Road trip recovery

My dog, Sofie, curled up in the backseat of a car
Sofie happily snuggled in the backseat

The past month has been all about road-tripping. We’ve been through seven countries and driven more than 5,000km since the middle of September (my husband’s time in the car has been even longer and he’s hit an additional country!). While travelling has been fantastic (and Sofie loves being in a car!), hours in the passenger seat have taken a toll on me; my low back is sore, my hips are tight, and my shoulders are hunching.

I had a couple car-free days earlier this week and I knew yoga would help me feel better, but was feeling really lazy and unmotivated. Thank goodness for the wonder of YouTube!

Yoga with Adriene logoA quick search for ‘yoga for low back pain’ turned up a short sequence from Yoga With Adriene that looked promising.

15 minutes on the mat relieved a lot of the tension in my low back and prompted me to do another sequence with Adriene. Turns out she has a whole series of free online yoga practices!

I like Adriene’s relaxed, friendly, unscripted style. Her slight rambling and occasional diversions remind me of a good friend and overall Adriene seems approachable and very real. It’s also great to follow someone else’s sequence rather than thinking about what’s coming next!

While Sofie really looks forward to road trips (she’s small enough to stretch fully in a car!), I’m happy to have almost two weeks off before our next car adventure. Plenty of time to try a few more of Adriene’s sequences 🙂

Christmas comes early

Christmas chocolate display that went up in SeptemberMost Novembers I’m annoyed with retailers who slap up Christmas decorations and promote holiday merchandise the second Halloween is over. Turns out Canadian stores are more patient than German ones.

The Christmas treats and product displays started appearing in Munich’s stores in September – before Oktoberfest even started! Festbier (the strong brews created to celebrate Oktoberfest) and Lebkuchen (gingerbread-like Christmas cookies) have been side-by-side on the shelves of our local supermarket for weeks and no one seems to think it strange.

At least I haven’t seen department store Santas yet and the shopping malls haven’t started with the fake greenery, shiny ornaments, and holiday music! And the Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas markets) won’t be open until the last weekend of November – long after the Oktoberfest tents have been dismantled 🙂

Book overboard

Bookcase with 'begone writing guilt' textI came back from the yoga retreat in the Czech Republic feeling relaxed and happy. Maybe a little too relaxed as my drive to write entirely disappeared.

The perfect balance of scheduled activities and free time at the retreat left me a lot of thinking space, which included pondering my ambition to write a book. I’ve been mulling over writing about breath and breathing from a variety of perspectives,1 but haven’t buckled down and gotten much of anything done.

No solid outline, nothing drafted, just a bit of research, some scattered ideas, and a few bookmarked websites. My initial goal was to have an outline complete by the end of 2013, but almost 10 months have passed and I have found all sorts of other activities to occupy my time.

With the space to think about my nebulous dream to write a non-fiction book as enjoyable and informative as Mary Roach’s Stiff, I realized that I don’t have the necessary ambition – at least, not right now. I’m unwilling to muster the motivation and discipline to make it happen, which is making me feel guilty and delinquent. Those feelings, in turn, make me less willing to commit to writing and less likely to produce anything meaningful.

So, I’m tossing the idea of writing a book overboard. I’m abandoning my thesis on breath and breathing… and letting go of guilt.

Perhaps I’ll circle back to the idea of writing a book later on, but for now I’ll content myself with posting travelogues and recipes!

 

 

 

1 Possible perspectives on breath and breathing:

  • physical – drawing on my own experiences with blocked breathing and nasal surgery
  • spiritual – informed by my religious studies and yoga background
  • athletic – tapping a network of athletic experts and high-level athletes for insight

‘Currant’ conditions

Three currant lemon muffins and some currantsMunich is rainy today and I’m feeling a little down; the perfect conditions for snuggling with a dog, reading a book, and noshing on homemade baking. Sofie’s got the cuddling taken care of, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is at the ready, and I’ve just pulled muffins out of the oven.

This is a modification of the world’s easiest vegan muffin recipe, adapted for what I had on hand. It’s not longer vegan, but still super-easy!

Fresh or frozen blueberries could easily stand in for the currants and subbing in orange juice and zest would be delicious. Cranberries would also work well.

Red currant & lemon muffins

Ingredients

  • 120ml (1/2 cup) milk
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) apple juice
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 240g (2 cups) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150g (1 cup) fresh red currants
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest

Method

  • Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F) and prepare 12 cup muffin pan (using paper or silicone liners or greasing with oil or butter)
  • Mix together milk, juice, oil, and egg with a whisk or a fork
  • In a separate bowl, combine flour, half the sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt
  • Add liquid mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined (a few lumps are better than overmixing)
  • In a small bowl, combine currants, remaining sugar, and zest
  • Fold fruit mixture into batter
  • Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full
  • Bake 15 – 20 minutes or until lightly browned and firm to the touch

Sofie looking comfy

Now to make a cup of tea and convince Sofie to share her comfy spot!

Permission to be yourself

You need no one's permission to be yourself.While at an isolated yoga retreat, I read an article in Quartz about a three-day work week. In this very business-focused publication was a gem that fit in perfectly with all the self-help peace-love-and-happiness philosophy that a yoga retreat implies:

You need no one’s permission to be yourself.

Mohit Satyanand
Entrepreneur, mountain-dweller, actor

At least in this instance, the business and spiritual worlds agree: discover who you are and don’t let anyone prevent you from being true to that.

