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Posts Tagged ‘Snacks’

flower on stone“We have come into this exquisite world to experience ever and ever more deeply our divine courage, freedom and light!” — Hafiz

What a perfect quote to embody New Year. Persian New Year, that is, aka  Nowruz!

To me, it just feels right and natural to have a new year start with the promise, rebirth, and blossoming of spring.

Spring is a reminder of the inner light within each and every one of us. That’s worth celebrating!

Persian Card_New_YearsScroll down below for a roundup of highly celebratory (and symbolic) recipes from fellow Persian food bloggers. 

Thanks to the fabulous Sanam, of My Persian Kitchen, for putting this together!

Oh, technically the big day of the Persian New Year is always the spring equinox, which falls on Thursday, March 20, this year. Now’s as good a time as any to spread the happiness and to prepare for a fresh new season.

At the moment, I’m in a bit of Spring Cleaning Mode. (Oooof, those closets needed every ounce of attention I gave them last weekend. Ha!) I’m also prepping to host another yoga retreat, in upstate New York/in the Hudson Valley area.  March 14-16—perfect timing to get us ready for spring.

Looks like 2014 is a year of new beginnings for me in many ways. I’m headed to India at the end of the month. This trip has been a dream of mine for many years. At just the right time,  the stars aligned, the Universe and those I love are shining their support and approval on me, and I’m flying off on the night of the new moon. It’s happening!

As for Spring Cooking:

This is a classic clip for my (somewhat limited) TV archives. Here I am cooking kuku sabzi on live TV for Nowruz. This was on Good Day New York a.k.a Fox 5 a few years back:

More blogger Persian New Year goodness:

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Vegan and gluten free granola bars are packed with taste and nutrition.

Sometimes I’m running around town with little time for a proper meal. At these moments, it’s key to have a nutritious, protein-packed, and not-too-sweet snack to keep me rockin’ (and posing, for that matter). Granola bars from the bodega are alright in a pinch, but I’ve become leery of the ingredient list of certain brands. Too many processed unpronounceables! Others bars  are too darn crispy for my taste. You see, I want something with a chewy, almost cookie-like texture, but a better nutritional profile. Not that I’m obsessing over fat grams here (hell no–these bars have plenty of good fat, I’ll admit). It’s just that sometimes I’d rather not spend my afternoon in the throes of a blood sugar crash. Dig? Okay, time to customize.

Today’s granola bars fit the bill. They’re gluten-free, vegan (if you make with something other than honey), and free of peanuts. They’re based on this recipe by Giada de Laurentiis. Of course, me being me, the recipe was only a jumping off point.  Serious tweakage ensued!

How much do you guys tweak recipes? Me, I do it all the time. Certain things I don’t tweak as much, like baked goods. Well, I guess technically these are baked goods, but I’m talking more along the lines of breads, cakes, etc.  Those I generally won’t tweak , at least the first time around ;-)

Portable goodness.

In tweaking this recipe. . .I 86-ed the dairy (butter), replacing it with coconut oil. The egg got cut out; in its place? Ground flax paste. The peanut butter next got the boot; I used almond butter instead. I cut back a bit on the honey and in its place,  added in a couple of tablespoons of pumpkin butter to give the bars a hint of fall flavor. Instead of chocolate chips, I kept the fall motif going with cranberries and raisins. The result? Tasty, filling, not-to-sweet and definitely something you’ll want to portion out. Otherwise, you might eat more than just one bar!

Make a couple of batches of them on a Sunday night, and have them to snack on all week. The texture is somewhere between a chewy cookie and a traditional crunchy granola bar. Cut them into bar shapes, wrap them in foil or plastic, and you’re really to roll.

Vegan Granola Bars with a Hint of Pumpkin

Ingredients

  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 1 Tablespoon ground flax paste (ground flax seeds mixed with water to form a paste with a texture similar to a beaten egg).
  • 1/2 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons honey ( for 100% vegan option, you could use molasses, agave, or maple syrup)
  • 2 Tablespoons pumpkin butter (I used Trader Joe’s brand; love that stuff!)
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats (If gluten free is a concern, make sure you purchase certified gluten free oats)
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Spray an 8 by 8-inch nonstick baking pan with vegetable cooking spray.

