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What's your idea of heaven on earth?

Hey Guys!

I’m busy planning my next Yoga getaway.  

Yes, I’m thrilled to be hosting another retreat.

Just this week, I met with Chef Maria, also a student of mine, to sketch out the menus. Maria has helped me in the past with the catering aspect of the Yoga retreats, and now she’s doing so in a more official capacity. I’m super psyched to have her onboard! This way I know the food prep is in excellent hands, and I can focus even more energy on teaching my awesome students.

Trust me, the menus we are planning are our very best yet. We have our basic outline, and of course will allow for what is freshest/in season/looks good in our final shopping trip before the getaway.

So where are we going? To Upstate New York. In early summer.  To spend some precious, rejuvenating time here:

Partial view of our retreat house in Upstate NY. I say "our" like we own the place. Ha! For the weekend, we rent it. One of my dreams is to someday own a retreat center of my own, perhaps some place out West.

One of the students who came to the Fall Harvest retreat I did back in early November of 2010, said that she now thinks of this spot Upstate as a “happy place,” that she returns to from time to time in her mind’s eye when day-to-day life gets to be a bit much. What’s you’re happy place?

I definitely think beautiful mountains and woods, lots of nature, flowers, and green, is happy for me. Plus beautiful rocks and clean, pure, moving water. I love beaches, too.  So Colorado but with a temperate beach in my backyard. Ha! Obviously I don’t think of such environs as my day-to-day environment. For me, they’re getaways. (For now; let’s never say never; spending more time in the mountains and on the beach is very possible).

So when I ran across this passage in a book just today, it struck me that this sounded like my Day to Day Heaven on Earth. Check it out:

Situated on the unpaved banks of the Seine in the Parisian suburb of Neuilly, La Roseraie, home to les Madrus, was names for its lush, rose-filled gardens. The property also contained a handsome grape arbor where lunch was served on sunny days. A henhouse was headquarters for two roosters named Ali and Baba, a harem’s worth of chickens,  few golden pheasants, and a score of huge Toulouse geese. In addition to this menagerie were a tame gazelle, a goat, a few angora rabbits, and an alley cat that wandered in one day and became part of the family. The villa’s interior contained thousands of books, handsome Arabian carpets, and practical American style furniture.

—From Wild At Heart, Natalie Clifford Barney’s Journey From Victorian America to the Literary Salons of Paris, by Suzanne Rodriguez. p. 147

Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? Well, maybe the birds aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it sounds like fun. Especially the tame gazelle. How cute! I want one! The rose gardens and orchards sound beautiful, especially if someone else is tending them. Ha!

For me, a happy place has plenty of comfy nooks where I can sit and read a book, nap, or lounge and gaze out to a pretty, green, quiet space. This nook at the retreat house fits the bill perfectly. .

So tell me, what’s your happy place?  It doesn’t even have to be real.

Feel free to get creative. I think visualization and letting our imaginations run free is an important part of life. It opens us up to creativity and new possibilities, so that we don’t get too closed into the “same old same old.” AKA a RUT! Hey, I’m all about routine to large degree, but shaking things up can be good, too!

A quick food note before I roll: I’ll be posting a really juicy, delicious Persian chicken kebab recipe soon (as soon as I photograph it). My dining table is always a happy place when that kebab recipe is on the menu. Talk to you all soon.

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Ginger, garlic, and chile are the foundations of this simple soup. I used chipotles that were pre-cooked in adobo sauce, but you could use other peppers if that's easier for your. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

What’s that old saying?  “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

That’s what this week feels like. Here I was with big plans to do the following:

  • A thorough, if late, deep housecleaning to prep for Persian New Year (Nowruz).
  • Batches and batches of cookies baked (and photographed and blogged about!)
  • To send out some of said treats as gifts.
  • A delicious Persian New Year feast over the weekend.
  • Oh, and to teach just shy of 20 classes. . .
  • . . . AND to serve as a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding this weekend.

