Spicy Crispy Okra (for Okra Haters)

Creative Commons Image via Wikipedia

It’s pretty amazing how my palate has changed over the past two years of following a Nutritarian diet.  Not only have I learned new preparation techniques, I have learned to prepare foods I have never eaten before.  It has been an enjoyable and enlightening process of discovery.

I also love to cook for others. I want the food to be so delicious that people aren’t thinking to themselves, “This is weird,” or “What’s in it?” both of which are just code for “Is there some kind of meat in this somewhere?” or “Am I going to be disappointed?”  I don’t beat people over the head with my food philosophy or lifestyle. I’d rather wow them with delicious food and make them curious enough to ask about it.

One food I never thought I would eat is okra. Tough, slimy, totally gross, NO NO NO I am totally not going there. No gumbo for me. Fried okra was still, well, okra, and the slime was always lurking. But recently, I accidentally ate okra at a restaurant and could not believe how delicious it was! I’ll share my recipe below. Sorry, there is no photo — we ate it all too fast to think about documentation!

The encouragement I would offer to anyone is to keep trying foods that are new to you, and be willing to experiment with different ways of preparing those foods.  Previously, I had tried okra boiled (yuck), fried (yuck), stewed (double yuck), and sneaked into soups and stews (yuck, pick that stuff out).  Modeled on the restaurant version, I created a dish that requires no added oil, sugar, salt, or animal products.  This is a new favorite, like a “we’re having this once a week” favorite. All this from a (previously) confirmed okra-hater!

I don’t really do recipes, as such, but if you are a little bit adventurous, you can try this process.

INGREDIENTS:
1 bag of frozen sliced okra,(12-16 oz.) thawed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 Tablespoon garam masala
2 Tablespoons chickpea flour

Now, don’t worry. You can combine any spices you like. You could use a tablespoon of chili powder, or more, to taste. Garam masala is my favorite Indian spice blend, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t use curry powder or some other blend. Adjust the spices to your taste. Go easy on the spices if you are not sure: you can always add more. I like chickpea flour because I don’t do well with wheat.  I haven’t experimented with other non-wheat flours, but I think corn meal would also work well.

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Thaw the okra in a colander or strainer. When it is thawed, wrap the okra in a dishtowel and get it as dry as you can. It will still feel kind of slimy, but it shouldn’t be drippy. As dry as possible (but don’t make yourself crazy).

Put the okra into a large bowl.  Add the spices and combine well. Another way to do this is to put the okra and spices into a 1 gallon zipper bag, and shake/massage until the okra pieces are pretty evenly coated with the spice mixture. When it looks like the pieces are evenly spices, add the chickpea flour and combine again. Add a little more of the flour if needed, just so that the pieces are no longer sticking together.

Transfer the coated okra to a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until crispy, keep an eye on it. It will take 45-60 minutes, depending on how hot your oven is and how dry the okra is. Turn the okra on the sheet to promote equal cooking, and to feel how crispy they are getting. If you don’t like okra, don’t taste it until it is crispy, because otherwise you will still taste the qualities of okra that we don’t like.

If you use fresh okra, the cooking time will be much shorter, because you are starting out with a drier product. Keep an eye and a nose on it — your home will start to smell fantastic, and your mouth will be watering.

The two vital elements of this process are : 1) make the okra as dry as possible before you add the spices, and 2) cook it until it is crispy. When you turn them, you will hear the sound of “hard things” on the baking sheet. See, cooking takes ALL of your senses! My recipe had to bake for an hour, so next time I make this, I will spend more time drying the okra at the beginning.

I never would have believed that the words “Delicious” and “Okra” could appear in the same sentence – especially in a sentence that I wrote. Change is always possible. It’s an okra miracle!

*How have your changing tastes surprised you?

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Gluten Sensitivity and the Artist: Avoiding Wheat Flour in Art Supplies

You may have observed the growing presence of gluten-free products at your local market. While this is a marketing and dietary trend, it is a serious issue for people who are gluten intolerant. It’s not just in things you eat! Gluten is used as filler in a wide range of non-edible products. I thank Katherine McDaniel for increasing my awareness and educating me about gluten sensitivity. Read and learn!

synkroniciti

flour-49689_640We use products every day with no thought for how they are made or their ingredients. This ignorance is dangerous. Gluten sensitivity can be a serious problem for those who build objects or create works in the physical realm, from painters to construction workers. For background on this condition, a growing problem for people all over the globe, please read our introduction to the subject here. Wheat flour is often used to thicken art supplies and construction materials, just like you might use it to thicken a sauce for your evening meal. Now, some people will tell you that gluten can’t be absorbed through the skin, but the truth is we don’t know that for sure. It’s possible that some people are so allergic that they do react to touching gluten, or they may just not remove it completely from their skin and under their fingernails before eating, putting in…

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Gluten Sensitivity: An Introduction

My friend and colleague, Katherine McDaniel, has opened my eyes to the seriousness of gluten sensitivity, especially in non-edible products. I’m privileged to re-blog her series here. “Gluten free” may be a trendy marketing label, but the dangers are real for those who are sensitive or intolerant to gluten.

synkroniciti

How does gluten sensitivity impact creative people? This week we discuss artists working with wheat products and propose safe alternatives.

The number of people with gluten sensitivity, including wheat allergy and Celiac Disease, is growing worldwide. I am not referring to the fad of cutting out wheat products in order to get fit, but to debilitating reactions that can become life threatening, ranging from digestive upset, heartburn, nausea and diarrhea to headaches, brain fog, depression, neurological and motion difficulties and joint pain. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

wheat-8244_640The nature of wheat, along with its close relatives barley and rye, has changed over the last century, especially with new cultivars that allow these grains to grow closer together and increase production. Doctors and scientists have not gotten to the bottom of things yet, but we are beginning to see a great deal of illness. Will these products…

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#Feldenkrais – What’s in it for you?