3. To a medium bowl, stir together flax paste, almond butter, brown sugar, pumpkin butter, and honey. Add the melted coconut oil, oats and almonds. Stir to combine, then add the raisins and cranberries

4.Spread mixture into the prepared baking pan, pressing lightly to form an even layer. Bake until the edge of the mixture begins to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 1 hour. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares and serve.

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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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Green Herb Hummus made with Great Northern beans, fresh farmer's market basil and garlic, plus Celtic sea salt and olive oil.

Today’s recipe isn’t so much a recipe. It’s more of a template, that you can adjust and re-configure to your liking. Motivated by hunger but de-motivated by the heat to cook, I ended up making a really great hummus with what I had on hand, and figured I’d pass along my results to you. By the way, if hummus plus bread sounds too heavy, ditch the bread and dip raw veggie slices into this dip. That’s what I do and prefer.

If you’re bothered by the non-traditional ingredient list and the fact that I’m calling it hummus, feel free to rename it as a bean dip or whatever other moniker rocks your world.

Love this stuff! I like to dip raw sticks of summer squash, zucchini, carrots, and celery in it instead of the traditional pita bread dip.

Keep things flexible when making this. Since I didn’t have chickpeas handy (not to worry, I’m properly re-stocked now!), I used Great Northern beans, a white bean I happen to really like.  I was also fresh out of tahini, so I used olive oil as the fat instead. There was a small bunch of farmer’s market basil I needed to use, plus some fresh, pungent garlic picked up recently from that same market that had yet to be put to work. A couple of fat cloves of that garlic really took this dip up a level in my opinion, but if garlic isn’t your thing, feel free to leave it out.

Green Herb Hummus

Ingredients:

1 14-16 ounce can of Great Northern beans (or chickpeas or cannellinis) Basically, choose the light-colored bean of your choice

2 fat cloves of garlic

1 small bunch of fresh basil (or other herb of choice such as cilantro, parsley, sage)

1 Tablespoon (or less) of olive oil

Salt of choice to taste (I used Celtic sea salt. Full of minerals and has a robust flavor)

Water (if needed)

Directions:

1. Drain and rinse beans.

2. Add all ingredients except for basil and water to a blender or food processor and mix, starting on a low setting, gradually increasing to a higher speed.

3. Once ingredients are fairly well-mixed, add in basil leaves and a tiny bit of water if needed to help facilitate the mixing process. Blend until smooth and creamy. Check  and adjust seasoning and serve (or store, airtight, in the fridge.)

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As the seasons shift, so do my eating and cooking habits. Some days I don’t cook at all–relying on smoothies, salads, and chilled soups for sustenance. The “Big Oven” gets the summer off, unless there’s a cake or cookie or entree I just can’t force bake in the toaster oven. With the summer equinox fast approaching, I’d begin to notice the reappearance of gorgeous yellow squashes at the farmer’s markets. Last week, I grabbed a couple, figuring I’d grill them or eat them raw (I like to dip them in hummus). But they sat there for a day or so, beautiful yet uninspiring. Until I read a post on zucchini kuku by my amiga over at My Persian Kitchen.

A closer look!

Kuku, you ask? Why yes, it’s an Iranian omelette that’s a perfect marriage of veggies, spices, and convenience. It’s sort of a cross between a frittata and a souffle. Without, of course, the souffle drama. Because you know that in the kitchen, I do not do drama. Well, at least not deliberately ;-)  I figure there’s enough inherent drama and suspense in cooking and baking as it is.

As for kuku, it’s the perfect summer dish, because it travels well and tastes great hot, warm, or even cold. It’s filling but not heavy.  You can bake it in the oven, or cook it on the stovetop. This time, I used my toaster oven, which worked perfectly and kept the Big Oven out of play, and from heating the house.

