Soups for Winter

Green Lentil Soup
The first time I saw this recipe, I thought to myself, “Well, it will be good for me, even if it’s overly-healthy tasting.” But it turned out that it was both good for me and delicious! Even my husband loved it. With potato, goat cheese, and lots of green vegetables, this is more of a complete meal than the typical bowl of lentil soup. It’s based on Anna Thomas’s Very Green Lentil Soup, but this version is simpler with less prep. It serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp plus 2 cups water, divided
  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • one white potato, scrubbed and diced
  • 6 oz. fresh spinach, chopped
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 crown broccoli, chopped (including stems)
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • fresh goat cheese

Preparation:
Heat oil in a saute pan. Add onion and salt to taste. When onion begins to brown, reduce heat to low, add 2 tbsp water, and cover pan. Stir occasionally until onions are greatly reduced and have a deep caramel color, 25-35 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine lentils with 2 cups water in a soup pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.

Stir in the potato, scallions, and vegetable broth into the soup pot. Add salt to taste, cover, and cook 15 minutes. Stir in the broccoli, cumin, and coriander. Add the caramelized onions to the pot and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in the spinach and cilantro.  Cook until spinach is tender but still bright green.

Squeeze lemon juice over the soup. Serve garnished with fresh goat cheese.

 

Winter Minestrone
Minestrone is one of my favorite types of soups because it’s so hearty, it’s versatile, and it’s a full meal in one bowl. This version uses root vegetables and greens, although the vegetables can be changed out depending on what’s in season or what you have on hand. This recipe can easily be modified to be vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. It serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lbs. root vegetables (such as carrots, potatoes, and turnips), peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
  • oil
  • salt
  • pre-cooked sausage, cut into half-moon slices
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 cups water or broth
  • 1/2 cup elbow, star, or other small pasta
  • 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 bunch of greens (kale, chard, or spinach), chopped
  • grated Parmesan cheese

Preparation
Preheat oven to 425. Spread the root vegetables in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toss with oil and salt to taste and roast for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, brown the pre-cooked sausage in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until onion is soft. If needed (or if not using sausage), add oil to the pot. Add garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and salt to taste to the pot. Cook until fragrant.

Add 5 cups broth or water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook until pasta is almost tender. Add roasted vegetables and beans and warm through. Add greens and cook until greens are tender and still bright green.

Remove bay leaf and serve garnished with Parmesan cheese.

sweetpotatosoup

Sweet Potato-Peanut Bisque

This soup is a bit off the beaten soup path. It’s a great, filling, a little bit spicy vegetarian soup, but it’s also fast to make! Serve with a green salad. From Eating Well Magazine.

Ingredients

  • two large sweet potatoes
  • oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium tomato juice (spicy tomato juice for extra kick)
  • 2 oz. canned diced green chiles
  • 2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp ground all spice
  • 15 oz. can vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
  • pepper to taste
  • cilantro

Preparation
Prick sweet potatoes with a fork and microwave until cooked through, 7-10 minutes. Let cool completely.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a soup pot, add onion and cook until soft. Salt to taste. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Add juice, green chiles, ginger, and all spice. Boil gently for 10 minutes.

Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into bite-size pieces. Add half to the pot. Add the other half to a blender, along with the broth and peanut butter. Puree until completely smooth. Add the puree to the pot and stir to combine. If desired, thin with water and heat through.

Serve garnished with freshly ground pepper and cilantro.

blackbeansoup

Black Bean Soup
This is a simple, classic soup, this version with southwestern flavors. My husband likes to eat this with tortilla chips. This recipe is from Betty Crocker’s Cooking for Two book.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 can black beans drained and rinsed
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 jalapeno, minced
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 carrot, sliced

Toppings:

  • jicama, diced
  • avocado, diced
  • tomato, chopped

Preparation
Add all ingredients except toppings in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for an hour.

Working in batches, puree soup in a blender until smooth. Serve with toppings.

Beanie Weenies for Dinner

We were in Piedras Negras, a town at the Texas-Mexico border. Just across the Rio Grande was Eagle Pass, Texas. A group of young, energetic people from our church had gone to volunteer its manpower to a mission that was building homes there. We spent the afternoon under the sun, hauling loads of concrete in wheelbarrows and laying cinder blocks. At the end of the afternoon, we set our tools down and, famished, headed to the dinner line. Some women from the neighborhood had cooked for us, and as we passed through the kitchen, each of us was handed a Styrofoam bowl of…beanie weenies.

