The Impermanence of life

It’s darker in the morning when I get up, and the sun is setting earlier each day. Despite the warmth of this year’s autumn, we are now deeply immersed in the change from summer to Fall. It’s in the air, it’s in the changes of the light, and it impacts our moods.

This past week, in my counseling room, many clients voiced the impact of these changes. Some spoke of how much harder it is to get up in the morning. Some noticed a pronounced change in their mood towards the lower end of the spectrum. Still others voiced how they were struggling more with a lack of motivation to do the things they would like to do.

Fall has this way of smacking us in the face with the reality of the impermanence of life. All life comes to an end. Not only that, but, change is inevitable, each moment we are in is different from the one before it, and, the illusion of permanence causes suffering.

I’ve never been a big fan of Fall, and, I think much of it has to do with the realities mentioned above. It brings to bear this basic truth that nothing is permanent. Mindfulness meditation has helped me to be more present, and helps in adjusting to the changes through an awareness of reality, and a less reactive response. A conscious awareness by training the brain to bring attention to the sensations of the body,  with body scanning meditation, re-wires the brain to deal with the inevitability of change.

And even without the practice of a body scan meditation, the plain fact of awareness can help us cope with change. In one group this week, a member voiced her experience of  a lower mood without any clear reason. Others chimed in with similar stories. Once we shared about the change of season and how this often impacts mood, the group member had a bit of an “aha” moment and harkened back through life to remember that this happens each Fall and it is a reality to be aware of, adjusted to, and with that, hopefully, a better chance to embrace the change.

One way we embrace the change of Fall in our household is with the celebration of the foods we love when the crisp coolness fills the autumn air. Adelina taught me her ragù alla bolognese recipe. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the details came in over time as she released new ingredients through the years.  I think I have all the details because it  has been quite awhile since she added one. Click here to read about it and find the recipe. I make it and freeze it in portions for a quick comforting meal. We enjoy each moment of change in the seasons of life.

Buon appetito!

Making a habit

I’ve been practicing yoga for about 19 years. It was my New Year’s resolution in 1999, and I have kept up since. I started at home with a small deck of yoga cards. I continued with video’s. Later, I went to the local Y where, every Sunday, I learned from Julie. I continued my practice at home on other days of the week. Over these years, I also went on yoga retreats to Kripalu in Western Massachusetts. Now, I practice at home with an app on my phone and I go to a 6 o’clock Friday morning class with Jerry. 

You might say that I have discipline. I don’t see it that way. Yes, the ability to follow through with diligent effort is helpful at the beginning stages, but, it’s more about habit-forming. . . the rest is routine. Lately, I’ve been doing some reading about Kundalini yoga and learned that in this tradition, it takes “40 days to break a habit, 90 days installs a new habit, 120 days encodes the habit” (Rattana, 2017). I have been able to create and sustain habits that I enjoy and that make me feel real good!

The Kundalini yoga teaching goes on to say that “1000 days leads to mastery”. To me, this simply means that my yoga practice is more developed today than on that first day in January of 1999 with the small deck of yoga cards. This is probably true with any habit, and, perhaps why some of the routines we formed from childhood stay with us so well into adulthood. . . we have “mastered” them over all these years. This could also contribute to the challenge of breaking and creating new habits today.

Marco has been working hard to master the science and art of a creamy risotto where the texture of each rice kernel is felt in the teeth, or, “al dente“. Let’s call him our risotto yogi and learn some of the secrets he has learned. This particular risotto, with sausage and roasted pumpkin, tastes “mastered”. Two tips in particular make the difference. The first is that he doesn’t want the sausage to overpower the delicate flavor of the pumpkin. So, he asks the butcher to grind some pork butt, and then simply marinates it with olive oil, garlic, white wine, and spices to make a delicately flavored meat. The second is in the use of a fresh pumpkin that he roasts and then purée. 

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • half of a yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups carnaroli rice (or arborio)
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 4-5 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 cup of ground pork (olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, sage, 3 Tbs white wine)
  • 1 cup of pumpkin purée (not from a can)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter

Ahead of time:

  • roast a half of a small pumpkin by rubbing with olive oil and roasting in a 400° oven for 40-50 minutes
  • remove the skin and purée the pumpkin in a food processor
  • marinate the ground pork for 3-4 hours or over night

Process:

  1. sauté chopped onions in olive oil until soft, but not brown (8 minutes)
  2. add rice and sauté for 5 more minutes stirring often
  3. add wine and let it boil off
  4. add 1 ladle of chicken stock and cook the rice slowly
  5. as the chicken stock dries out, add more broth until rice is cooked (about 10-15 minutes)
  6. add one more ladle of broth with the sausage and let simmer until it evaporates
  7. add the pumpkin purée and stir
  8. add the butter and stir
  9. spoon onto serving plates 

Buon appetito!

