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Archive for the ‘Festivities and Celebrations’ Category

Eight Limbs, baby! This is how happy I feel about hosting my Yoga retreat upstate this weekend. It's a balancing act for sure, but it should be a blast. Have a great weekend, everyone! Photo taken by Marisa Train, on location in NYC at Mount Morris Park.

Just a quick, hello, gang. I’m rolling out after posting to host my Upstate Fall Harvest Yoga4Soul Retreat. I’m beyond thrilled.

A great group of people have signed up, and I can’t wait to spend time with them, cook for them, teach them Yoga, and just enjoy hanging out in the huge, rambling Upstate mansion we’ve rented for the weekend.

As a huge bonus, my dear friend Katherine is onboard as a special guest. She’ll conduct a healing Reiki session. We’re also going to hit up an apple orchard on Saturday, for some apple-picking and time outdoors in nature. As Katherine said, those Upstate apples had better look out, because we’re on our way!

A big shout-out to Maria, who is my student but has also taken on the role of helping me with some logistics, including driving. She’s a gem and I’m looking forward to spending time with her.

Shanti, everyone. Have a fabulous weekend, and I’ll chat with you soon.

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Eid Mubarak, everyone! I hope all who are celebrating this holiday have a wonderful, blessed celebration. (More info on Eid-al-fitr here). What better to celebrate our good fortune and health than with a platter of traditional sweets and some steaming hot tea?

I got this big, tempting platter of cookies as an Eid gift. Truly wonderful.

Another angle. Many of these cookies are stuffed with dates. Love that!

Did I make these? No, but I sure did eat more than my share.

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Sweet, simple, no-bake version of Gazelle's Horns cookies. Two cups of tea served in coffee cups I found cute. Yes, I enjoy drinking tea from coffee mugs. Go figure.

A heart filled with desire for

sweetness and tender souls

must not waste itself with unsavory matters

—-Rumi

The above is quoted from a ghazal poem by Rumi (the famous Persian poet).

The words above speak to me especially now, in light of recent events and changes in my life. More and more I’m learning to stand up for myself, to listen to that inner voice of wisdom and peace. To feel more comfortable and at ease in my own skin, and in this world. To set boundaries and let go of relationships, situations and thought patterns that no longer serve me or the greater good.

You can play around with the shape of these cookies. They're quite malleable. Kinda like Play-Doh.

After all, Yoga  and many religious faiths teach us about non-violence and forgiveness, but we sometimes forget that we can be violent and unforgiving to ourselves, even if only mentally or in our own hearts. So in my desire for only sweetness and tender souls, I’m letting go of unsavory matters whenever possible. I’m giving mental violence the boot and allowing my heart to open a bit more to love and forgiveness.

With spiritual reflection and sweetness on my mind, some cookies sounded about right. Ha, I’m easily pleased! Today’s cookies are Gazelle’s Horns, popular especially during Ramadan.

Ramadam kareem!

Speaking of Ramadan, a belated Ramadan Kareem to  everyone who is observing the fast.  I admire you so very much.  I’ve so been meaning to do a Ramadan shout-out since the holiday started, but kept waiting for that perfect moment. Then I realized that there is no perfect moment, at least not always. So a big, respectful acknowledgment to all of you out there who are fasting.Your mental and physical strength are simply amazing.

Try this simple cookie recipe some evening. You’re sure to enjoy its ease of prep. This is based on a recipe posted by Nisrine of Dinners and Dreams who in turn based her on a recipe presented by this site, which is in French.  I’ve had these cookies before during travels in Syria, and also here in NYC. They’re quiet satisfying and delicious. Imagine my delight when I learned they’re also gluten-free, and easily veganizable as well.

Did I mention they’re also no bake? Yes, indeed they are. There is another version that is baked–I’ll probably try that after the August heat has gone away, and report back then.

Isn't she lovely? A gazelle! One of my favorite animals, and super popular creature of myth and imagination in the Middle East. Poems and cookies are named after this animal. An exceedingly beautiful woman is sometimes nicknames a gazelle. How sweet! Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

And in case I got a bit too deep for you earlier with my musings, let’s not forget my sly sense of humor lives on, no matter what changes are afoot in my life. I have fun, maybe too much fun,  with the name of these cookies. Like I said, they’re known as Gazelle’s Horns. Sometimes I make a really lame, junior high joke and call these Horny Gazelle Cookies. Because I’m sophisticated like that, yanno.