Yeah, right. That sound you hear? That’s the Universe laughing at my plans.  Loudly. I’m laughing now, too, at myself for thinking I could get all of that stuff done, even under the best of circumstances. You see,  I started feeling not so great late last week, and haven’t been quite able to shake the feeling since. So I scaled back on my ambitions, focusing on resting and working and, quite frankly, just getting through the week. (Don’t worry, I don’t teach with a fever and I’m not doing adjustments this week just to be on the ultra-safe side).

I have so much garlic around my place. It's slightly ridiculous, and no, I don't fear vampires 😉 Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

I also threw everything but the kitchen sink (and the doctor) at this annoying bug. You name it: Vitamin C, immune supplements, kombucha, juices, garlic, ginger, spices, cake, sleep, TV, movies, tea, menthol, baths, books, carbs, probiotics, Swedish bitters, and probably at least a half-dozen more things.

It’s been quite stubborn. Very strange, considering I’m rarely sick.

On the positive side, I did make a soup that truly helps me feel better. I breathe deeper and feel less achey when I eat this. It’s super simple to make, otherwise I never would have made it. Ha! It’s not Persian, not even Middle Eastern. It IS good, though, and I’m so grateful for the simple healing powers of ginger, garlic, and chili. When tossed in my slow cooker, they created some kind of magic:

Spicy Soup with Ginger, Garlic, and Chili Pepper

Ingredients

  • 1 chunk of ginger, peeled (about 2 Tablespoons)
  • As many garlic cloves as you want, peeled (I did about 5)
  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (can sub other chiles if that’s easier for you)
  • 1/2 medium onion, in chunks
  • 32 ounces chicken or veggie broth
  • 2 potatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup of baby carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (14-16 ounces)
  • Slivered scallions for garnish (optional)
  • Avocado as a topper (optional)
  • 1 Teaspoon cumin (optional; if you don’t use chipotles in adobo, use some cumin to pick up that smoky flavor)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a blender, combine ginger, garlic, chili, onion, and broth. Blend until smooth.

2. Pour mixture in a slow cooker. Add potatoes and carrots, and cumin, if using. Stir. Cook for 4 hours.

3.  Stir in chickpeas. Taste and adjust seasoning (the broth can be salty, so make sure to taste first before adding salt)

4. Ladle into bowls and serve topped with scallions and/or avocado chunks.

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Harissa sauce, or paste, can range in color from relatively light, like my orangey spread, to a much deeper red.

My homemade harissa is a fast, simple, saucy paste of red peppers, walnuts, garlic, and any number of optional spices. It can be as fiery or as mild as you wish, but it tastes fantastic pretty much any way you put it together. It’s a super flexible recipe, so ingredient amounts don’t have to be exact.

So where exactly does this stuff come from? Well, according to Wikipedia:

Harissa is a Tunisian hot chilli sauce commonly eaten in North Africa whose main ingredients are Piri piri chili peppers, serrano pepper or other hot chillis and olive oil. It is a standard ingredient of North African cuisine,[1] most closely associated with Tunisia and Algeria[2] but recently also making inroads in Morocco according to food expert Paula Wolfert.[3]

Recipes for harissa vary according to the household and region. Variations can include the addition of cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. In Saharan regions, harissa can have a smoky flavor. Prepared harissa is also sold in tubes, jars, and cans.

I have a feeling this versatile sauce, which can be used as a dip, condiment, pasta sauce, soup topper, meat marinade, and more, will make an appearance at my upcoming Upstate New York Yoga retreat. I’m so excited about the retreat. I’m planning all sorts of fun activities, like a meal made on the grill, a farm tour, and lots of great Yoga classes and downtime.

Looking for a more immediate use of harissa? It’s a key part of another my North African-influenced sweet potato stew.

Harissa Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 jar roasted red bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (you decide how big or small)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each (or more) of any or all of the following: cumin, coriander, caraway seeds, cardamom, allspice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Rinse and drain jarred bell peppers.

2. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, adding a bit of water if needed to get/keep things moving.

3. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired. Add more of the other spices if you wish. Re-blend. Taste, and serve immediately, or jar it in an airtight container and put it in the fridge.

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Self portrait of me in between takes of a Yoga photo shoot last fall. Note the peaceful look. I credit the Yoga 😉

Hey Gang!

If you need some Yoga to help sweat out those Valentine’s Day sweets, and you live in the New York City area, today might just be your lucky day, a true Wellness Wednesday:

A month of UNlimited Yoga at ISHTA Yoga in Manhattan is on offer via Groupon. For $30. Yeah, you read right: 30 bucks!

I’ve yet to try out ISHTA, but it’s been on my list of “must-try” studios for awhile. Now I’m IN to check it out.

I dug around on their website and elsewhere online, and I like the following:

  • They have lots of class options throughout every day. Even random times, like mid-afternoons.
  • The Union Square location is convenient.
  • The reviews I’ve read are quite good.
  • Several teachers I’ve been meaning to try out teach there.
  • One class at a typical Yoga studio can cost $15 to $20. Dunno about you, but this can put a serious dent in my budget. The opportunity to take unlimited classes for the cost of two classes is awesome. And to do this for a MONTH? Wow!
  • Not ready to do this? It’s okay, you have until July 17, 2011, to activate the coupon.

This is about as much vetting as I can do short of checking the place out myself. Sooo. . . .

Click this link if you’re interested:

ISHTA Yoga Deal

Another food post soon, my dears. Have a lovely Wednesday. Be well!

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What once seemed impossible eventually can become merely challenging. This Forearm Stand, Scorpio variation took a good while to get. Optimism certainly helped; simply believing it was possible, then doing the work went a long way towards making this pose a reality for me. Photo by Marisa Train.

Today I’m sharing some motivating words I found posted on Karen Rauch Carter’s wonderful website. Do check it out. She’s a feng shui expert and so much more. Her book, “Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life” is one of my favorites!

A vendor at the farmer’s market shared this poem with Karen. She posted it on her website, and I just had to share it:

The Optimist Creed

Promise yourself:

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk help, happiness and prosperity to everyone you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and to happy to permit the presence of trouble.

– Optimist International

Yep, all of the above is a tall order, but if we move towards optimism, that’s an accomplishment. Just like in the Yoga pose pictured. . .I had to take many baby steps to move towards it. Each step, even the mistakes–especially the mistakes–were steps in the right direction.

Have a great day, everyone. I’ll be back soon with some food posts, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

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Shiva Nataraj, a "dancer's pose" variation. Photo by Marisa Train.

Happy Friday, everyone. I’m so excited for the weekend. And not just because I just got paid. Ha ha ha!

Even though I work weekends, they have a mellow feel, yanno?  I have a hot and fresh new Yoga sequence I’m teaching in my classes, and have a couple of classes I get to take that I’m excited about.

One is a bootcamp taught by one of my mentors, Terri Walsh at her exclusive A.R.T. studio here in Manhattan.  She’s amazing. Imagine having as a mentor someone whose workouts and books you owned in college. Then getting to meet this person in person AND work with them. It’s pretty cool and slightly surreal, in that very NYC type of way.

What are you guys excited about this weekend? Taking any cool trips, classes, or anything else fun going on?

Onward to the promised tippage:

So I’m going to leave you with a motivating quote and a tip on a beautiful new cookbook a fellow blogger just published, plus a little tune-age to welcome the weekend.

1. Yoga and Fitness Tip:

“Reaffirm your strength. Your body can do amazing things, no matter what shape you’re in. Throughout your practice, treat it with care and, rather than fixate on its limitations, pause to thank your body for functioning so well.” –Yoga Journal


Pretty motivating, right? I often find that we’re so much stronger than we realize. If we work intelligently and with strong, focused intention, we can achieve so much. And do so safely, which is vitally important. As I often tell my students, we are so incredibly blessed to be healthy enough to even have a Yoga or fitness practice. And it IS a practice, not a performance or competition.

