The 21 Day Challenge


We had our annual Spring Detox Workshop on Sunday, the day of the Spring Equinox, which is always a joyful way to begin the season. It is like a celebration of emergence ~ from the darkness of winter, from the deep interior, from the cave of the heart ~ into a world of light, to a communal dance in a human garden of blossoming radiance.

After circulating, stretching, compressing and twisting the body for two hours we settled into a deep restorative Yoga Nidra to extend the detoxification to mind and heart. By the end, thirty of us committed to keeping our minds pure by keeping the television off, and to keeping the heart alive by spending more time in nature.


We also committed to the annual Spring Detox 21 Day Challenge, which I have posted here. It is a simple plan for eating clean, natural, seasonal foods that help the body eliminate winter’s accumulation. We love company so if you would like to join us, please do. Just click the “Like” button below, or email me to let us know you are in.

Lately, with all the health-store, take-home boxes of Detox, many people tell me they are following a plan they bought. While I am sure that is helpful, I want to remind you that it can be easier. Spring is the time for internal cleansing. Nature knows that, and so provides at this time all the foods that best support detoxification. If you eat the harvest from your own, your neighbor’s, or your local farmer’s garden, you will naturally have a comfortable, nourishing cleanse.

Radishes and Ranunculi at the Farmer’s Market

It is hard to make money off that simple, potent truth, so it is not advertised. But liberating ourselves from commercially driven habits makes this Detox all the more empowering, and helps cleanse the mind and our beliefs, which is the beginning point for all true, enduring health.

So, let your food be your medicine. Allow nature to take care of you. After all, you are nature. Eating according to nature’s seasonal bounty stimulates the natural intelligence in you to adapt, heal, nourish, cleanse, revitalize and really come alive in this season of joy.

The 21 Day Challenge

Before you begin ~ it is always best to consult with an Ayurvedic professional to tailor your diet to your particular constitution. If you have a chronic illness, are very thin, or feel depleted, please consult your health-care professional before beginning any cleanse.

Ginger Tea

Drink warm water with fresh squeezed lemon juice first thing in the morning and throughout the day to increase cellular detoxification.

Eat fresh nourishing foods, including whole grains, beans and vegetables lightly cooked with small amounts of healthy oils such as olive oil, safflower oil, or ghee.

To stoke your digestive fire, sip ginger tea with your meals and spice your food with warm pungent herbs such as ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, basil, oregano, pepper, and chilies.

Check out your local Farmer’s Market to see what is in season now. This is a great time to explore the immense variety of Spring vegetables and learn  delicious ways they can be prepared.

While at the Market, load up on everything green as Spring Greens are the most detoxifying of foods. Greens are bitter, astringent and, those that ripen in Spring are often fiery, pungent. They are easy and quick to cook and colorfully complement a bowl of beans for a slimming, yet strengthening, protein-packed, power lunch.

Sprouted Beans & Sunflower Greens at the Farmer’s Market yesterday

Include grains with your meals but lighten up with cereals like barley, millet (as in couscous), buckwheat groats, rye and quinoa. Barley is an excellent cleanser of the digestive system and urinary tract. Buckwheat is considered a “light grain,” but is actually a fruit, with more protein than any of the other “grains.”

A piece of fruit, warmed or at room temperature, makes a great snack. The citrus fruits now in season have enough sour taste to stoke the metabolic fires, while their bitter peel are loaded with anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory zest. You can grate the rind and whisk it into salad dressings or sprinkle over cooked greens.

Be sure to eat fruit on its own – one type at a time, an hour away from meals. Otherwise it ferments in the gut, jamming digestion and increasing the toxic load. On the other hand, cooked fruit, such as a Spiced Citrus Compote that marries the fruits of Spring, is easy on digestion, and even stimulates elimination in the morning. Cooking fresh fruit into your grains for breakfast, with a dash of cinnamon or cardamom, is a powerful, and delicious, way to start the day.

Spiced Citrus Compote with White Cardamom

Avoid meat, sugar, fried, processed, canned, frozen and microwaved foods. Reduce your intake of dairy products and heavy grains such as wheat, oats, rice. These foods decrease the metabolic fire, slow digestion and clog the circulatory channels.

Herbs

Aloe Juice: Aloe encourages elimination so drink half a glass first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. It is a great Spring tonic for its deep tissue cleanse, liver support and cellular rejuvenation.