I looked to see what else they were serving, but there wasn’t anything else. No vegetarian option, no whole grain, no vegetable in sight, not even iceberg lettuce. Just soupy beans (which could have used a little salt, truth be told) and chunks of hotdog floating in them. Even as a child I had never liked hotdogs, and I was not at all convinced they even really counted as food. What was I going to eat?

We had come from Austin, the land of organic home vegetable gardens, gluten allergies, and arugula salad with beets and goat cheese. Health is a major priority there. I was even accustomed to hearing people refer to their food in terms of its nutritional value (“Little Jimmy, you’ve got to eat two more bites of protein before you can have more carbs”). The nutritional value of this food was iffy, at best.

But there was something more at play than the nutritional value of this meal. What about the spiritual value of this meal?

The human spirit is the immaterial part of our being that is manifested in our attitudes, and then our words and actions. Sometimes I’m so concerned about the material things I’m putting into my body that I’m completely blind to the immaterial parts of myself that are coming out of me. And all too often, when I’m not paying attention, what comes out of me is irritation, complaints, self-centeredness, and ingratitude. If my body looks and functions perfectly, but my spirit is cold, self-absorbed, and inflexible, what good is it?

Is the healthier woman the one who insists on having her personal preferences catered to? Or is she the one who accepts with a glad heart the hospitality that has been extended to her?

Is the healthier woman the one who looks critically on the eating habits of others? Or is she the one who is humbled by and grateful for the labor and love that went into the food’s preparation?

Is the healthier woman the one who is a slave to her diet of quinoa and kale? Or is she the one who is free to eat all foods without guilt and fear?

Does she grin and bear it (and possibly complain about it later), or is she truly joyful when she sits around a table of food she didn’t cook?

In Piedras Negras we had just spent the day working hard all together, with friends old and new. Now the work was done and we could rest all together around a table. We had come to serve people in another culture, and with their fellowship and this dinner, they were serving us too. This was so much bigger and better than whatever happened to be in my bowl.

I write these things in large part as reminders to myself. But as we come together with family and friends during this season of celebration, I pray that your time and your feasting would be, above all else, joyful, peaceful, and loving.

 

Why Are So Many Yoga Teachers Vegetarians?

There are many reasons people decide to eat a vegetarian diet. The most common reason is probably for health,  but also up there are love for animals and environmental sustainability. Some are vegetarians for just one reason, some for multiple reasons. But there does seem that a disproportionate number of yoga instructors also happen to be vegetarians. Why is that? Is there a yoga reason to refrain from eating meat?

Among dedicated yoga practitioners, there is actually a pretty big divide about whether or not a yogi ought to eat meat. Those who have given considerable thought to the topic and decide that yogis need not be vegetarians are usually those who have tried it and determined that it’s not good for their health. Many of those say that they felt depleted and were more likely to get sick when they were vegetarians. Often their doctors recommended that they incorporate meat back into their diets to be healthier.

But there are many who advocate vegetarianism or veganism as necessary for the life of a yogi. They often point to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is the most widely-known text of yoga philosophy. The Yoga Sutras describe an “eight-limbed” path to right living, and the first limb of this system is called the yamas. The yamas deal with morality, the attitudes and actions people take toward the world outside of themselves. The yamas address issues like truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), sexual restraint (bramacharya), non-greediness (aparigraha), but the characteristic associated with vegetarianism is listed first in the yamas: ahimsa, non-harming and compassion for all living things. The idea is that when a person eats meat, he is causing an animal to be killed, which is violence and harm done to the animal.

On a practical, rather than philosophical, level, there is the ancient yogic wisdom that the body and mind are better primed for meditation on a vegetarian diet. According to this wisdom, because digesting meat is more complicated than digesting vegetables, energy flows more freely throughout the body on a vegetarian diet, and so the practitioner is more balanced and prepared for higher-level activities. Another yoga text, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika specifically names meat and fish among the foods “injurious to a yogi or yogini.” (Happily, this same text recommends eating “tonics” that are “well-sweetened, greasy, [made with] milk, butter, etc., which may increase humors of the body…”

See a list of all injurious and beneficial foods, according to The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, here.