Carbonara with a twist

We just spent an enjoyable weekend with our friend’s from Montreal. We tried real hard to make a trade with them. . . their Justin (with his colorful socks) for our Donald (with his colorful face), but we couldn’t quite convince them! It just seems so nice to have a leader in Justin Trudeau who practices all the good messages we learned in kindergarten. . . like sharing, not hitting, cleaning up your own mess, living a balanced life, holding hands, and sticking together (Robert Fulgham).

They also shared some of their thoughts about why  they became vegetarians and often consider becoming vegan. Most of these have to do with the mass production of food and the impact this has on the animals, the resulting food product, and the planet itself. For instance, I never knew that the egg industry routinely puts all the male chicks in high-speed grinders like a wood chipper to suffer a painful death (Huffington Post, 2017). The egg industry states that they will end this practice by 2020 through the use of new technology that will determine the sex of an embryo before hatching.

Marco and I stopped eating mass-produced red meat about 12 years ago for some of the same reasons. While we are open to eating an animal raised on a local farm where there is an ecosystem created for balance and sustainability, the mass production of cows inevitably leads to overuse of land, cruelty to animals, and waste products that negatively impact the environment. All of this information can be overwhelming, but gives me pause to reflect on the choices we make with our food, and how to live together on the planet, sharing, sticking together, and living a balanced live.

Recently, one different choice we made, was to make a spaghetti alla carbonara. . . but a meat-less version. Instead of using the pancetta, we made it with sautéed zucchini and shallots. The finished product still has the rich eggy creamy sauce, and, includes the wonderful flavor combination of the zucchini and shallots that we love together on our house made pizza (click here for that recipe). 

Ingredients:

  1. 10 oz. of Spaghetti
  2. sea salt for the pasta water
  3. 3 eggs
  4. 1/3 cup of grated Grana Padano (or Parmesan)
  5. salt and pepper to taste
  6. 2 plus tablespoons of olive oil
  7. 3-4 small zucchini cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  8. 3 small shallots, diced

Process:

  1. start the pasta water, add a generous amount of sea salt and cook the pasta al dente (click here to see more about salting the water)
  2. while the pasta is cooking, sauté the zucchini and shallots in the olive oil
  3. whisk the eggs together
  4. add salt, pepper, and the grated cheese
  5. when the pasta is close to being done, add the pasta by straining from the water into the pan of pancetta (while keeping the pan on low heat)
  6. stir all together, adding a bit of the starchy water (from the spaghetti pot – if needed – you don’t want it watery, but the starchy water can help to thicken the sauce – if unsure, try without adding any water)
  7. pour the egg mixture over the spaghetti and stir right away
  8. you want to get a nice creamy consistency without letting the egg cook too much!
  9. plate and enjoy!

Buon appetito!

Keep moving! …till you sleep

Biking on Governor’s Island, New York

In recent years, I’ve delved into a study of sleep, and, in particular, a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach to working on insomnia. One of the things I learned is the importance of the wakefulness system (Say Goodnight to Insomnia, Jacobs, 2009). Simply put, what we do when we are awake has a direct impact on the sleep we get at night. For example, when our eyes see the light from the sun in the morning the melatonin is turned off. Then, when the sun sets, melatonin is produced again to promote sleep. In addition, the activity level of the day promotes sleep. So, a day of desk sitting or couch potato t.v. watching will not stress and tire the body enough to facilitate a good nights sleep.

A physically active day will tire the body so that it is ready for sleep at night. This is common sense. Our bodies are made to be active throughout the day. If we look back in evolutionary time, we were hunting and gathering, walking and moving, physically exerting ourselves throughout much of time. . . until recent history with the development of the car, t.v., computers, our smart phones, elevators, and so much more of the modern world that keeps us from the simple act of moving our bodies.

Now, many of us have sedentary days even while at work. We sit in chairs in front of computers. We sit in cars on our way to work. We stand on floors that move up to the heights of our office levels. And we touch buttons to bring things to us. 

The “B” in the CBT treatment for insomnia is the behavioral piece. (The “C” or thinking piece deserves it’s own post).These are the lifestyle changes we can make to ensure a good night’s sleep. They have to do with avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. It includes environmental changes like keeping the bed and the bedroom only for sleep and sex or eliminating electronics from our bedrooms. And, lest we forget, it includes keeping the movement in our day to day lives. This can be things like the 10,000 steps that fit bit folks strive for, or taking the steps instead of the elevator, parking further away on purpose to promote more walking, and a regular workout routine.

Buonanotte!