06 July 2009

kripalu center for yoga & health

The beautiful grounds of Kripalu

Want to improve your health, get centered, cultivate peace in your life, and enjoy the company of the friendliest strangers you'll ever meet? Sounds like a tall order, but that's exactly what's offered at Kripalu center for yoga and health in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

I got back from there last Wednesday and I'm still totally blissed out.

Before I planned my trip, I perused the catalog for all of their program offerings. I think I circled a workshop on every page, from meditation intensives to yoga for my aching wrists and shoulders. So many programs appealed to me. In the end, I chose to do a simple Retreat and Renewal (R&R) package, a go-at-your-own-pace set up.

My friend Jane and I drove up on Sunday and jumped right in with a massage (not included in the R&R package). After that, we had a delicious dinner - all the food at Kripalu is organic and local whenever possible. The rest of the time was filled with yoga classes, hikes, leisurely walks on the grounds, and more amazing meals - all part of R&R (as were the accommodations).

Monk's pond, a popular stop on morning hikes

It's a trip I won't soon forget. Mindful meditation and slow-paced days will do that to you.

But one of the most memorable happenings had more to do with the local fauna than the local positive vibrations. After dinner one night, Jane and I wandered the grounds and settled on some old steps on a hill, remnants of the old estate which used to preside there. Out of the corner of my eye, a big fuzzy black thing ambled down the hill less than 50 feet away. I grabbed Jane's arm. She took one look at the shock on my face and turned to face the animal. We both sat stiller than trees on a windless day. The black bear stopped, feeling our fear. She sniffed at the air in our direction. No muscle twitched, no eyelash batted. She turned to face the wooded area at the base of the hill. We waited a couple of beats before rising to go while "Mama Bear" crunched and crackled the branches in the woods.

Everyone in our path on the return to the building was subjected to our story. The security guard on duty told us he's seen Mama Bear a bunch of times (he's the one who calls her that), noting that she was a pretty big lady. We heartily agreed.

Jane re-enacting the bear's path

Aside from the excitement provided by the bear, I enjoyed the beauty of smaller fauna (birds, bees, dragonflies, butterflies) and flora (sweet-smeling wildflowers, the fresh aroma of pine) on nature hikes or while doing walking meditation in the labyrinth.

I definitely see a return trip in my future.

blueberries are in!

I don't usually think of summer as a time to bake. In fact, if you can't take the heat of the oven and end up offsetting it with air conditioning, summer baking can be a pretty wasteful endeavor. But blueberries are in season and I had the craving for a good, healthful blueberry muffin. It doesn't hurt our energy bill that we don't have an air conditioner in this part of the apartment -- and I don't mind sweating a bit.

I like to experiment in the kitchen, especially when it comes to baking. I'm often not satisfied with a recipe as is, and like to doctor it up or combine two or three recipes. When I was a bit younger, I was apprehensive about messing with a baking recipe. I was always told it was like chemistry, one misstep and it blows up in your face -- or at the very least it won't taste like it should. Somewhere along the way I dropped this notion and decided to take a risk. I've found that, for the most part, a little adaptation isn't a bad thing, and it often turns out in your favor.

Case in point: the spelt almond blueberry/cranberry muffins I made this afternoon. Here's my recipe, adapted from Healthy Green Lifestyle and Bob's Red Mill:

Dry stuff:
2 1/4 cups organic spelt flour
1 tablespoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups almond pulp (leftover from making almond milk - sans sweeteners or vanilla)

Wet stuff:
3 organic, free-range eggs
1/4 cup local buckwheat honey
1 1/4 cup almond milk (see above)
2 teaspoons organic vanilla extract
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) local pastured butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 3/4 cups local blueberries
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. [NB - I usually do this about 3/4 of the way into prepping the ingredients so as not to waste too much gas (or electricity, depending on your oven)].

Combine dry ingredients, stirring in almond pulp last.

In a separate mixing bowl, whip eggs. Whip in honey, almond milk, and vanilla. Then add the slightly cooled melted butter, being careful not to cook the eggs.

Gently mix dry and wet ingredients. Do not over stir. The mix should be lumpy.

Fold in blueberries and cranberries. Blueberries and cranberries can be dusted with flour prior to folding into the mix.

Spoon mix into a greased or lined 12-cup muffin tin. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Cool and enjoy!

A couple of notes:

  • If you like a sweeter muffin, use 1 1/4 cups sugar plus honey, or substitute with 3/4 organic brown sugar
  • This recipe can also be made with 1 tablespoon oil instead of butter

follow this man: will allen

If you didn't catch this weekend's New York Times Magazine, you missed out on an article about one of the best role models for young Americans, and heck, old ones too. Will Allen -- urban farmer, master composter, down-to-earth guy -- is creating a community of people who care more about the food they put in their bodies, especially city dwellers who don't have access to healthful food.

An excerpt:

Like others in the so-called good-food movement, Allen, who is 60, asserts that our industrial food system is depleting soil, poisoning water, gobbling fossil fuels and stuffing us with bad calories. Like others, he advocates eating locally grown food. But to Allen, local doesn’t mean a rolling pasture or even a suburban garden: it means 14 greenhouses crammed onto two acres in a working-class neighborhood on Milwaukee’s northwest side, less than half a mile from the city’s largest public-housing project.

And this is why Allen is so fond of his worms. When you’re producing a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of food in such a small space, soil fertility is everything. Without microbe- and nutrient-rich worm castings (poop, that is), Allen’s Growing Power farm couldn’t provide healthful food to 10,000 urbanites — through his on-farm retail store, in schools and restaurants, at farmers’ markets and in low-cost market baskets delivered to neighborhood pickup points. He couldn’t employ scores of people, some from the nearby housing project; continually train farmers in intensive polyculture; or convert millions of pounds of food waste into a version of black gold.

Read the rest