No Bake Gazelle’s Horns Cookies

I used Bob’s Red Mill Finely Ground Almond Meal/Flour in this recipe. Coconut oil was courtesy of Tropical Traditions.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups almond meal (ground, blanched almonds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon mahlab (optional)
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or unsalted butter or non-dairy “butter” (like Earth Balance)
  • 5 Tablespoons of honey (or agave for vegan option)
  • 2 teaspoons orange blossom water (or rose water, if you prefer that taste)

1. In a large bowl, combine the almond meal, mahlab, cinnamon and salt. Mix. Get rid of any lumps in the almond meal by using a fork to break lumps up.

2. Stir in the wet ingredients: coconut oil, honey and orange blossom or rose water.

3. If the mixture is too wet to shape with your bare hands, add a bit more almond flour and/or chill the mixture for up to half an hour.

4. Shape into half moon-shaped cookies. From here, you can leave the shape as is, or make it into more of an elongated “S” shape to simulate a different gazelle’s horn shape.

5. Enjoy immediately with tea or coffee, or refrigerate.

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Hey gang. I’m back from Texas. Sorry for the dry spell here on the blog. I’ve been working my tail off in the humid, heat waved NYC. This is a busy time of year for me, so if bloggage isn’t as regular, you’ll forgive me and we all can pretend I’m keeping leisurely “summer hours,” right? Which, in a way, I suppose I AM keeping summer hours. Long hours, not leisurely hours, but whatevs. Ha!

Oh, and let me apologize upfront for the randomness of the images in this post. Beauty shots will have to wait, because I’m busy ;-)

Luckily, it’s not all work. Mostly work, but not all. You might recall my “Big Fat Afghani Wedding Adventure” post from back in April, where I posted pics of the lavish buffet dinner at a wedding I attended. To be sure, it was a meal to be remembered, and I didn’t eat lightly. Everything in moderation, including moderation, right?

I drafted this here post a while back and never got around to publishing it. Now I”m glad, because what better time to publish it than in summer, where there are lots of parties, but also lots of pool and beach and bikini and bathing suit time? For me, this post is especially timely, as I’ll be spending some time at the beach in the coming days.

There’s no need for a large meal to cause ongoing drama. So can we indulge a bit yet still keep on track overall? I definitely think so. It’s important to look at the big picture. One large meal doesn’t have to make or break our eating and health goals. It doesn’t have to be the start of a downward spiral!  But there are a few things we can do before, after, and during the meal to put the odds of bouncing back  in our favor.

As a Yoga teacher, I try to maintain balance, both in my eating and exercise habits. It’s also important to not be rigid–to be flexible and not such a slave to one’s own principles, as of of my friends (also a fellow Yoga teacher) likes to say.

So here are a few tips I find helpful for celebratory special occasion meal. The tips that follow are tips I’ve gleaned from nutritionist friends, research, and my own personal experience, and I share them with my clients, and now, with my readers, too.

I’m using these tips now myself, as my friends Denise and Rich are getting married and their engagement party is coming up. They’re foodies, so you know the cuisine will be excellent. An aside: Denise actually has a really hilarious website called Really Bad Dates that she hasn’t updated in a while, so I encourage everyone to go on over there and submit bunches of bad dates you’ve been on. Your tales of woe are completely anonymous, of course, I’m hoping that she’ll see some fresh new submissions and start updating the site again  (in between bouts of wedding planning and working). Her site’s a winner.

Ok, now on to the tips. Remembering that these tips are not medical advice, and that your mileage may vary. If you have any tips of your own to add, please leave a comment. I’d love to know your tips and tricks for enjoying a big meal without big misery after.

Before the Meal:

1. Cut out or at least limit bread and desserts for a few days (or at least a few hours!) ahead of the meal. Eat lots of vegetables to have a good fiber intake.

2. Daily: Drink a warm cup of filtered water with fresh lemon or lime juice as your first drink of the morning. It’s very cleansing to the digestive tract, liver, and blood. For an extra boost, add in a splash of apple cider vinegar, which can help ease bloat.