Peace peace peace

Peace peace peace on turquoise butterfly backgroundHaving just returned from an amazing week with a group of students in the Prana Yoga College Teacher Training program, I’m feeling very much at peace right now. But it’s hard not to feel peaceful when every day starts with three hours of breathing exercises and yoga postures – the challenge is keeping that serenity afterwards!

Thankfully, I can still hear Shakti closing each daily class with a chant: ‘Ohm. Shanti shanti shanti. Om; peace peace peace.” Shanti means peace in Sanskrit and it’s no mistake that the concept is repeated at the end of each session.

With every yoga practice, Shakti tries to bring a sense of peace to each student. Her style of classical hatha yoga aims to bring stillness in every posture, meditation throughout the sequence, and a deeply calm mind.

That quiet mind seems to be the goal of every style of meditation. Whether you prefer a silent Zen style or an active Kundalini version, the point of meditation is to get your brain to shut up. To find peace within your own thoughts.

Global Meditation for Peace - 8 August 2014

Despite no longer doing a guided yoga practice with Shakti every morning, there are still resources to guide me towards peacefulness. The Chopra Centre’s Global Meditation for Peace hopes to inspire peace through thousands of people meditating at the same time on 8 August 2014. Although 8 August is almost over and I’m too late to join the Chopra Centre’s event… it’s never too late  for peaceful meditation!

With the sound of the teacher training group chanting “Peace, peace, peace” echoing in my mind, I wish you all quiet thoughts.

May you find peace within yourself that will help overcome strife. And may that peace spread and help quell conflicts throughout the world.

Shanti shanti shanti.

The sweetest sour

Three different bourbon soursThe weather this summer has been all over the place. Scorchingly hot, pelting with rain, muggy and cloudy, thundering like mad, and just about everything in between. Thankfully, my favourite cocktail pairs well with all weather and all seasons!

I’m a big fan of bourbon sours and I think I’ve perfected the proportions: two parts booze (bourbon), one part sour (lemon juice), and one part sweet (simple syrup).

I like them with just about any bourbon, from pricier options (like Woodford Reserve, which might be my all-time favourite) or common duty-free finds (like the Jack Daniels currently in my cupboard), to relatively inexpensive bottles (like Jim Beam).

The secret to matching the sour to the season is in the garnish.

Summer, with its plethora of produce, calls for raspberries or blackberries, a few leaves of basil, or (best of all) the rummed cherries from the recipe below. Fresh cranberries or a slice of apple are perfect for autumn. While maraschino cherries, a twist of orange zest, or a slice of lemon carry the drink into winter. And spring means a sprig of mint, a wedge of grapefruit, or an early strawberry.

Amp up the impact of any garnish by including some with the liquids, letting it rattle around and infuse as the drink comes together, straining it out with the shaker ice, and then anointing the final product with a non-shaken specimen.

The process of making a bourbon sour is pretty standard:

  • Put a few cubes of ice in a shaker (or Tupperware container if your kitchen isn’t bar-focused)
  • Add two parts bourbon and one part each lemon juice and simple syrup – along with a flavour-enhancer if desired
  • Shake thoroughly and strain into a glass with a couple ice cubes
  • Garnish as seasonally appropriate or enjoy unadorned

I always add the bourbon to the ice first and let it chill while I juice the lemon and measure the simple syrup, but I suspect there’s no wrong order – I just love the smell of bourbon when it hits the ice!

Freshly squeezed lemon juice is essential. Use room temperature lemons and roll them on the counter first to help release the juice. Then squeeze like the dickens. Do not use purchased lemon juice (like RealLemon) or, god forbid, bar lime (aka lime cordial). I once ordered a bourbon sour at a bar and it came out bright green – turns out bar lime was to blame. Ick.

The simple syrup really is simple to make:

  • Pour a cup of white sugar into a clean jar
  • Add a cup of very hot water
  • Slap on the lid and give it a mix
  • Let sit until the sugar is fully dissolved – shaking a few times
  • Store in the fridge

Making the rummed cherries is just about as easy… pitting the cherries is the hard part!

Rummed cherries

Ingredients

  • 50g (1/2 cup) soft brown sugar
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) water
  • 50ml (1 & 2/3 oz) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • Half a vanilla pod, scored
  • 450g (1 pound) sweet cherries
  • 250ml (1 cup) rum (amber or dark work best)

Method

  • Wash and pit cherries (cursing as cherry juice splatters everywhere)
  • In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except cherries and rum and bring to boil; when liquid begins to boil, reduce heat to a light simmer
  • Add cherries and simmer for 5 minutes
  • Remove from heat and add rum
  • Transfer cherries to jars and cool completely at room temperature, about 2 hours
  • Refrigerate up to 2 weeks (they’ve never lasted beyond a weekend in my fridge!)

The cherries are a fantastic boozy topping for ice cream, an excellent garnish for drinks beyond sours (like piña coladas), and great paired with anything chocolate. The liquor makes a wonderful cocktail when mixed with a splash of vodka (or vanilla vodka for a sweeter concoction) and topped up with sparkling water.

Some drinks only seem appropriate at certain times of the year (like piña coladas on tropical vacations or rum and eggnog at Christmas), but I find a bourbon sour is perfect regardless of the season! They’re pretty simple to make, fun to garnish, and easy to drink… sometimes maybe a little too easy!