Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Magical Mystery Meal

We had a really amazing shabbat (sabbath) meal on Friday night. I made Indian food -- a real treat since there are no kosher-certified Indian restaurants anywhere near D.C., and because it's a nice departure from typical shabbat foods. I have never used as much fresh ginger in one meal as I used to make this one. Specifically, I made the following recipes:

Garden Vegetable Soup (ok, this is not Indian, but I didn't have it in me to make rasam): . I cut the olive oil in half, and omitted the corn and potatoes to keep this soup starch-free for my food plan. I also added a parsnip because I had one that needed to be used up. The leeks and lemon juice gave this soup an unanticipated freshness.

Indian Spiced Chicken: Because the laws of kashrut [Jewish dietary laws] forbid mixing milk and meat products, I substituted equal amounts of plain soy yogurt for the yogurt and plain, full-fat soy milk for the half-and-half. Having had Indian food consisting of meat cooked with dairy for much of my life, I can attest that by the time I added all of the wonderful seasonings, you honestly couldn't tell that I used soy products in my adaptation. I also substantially cut the honey in this recipe.

Chickpea curry: I used Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes, which Cook's Illustrated ranks as the best-tasting canned tomatoes. The garam masala spice blend is from Penzey's, an amazing spice company. My Orthodox rabbi told me their spices are acceptably kosher even without certification, because we verified that they do not use any drying agents, which are the chemicals that can pose a problem with the kashrut of spices. This does NOT apply to the Penzey's blends which have cheese, of course, but any straight herbs or spices, or regular spice blends, are fine, according to my rabbi. Yesss! If you are uncomfortable using Penzey's without certification, McCormick's Gourmet Collection includes garam masala, or you could make your own. Just remember to toast the spices in a hot, dry skillet or you will not get the taste you're looking for.

For my curry, I used fresh chick peas instead of canned. I've recently started using the bagged beans instead of canned to cut down on exposure to BPA, and I've found they are so much tastier and have a firmer, more pleasing texture than their canned counterparts. I cook a whole bag at once and then freeze any excess in individual portions, then defrost them as needed.

Additionally, we served basmati rice. Lydia made delicious challah, traditional Jewish egg bread, and David made his amazing home-made applesauce. Our guests also complemented the wines we served.

But beyond the food, the meal felt really special: we had two lovely guests visiting from New Jersey who contacted our shul [synagogue] for shabbat hospitality. You never know who's coming your way when you accept hospitality guests -- crazy and/or inappropriate guests do show up -- but these young women were really delightful and contributed meaningfully to the conversation. They were also superbly grateful, which was nice. The conversation was a nice balance of serious topics and humor.

Finally, I felt really good about the spiritual tenor of our shabbat meal. I lapsed into a bad habit of shabbat being a passive day where I observe all the restrictions of the day -- no phone, computer, driving, manipulating electricity, hard exercise, cooking, etc. -- but otherwise, shabbat had very little spiritual content. I'm trying to more actively observe shabbat, dwelling in the spirit of the day, really internalizing the spiritual rest that it is supposed to convey, and remembering that shabbat is a partnership with God. We (and all of our animals and "servants") rest because on shabbat, God rested from the work of creation. To that end, I'm trying to attend synagogue more regularly, although certainly NOT every week; nothing gives me pleasure like slipping back into bed with Kacy and the Washington Post after a leisurely breakfast on shabbat morning. Shul or not, I've committed to saying at least one liturgical prayer service over shabbat as part of my "put spirituality back in shabbat" campaign.

Another way I've tried to become more actively shabbat observant is by singing zemirot, shabbat songs, at our shabbat meals and by learning/talking more about the parsha. That's the weekly portion of the Hebrew bible, the Torah (aka "The Old Testament" -- a term I find objectionable because obviously it connotes that it has been supplanted by a newer testament) that we read at our synagogue. At the meal I'm writing about, we had a nice discussion about the parsha, and a meaningful broader discussion about the challenges and rewards of more actively observing shabbat, especially for busy professionals who are exhausted at the week's end and kinda eager to get through the ritual so they can crash or read.

All in all, it was a really special shabbat meal, and thinking about it makes me smile in the midst of what has been a challenging week due to an ethical conflict I'm navigating, and self-pity about my limitations caused by my Lyme Disease. Ironically, I ordered a pair of the warmest mittens I've ever worn from and they were delivered with an elaborate brochure, geared for Christian readers, urging them to more actively observe the sabbath. I think that the importance of a shabbat, whatever form it takes for you, is more relevant than ever in our fractured, multi-tasking, 24/7-connected world. Whatever your faith, I highly recommend it.