Go-To Quick Dinners

It would be no understatement to say that the fall is a ‘bustling’ time of year. And the closer we get to the holidays, the less time there seems to be for such pesky things as cooking dinner. I know we’re all looking for quick ways we can put a healthy dinner on the table, so today I’m sharing a few of my “go-to” quick dinners, many of which use ingredients I tend to have on hand anyway, so I can put something together, even if I haven’t been to the grocery store in a while.

I keep frozen vegetables and some type of lettuce on hand to make a quick and healthy side for any meal.

 

Sweet Potato with Black Beans
Serves 2

SWEETPOTATO

Ingredients:

  • 1 large sweet potato, washed
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • Shredded cheese, for garnish
  • Avocado, for garnish

Preparation:

Poke holes in the sweet potato with a fork and heat in the microwave for 6-8 minutes, until cooked through.

Heat the beans in the microwave until warmed.

Cut the sweet potato in half, one half for each plate. Mash the insides with a fork and top with beans, cheese, and avocado. Serve with a green vegetable side.

 

Fish Tacos
Serves 2

FISHTACOS

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. tilapia filet
  • 6″ or 8″ tortillas
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • 2 lime wedges
  • Cabbage, shredded
  • Carrot, thinly sliced
  • Cilantro

Preparation:

Season the tilapia with salt,pepper, chili powder, and cumin, to taste. Heat oil in a small pan and cook tilapia over medium heat, flipping after about 3 minutes, until cooked all the way through.

Warm the tortillas for 10 seconds in the microwave and divide the fish between them. Top with shredded cabbage, carrot, and cilantro. Squeeze lime over the taco. Serve with canned pinto beans and salad.

 

Tuna Salad
Serves 2

TUNASALAD

Ingredients:

  • 2 small cans or 1 large can tuna fish, drained
  • Mayo
  • Pecans or walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • Apple, sliced small
  • Salt & pepper

Preparation:

Put tuna in a bowl and add mayo, salt, and pepper to taste. Add nuts and fruit, to taste. Serve with salad and bread.

 

Mediterranean Plate
Serves 2

MEDITERRANEAN

Ingredients:

  • Prepared hummus
  • 2 dolmas
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumber, sliced
  • Feta cheese, sliced
  • Pita bread

Preparation:

Arrange all ingredients on a plate.

 

Pasta with Vegetables
Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • Pasta, any kind (100% whole wheat for more fiber)
  • 16 oz. bag of frozen vegetables (or any fresh vegetables you have on hand)
  • 1 jar of pasta sauce
  • 6 oz. red wine
  • Spices (oregano, rosemary, etc.)
  • Parmesan cheese

Preparation:

Boil a pot of water and cook the pasta. Drain. Meanwhile, heat oil in a pan and cook the vegetables. Season to taste with salt and spices. Add the pasta sauce and heat all the way through. Add wine and bring to a boil. Top the pasta with vegetables and sauce and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

 

 

What if I’m…ordinary?

Sometimes I wonder why my life hasn’t turned out more gloriously so far. When I was younger planning my glorious future, I saw myself defying my suburban upbringing and moving to the forest to be a park ranger. Or I thought perhaps I would move to a foreign country, at least for a while, and become fluent in other languages and cultures. I would do the things other people were afraid to do, and I would relish their interest and awe when I told those people what I’d been up to lately. Following my passions, my life would be full of adventure, my life would be interesting.

Now in my late twenties, I live in the same city where I went to school, just a few hours from where I grew up. I ended up getting married and becoming a yoga instructor in a city that claims to have the most yoga instructors per capita in the United States. I’ve had modest success in my career, and it’s a very  nice and stable life.

Even so, occasionally the thoughts that secretly terrify Generation Y bubble up within me (if you’re not familiar with the plight of Generation Y, this is a humorous and a-little-too-close-to-home essay about it): What if I’m not always passionate about my job? What if I never live in a cool place? What if I work hard all my life, but I’m never the best in my field? What if I’m never even the best in my particular workplace? What if my life becomes an endless cycle of working 8 to 5 on workdays and mowing my lawn on weekends? What if my impact on the world is small and unremarkable? What if I’m…ordinary?