3. Consider taking a probiotic, or eating or drinking something with natural probiotics. These helpful bacteria help to ease our digestion. Probiotic sources include kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, and kombucha. Or you can use this vegan probiotic that I happen to like a lot.

4. The day of, eat lightly but don’t starve yourself. What works for me is a green smoothie for breakfast and a large salad with some sort of protein for lunch. For example, the day of the Afghani wedding, I had a late lunch of a spinach salad with a wedge of a vegetarian frittata as a protein source. A filling, nutritious, yet light meal.

4. To further prevent bloat: Only eat fruit on an empty stomach, and well ahead of any protein. Since fruit digests quickly–usually within 45 minutes–it’s important to time when we eat it carefully. Eating it too close to a big meal (either before OR after) can cause bloating, because the fruit gets stuck in our digestive tracts as the bigger, heavier proteins and fats digest. In other words, things get, uh, “backed up.” We start to feel bloat and perhaps constipation. Not fun!

During the Meal:

1. Scope out the buffet/menu choices ahead of time if at all possible, to get a sense of what is available, what you want to eat more of, and what you might prefer to skip.

2. Slow your roll. As in, eat slowly, putting your utensils down in between bites.

3. Use small plates if possible. You can always go back for seconds if you’re still hungry. Studies have shown that we do tend to eat what’s put in front of us, and I find the small plate trick really works. I do this at home most of the time, except for big servings of salad and veggies.

4. Enjoy. Seriously, this important. If you’re going to have a lavish meal, enjoy every bite. You might even find that by tuning into each bite, you are satisfied with less food overall.

5. Enjoy not just the meal, but the company you’re with. Savor the moment. Life is short, and we have to remember that every moment is precious.

After the Meal:

1.  MOVE! Walk around and/or dance a bit (or a lot!) to stay active.

2.  Lemon Water, again. Start your next morning with warm lemon water again.

3. Probiotics again. Take another probiotic to aid digestion.

4. Drink some unsweetened cranberry juice. This will ease bloating. My double whammy trick to get a healthy dose of  both probiotics and cranberry? Cranberry kombucha.

4. Then drink a green smoothie for breakfast, but only sip it when you’re hungry. You can always make it and take it with you to enjoy once the hunger pangs hit.

5. If you’re not hungry, don’t force yourself to eat. It’s okay to eat very lightly for a day or two after a large meal.

And what of these green smoothies? Well, here is one basic recipe to try:

Summer Green Smoothie with a Tropical Twist.

Ok, so if you made it to the end of this post, congrats. Got kinda long-winded there! Now go out and enjoy that summer fun!

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Iced tea can have a Persian twist, thanks to a cardamom and rose water infusion. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Hey guys, I wrote this post a few days ago, then didn’t publish. I was trying to get a snap of me enjoying today’s iced tea recipe. Oh well, I got a pic, then didn’t upload it, and my camera is in my checked luggage. Yes, I’m typing this in the JetBlue terminal at New York’s JFK airport as I wait to board my flight to Texas. Gotta LOVE free, public Wi-Fi.

We’re deep in the workweek now, but I started the post out asking. . .

How was your Fourth of July (if you celebrate it?) What were you all up to for the holiday?

Mine was great, even if it was HOT out. I enjoyed some blissful time off.  Saw some friends, did Yoga both days, plus rollerbladed around Central Park early in the morning on Monday the 5th before the heat hit. Hit up the farmer’s market and the local store as well and enjoyed walking around a quiet, somewhat empty Manhattan.

I ate more than my share of watermelon this weekend. Yum! Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Throughout the weekend, I ate a ridiculous amount of fresh watermelon, cherries, and crispy local Kirby cucumbers. Cooling, filling, and most of all, tasty. Heavy food on hot days generally doesn’t do it for me. The heat kinda puts a damper on my normally slightly voracious appetite. Admittedly, not a complete damper. I gotta say, if there were legal limits on watermelon and cherries in particular, I’d have been waaaaay over. ;-)

Fireworks! Can you believe the people in my neighborhood put on their own display? Some of the fireworks actually looked like this. Photo source: Stock.xchng.