P.S. This post took me four days due to my disability -- now I see why!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Yamuna Body Rolling Is Amazing!

Sorry I've been silent lately; I've been super-busy, and due to the nerve damage from my Lyme Disease, I often don't have the physical ability to type after I go about my other, regular duties. By the way, most of the posts you read take me days to write, because I can't type for too long at a time. Anyway, I had a blog-worthy event happen on Tuesday that I wanted to share about. My brilliant acupuncturist, Michele Masset, is also a physical therapist and certified in a lot of other therapeutic techniques, including Yamuna Body Rolling (YBR). First, let me state what YBR is not: it is not the classes at the gym with people rolling around on Swiss balls or on foam rollers. YBR is the original small ball therapy using specially designed six- to ten-inch rubber balls to release muscular tension, improve flexibility, decompress the joints, increase range of motion, build core strength and help realign postural imbalances. This is a system for total body care that includes elements of rolfing, weight-bearing exercise, stretching, core strengthening, and neuromuscular reeducation. I think my experience Tuesday is testimony that YBR is a simple program with profound results.

The bottom, middle of my feet have been hurting badly lately. I'd seen my podiatrist, but like most of the time I leave a doctor's office, I felt like we were addressing the symptom, but not the cause. I was excited to see Michele, because she has so many different therapies she can draw from, and she has literally lived around the world learning best practices, and continues to take seminars around the world to further her education to better help her patients. Michele did a thorough physical therapy evaluation, and said it was no mystery why my feet were hurting: my arches are collapsed, which is making the muscles in my calves and butt work way overtime. The rest of the muscles in my legs are atonal, virtually floppy. This muscular/postural imbalance makes my knees turn inward, exacerbating the foot problems. Fortunately, she thinks YBR is perfect for this.

There are two main ways to do YBR on my legs. The first involves laying on my back on the floor with my rump bumping up against the couch, and my legs up on the couch. I put the YBR ball, which is inflatable to the desired pressure, under my calf just below the knee and slowly work my way down. Michele taught me how to apply pressure using the correct body rolling technique. The other method is to kneel, and put the ball on my calf and keep it there by applying pressure with the back of my thigh. Either way, it feels so good! I basically felt those muscles lengthen and unwind. We followed the YBR with stretching. One of the stretches we did has caused me excruciating pain in the past, but after rolling it didn't, because body rolling decompressed the muscles being stretched. We worked only on my left leg that day, so I could see the difference between it and my right one, and it was profound. Not only did my left leg feel open, longer, and more relaxed, it actually looked different -- my left knee was facing forward, correctly aligned, while my right one remained turned inward. It was such a dramatic and amazing thing, I had to call my husband and tell him about this after I left. For those of you wondering, of course I bought a ball so I could treat my right leg at home, and I've been using it!

The other part of my new regimen is to use the YBR Foot Wakers pictured at the top of this post. A few months ago, I took one of the monthly lunchtime YBR foot classes that Michele holds regularly. Instead of using regular YBR balls, you use the Wakers, which stay flat on the floor and are covered in little nubbins. Standing on these is intense, no doubt about it; my house guest tried and said, "I thought those would be cuddly and comfortable, but they hurt!" The intensity is necessary to open and relax those neglected and cramped bones, muscles, and connective tissues in your feet. Although they're intense, the Wakers are tolerable, and are made easier by the YBR technique's emphasis on relaxing into the balls while exhaling. Michele told me using my wakers every day will go a long way toward improving the underlying foot problems that are causing my imbalance and the resulting pain.

Although I bemoan the lack of holistic health care options in our area compared to the West Coast, I am so very grateful to live in a city with more holistic options than most places east of Oregon. Practitioners like Michele, and my massage therapist, Gail Messier (who also uses some alternative, very effective techniques), really make my life manageable by offering some tangible relief from pain.

If you're someone who has any ongoing physical problems, or if you just want to free muscular restriction caused by stress, improve bone density, and rebalance your body, I'd definitely encourage you to check out YBR. The Web site I linked to above has a directory of trained practitioners around the world. I just commented to my husband that this post sounds almost sales-like and gimmicky, but I really am that enthused about this. I promise it's my natural enthusiasm, not a paid endorsement!