Tulsi’s Spring Blossom

Tulsi: For congestion, heaviness, brain fog and the like, drink a cup of warm Tulsi Tea every day. I love Organic India not only for the quality of their teas, but also for the integrity and charitable nature of the company.

Dandelion: For liver detoxification drink Detox Tea in the evenings.  I love this tea for its copious amounts of dandelion root and other bitter herbs that somehow still tastes sweet, not to mention comforting.

Triphala: Triphala reduces Ama in the body restoring balance and optimal physiology. Because it strengthens the colon it is often used to encourage regularity. Take 2 tablets in the evening before bed. If there is Ama, Triphala can give detox reactions, in which case, reduce to one tablet only for a week and then resume the two daily.

21 Day Challenge Meal Suggestions

These are just ideas, not a fixed menu. Be playful. Work with what you find at the market. Get creative with color, texture, tastes and spices. Dance in the kitchen. Love your food. It tastes better that way.

Breakfast

Blooming Buckwheat

A porridge made of a light grain such as quinoa, buckwheat or barley. I love Bob’s Red Mill for warm breakfast cereals. This recipe on their website for Barley Hash looks great and has all the perfect ingredients for a Spring season start to the day.

Home-made Chapati with wheat and barley flour, topped with honey and cinnamon.

1/2 cup of granola with warm milk.

Lunch

A Feast of Seasonal Greens, like asparagus, artichokes, mustard greens, avocado, and sprouts of every kind, with seasonal color like radishes.

A gorgeous medley of steamed, stewed or sautéed vegetables with tofu or paneer and a light grain such as quinoa.

A plate of Beans and Greens, such as Pinto Beans with Kale.

Udon: Buckwheat Noodles with Vegetables & Miso

Dinner

Barley Soup, Miso Soup, Green Vegetable Soup, Lentil and Spinach Soup, Whole Bean Chile, Kichari

Snacks

Puffed rice, rice cakes with honey and cinnamon, collard greens rolled with hummus & red pepper, a piece of fresh fruit, sprouted bread toasted with honey and cinnamon, a  small handful of seeds (sunflower or pumpkin), popcorn.