On the night of the Fourth, as is an annual tradition up here in Harlem, the neighbors were blowing up fireworks in the local park across the street from me that rivaled the “real” fireworks display further downtown. Seriously, from my window, I had a front-row seat to the neighborhood’s (illegal) display. Further in the distance, the official fireworks display was going off. Double trouble, baby! Some of those local fireworks were no joke–my guesstimate is that the local fireworks shot up and exploded at around 15-20 stories high. They were loud, too. The cat was like “What the. .  .?”

It was kinda fun to see and hear all of the commotion and brightness, in an illicit and underground sort of way. Ha!

Today's Persian Iced Tea recipe is influenced by the hot black tea I sometimes brew and infuse with cardamom pods and a splash of rose water. Note the dark amber hue of the tea. This is the color we are going for when brewing our tea. You could go lighter if you prefer, of course. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng.

Another thing I did this weekend was tinker around with some recipes. I’d been meaning to make a Persian influenced iced tea for the longest time, but never got around to it, until this weekend. It’s really quite easy and has an exotic taste, thanks to cardamom, rose water, and classic black tea. It’s a subtle flavor, but a refreshing one. Yes, the rose water and cardamom might be exotic ingredients for some readers. Check out your local Middle Eastern, Indian, Mediterranean, or  market to find these ingredients at competitive prices. For example, gourmet markets sell rose water for like $7 a jar, but I can get the exact same jar at Patel Brothers out in Jackson Heights for $1.99. It pays to shop around. Amazon carries this stuff, too. Cardamom and rose water are used in lots of other recipes, so they’re worth having.

This drink recipe comes at a perfect time, as I’ll be shoving off to my home state of Texas in a few days, and am sooooo looking forward to the plentiful and perfect iced tea there.  The iced tea in New York City doesn’t hold a candle to Texas tea. Dunno why, but it just doesn’t. Some of my favorite memories are of my mom and older sister brewing a big ‘ol jar of “sun tea” out in the backyard. I’ll have to ask them to teach me how, because I forgot. If I ever know (not sure if I did).  So with this Persian Iced Tea recipe, I pay homage to both sides of my heritage: Proud (part) Persian and proud native Texan.

PG Tipps tea is my black tea of choice, but any decent quality black tea will do for this recipe. Lipton, for example. works well.

By the way, the other day I went on a bit of a shopping spree. For me, that means spending like, $30 outside of the grocery store. Yeah, I was a frugalista or recessionista or whatever-ISTA waaaaaaay before the terms were trendy. And I still mostly am, even though, at the moment, I have more work than I can shake a stick at. I know the ebbs and flows of life, and that this feast of work shall likely pass, so I always try to strike a balance with my spending so that things don’t get too out of control in either direction–too frugal, deprived, and miserable, or too bloated and spendy and equally miserable.

Anywho, I finally got a big, beautiful glass pitcher, something I’ve been wanting for a long time. For some reason, a glass pitcher and cake display plates have always seemed so luxurious to me, like items to get only on a gift registry or somesuch. I’ve recently begun to realize that this mentality is kinda silly, especially for people like me who do cook, prep drinks and smoothies, and even have people over for food relatively often. It’s not like my kitchen tools are museum display pieces. They’re real workhorses. They kinda have to be, because in my tiny NYC kitchen, I have room for very little.

So when I spotted a lovely glass pitcher For $3.99 at a discount store up here in NYC known as Conway (a chain better known for its clubwear and underwear that’s so trashy, I deem it disposable lingerie-ha!), I was all over it (the pitcher, not the lingerie!) I snapped it right up.

Rose petals, rose water. It's all good in this tea.

Right away, I was up to brewing teas, smoothies, and other chilly concoctions as my excuse reason to use the pitcher. (Well, after I paid for the pitcher, took it home, de-boxed and washed it, that is ;-) ) So the Persian Iced Tea is the first recipe that I’m sharing with you, debuting the new pitcher. I think if this story had a moral, it’d be that simple things can make us happy, and why deprive ourselves of this happiness for some unknown tomorrow. Live in the moment, and enjoy amazing tea while you’re at it!

Which reminds me: I’m not sure how much (or if), I’ll be posting while I’m away in Texas. Lately I’m all about not putting too much pressure on myself, so if that means a few days in between posts, that’s okay, right? Well, I sure hope so ;-) See you all around online soon. Xoxo!


