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Friday, October 31, 2008

Raw Foods, Real People, and Cold Weather

Dear Ones --

I made a mistake last night -- ate homemade beef stroganoff w/ noodles for dinner. It tasted great, was filling on a cool autumn evening, and was SO not right for my body! Not that I felt "wrong" this morning -- just -- not so "right." There is a feeling that we get when we eat the right foods, at the right time -- we feel "lighter and brighter." And this wasn't it.

So I promised myself that today would be -- at least mostly -- a "raw foods" day.

Perhaps I'm inspired by finding the Raw Divas's website last night. That was a nice treat! A whole lot of advertising and promo-blather, but their hearts are in the right place, and if you read and click far enough / long enough, you do come across some useful (free!) information.

And before going further -- a brief pitch for my fave raw-food read; Raw Food, Real World. Co-authors and raw foods restauranteers Matthew Kenney and Sarma Melngailis both motivate and inspire with their youthful and bouyant energy, and delightful recipes. (A word of warning: Their suggestions are rarely for those short on time, and some of the most interesting options require both a dehydrator and substantial advance preps. Barring that, the pictures and recipes are inspiring and might get some of us "over the hump" of having to devote extra time.)

As a sidebar, now that people are getting much smarter about intermet marketing "methods," it becomes progressively difficult to wade through sites that are mostly promo-pages, with a whole lot of fluff, and very little behind them. MOST of what you would desire to find can be obtained from your local library, for MUCH cheaper than the various e-books, e-zines, and other items hawked on the net.

For example, I recommend going to the library first for your raw-food reads. Take home a bunch of books, load up on the most attractive and vibrant fruits, greens, and veggies you can get from either a farmer's market or your most trusted food store, and find out what you REALLY do over the next week or so. A week or two in the "real world" of your own kitchen will let you connect ambition with reality. Then, and ONLY then, decide on what books you REALLY need for your long-term private libary, and what internet thing you REALLY must download, at the cost of pulling out your credit card.

That little diatrabe aside, back to raw foods -- something that we dancers all need, because they deliver high-quality energy, especially if done right.

I'll admit to being motivated -- at least in part -- by reading about fashion designer Donna Karan's experience Donna Karan's experience with a raw-foods diet. She both lost weight AND improved her energy level! Donna was mentored in her new approach by Jill Pettijohn, live-foods advocate and chef.

But, as the Karan article notes, not all of us can afford live-in chefs.

In the "real world" in which many of us live, we have two challenges when it comes to increasing the raw/live ratio of foods:

  1. Finding the time in the first place -- the big challenge for all of us, and I'll address it in a minute, and
  2. Now that it's cold, the LAST thing we want are a bunch of cold, raw veggies. Most of the time, we can scarcely get excited about them in the summer -- but who wants cold and raw when that's exactly what we face when we go outdoors?

The time challenge first -- because that is often the biggest stickler in our lives, and with holidays coming up, the last thing we need to do is to make our lives more complicated.

I have found, through sad experience, that going to the farmer's market is an uplifting and inspiring event -- so inspiring that I will often come home with MUCH more than I can use in the reasonable future. What is worse, I too often have not "connected the dots." Between the joyous and exuberant sensory stimulus of all these wonderful fresh market things and the actual act of eating these lovely items, there is some necessary preparation. And left to my own devices, such preparation gets postponed indefinately ... until I wind up chucking those once-lovely veggies that have gone well past their "use-by" date.

There are three steps that I've found that help me get on track, and stay on track, with the veggie-intensive approach to living. Because they work well for me, they might also work for you!

(1) Have something of an action plan before going to the food store / farmer's market. I'm not saying that you need to be rigid -- but put things together in your mind before you shop. For example, if you've checked the weather, and know it will be cold, windy, and rainy, you know that you will want something warm. Something that will SMELL good when you come into the house. Think about how you want to nourish yourself emotionally and sensually as well as physically.

Think also about your time-plan for the week ahead. Will you be coming home tired and late, and just want to eat and relax? Then you know you need at least one crockpot meal. Will you have an evening where you'll come home, have a half hour or so, leave for an hour and a half, and then come back for dinner? Then think about something that can do a slow-bake in the back of the oven.

As you form up your major strategies, think through how you're going to use your leftovers -- what you want to make in extra quantities so that you have plenty for lunch or dinner later in the week. Now -- the "raw" part: Around these time constraints, factor in where and how you'll add in the "raw foods" (or those given a bare-minimal saute). Sometimes this will happen, sometimes not.

Add this to your knowledge of what is seasonal, what feels good to you right now, make a mental list and/or jot down a few notes. If you're thinking about shopping at a Saturday morning farmer's market, take time Thursday or Friday evening to look through your recipe books to see what inspires you. Make note of any special ingredients, and try to pick them up on the way home from work -- so that you don't expend valuable weekend time on extra shopping.

Next -- and this is a big one -- plan on taking at least twice as much time for your "food shopping adventure" as usual. When you get home, and AS YOU UNPACK (except for getting the things that need to be cold into the fridge), prep your foods before you stash them.

For example: If you buy onions and mushrooms, with the intention of folding them into three or four different dishes over the week, cut up the onions right away, and start sauteing them in olive oil or butter. While they start to brown, cut up your mushrooms, throw them in. Then store your pre-cooked onion-mushroom mixture, not the "raw" raw ingredients. (Yes, I know this post is about raw foods. We draw the line at raw onions. Raw onions do not enhance intimacy later in the day.)

