanas, and pick up a DVD or two while you're at it. Then, head over to Yelp for a few more testimonials from other devoted students. This guy is the real deal.

Bhakti Flow Official Site
Rusty Wells ~ Bhakti Urban Flow (Yelp)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


Interesting profile of professional surfer Darryl "Flea" Virostko in this morning's Sunday Chron. The story reads much like you'd expect in the case of a humble-kid-done-well; in the face of vast success and sudden wealth as a surfing prodigy, Virostko stumbled down the same dark path that so many professional athletes do, nearly losing his life to a dysfunctional drug addiction.

Following a last-ditch family intervention and a stint in rehab, Virostko has been sober over a year now, and he credits the time spent on his board for keeping him so:
[Flea] surfs twice a day. It helps him forget his troubles on land and tires him, helping him sleep. When he was asked to find a higher power during his rehab, he thought of big waves.

"I just referred back to every time I got worked over at Mavericks," he said. "I would look up at this whitewash and pray to the ocean, and it worked every time. The ocean is bigger than me."

In my studies of the yoga sutras, we've so often compared the quiet mind that's a product of yoga practice with the same stillness of being that's often the result of similar moving meditations: rock-climbing, marathon-running, and yes, even surfing. The one-pointed focus mandated by such extreme physical undertakings renders the monkey mind quiet for a few blessed moments. Whether your yoga mind comes from balancing on a surfboard or a mat doesn't matter so much; that you're there in that moment, away from the struggle for even a brief respite, does.

Darryl 'Flea' Virostko - Back to Mavericks (SFGate)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.


How have I managed to be alive without knowing this book existed until today??

Anneli Rufus's Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto just fell into my lap, and geez, if it isn't a godsend of the greatest kind. Just when I was feeling hungry for another Jonathan Rauch-style introverts' manifesto, this book appears. And by god, I'm in love.

Here's a blurb:
Apart.

Such a simple concept. So concrete. So easy to represent on charts or diagrams with dots and pushpins either in or out. Yet real life is not dots. Some of us appear to be in, but we are out. And that is where we want to be. Not just want but need, the way tuna need the sea....

We do not require company. The opposite: in varying degrees, it bores us, drains us, makes our eyes glaze over. Overcomes us like a steamroller. Of course the rest of the world doesn't understand.

Someone says to you, "Let's have lunch." You clench. Your sinews leap within you, angling for escape. What others thrive on, what they take for granted, the contact and confraternity and sharing that gives them strength leaves us empty. After what others would call a fun day out together, we feel as if we have been at the Red Cross, donating blood....
Amen, sister. And that's just the introduction.

It never ceases to be a revelation when I come across writers who have the rare ability to describe this feeling. It's introversion, yes, but it's not just some psychobabble; it's that deep-seated need for silence and solitude that only the loner understands, the dread of the telephone, the pit of weariness in the stomach at the prospect of social plans already made. As Rufus writes, "
Maybe we're not holed up in caves all day, or in submarines like Captain Nemo in his Nautilus. But alone we feel most normal. Most ourselves. Most alive." So true. And the vast majority of the world seems so heavily extroverted that finding someone who can articulate those feelings is always this great relief.

I haven't had a single conversation today. I had a solo lunch, a blessedly quiet lunch, at a blessedly quiet off-hours cafe with my newspaper and my thoughts and my phone set to vibrate.
I go to the opera, the symphony, the theater, the movies, once a week, often more, 90% of the time by myself. Not because there aren't 16 people I could call up and invite along. But because the thought of someone else being there is so goddamned exhausting. And when you're by yourself, you can go to the pre-show lecture, and read the program notes, and people-watch, and listen closely to the chords and the diction and the swells of the orchestra, without having to worry about making trifling conversation once intermission hits. That, my friends, is called being a loner.

As Rufus points out, it's hardly surprising that Newton and Einstein and Michelangelo and Dickinson and O'Keeffe were all loners. I'm astonished that anyone who's not a loner can ever get anything creative done, can ever read, write, compose, build, paint, anything. I wish I didn't feel the constant need to justify this loner-hood. And I'm grateful for authors like Rufus who put that reality into words.

Anneli Rufus: Party of One

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.


November means brussels sprouts and bourbon season. I've been eating brussels daily since about mid-September. Sweet jesus, so good. Inspiration struck some weeks ago whilst standing in the deli aisle at Whole Foods (shocker, I know).

Try this little recipe next time you've got some on hand. So simple. Just lightly saute or steam your sprouts per usual in a little olive oil; but this time, include shallots, pecans, parsley, and a little salt and pepper.

Delish. Sans dairy, wheat and sugar, too - though you'd never notice.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Raw, idiom, 14a: in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.


Cancel your plans for Wednesday night and haul yourselves over to the Herbst Theater instead. Wendell Berry's going to be in conversation with Michael Pollan as part of the City Arts & Lectures series, and this kind of rockstar pairing doesn't happen very often.

Here's the blurb from the event site, which encapsulates Berry's radness better than I can:
Wendell Berry is a writer, a poet, an essayist and a novelist but first and foremost, he is a farmer. Berry is an original American prose voice and he writes with a calm and compelling vision about our sense of kinship with the land. He is the author of over 40 books of fiction, poetry and essays and for over 30 years he has farmed a hillside in his native Henry County, Kentucky. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the T.S. Elliot Award, the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, the John Hay Award of the Orion Society, a Lannan Foundation Award and grants from the Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts. In his latest work of poetry, The Mad Farmer Poems, Berry rages against the depravities of contemporary life wrought by mismanagement of natural resources and our willful ignorance of the lessons of the past. The poems, given voice by The Mad Famer (a character Berry has been employing in his poetry since 1967), are at turns politically committed and humorous, and always revelatory.
The dude's work reliably makes me swoon. It's a heady balance of populism and poetry, activism and anger. Seriously inspirational. What I'd give to be the chick version of him someday.

I can only imagine the foodie fireworks that will come into play at the meeting of these two minds. Be there.

Wendell Berry/Michael Pollan (City Arts)

Random shit I wanted to post that has no feasible connection whatsoever to any defintion of "rawness"


I've been remiss in mentioning two big HUZZAHs for my favorite two younger brethren:

~ the little bro, who is glowingly profiled in this month's Classical Singer magazine, on his fabuloso singing career heretofore and his forthcoming success in the land of maple and moose (and, we hope, in the land of tea and biscuits, as well).

~ the little sis, who gave expert commentary in an interview in Wisconsin Woman magazine's September issue, as dance/movement therapist extraordinaire and general Very Smart Lady.

Clamoring readers can find Classical Singer at major media outlets now, and WW's online archives here.

This big sis is boasting of you both at every opportunity. XO.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor.


I was on the bus the other day when some dumb chattery girl started yapping on her cell phone. This is a distressingly common occurrence and generally breaks the unspoken public transport rule that, when riding the train/bus/streetcar/trolley/cable car, one sits quietly and remains silent for the duration of the ride out of consideration for fellow passengers, even when friends or comrades are in tow. That's just how it works.

Said chick kept yapping, gratingly going on about her meaningless day-to-day bullshit. SO. RUDE. I was seething.

The dude next to me, a middle-aged professorial type wearing eyeglasses and tweed, pulled out his New York Times and started reading aloud. To himself. And the entire bus.

It was amazing. God bless the motherfucking culture jammers. Especially the ones wearing tweed and a bald spot. May the cell-phone-yammering twentysomething Marina girls someday figure it out.