Persian Iced Tea

Made with rose water ice cubes, cardamom-spiked simple syrup or agave nectar, and quick brew black tea, this Persian inspired iced tea has an exotic flare and refreshing taste:

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces rose water
  • Black tea (I used 2 PG Tipps bags, a strong brew that’s brewed hot. You can use a cold brew tea as well)
  • 6 cups of filtered water, plus more for ice cubes
  • 2 Tablespoons agave nectar (or simple syrup–linkage to directions below)
  • 2 teaspoons powdered cardamom (or 4-6 pods of green cardamom)
  • Fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Directions:

1. Make the rose water ice cubes. Pour 6 ounces of rosewater into an ice tray and top off with more filtered water to make perfect cubes. Pop into freezer overnight, or until frozen solid.

2.  Brew the tea according to package instructions. For example, with my PG Tipps brand tea, all I needed was 2 teabags to 6 cups of boiling water. (PG Tipps is a strong brew!)  I immersed the teabags for no more than 30 seconds, and the tea was the perfect dark amber hue. Your mileage will vary, depending on the brand of tea you use, and if you use a cold or a hot brew tea. (With a cold brew tea, you don’t have to boil water. You just dump the bags into the cold water and allow them to infuse. Love that!)  So in short, carefully follow the package instructions that will yield 6 cups of tea total.

3.  Make the agave-cardamom syrup by warming agave over low heat. Or, if you don’t have agave, follow these directions for a classic simple syrup that we can then infuse with cardamom.

4. Add the cardamom powder or pods to the syrup, and stir well to allow its flavor to infuse. Remember, LOW heat here is your friend. It only takes a few seconds for the infusion to happen, so taste test the syrup, make sure you can taste the cardamom, and then remove it from the heat immediately.

5. Add the syrup, a little at a time,  to the brewed tea, and stir generously.  (Taste as you go here–everyone likes their tea sweetened a little differently, or not at all. For that matter, you could put the syrup on the side and let everyone use the amount they want in their individual tea glasses).

6. To serve, pour tea over rosewater ice cubes that you’ve placed into a tall glass. As the rose water cubes melt, their flavor will infuse into the tea. Garnish with fresh mint, if desired.

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Vintage Bollywood poster. Bollywood movies are popular in the Middle East.

I adore dinner parties. Love giving them, love attending them, and love, of course, all of that wonderful eating and socializing. Dinner parties are such a civilized way to re-connect in our GO GO GO world. But let’s face it–dinner parties can be WORK.

My friend Khat and I at her brother's traditional Afghan wedding in April. She will be at my Bollywood dinner party. Her dress is a traditional Afghan getup, while mine's a more Bollywood style outfit.

I’m having one in a few days, and this time, I’ve resolved to let it come together in the most chill way possible. A little pre-planning will go a long way. I hope ;- )

It will be a Bollywood Night, complete with a campy Bollywood movie and optional glittery costumes (if anyone is so inclined to go there, wardrobe-wise. I know I am, having a couple of shimmery Bollywood style outfits I’m eager to debut).

In the spirit of keeping things chill, I have to say, “Sorry, guests, but no homemade cheese and bread from this kitchen, at least not this time.”  To combat the summer heat, our spread will be seasonal, with invigorating and cooling recipes and  influences from both Persian and South Asian cuisines.

Why South Asian specifically, besides the obvious Bollywood theme? Well, first of all, I just love the cuisines of India, Pakistan, and the many other countries in that whole amazing part of the world. Middle Eastern cuisine and South Asian cuisine have many elements in common, and have exerted their respective influences on one another for centuries. Plus, these cuisines have many wonderful recipes that are cooling. Perfect for steamy summer heat!

Plus, we happen to have a very fun Desilicous dance party to attend after our Civilized Dinner Par-tay. A Gay-Themed Bollywood party, if you will, all in honor of Gay Pride Week. Yes, love my gays. They kinda own my heart :-)

Here’s what I have planned for our menu:

My Watermelon and Mint Cooler. Like a slushy, but much better for you, and better tasting.

A pre-dinner Cocktail (and Mocktail) Hour with my Watermelon Mint Cooler as the star.