Evening: “Detox” or Tulsi Tea.

~~~

While Spring Cleaning, focus on what is positive in your life. Raise yourself up, feed your mind, elevate your spirit with inspiring activities, and allow yourself to enjoy the changes. Don’t forget you have amazing power.  Allow yourself to rise up and blossom this Springtime. Radiate your Beauty. Let yourself shine!

My next “Ayurvedic Nutrition and Cooking Class,” on April 3rd, is devoted to Detoxification. You will find all the information here ~ Spring Detox: A Class on Ayurvedic Nutrition & Cooking

Welcome Home & Palak Paneer

Evenings in Rishikesh

We have just returned from India where we taught at the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, a delight nearly impossible to express. I brought back two souvenirs for you ~ a refined recipe for Palak Paneer, below, and a few words to try to convey the essence of the experience.

At the Festival’s Opening Ceremonies, we were spontaneously asked to speak to help welcome the Participants. It captured so much of what it means for me to be in that divine place, so I wrote it down the next day to keep as a kind of memento. I share it here with the hope that it brings you, wherever you are in the world, some of the magic of Rishikesh ~ because Rishikesh is more than a place: it is a state of mind, a Heavenly presence, a way of being that belongs to all.

H.H. Puyja Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji

Namaskar.

In the words of Puyja Swamiji, “Welcome…Home.”

Welcome ~
 To the Home of Yoga;
 to the Source of the Vedas;
 to the Place of the Rishis whose profound wisdom has given us Yoga;
 to the Divine Love of Mother Ganga, the holiest of rivers;
 and to the Land of Shiva, who is the Grace in the Mystery of Eternal Silence.

Welcome ~
 To this Place of Deep Peace and Immense Beauty that allows us to rest and soften into our own deep peace and immense beauty within, a peace and beauty that has been beckoning us, calling us home the whole of our lives.

Welcome ~
 Above all, to this, the Heart of All Existence, where we discover the true gifts of the heart and where we remember that in the Heart, We Are All One. Where Immortal mountains point us towards Heaven – and the very real possibility of creating Heaven here on earth. Where in the Heart “a river runs through” – an eternal stream connecting us back to our own ancestors, to our own wisdom, to our own Source, to our own Infinite Heart.

Sadhvi Bhagwatiji at Opening Ceremonies

Pranams, great gratitude, to Puyja Swamiji for your generous heart that called to us, and gathers all of us here, in the name of Love. To all the great Swamis and Sages here tonight and all the Swamis, Yogis, women and men throughout the ages whose Sadhana has enabled ours, thank you. To our beloved Sadhvi Bhagwatiji, for your inspiration and example, thank you. To all the Parmarth Niketan family, for your humble, devoted service that makes our temporary home here comfortable, we thank you.

In particular, to all the participants of the 2011 International Yoga Festival, thank you for the courage, effort and devotion it took to come here and join us in this One Heart where we celebrate Yoga as Divine Union.

To that One Heart, we say “Welcome.” To that Radiant, Infinite Heart in You, we say, “Namaste.”

IYF Opening Ceremonies in the rain

This was our third trip to Rishikesh, but the first time we stopped in at the Green Hotel, just behind Parmarth Niketan Ashram where the Festival was held. We had heard that the restaurant here serves the best food in town, but we had no idea that this rooftop restaurant also offers one of the most exquisite views of the mountains from anywhere in Rishikesh.

It is simply stunning to sit there in the early evening and watch the play of light on the Himalayan foothills as the sun sets over the river Ganges behind. In those moments, you really feel the blissful serenity that Yoga promises. It’s as if you’ve plugged into the mind of Yogis who meditated here since time immemorial and become one with that eternal stream of consciousness. Pure Ananda

Ganges flowing through the Himalayan foothills

We went back numerous times, as much for the view as for our favorite meal, Palak Paneer and Navrattan Korma. The Green Hotel Restaurant’s version of these dishes is so fresh, so delicious, so fortifying, heart-warming and soul-stirring that, beyond the best in Rishikesh, it is easily the best I have ever had. I vowed to improve my own recipes at home and learn how to make a Palak Paneer every bit as creamy and rich.

Palak means Spinach

I have always made Palak Paneer without reference to any recipe. It seems easy enough: spinach, a bit of cream and some spices. But since our return I have been mining the seemingly infinite number of recipes to see if there are any particular gems that would make it especially creamy and delicious.

My Palak Paneer experiments: this one with tomato

It turns out I was missing something. Tomatoes! Every recipe I am reading recently includes tomatoes, canned, stewed, diced or as a paste. But I don’t care for tomatoes, they are too acidic for me, and the Green Hotel’s version definitely did not have them. So I am going back to my own version, but with some adjustments to the spice, a finer chop to the spinach, and a crunchier, firmer Paneer.

Making Paneer

After much experimentation, here is the recipe I have come up with to get that rich, creamy, almost sweet, absolutely divine Palak Paneer, without tomatoes. If you want it sweeter you can stir in a teaspoon of jaggary, just before adding the Paneer. Most recipes call for that.

I would love for you to try it and let me know what you think.

For a Print version, double click on Recipe

A few notes ~

Paneer is a fresh cheese used often in Indian vegetarian cooking. It has a great texture and holds flavors better than tofu. You can buy it at Asian/Indian ethnic grocery stores, but it is so easy and great fun to make. Manjula will show you how ~ Making Paneer.

Cumin Seed is so much tastier than cumin powder. You can purchase it at ethnic food stores, but more and more healthy grocers are stocking it so you might find it at your local. If you cannot find it, by all means substitute with the powder: same amounts, just stir it into the heated oil with the other spices.