If you bring home a cauliflower, pull off the leaves, and cut out the core. If you know that you want cauliflower "florets," cut a bunch of them NOW, while the thing is in front of you.

This takes time. The benefit is that you increase your likelihood of actually using and eating these wonderful foods!

Third point -- all on the "time-challenge" end of things. In some areas, you'll be better off buying things that are at least semi-pre-prepped. For example, you might buy a package of cut-up butternut squash pieces. Saving yourself fifteen minutes is worth the extra expense. You be the judge.

Now, on to the REAL challenge. It's winter. We want warm, rich foods. Not cold salads.

Step 1: We can tolerate a fair bit of raw if it is cut up small and covered in a nice, rich sauce. This is NOT a time for fat-free! (Such an idea is an insult to our system, especially in cold weather.) Remember that fats carry flavor, and fats carry fat-soluble (not water-soluble) nutrients. And we need both; the first nourishes our psyche, the latter our body.

So invest in good salad dressings, cut your veggies up small, and take both with you to the office, along with some easily-added protein -- a can of fish, or a little left-over salmon, or some of those pre-cooked chicken pieces. Add guacamole or raw pine nuts for a little extra richness and flavor, and you have a totally acceptable year-round meal. Perhaps a little soup, maybe a few crackers or nuts, and you're ok. Allow your raw-veggie salad to come to room temperature before eating; that will also help on a cold day.

Space your foods out during mid-day; a lot of our cravings come from system-crash when we push too long without nutrients.

Second, make it easy for yourself -- spout some nuts (yes, get raw nuts, such as almonds, and let them sit in water overnight -- then drain, and store in the fridge). Use these as a snack. Year-round, they give you not only the "raw," but the "live" food experience. Add sprouts to your salads / sandwiches; another easy way to get "live."

Sometimes we just need cooked foods -- some foods might be too dense to be enjoyed raw; brussels sprouts come to mind. Also the heavier winter squashes, and the denser and darker greens.

Sometimes, a little saute is all that is needed. Sometimes, we must do more.

Right now, I'm learning how much I need to cook foods in order to bring out their flavor, and make them enjoyable as well as nutritious.

I'll share my findings, and please -- feel free to post a (useful) comment -- especially, link us in to good books and recipes!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Great exercise to help with knee strength

Dear Ones --

This Sunday's (Oct. 19th, 2008) Parade magazine had a Special Report about Women's Health by Claudia Wallis. She opens with:

"When I ripped a ligament in my knee on a ski-slope last winter, I had no idea that I was joining a limping sisterhood. A torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) ranks among the most common sports-related knee injuries. But women are five to sevn times as likely as men to sustain this kind of athletic damage."

Ms. Wallis continues with an interview with Dr. Laura Tosi, director of the bone-health program at Children's Natioanl Medical Cneter in Washington, DC. Dr. Tosi, and studies that Ms. Wallis has read, point out that "girls tend to run, jump, and turn with straighter legs and less bending at the knees and hips than boys." This, and other factors, make us more susceptible to knee and other joint injuries.

Ms. Wallis is not alone in her experience of knee problems -- I have them myself, and so do some of my students. (The older we get, the more likely we are to have this as a problem area.)

In fact, one of my favorite dance teachers, Anahid Sofian in New York City, started learning belly dance on the recommendation of her physical therapist. In doing modern dance, she had overworked her knees, and was in pain. She sought help from her doctors, who then prescribed physical therapy. Her therapist recommended belly dance as a therapeutic exercise. She tried it, became entranced by the art form, and from there went on to become one of the world's leading choreographers and teachers in this area.

Fortunately for us, we can ALL use belly dance as a therapeutic exercise. The key ingredient that makes this work? We dance in a "bent-knee" posture. ALL of our movements involve keeping our knees just slightly bent. This means that:
1) We strengthen our thighs AND our abs (we need strong abs to make this work),
2) We lengthen our lower back, getting our pelvis to align straight with the floor -- this helps a LOT to release lower back tension!, and
3) We strengthen the muscles around our knees.

Belly dance is an ancient, beautiful, and sensual women's art form. It is very likely the oldest dance form on this planet, although other "native/folk" dances (e.g., Polynesian, African) could have started around the same time. Because belly dance is such an old art form, it is very aligned with how our bodies are naturally designed to move. (In contrast, more recent dance forms, such as ballet, are much more "artificial," and can actually produce joint damage.)

Our bodies were naturally designed to have - and work best when - we are in a posture where our pelvis is aligned with the floor, our knees are slightly bent (this helps with pelvic alignment), and our spine and neck are "lengthened" so that the top of our heads reaches towards the sky. This is the posture that we practise and use in belly dance.

This pelvic-aligned, bent-knee, spine-lengthened posture helps us be more naturally graceful and beautiful. (Not to mention, it gives the immediate impression of losing ten pounds!) With this as a framework, we create elegant and sensual movements -- all while being non-impact!

For those that would like to add a fun way to strengthen their bodies, and feel and look much better, belly dance would be a great exercise alternative!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Darlings -- reinstating our blog. Test run!