A to-be-determined app, for which one of my friends has signed up to provide. (Key component of dinner parties: let others share in the fun, by either contributing an item of food or drink, or, if they’re so inclined, helping with light food prep or selecting music or lighting candles, etc. Keeps things interactive and who knows, it’s interesting to see what novel ideas our guests have about music or lighting or how to slice a scallion).

Salad of roasted golden beets on a bed of arugula with cucumbers and whatever goodies look appealing that day. Perhaps a yogurt or tahini based dressing. Something very simple, elegant,  and cool.

A summery Chilled Avocado Soup I haven’t tried this recipe out, but I simply can’t wait, as I’m in love with avocados and no longer afraid of the good fat they so generously provide!

Summer squash kuku sabzi, an Iranian omelette. Love this Persian souflee sans drama!

My Summertime Squash Kuku (Perfect for dinner parties, because it tastes great at any temperatures. Any late arrivals will feel well-fed, not deprived.)

Dessert will be So Delicious coconut-milk based ice creams. Because I’m seriously addicted to this stuff, it has that cooling, South Asian vibe thanks to the hint of coconut, and the company was nice enough to send me coupons to sample some of their product line. Thanks, So Delicious. You’ve just made my dinner party a heck of a lot easier, creamier,  and tastier.

I’ll be sure to snap some pictures of our festivities, and report back. Don’t wait up, my loves!

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Try this super easy and refreshing watermelon mint slushie. It will take the edge off of summer's heat for sure.

Today’s chill slushie is the perfect anecdote to hot and dehydrating summer days (and nights)! It’s refreshing and cooling to drink, and beautiful to look at. And one of my favorite ingredients–watermelon, is the base of the drink.

I just adore watermelon. For me, it brings back such happy memories. Some of them are kinda funny memories, too. More on those further down. . .

Watermelon always makes me think of my dad. Hmmmm, and this post is coming out a few days ahead of Father’s Day. Happy coincidence!

My dad and I would have a field day picking the best of the bunch! Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

Anyways, I remember my dad going to the grocery store or farmer’s markets together and picking out the most beautiful, juiciest watermelons money could buy. He has a real talent for picking excellent produce. Oh, yes, that’s a deliberate plural on watermelons–my dad would rather buy extra melons than too few. After all, his reasoning goes, we can always share the extra fruit with others.

Our produce-buying missions were “our” thing as father and daughter–going to what my dad calls “fruit market” and picking out the best and best-priced veggies and fruits available. To this day, I say I learned just about all of the skills about how to pick good produce from my dad. And many of my cooking skills I learned from my mom. Both important parts of the equation–how to pick the best quality produce, and what to do with it once you get it home.

Frothy, delicious, and refreshing. I can't get enough of these lately!

As for the funny melon memories: the time my dad picked what he said was the most amazing watermelon ever–and left it in the shopping cart in the store parking lot of a Fiesta store (Texans know all about Fiesta ;-) ). Or the time we went to the farmer’s market in Houston. At this market, you can buy wholesale.  Why exactly we needed a few dozen watermelons, I’ll never know for sure. At any rate, one of the watermelon vendors quoted my dad one price before loading up the back of the pickup full of melons. Then he quoted him another price when it was time to pay, the truck fully loaded with probably at least two dozen melons. Sneaky jerk thought we’d not want to unload the melons and just pay the higher price.  He was holding us as fruit hostages. My dad was having none of this bait and switch nonsense. Every single melon went back to the display, and you can bet my dad made the guy help offload the heavy fruits.

Gorgeous watermelons are rich in vitamin C and super-hydrating. Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

So what makes a good watermelon? My dad taught me that it should be:

  • Heavy for its size.
  • It should have a hollow sound when you thump on it.
  • The stripes should be very green.
  • The skin shouldn’t have any mushy or pitted spots.

If you happen to get a subpar melon, you can salvage it by making this cooler. Of course, a perfect melon would be absolutely delicious blended into this chillaxing drink as well.  Have fun with it and enjoy! Maybe while watching a World Cup match.