For today’s young adult, “ordinary” is almost a bad word. We’re told:frootloop

escapeordinary

regularextraordinary

Be anything but ordinary, we’re told.

I got married right out of college. I got two part time jobs, one babysitting and one at a small gym for women, while my husband finished school. The jobs were small and not at all glamorous, and I couldn’t wait to get out and do something much grander when my husband graduated. Upon expressing this sentiment to one of the clients at the gym, a mother of two teenage boys, she responded by telling me frankly, “If you’re trying to avoid ordinary, then you’re going to be very disappointed. There’s a lot of life that’s just ordinary.”

I was taken aback by her remark, but it helped begin a shift in my perspective.

I tend to think that if a person is extraordinary, it should be immediately obvious. An extraordinary person would seem different from other people and probably has something to show for it like lots of money, awards, or reputation. It turns out that the people I look up to most are not necessarily those who are the most entertaining or the most successful or the most interesting  or the most intelligent or the most anything. Rather, they tend to be those who do the ordinary things of life extraordinarily well.

Another woman I met at the gym was named Mary, and when I started working there, she was 87 years old. Mary was a popular woman, but it wasn’t because she was well-traveled or told the best stories or wore the most fashionable clothes. In fact, she was none of those things and was quite plain in most ways. She was a widow who used to work as a school teacher, she had lived in the same house since the 1960s, and she babysat her great-grandchildren every week. Mary was a popular woman because she lived a life of thankfulness. She was truly thankful for each day, and she was especially thankful for her family. I knew this because she was in the habit of saying so. She was so thankful to God for the blessings of life that she could not contain it within herself, and it made her a joyful, hopeful person. You could not help but feel more joyful and hopeful when you were around her.

The kind of extraordinary I want to be is more than having an interesting job, living in an exotic place, or being “the most” something or other. It’s more real than the image others have of me. The kind of extraordinary I want to be doesn’t come from trying to make myself extraordinary or special; the kind of extraordinary I want to to be actually requires thinking of myself less.

I want to be in the habit of doing the small, ordinary things extraordinarily well. For me, that means smiling more and complaining less. It means remembering my blessings and thanking God for them daily. It means spending more energy reaching out to others and less energy protecting my own comfort. It means giving others the benefit of the doubt. It means thinking of what my husband would like more and thinking of what I would like from my husband less. It means being patient and giving up my need to be right .

But I can’t simply decide to be thankful, patient, and selfless and expect that all will follow naturally.

Some months ago I met a godly woman named Janis. Janis was an intelligent woman, had had considerable success in her career, and enjoyed the respect of her colleagues. Yet, none of these were the things I found striking about her. She had been asked to speak to me and a group of women about her four-year battle with cancer, a battle she knew she was going to lose. She said that she was frequently asked how she remained so at peace and how her relationship with the Lord was so strong throughout the ordeal. She responded that a lifetime of prayer and scripture reading had prepared her for her present struggles. Had she not been so faithful in those disciplines during the small struggles and good times, she would not have known the scripture that would comfort her in great difficulty, and she would not have had the strong foundation in her relationship with the Lord to stand on.

In his research paper, The Mundanity of Excellence, Daniel F. Chambliss concludes that excellence (we might substitute “the quality of being extraordinary”) “is accomplished through the doing of actions, ordinary in themselves, performed consistently and carefully, habitualized, compounded together, added up over time.”

If I want to be a person who smiles a lot, I have to practice smiling even when I don’t really feel like it. If I want to be a wife who is thoughtful of her husband, I have to practice prioritizing him even when I’m tired. It will feel difficult and unnatural for a while, but I have to be faithful in these little things each day in order for them to become habit.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring? There may be great opportunities or dire circumstances, and how I will respond is largely affected by what I’m doing now. But if I sit around saying I want to be extraordinary and wait for it to happen, or if I desperately seek the things that society says make a person extraordinary for the sake of thinking of myself as extraordinary, I may find myself living a life characterized by stress and disappointment.