BBC Food has a unique version they call “Crunchy Palak Paneer” which I look forward to trying as well.

Palak Paneer with Channa Masala & Raita

Is it trivial to go from Ananda to Spinach? I hope not. Love is the foundational principle of existence. Out of love, you and everything in this world were created. Remembering that the natural world is an expression of love, that food is a sacred offering of that love, and that our meals, therefore, are a primary, intimate relationship with boundless love helps us restore our sense of place, purpose and meaning – and encourages an experience of life as profoundly, satisfyingly sweet and sacred.

This is why I call it “Food: A Love Story.” Food comes from Mother Nature wanting to love, support and merge with you. When you cultivate that sacred relationship, and eat love everyday, you become a living vessel of Love shining a radiance so bright that Heaven can look down and see its own reflection in you. You come home to yourself.

Parmarth Niketan

And then you might even hear your Palak Paneer whispering with love, Welcome Home!


Channa Masala

Chick Peas in Masala Sauce

My husband Bhava and I are going to India in February/March to teach at the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh. A group of wonderful, heart-centered Yogis are coming with us for a twelve-day Retreat, including 4 days of Ayurvedic treatments on the banks of Ma Ganga.

It is such an honor to take people “home” to the source of our practice, to meet wise sages and saintly swamis, to bathe in the healing waters of the Ganges, and to dwell for a time in the pure possibility of such enduring peace.

For this opportunity we feel humbled, blessed and deeply grateful.  Jai Guru!

This past weekend, we hosted a dinner for those who will be traveling with us. We wanted to give them an idea of what to expect and help them to prepare, both physically and emotionally. With my most fabulous husband’s help, I prepared our favorite dishes from a typical meal they might enjoy in India.

Fortunately, the dinner was appreciated. Two of our guests even said that they would become vegetarian if they could eat like this everyday. I am not sure if they knew just how that motivates me! Since I stopped eating meat at age 16, I promised I would never proselytize, but who does not see the reason in Paul McCartney’s statement ~

“If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That’s the single most important thing you could do. It’s staggering when you think about it. Vegetarianism takes care of so many things in one shot: ecology, famine, cruelty.”
*

So, when a flurry of requests erupted at the end of the evening, of course ~ despite an impossibly full week ~ I enthusiastically said, “Yes, I’ll post the recipes.” I love cooking, I love blogging, but mostly, I love it when people taste and feel the love that is in their food. So, yes!

We enjoyed a number of dishes, in the Indian Style. Of them, Channa Masala is the simplest and quickest to prepare. Since we are soon to depart, rather than typing it out, I encourage you to try this great recipe,  similar to the one we made, from my favorite Ayurveda recipe book,  Eat, Taste, Heal.

eat taste heal
You can use any Korma and Garam Masala spice mixtures. If you can’t find Korma, use Curry powder. If you can’t find Garam Masala, just make it by mixing cinnamon, coriander, clove, cardamom, nutmeg, black pepper: a little more of the first three, a little less of the last three.

You can serve Channa Masala with rice, or with Chappatti or Naan. If you can’t find these Indian breads at your local market try an Italian flat bread. Garlic was the favorite with our guests!

I hope you enjoy this protein-packed meal.

To your Good Health ~ Namaste!

~

I invite you to join me, Friday January 28th, from 6-9 pm, for a class on “Stoking the Fires: Ayurvedic Cooking in the Winter Season” to learn to prepare at home fresh Garam Masala and Korma Powder used in these recipes.

Sadhvi Bhagawati with Children at the Ashram
Sadhvi Bhagawati with Children

For a great close-up on what to expect in India, please read our beloved friend Sadhvi Bhagawati’s article, “India: Let It Inside You.”

Linda McCartney

Paul McCartney’s wife Linda was an original food pioneer who turned her passion into a food brand. Her family has maintained her company and a website where you can find her recipes for wholesome cooking. With so many delicious recipes like these available today, you might succeed in convincing your friends, too!


Rainy Sunday Soup

Sunday Soup

We have much to be grateful for this Sunday before Thanksgiving. It has been raining, pouring actually, for three days now. There is so much rain it has begun to drip down through the light fixtures in the living room ceiling. But we caught it in time, and for that we are grateful.

We are grateful, too, for the rain because we live in a “coastal desert” climate where rain is unusual and welcome, especially in this fire season when every drop of rain counts!

Rain keeps us indoors where we light a fire, play board games, tell stories and laugh ourselves a bit silly. So we are grateful, too, for an old-fashioned family Sunday, and a very good reason to make Soup!

For lunch today, my husband made us a delicious vegetable soup with lots of ginger. We added last night’s whole wheat Rotini pasta and fresh parmesan cheese and ate it with a chunk of fresh-baked sage bread. As he was spooning his last few bites, my husband said,  “Soup should be a requirement on a rainy day. It is so warming. It just feels essential.” Morgan and I purred our agreement.

To make this simple, quick and essential soup ~

Sauté one small chopped onion, two cloves of garlic and three slices of ginger in enough safflower oil to cover the bottom of a soup pot until the onions are golden and soft. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, two diced potatoes, two sliced carrots, one chopped celery, and any other vegetables you have on hand and would like to add. We added french beans and broccoli. Stir on medium heat to coat the vegetables thoroughly in the oil mixture.

Add four cups of water and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat and cook for 20 minutes. Serve warm with fresh, warm rosemary or sage bread.