Increased awareness of how we align our bodies and move our breath will lead to an increased awareness of where we place, align, and move our energies in our lives.

2. Food Tip: Cookbook Giveaway via Ivy’s blog:


Enter to win this awesome cookbook at http://kopiaste.org/

If you haven’t checked out Ivy’s blog and cookbook yet, you really should. I’ll admit than I’m new to her blog myself, but am so excited to have discovered it. She just published a cookbook, something I plan to do someday myself. So she’s already a hero in my book. Her book looks beautiful! She’s running a giveaway of it, so do click on over and enter.

Ok, final tip:

3. Music Tip:

A couple of tunes I’m soooo into.

One is by a cat named Gordon Voidwell. I ran across his music a while back and have become a regular at his shows. In fact, he played one last night at Lincoln Center that I got to attend. Fun!

To me, his tunes sound like a cross between old school funk like Parliament, catchy, intelligent Blondie-esque pop, and a dash of Prince and Outkasst thrown in. Even that description doesn’t begin to describe it adequately, so have a listen to his single, “Ivy League Circus” and see what you think:

Warning, it’s peppy and bouncy, and you might just be motivated to dance your way into the weekend:

If that’s not peppy enough for you, I’m very into this track “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People. It’s kinda kitschy, but hey, I’m cool with kitsch. Kinda live for it, actually 😉

Don’t think they have an original video for it yet, but put this on in the background and enjoy. Have a fabulous weekend!

 

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Spicy Winter Tea with cookies.Yes, tea served in a coffee mug. I have so much tea, I don't have space for actual tea sets. 😉 Plus a student gave me these mugs, and I happen to really like them.

Nothing warms my heart quite like a cup of hot tea and a plate of cookies on a cold winter’s afternoon.

Have I ever told you guys about my tea collection? No joke, I have about fifty, as in 5-0, different types of tea. taking up a fair amount of precious real estate in my kitchen. This is even more ridiculous when you consider that I’m rockin’ a cramped New York City Prewar galley kitchen that, outside of the appliances,  hasn’t seen an update since the Nixon administration.

Quality tea deserves quality cookies. I didn't make these. I let the experts at my fave Middle Eastern pastry shop, Laziza in Astoria, NY, do that.

Percentage wise, tea takes up a huge amount of my storage space, but I’ve no regrets. That’s because I’m the type of person who sometimes looks forward to the post-meal cup of tea more than to the meal itself.

Yes, Persians love their tea, and I’m no exception, as my dedication to my collection shows. My fam might consider my stash of all sorts of teas–from green jasmine, to chocolate mint, to Tiramisu–a bit weird. In Iran, the teas I remember were always black teas brewed to a beautiful dark amber, served with cubes of sugar and savored often.

The way the cookie crumbles. . .when it crumbles in my tea, I love it. Love to drink up those little cookie bits. Ha!

A quality black tea, maybe an Earl Grey, is where it’s at when we’re chatting about Persian tea. P.G. Tipps brand works for me, but even good ol’ Lipton will do the trick.

About the only bad memory I have about tea is the time in Iran when I knocked over my uncle’s tea cup and got a blister on my foot. Whoops! That taught me a valuable lesson: awareness of hot beverages!

Today’s tea is super simple. You just brew the black tea of your choice, and add in a few chunks of fresh peeled ginger, a cinnamon stick or two, cardamom pods, and a shake of rose or orange blossom water. That’s it.

Afternoon delight!

If you’re hot where you are now and want a cool tea option, try my Persian Iced tea with a Rose Water and Cardamom Infusion, which was featured on Saveur Magazine’s “Best of the Web” a few months back. For now, the hot pot:

Warming Winter Spiced Tea

Brew black tea of your choice according to package instructions. For each cup of tea, add in the following:

  • A chunk of fresh, peeled ginger
  • A cinnamon stick
  • Up to 3 cardamom pods
  • A splash of either rose water or orange blossom water

Serve with cookies (or “biscuits”) of your choice, and enjoy.

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