Archive for January, 2013

January 25, 2013

Strippaggio – A Tasting Adventure!

My first experience with Strippaggio turned out to deliver unanticipated excitement.  Strippaggio is both the name of a local retail establishment and the Italian word for the process of filling your mouth with oil and then slurping so air spreads the oil up your nasal passages coating the taste buds with flavor.

I love any shopping experience that involves tasting something exotic or unusual, so I decided to make Strippaggio the first stop in an evening of birthday dining. My friends Chris and Heather joined me. The boutique offered around 50 varieties of fused or infused olive oil, roasted oils, and flavored vinegars.

jugs

Neat rows of stainless steel jugs with spigots sat atop counters that conveniently contained small plastic cups, rolls of paper towels, and a waste bin along with already bottled portions of the top selling varieties.  Each jug was labeled with a description of the contents and flavors letting us know what to expect before choosing our next taste.

We began with a lime infused olive oil that was bright and fresh, then followed it with infused wild mushroom and sage.  The wild mushroom variety turned out to be one of my favorites and one that I had to take home with me. After a few more slurps of infused oil, I was ready to mix it up with some of the vinegars.

counter

Our host cautioned us not to slurp the vinegars, just to taste them.  We tried white pear and cranberry, blueberry, chocolate, espresso, fig, maple, raspberry, and a spicy serrano honey vinegar.  After three or four sips, we returned to the oils.  Then back again to the vinegars lingering over the sweetness and dessert appropriate chocolate balsamic and pondering a pairing of raw pecans with the maple balsamic.

Things were going well until Chris slurped a vinegar, coughed choked, cried, and laughed. I felt for him, but I was laughing too.  One more caution from the host and we resumed our tasting by buying a package of pecans and dipping them in maple, blueberry, and chocolate balsamic.  The maple was definitely the best.

Chris

Finally, I was ready for one last review of my favorites so I could decide which to purchase. After a quick taste of roasted sesame oil, I returned to the serrano honey vinegar.  While I can’t tell you for sure what I did, I assume I slurped it as I swallowed.  The vinegar burned the back of my mouth and my throat immediately closed. I could not move air in or out.  It was as if I had something blocking my airway, but there was nothing there.  I paced, Heather worried, the host asked if I was alright, Chris stood in the back of the room and waited to see if laughter or 9-1-1 was the next appropriate move.

Cheri

After a few seconds that felt like an hour, I was able to loudly force air back through my throat.  I sounded asthmatic.  A few more breaths like that and I could cough, cry, then laugh.  Everyone laughed. I felt glad to be alive.

killer vinegar

I wasn’t willing to buy the serrano honey vinegar this time, but I will.  Instead, I went home with two other varieties and a survival story.  I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world.  I highly recommend the tasting – just make sure you pay close attention to whether you’re tasting vinegar or oil.  If you don’t, you may get an unexpected adventure as well.

Server card ad

January 16, 2013

Don’t Like Peeling Butternut Squash? Then Don’t!

I love butternut squash.  I like it oven roasted, mashed, as part of a tart, as a soup, boiled in beef stew – you name it, I’ll gobble it up.  I love it in spite of the fact that my knives always seem to be dull and it has a tough covering.

Some of my friends tell me they avoid cooking this squash because it’s just too much trouble to peel.  To this I say, then don’t peel it.  A moderately sharp knife should cut a butternut squash in half when you use a little elbow grease. Once you’ve managed that, you’re well on your way to using it in some tasty preparations like these:

One of my favorite ways to prepare butternut squash is to oven roast it. I preheat the oven to 425º, clean the skin, remove the seeds, and cube it in one-inch cubes with the skin left on. Then I place the squash on a cast iron baking sheet skin side down, drizzle with olive oil, top with a few sprigs of fresh thyme and roast for about 40 minutes. The skin gets brown and adds some pleasing texture to the squash.

Oven roasted squash is delicious by itself, but it becomes decadent when I take the hot squash from the oven, remove the thyme, then toss the squash with bleu cheese crumbles and Sahale Valdosta Pecans. This pecan blend contributes a bit of tart, sweet, and spice to the dish with its addition of cranberries, black pepper and orange zest.