Watermelon Mint Cooler/Slushie

Ingredients (enough for at least 2 12 ounce coolers):

2 Cups watermelon, seeds removed

1 Cup almond milk (I prefer unsweetened; you could use rice or even coconut milk here)

Splash of vanilla extract

A few sprigs of mint, saving some for garnish

Ice

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend. Drink will be very pink and very cool. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!

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If you're in New York City this Saturday, June 12, check out this cool event. Btw, the dance move on the above flyer is pretty cool--has elements of belly dance and a Yogic-looking backbend to it. Love that!

I just love New York sometimes. There’s such diversity, such rich appreciation for various cultures. In fact, diversity and eclecticism are mainstream here. So imagine how thrilled I was when I found out about this cool Persian cultural event going on this weekend, and practically in my neighborhood to boot!

Here’s the blurb that was sent to me via email:

Saturday, June 12, 2-9pm
Iranian Cultural Village
Curated by Niloufar Talebi
Co-Sponsors: Iran Heritage Magazine, PCHA, Persian Arts Festival and more…
Exhibits:

* Wedding ceremonial display

* Persian New Year (Norouz) display

* Books and art display

* Traditional costumes
* Children’s DVDs

*Workshops in backgammon, calligraphy, jewelry-making, Persian name writing Persian poetry & music in performance

*Spoken word  Ballet Afsaneh – Dance and Music performances

http://www.theriversidechurchny.org/theatre/programs.php?p=family

I have to work Saturday, but luckily I finish in time to roll by this festival and check it out. I’ll try to take some pics and report back. Can’t wait!

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The Zatar Burger is born, and just in time for Memorial Day Weekend! The bright dipping sauce is a mix of hummus, ketchup, a splash of mustard, and a generic (but good) Arabic spice blend. Thin out the sauce with water if you need to.

Sometimes nothing’s better than a burger. While I love my salads dearly and mainly eat a plant-based diet, sometimes a good old-fashioned wallop of protein is the only way for me to go. I blame my Type O blood for the periodic protein craving. Oh, and coming from a long line of people who know their way around kebabs, burgers, and all manner of meats certainly doesn’t help either. ;-)

I'm feeling festive lately. Mainly because a holiday weekend looms. (I get the actual holiday off this time, which is great). But the festive feeling might also stem from the fact that I was a "fit model" this week for my friend Denise's bridesmaid dress shopping expedition. As one of her bridesmaids, I might get to wear this lovely number to her wedding in March.

With Memorial Day around the corner, I figured it’d be timely and tasty to offer up a creative burger option.

Burgers are fun because you’re only limited by your imagination as to how you can pump them full of flavor. Just make sure to buy the best organic, humanely raised, grass-fed meat you can afford, to ensure your burgers aren’t pumped full of hormones as well.

An easy and festive burger to make.

Recently, I was in the mood for a creative burger with a Middle Eastern flavor. Okay, I know some of you are thinking, “Why not just make kebab? Duh!” Point taken, but I wanted something that was more East Meets West. Plus, I wanted to enjoy that decadent brioche roll/burger bun that was lurking in my freezer! Dear Lord how I love a good brioche, or a challah bread for that matter. Siiiiggghhhhh. . .

So I tossed together some organic bison meat (it’s leaner than beef), some steak seasoning, some zatar (more on that later), olive bits, sundried tomato bits, fresh grated onion and grated garlic. Then I bound everything with a splash of ketchup and Worchestshire and voila! The Zatar Burger was born! A juicy, flavorful, and creative burger that almost didn’t need the brioche bun to taste perfect. Oh, and for the record, I photographed this burger on a  multi-grain bun because it (surprisingly!) looked much nicer than the brioche. Which was moot, because the brioche was long gone by the time I got around to photographing this recipe anyways, but I digress.

An example of zatar. Some mixes are greener. Some are more earth-toned. All are delicous.

Onward to zatar. What is it?  I blogged about it here, but a quickie explanation for now is that it’s an aromatic herb and sesame seed blend popular in many Middle Eastern countries. Sesame seeds and dried, milled herbs form this versatile powdery substance. Some of the traditional ways of serving it are on breads or as a dip when you soak some in olive oil.

I like to think outside of the traditional methods, and often use it in salads, sprinkled onto veggies of all sorts, and of course, in today’s burger.  Don’t have zatar on hand? No problem; an equal amount of herbs de Provence will do. Don’t have that either? Sprinkle in some oregano, dried thyme, and sesame seeds to approximate that fantastic zatar taste.