So I decided to base my efforts on the recipe from My Persian Kitchen, but with my yellow squash rather than zucchini. And as I was tinkering around in the kitchen, I noticed a lone sweet potato, left over from the colder months, sitting there kind of looking sad. “I wonder if that grating that sweet potato and using it in this kuku would taste good. I bet it would.”

So that’s exactly what I did, and in the process, found a new dish to love. A dish that perfectly straddles the shift between spring and summer, and could easily straddle the shift between summer and fall, for that matter.

Kuku (Iranian Omelette) with Summer Squash and Sweet Potato

2 teaspoons cooking fat of choice (netural oil, ghee, butter, butter substitute, etc)

1 onion, medium dice

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 large garlic cloves, finely grated

2 summer squash, grated (no more than a pound of squash before grating)

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated

salt and pepper to taste

5 eggs

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Add cooking fat to a cold skillet (skillet I used was an 8-inch cast iron skillet by Lodge). Heat over medium low.

3. Add in the onions and saute, stirring often, until translucent (about 5 minutes).  Add turmeric and garlic to onions and saute for another minute or so.

4. Add in the grated squash and sweet potato. Add salt and pepper and mix.  Cook until softened and the moisture is absorbed.

5.  As the vegetables are cooking, whisk the eggs and baking soda together with either a hand whisk or a fork. If you desire a more yellow color for the egg mixture, add another pinch of turmeric and stir well.

6. Allow the veggie mixture to drain and cool (I used a colander and a bowl to catch the drips underneath, plus patted the mixture several times with a kitchen towel to further push out excess moisture).

7.  Clean out the skillet, regrease with cooking fat or cooking spray of choice. In a large bowl, mix together veggie mixture and eggs, then pour it all into the skillet. Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes (my kuku was done at 25 minutes, but your mileage may vary due to variation in the moisture of the mix). You’ll know it’s done when a knife or fork inserted into the center comes out clean.

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FaRAWfel anyone? A fun raw falafel ball recipe to kick of your Meatless Monday.

I’ve been really into raw foods lately. I find that as the weather warms, I like more salads, more smoothies, and lighter, cooler fare. Such choices feel better to me. Raw food fits the bill beautifully, and it energizes me quite nicely. However, there’s no reason we can’t pack our raw goodies with some good old Middle Eastern flair.

Really good falafel can taste meaty. And my raw version tastes very meaty, too!

That’s exactly what my sister Mona and I did with our FaRAWfels. Also known as Raw Falafel. It’s simply a meaty tasting nut pate with Middle Eastern spices tossed in for that special flavah. I noticed a raw taco nut “meat” recipe on Averie’s blog. I tried it and it was awesome. No surprise there. She has great recipes :-) .

Then I decided to take her basic template and put the falafel spices into play and see what happened. Good things, that’s what!

Mona and I enjoyed them for dinner atop a raw kale salad topped with my tahini red pepper dressing. We had this delicious meal recently after taking a nice, long walk around one of NYC’s most vibrant neighborhoods– East Harlem, which is also called el Barrio. Before we get to the recipe, take a look at some of what we saw and we strolled around on a Sunday afternoon. I love that the Barrio has tons of murals and little hidden community gardens:

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FaRAWfels (Raw Falafel)

Modified from a brilliant nut pate “taco meat” recipe of Averie’s on LoveVeggiesandYoga.com. To keep it strictly raw, use all raw nuts and seeds.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Almonds

1/2 Cup Walnuts

1/4 Cup Pecans

1/4 Cup Sunflower Seeds

1/3 C Sun Dried Tomatoes loosely packed (I prefer those that aren’t packed with oil. If you used oil packed, you can probably use less olive oil)

2 Tablespoons Middle Eastern Spice Blend of choice (Click here for my blend)

2 Tablespoons paprika

2 Tablespoons za-tar blend of choice (Optional)

2 to 4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 Tsp Salt (or to taste)

Directions:

1. Gather ingredients.

2. To a blender or food processor, toss in nuts, sundried tomatoes, and spices.

3. Add olive oil and blend until the nuts are broken up and the ingredients nicely mixed. Go slow–I like mine a bit on the chunky side, with some whole seeds left. You might need to add a tiny touch of water to get things moving. Go easy if you choose to add water.