If you like to share, this combination makes a great choice for a potluck contribution. You can roast the squash while you’re getting dressed for a party, then toss with the cheese and pecans just before you walk out the door.

Yesterday, I included butternut squash in some beef stew that I simmered for about an hour before serving. I prepared one-inch cubes in the same manner I described above, leaving the skin on. After an hour of cooking, the skin was perfectly tender and added enough body to the squash for it to hold its shape and keep from disintegrating into the broth. Because I had added a significant amount of red pepper, it was nice to have the natural sweetness of the squash to balance the heat.

Even though butternut squash is a winter squash, I find it in the supermarket all year long. That means it’s available in the summer for a bit of barbecue variety. Just clean the skin, slice in half, remove the seeds and core, then slice in large wedges, season, and throw on the grill.

The more experience you gain wielding a knife against this pale orange nemesis, the more comfortable you may become peeling the squash. That will open the door for a whole new set of preparations. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to throw one in your shopping cart.  It doesn’t have to be peeled to be delicious!

January 13, 2013

Reducing Stress to Regain Your Life: Getting Ready

Stressed

Does stress make you feel like this inside?

A government-sponsored study was released this week that shows “people in the United States are sicker and more likely to die earlier than peers in high-income countries”.(1) The study was conducted by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine. It analyzed US health conditions against Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Britain.  The study found that in spite of the fact that the US spends more per capita on health care than any other nation studied, the US life expectancy for men ranked last of the 17 countries and the life expectancy for women ranked lower than 16 of the 17, and our health numbers have been declining for 30 years.

One interesting note: these numbers held true even for the wealthy, insured, and those with “healthy” behaviors. Even groups we would expect to live longest are dying sooner than their peers in the other countries that the study compared. How can this be? Perhaps even more important, how have we ignored the facts for 30 years?  And most importantly, can we afford to continue to avoid asking what each of us can do as individuals to change these statistics?

Before you start to yell at the screen that you’re doing all you can do, (don’t worry, I’m a screen screamer too) just stop for a minute and breath.  I know you’re probably doing all you feel you can possibly do, and not just in the area of health, but in every area. That, in a nutshell, is the problem. The majority of us live in what feels like a pressure cooker.

We call this feeling stress and we know it contributes to disease, but we behave as though we have no choice but to be stressed. That is NOT a fact. It’s just how we feel because we don’t know how to get from stressed to not stressed and still meet our obligations.

In order to develop behaviors that reduce stress, we must first identify the sources that contribute to the pressure we feel.  Here are some possible contributors:

Over-obligating our time

Trying to please everyone

Pursuit of possessions

Rushing

Saying yes when we want to say no

Comparing ourselves with others

Doing what we believe is expected by others, or what we “should” do

Working too much

Sleeping too little

Eating food high in calories and low in nutrition

Feeling disconnected

Trying to avoid failure

Feeling as though you’re different from everyone else

Protecting our children from consequences

Avoiding the difficult conversation

Not being open to receiving

Weak boundaries

Getting lost in shame

Not seeing success in progress

Not seeing opportunity in a moment that feels like failure

Measuring success as attainment of one specific goal

Measuring success as financial gain

Giving up our power in an attempt to be liked

Feeling angry with others over the bargains we make

Not living in alignment with our professed values

Waiting for someone else to make us happy

Avoiding admitting the ugly, dirty, difficult truths we believe about ourselves

A lack of compassion

Trying to control everything around us

Failing to recognize that we have a choice

Focusing on the outcome rather than the process

Spending too much time on outward appearance

A lack of spiritual connection

Filling every moment with activity

Holding out for perfection

Denying our fear rather than feeling it

Substituting the general consensus for our personal truth

Not giving ourselves credit

Not giving others credit

Getting stuck in the problem

Focusing on what we don’t have rather than feeling grateful for what we do have

Hiding our vulnerability

Not telling each other the truth, especially when it requires the difficult conversation

Pursuing happiness rather than receiving joy

Shutting out the joy of everyday beauty rather than sinking into it

Feeling guilty for savoring, relishing, lingering, embracing

As you read this list, you may recognize behaviors that you feel are just normal, or that cause you to shrug and say, “I know that may be an issue, but there’s nothing I can do about it.”  This response lets you know where to begin reexamining. Any area in which you feel you have no choice, or can’t get past seeing as a catch-22, is an area that is contributing to your stress level.