Zatar Burgers

Ingredients:

1 pound lean ground meat (beef, lamb, bison, or a blend of all three or any two)

1 medium onion

1 large clove of garlic

3 Tablespoons Zatar blend of choice OR 3 Tablespoons herbs de Provence plus 1 teaspoon sesame seeds OR 1 Tablespoon each of thyme, oregano, and sesame seeds.

2 Tablespoons grill seasoning of choice (more if needed)

1 scant teaspoon cumin powder

2 Tablespoons ketchup

1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)

1-2 Tablespoons sundried tomato bits

1-2 Tablespoons olives pieces (no pits, of course!)

4 burger buns or rolls of choice

Salad mix of choice

Hummus ketchup (see note at bottom of recipe)
Directions:

1. To prep burgers, grate half of onion and garlic into a bowl. (Cut the rest of the onion into slices to grill alongside burgers) Add in all spices, including zatar and stir. Then add in wet ingredients (ketchup and optional Worcestershire sauce) and stir again. Finally, add in olive and sundried tomato bits, and mix well.

2. Add in ground meat, and mix gently with hands to incorporate spice paste mix into meat. Don’t overwork. Form into four equal size patties, and grill on indoor or outdoor grill of choice until desire doneness is reached. When you flip the burgers, add the onion chunks to the grill to cook.

3. Arrange burgers in desired manner–on buns, atop a salad, or even wrapped in pita or lavash bread. If desired, serve with burger fixing of your choice. My preference is to serve them with slabs of grilled onion and hummus ketchup (recipe in note below).

NOTE: Optional Flexible Hummus Ketchup: Use a fork to mix together equal amounts premade hummus and ketchup in a small bowl. Add in a splash (teaspoon) of mustard, and a tablespoon of any Arabic spice blend. If you want a redder dip, add in some paprika or increase the amount of ketchup. If dip tastes too sweet, balance the flavor with some lemon or lime juice. Mix well and serve with burgers as a dipping sauce. For a garlicky kick, grate in some garlic. If a spicier flavor is desired, add a pinch or two of cayenne pepper.

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Guys, I’m deep in Yoga retreat prep mode, which is the main reason I’ve been so quiet lately. Well, that, and I’m working a lot more in general as well. I’m thrilled to be running my very first Yoga retreat, where I’ll be teaching, cooking, and all around having a great time in Upstate New York with my mentor Jojo and some of our wonderful Yoga4Soul students.

Yes, we do still have slots open, and our prices are ridiculously low and recession friendly–between $150 and $350 for Friday evening through late Sunday afternoon, May 7-9. Do you realize how dirt cheap that is? Seriously, I’ve priced retreats upstate and they generally start at $500 for the weekend.

Plus, we’re even offering a $50 day pass for those who can’t spare the entire weekend but want to roll up and do Yoga and dine with us on Saturday.
For more info, click here, the site I rigged up just for the occassion:

www.Yoga4SoulRetreats.Wordpress.com

Rest assured, I’m still testing recipes (or thinking of recipes) to share here. This blog is never far from my mind; bet on that. We’re going to have some of my absolute favorite recipes at the retreat, and I’ll be sure to share those dishes with you very soon. One of them, an amazing Middle Eastern influenced vegetarian stew, is a classic in my home. Hey,  you know I’m not letting our students get away without feeding them some of that good Middle Eastern flavah, right? ;-)  Gotta represent!

Om shanti shanti shanti!

So wish me luck and send some good vibes my way these next few days with ironing out the final details of the retreat and coordinating everything for my students. I feel very fortunate that my mentor is working on this with me. He’s held retreats before and knows how to make sure things run smoothly. It’s a good thing, because I do have moments when I feel overwhelmed, but those moments pass and I get really excited about the retreat. Besides, having a bit of nervousness is good, right? It keeps us on our toes and shows respect for our audience and clients.

By the way, if you’ve ever been on a Yoga retreat or some other form or active and/or meditative vacay, I’d love to hear more about your experiences. Tell me what you liked, what you didn’t, and if you’d go again.

See you all around again soon.

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