Goals and aspirations are good things, but if you find that “you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.” (Napoleon Hill)

Blah Blahsana: What is my yoga teacher saying???

sunsalutation

“Start in tadasana. Inhale urdhva hastasana, exhale uttanasana. Inhale ardha uttanasana, exhale chaturanga dandasana. Inhale urdhva mukah svanasana, exhale adho mukah svanasana…”

Welcome to yoga class.

Unless you are a dedicated yoga practitioner, and have been for a while, odds are good you have no idea what’s going on right now. But if you have been to even a handful of yoga classes, you have probably noticed your instructor speaking in Sanskrit.

 

What is Sanskrit?

Sanskrit is an ancient language that originated in India. Since Sanskrit, Hinduism, and yoga all developed in the same part of the world thousands of years ago, their traditions are very much interwoven. Much like Latin in the West, Sanskrit today is primarily a historical, written language rather than a spoken tongue. It is the liturgical language of Hinduism and a scholarly language.

Sanskrit remains a part of the yoga tradition today, even in the West. The ancient yoga texts are written in Sanskrit, so some practitioners will study Sanskrit in order to understand them more fully. More commonly, the Sanskrit names for yoga postures are used in the yoga class setting.

 

Tips for Understanding Sanskrit in a Yoga Class

  • The names for most yoga postures include several smaller words that describe the posture. These smaller words are often body parts, alignments, numbers, or animals.
  • It can be difficult to distinguish between the names because all postures end in ‘asana’, which means ‘posture.’
  • ‘Namaste’ is a greeting that literally means ‘salutations to you’, although there are many variations on this translation. In yoga class, one common translation is ‘the divine within me bows to the divine within you.’

A few examples:

Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Posture)
Urdhva= Upward     Dhanu= Bow     Asana= Posture

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog Posture)
Urdhva= Upward     Mukha= Face     Svana= Dog     Asana= Posture

Gomukhasana (Cowface Posture)
Go= Cow     Mukha= Face     Asana= Posture

 

Want to know more about Sanskrit?

This is an excellent website for breaking down the parts of the posture names.

Favorite Fall Recipes

pumpkin (1)

Roasted Winter Squash Salad
This is a delicious vegetarian (and vegan) entree that I found at 101cookbooks.com. It serves 4.

Salad Ingredients:

  • 3 cups winter squash (I used butternut), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • 3 medium red onions peeled and quartered
  • 2 cups cooked wild rice

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp warm water
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 375. Toss the squash with oil and salt and spread onto a baking sheet. Do the same for the onions, but keep the onions and squash separate. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until squash and onions are deeply colored and caramelized.

For the dressing, puree sunflower seeds, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and honey in a blender until creamy. Use the warm water to thin the dressing to taste. Stir in the cilantro, taste and adjust seasonings to your preference.

In a large bowl, gently toss rice with onions and a dollop of dressing. Spoon rice and onions onto a plate and top with roasted squash. Drizzle dressing over the top and garnish with extra cilantro.

lentilsausage

Warm Lentil Salad with Sausage and Apple
This is a quick dinner, easily made vegetarian (and vegan) by leaving out the sausage. I got the recipe from Eating Well. It serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry lentils
  • olive oil
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 fresh chicken sausage links, removed from casings
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small bulb fennel, diced
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, finely diced
  • 6 cups fresh spinach or other salad greens

Preparation:
Place lentils in a saucepan with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 15-30 minutes to desired softness.

Meanwhile, whisk 3 tbsp oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Heat oil in a large skillet and add sausage, breaking it up and cooking all the way through. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds more. Stir in lentils and heat all the way through. Add about 1/4 cup of dressing and remove from heat. Stir in fennel and apple.

Toss the spinach with the remaining dressing, serve spinach with lentil mixture on top.

 

Basic Apple Sauce
In the fall the grocery store begins to carry many kinds of apples, and my favorite thing to do with apples is make apple sauce. Sometimes we eat it plain for snack or dessert, and sometimes we stir it into our breakfast oatmeal as a sweetener. An apple corer-peeler-slicer makes this recipe go much faster.

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs apples, I use a combination of Gala, Golden Delicious, and McIntosh
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

Preparation:
Peel, core, and slice apples into chunks. In a large saucepan, combine apples, cinnamon stick, and water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and discard cinnamon stick.