In order to reduce the pressure and begin to improve the quality of each day, it is important to create time and space for the possibility of change. You may be familiar with the concept of “developing a practice”.  This is an often touted and important technique for improvement in which you replace old patterns by deliberately implementing certain behaviors in your life that positively support you.

Often neglected when recommending a new practice is the concept of readiness. Before you can successfully sustain a positive practice and affect real change, you must first be ready.  Readiness requires more than a desire for change, more than a conscious effort to change, and more than a strategic plan.  Because our spiritual and emotional being defies logic, you cannot force underlying change by using your will. You can make behavior modifications that are inherently positive and still find yourself bedeviled a repeating pattern that looks different on the surface, but holds you back in the same way you were held back by previous behaviors. You can work really hard to make change, but it may seem like your subconscious is constantly kicking you in the behind.

The problem is not our inability to change. We have not been magically cursed to repeat destructive patterns over and over. The problem is similar to that of trying to solve a complex math problem without following the correct order of operations. In math, we get an unexpected and undesired result.  In life, we often find ourselves stuck. So how do we create readiness? What does that process look like?

Readying is a process of letting go. No more squaring your shoulders in defiance. No more fighting what is or things you can’t control. No more hanging onto anything in the past you’ve allowed to define you. Ultimately, it’s like turning over to float on your back after swimming really hard against the current.  Readying positions you to rest, regroup, and reallocate your resources. Also like floating on your back, it places your heart in a position of openness and allows you to be supported and cradled by the softness of the elements around you that moments before felt like your mortal enemy.

Letting go makes the emotional space for new behaviors to take root. When you let go of pain, you make room for joy. When you let go of your story, you create the possibility of writing a new one. When you let go of your parents’ expectations, you can focus on participating in events that feed and nourish rather than drain you. When you let go of comparison, you create room for compassion. When you let go of anger, pain, grief, and loss, you make room for peace, contentment, beauty, and wholeness.

Imagine that clearing your internal space looks like someone came into a cluttered room (perhaps one from your childhood or a recurring dream), removed all the old mementos, clothes that no longer fit, used bandages, broken furniture, and flaking paint, then gave you back a perfectly clean room with primed walls and an unlimited budget to decorate in any way you’d like at any pace that feels good. Even better than that, imagine that no matter how you decorate the room, anyone who sees it at any point will see the beauty that you’re expressing with your choices. Just like the space in this imaginary room, when our internal clutter is gone we begin with a clean open space from which to showcase our true internal beauty.

Once you are ready, you will be able to implement practices to support you as you develop stronger boundaries, release your fears, and use your courage to live in a way that reduces stress and improves your health. There is no certain point in the readying process that can be designated as more “ready” than any other point. This journey is unique for all of us. You will know when you have created enough space to let in more joy. You will allow yourself to face your demons as you become strong enough to face them. You will increasingly be able to embrace your fear and learn to accept it as a positive part of the full range of emotion. The specifics of the journey are not important.  A commitment to the journey is critical.

Why is commitment important? Commitment is critical because letting go, again like floating on your back and facing the sun, comes with the necessity of allowing light into our darkest corners. It will sometimes feel burning hot and so unbearable that we’ll momentarily revert back to our old habits. At these moments, commitment will save us from drowning and permanently reverting to old behaviors.

Why is the process important? Because what we’re doing is not working. Pressuring ourselves into “healthy” behaviors still registers as additional stress in our bodies. Taking the edge off by never sitting still, working too much, shopping, eating too much, using alcohol, pharmaceuticals, or illegal drugs is not making us healthier or giving us richer, fuller, more connected lives.

We are doing the best we know how, trying as hard as we can, and desperately hoping for relief while our quality of life, health, and life expectancy decreases. With commitment and courage, we can change our path. We can become more healthy, connected, and whole. We can encourage each other, support each other, and value the contribution we make by sharing our true selves with the world.

The journey will take courage. It will look messy. We will feel exposed. It will take time. It will not be easy.  But it will give us back our lives, our personal power, and our health. The power for change lies within us all. It is time to ready ourselves.