4. Roll into balls and serve.

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Just a little tahini-red pepper-cumin dressing that I whipped up in a blender, but it's an oh-so-tasty way to dress a salad.

We’ve talked before about how I eat a lot of salads. Love them! So dressing them properly and deliciously is of the utmost importance. Dressing a salad isn’t so different from dressing one’s self, I suppose. Now I’m much more foodie that fashionista any day, but there are indeed parallels when it comes to this dressing business.

Dressing a salad with a tasty, inviting option reminds me of donning a gorgeous outfit paired with the perfect accessories. Sometimes the accessories even steal the show and garner the most compliments!

As for accessorizing my salads, I avoid the bottled stuff unless I’m in a situation where there’s no practical way to make my own dressing. Even the best bottled dressings don’t hold a candle to a good, homemade dressing, IMHO. Fighting words? Maybe!

Check out the accessories I chose to go with this outfit--gold heels and some fun bangles. Nope, wasn't going for the minimalist look that night at my friend's traditional Afghan wedding!

Yeah, dressings usually have fat, but can be good fat, especially in moderation and if the dressing motivates you to eat more salad and veggies. Here’s my latest salad dressing creation, with it’s brick-red color and the bold flavors of mellow tahini, sweet red pepper, and earthy cumin give it that Middle Eastern vibe I love so much. It has a hint of spice and a pleasant smokiness in the background.

Oh, and I even snuck in some super healthy flax seeds, which are great for, among other things, the skin and digestive system. Cuz I’m stealthy healthy like that ;-)!

You can bet we’ll be whipping up a batch of this brick red beauty this weekend at the Yoga retreat I’m hosting.

For now, mas-salama and shanti, ya’ll!

Tangy Tahini Red Pepper and Cumin Salad Dressing

In a blender, combine:

4 Tablespoons tahini paste

2 Tablespoons flax seeds

2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional, but worthwhile, as it gives a subtle cheesy flavor

2 large garlic cloves

3 scallions, chopped, or 2 Tablespoons of onion, chopped

1 Tablespoon of paprika

1 teaspoon red pepper paste, or 1/4 of a fresh or roasted red bell pepper

1 teaspoon of cumin (more if you want!)

Squeeze of lemon (optional)

Water for blending

Salt and pepper to taste (optional–I found I didn’t need any!)

1. Put all ingredients except water into the blender. Add enough water so that everything can move around when the blender’s on. Add more water as needed to create the desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired.

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Happy Nowruz, everybody! :-) Well, technically the big day of the Persian New Year is the spring equinox, which is tomorrow, but I figured now’s as good a time to spread the happiness. The weather here in New York is as fresh and spring-like as can be. Birds singing, tons of sun, and gorgeous blue skies. The flowers and trees haven’t quite caught up, but they soon will.

At the moment, I’m in a bit of Spring Cleaning Mode. As for Spring Cooking:

Here I am cooking kuku sabzi on live TV for Nowruz. This was on Good Day New York a.k.a Fox 5:

Hope you enjoyed the clip. Have a great weekend, everyone!

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Marinated olives! Easy, quick, and tasty. Photo by Stacey Young.

Once, many moons ago, I didn’t like olives. Yes, I know, hard to believe, right, especially seeing as I pretty much live for them now! I think my dislike stemmed in part from the fact that up until a few years ago, most olives available in the United States were mainly canned or jarred and not so high quality. Too salty, to briney, sometimes too mushy. Plus, it didn’t help that the only olives I’d ever really seen were in martini glasses (chic, but not an everyday drink–at least not for me  ;-) ) or embedded in bologna (ick).

A beautiful olive tree. To me, olive trees look like a cross between a shrub and a tree. Either way, they're gorgeous. Photo courtesy of istockphoto.com.