 

 

(1)Armour, Stephanie of Bloomberg News. “Americans Sicker, Die Earlier than Global Peers.” Arkansas Democrat Gazette [Little Rock, Arkansas] 10 Jan. 2013, A National News sec.: 6a. Print.

 

If you have suffered trauma and have a problem sitting still, you may want to pick up a copy of “Waking The Tiger” by Dr. Peter Levine.

For assistance with releasing the fears that hold you back, try the tools in “Fearless Living” or “Change Your Life in 30 Days: A Journey to Finding Your True Self” by Rhonda Britten.

January 1, 2013

Stop Struggling! Start THRIVING!

Good morning and Happy New Year!

Christmas

My cousin who's been thriving for 92 years!

What a great day to become more aware of ourselves and our relationship to our lives! Did you awaken this morning rested, smiling, and excited about the possibilities today brings? Are you looking forward to the Rose Parade, a good bowl game, and dining on black-eyed peas and greens while still in your pjs, or are you feeling hung-over, angry over the hardships of last year, and annoyed that you won’t be able to eat whatever you want today because your health requires limitations?

Do you feel content or dissatisfied? 

Are you too busy or numb to even know how you feel?

I will admit it would be easier to force a smile, make the usual list of resolutions to be ignored, growl over every healthy choice as though it’s deprivation and have a glass of wine to take the edge off.  Perhaps you can even reward yourself with dessert tonight since you skipped the doughnuts this morning. After all, that’s the norm, right?

Unfortunately, it’s a norm that’s often reinforced by our surroundings, our friends, our families, and the media. And there’s a certain amount of comfort in conforming to the norm.  If we fit the mold, conventional wisdom tells us, then we’ll be seen as “good”, acceptable, and lovable. Yet many of us work hard, perform well, do what’s expected only to spend most of our time feeling as though we’re pushing ourselves from one struggle to the next. We do not feel more loved or more joyous.

How can we stop struggling? By controlling our circumstances, right? 

If removing struggle is predicated on controlling our environment, we will always be fighting our surroundings, feeling angry and dissatisfied that we never seem to get ahead.  If it’s not one thing, it’s another.  We may believe that we can be masters of our own destiny, but we cannot control our spouse, our boss, the reckless driver who hits our car, or the tornado that hits our home. We can do everything right and life will still present us with challenges over which we have no control. The longer we choose to fight, the longer we choose to struggle. If we struggle long enough, we will drown any possible joy under the weight of perceived difficulties.

Like the drowning swimmer, we believe that fighting to keep our head above water is the way to preserve ourselves. Like the drowning swimmer, we must calm ourselves and allow our surroundings to buoy us in order to survive.

By now, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy. That’s okay with me. I cannot control you. Not only that, I don’t want to. I do want you to stop struggling and start living!

How can you do that? 

First, recognize that it will be a process. There’s no quick fix for a lifelong struggler.

Next, develop practices that support the process. You’ll need these for reinforcement when fear stands in your way.

Third, begin to recognize the preconceived ideas with which you filter life experience. Get curious about how another point of view may feel and allow yourself to experience that difference without expectation regarding the outcome.

Fourth, let go of your protective persona in order to allow your authentic self to be known. This will require setting boundaries and making choices. With good boundaries for protection, you can begin to open yourself to receiving. This is the environment in which real connections begin. 

Fifth, step into your personal power.  You must be present to win!  Experiencing personal power is all about being present.

Sixth, practice, practice, practice. Note the experiences that make you feel more whole, connected, encouraged, supported, and joyous. Repeat those experiences when you can.  Visualize them when repetition is not available. (Here are a view visualization possibilities for me.)

Pancakes

cooking

waterfallSeventh, acknowledge and appreciate the experiences you note. Revel in these positives with the same amount of energy you previously devoted to struggle. 

Eighth, acknowledge and appreciate yourself.

Ninth, acknowledge and appreciate others. 

Tenth, sit still, do nothing, be, be, be. You are enough. When you know you’re enough, you will live a full life and make a great contribution. When you know you’re enough, you will make healthy choices. We like to call that thriving!

Is all of this easier said than done? Of course it is. But feeling better is worth it and we’ll be here to feed and nourish you along the way.

 

Happy New Year!