At a long-ago dinner party, though, all of that changed. My friend Amy brought some marinated olives to the gathering, and I decided to take a chance and try them. Boy am I glad I did. They were so fresh, and the herbs (rosemary and parsley, I think) and that extra dousing of olive oil really made their flavors sing.

Look at their silvery leaves! I think those leaves are so beautiful, not to mention the olives themselves.

During my trips to Syria and Spain, I fell a bit deeper in love with the humble yet mighty olive. Their trees are almost more like a cross between a shrub and a tree. They look so non-descript at first, with their cute little silvery leaves. Yet they’re so powerful. One might even say mythical. The amazing olive (and its branch) has played a role in history since ancient times. Even the Koran namechecks the olive, mentioning it six times.

Today’s recipe couldn’t be simpler.  Pick the most gorgeous olives you can find. Drizzle them with the highest quality olive oil you have on hand. Bits of garlic and herbs add color and punch. These marinated olives make a great dinner party appetizer! Remember to put them in the fridge if you don’t gobble them in one sitting.

Levant Style Marinated Olives

1 cup of olives of choice

Olive oil for drizzling

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Herbs of choice (I like parsley best)

Directions:

1. Toss olives gently in a few glugs of the olive oil. Add in herbs and garlic, and toss again.

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As a Yoga practitioner and teacher, and a lover of food, I found this New York times article on the overlap of Yoga and foodie culture interesting.

As a writer, I thought it was well-written, and the copy editor did a fantastic job with the headline. Reporter Julia Moskin certainly did talk to many of the big players in the New York Yoga world. Some were more “live and let live” than others. You’ll see what I mean when you read the article.

On this blog, I’ve explored some of my feelings about food and the mind body connection here and here.

Have a look at the New York Times piece:

Dried fruit is one of my favorite pre and post-Yoga snacks. My friend Kim Snyder, who is a clinical nutritionist and Yoga instructor, says it's best for you digestion to eat it on an empty stomach, then wait at least 20 minutes before eating anything else.

When Chocolate and Chakras Collide

I’ll be back soon to post on halva, and the many reasons I enjoy it in moderation.

In the meantime, a quick tip: Dried fruit enjoyed in moderation is a great way to fuel up before Yoga.

If I find my energy dipping before a class, sometimes a couple of dried figs or dates will help me out without weighing me down. Try to eat your fruit on an empty stomach. Yum! Oh, and by the way? For an optimal Yoga asana practice, try to be done eating two hours before you begin your practice. That way your body and mind can focus on the postures and the breathing, not the good work of digestion. ;-)

EDITED TO ADD: This is my response to the New York Times, in the “Comments” section:

As a food writer/blogger AND Yoga instructor/practitioner, this article really interested me. The whole judgment thing is soooo not my scene. I’ve run into that energy a few times in the course of my Yoga journey.

Eating where I’ve just sweated? Doesn’t sound appealing to me, but live and let live, right?

I absolutely think an awareness of what and how we eat is key, but, like some of the other posters said, there are many interpretations and paths. The people who seem to have hit upon the perfect diet for themselves must kindly remember that the diet that works for them might not work for another. Yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, says as much.

For me personally, a dietary path that doesn’t include garlic, onions, and chiles doesn’t hold much appeal. With all due respect, I’ll pass on that path. I will aim to eat in an environmentally respectful way, and source any meat with extreme care (I don’t eat much meat lately anyways, but still).

The whole idea that enjoying bounties of this world is somehow wrong? I don’t buy that. Even the Dalai Lama says that one of our main purposes in life is to cultivate happiness. Because when one person is happy, that happiness can become contagious and a catalyst for positive changes. The opposite is true–bad moods are contagious and can lead to who knows what! Sometimes the simplest things in life can bring about happy moments. Enjoying a lovely meal is certainly a simple pleasure–if we allow it to be.

Just as a deeper understanding of the asanas (Yoga poses) develops with time, practice, and patience, so do our food choices. The same could be said of the depth of compassion and acceptance we cultivate for our fellow Yoga practitioners, no matter where they may be in their own personal journeys.

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