Image by Sharon Pruitt via Flickr

Image by Sharon Pruitt via Flickr

Everyone loves an inspiring story.

A really good story is gripping, with many twists and turns where fate hangs in the balance. The satisfying conclusion is unexpected, against-all-odds, and gives the listener hope that a similar miraculous outcome is possible for them.

Hang around in the Feldenkrais world for awhile, and you’ll likely hear some inspiring stories. Virtually every Feldenkrais teacher I know has one. One person goes through a medical ordeal, then uses the Method to recover beyond all expectations. (That’s my story.) A person with a steadily-worsening symptom rejects the prognosis of her neurologist or orthopedist, begins to study the Method, and is able to avoid a costly and risky surgery. Another person is able to take far less medication to manage a painful disease process, through regular lessons and attendance at group classes. The stories are legion.  In the aftermath of accident, stroke, or diagnosis of a chronic condition, after exhausting traditional medical approaches, the Feldenkrais Method frequently provides the missing piece to help the person to resume the activities and lifestyle they enjoy.

So, when people ask me, “Why should I come to your class?” or, “What will Feldenkrais lessons do for me?” I hesitate. I have so many inspiring stories, they all crowd to the front of my brain and mouth so that none can get out in the moment.

But let’s be clear: medical problems require medical solutions. And, sometimes we assume something is a medical problem when it is actually a LEARNING problem. Even medical issues have non-medical elements that are equally important to the overall solution. I continue to be inspired by the Feldenkrais Method because of its elegant ability to address the whole person, to weave multiple strands of experiences, to create new possibilities for a rewarding life, well-lived.

What’s in it for you? Quite simply, the possibility for continuous improvement. The potential to achieve your “vowed and unavowed dreams.” A difference in you that will help you make a difference. It’s all in a day’s work around here. Join me and find out what’s possible for you!

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POSTSCRIPT: This piece appeared as the introduction to this week’s newsletter. Imagine my horror to log on to my computer this morning to a private message from an acquaintance: ” Did you realize you misspelled FELDENKRAIS in the subject line of your email?”

Obviously not. OUCH!

There is was, on Facebook, on Twitter, FELDENKRAS. FELDENKRAS. For Pete’s sake!  There’s a digital misfire if there ever was one.

I wisecracked:  FELDENKRAS – What’s in it for you? Well, the missing “I” would be nice.

And then I thought — that’s the essence of what I wrote about. The missing “I.”  You are the subject of your own life — might as well show up for it.

I know I am making lemonade out of lemons here. Perhaps that skill is something else I have learned from the Method. As for you — bring the “I” and the magic happens. See you on the floor. . .

Savory Leftover Veggies Pancakes

from MoveSleepEat.com

Savory Veggie Pancakes, Spaghetti Squash Nutmeg Slaw and steamed broccoli. Served with tamarind chutney, Sriracha, and cilantro pesto

It’s been my question each time I have made my Nutritarian vegetable broth: what do I do with those leftover cooked veggies at the bottom of the pot? I can’t stand to waste food, and I live in an apartment complex where composting is not really an option. After researching numerous food blogs and doing a bit of experimentation, I think I have discovered a successful solution: Savory Leftover Veggies Pancakes! I made them for dinner this evening, and they turned out to be amazingly tasty. Even C. pronounced them “Really good.”

PRELUDE

from MoveSleepEat.comFirst things first. Here’s my approximate recipe for vegetable broth.  I say approximate because it is a little different every time. I have been following a Nutritarian diet and lifestyle for the past year, so there is no added oil or salt in this recipe. Have you checked the sodium in commercial vegetable broth? Unbelievable. Mine is better, anyway. And yours will be, too. Say no to processed foods! Unless you process them in your own kitchen, of course.

The Ingredients:

1 large onion, chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, with leaves (about a cup), chopped
3 carrots, chopped (peel them if they need it. If the peels are smooth, I leave them on.)
2 or 3 Yukon Gold or red potatoes
1 small sweet potato
1/2 to 1 cup chopped mushrooms (any variety)
fresh parsley (1/4 to 1/2 of a large bunch)
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
14 cups water

Heat a large soup pot. Add a few tablespoons of water to the bottom, then add the onion and celery. Water sauté until celery begins to soften and onions turn translucent, adding a splash of water every now and then to keep the veg from sticking to the pot. You want to sauté, not boil, the veg, so keep them moist but not floating!
Add the carrots, potato, sweet potato, and mushrooms, and continue to sauté until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid. Add the bay leaf, the parsley (you can use the stems, too, or not), the seasoned rice vinegar, and the 14 cups of water.
Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for about 20 minutes. Fini!
You will end up with about 12 cups of fabulously flavorful vegetable broth.

from MoveSleepEat.comI then fish out most of the vegetables and place them in a large colander over a big bowl to drain. Find and discard the bay leaf.
When most of the veg are out of the broth, I pour the broth through a sieve into a large bowl, straining out the remaining veg. I like my broth a bit on the rustic side, so there is no need to strain it through cheesecloth — although you could. Let the broth cool. I then transfer mine to quart-sized plastic storage bags, 2 cups in each one. Squeeze out as much air as you can before you seal the bag. (Don’t forget to label each bag with the date and what it is!) I like to put the bags on a cookie sheet, and slide that into the freezer. When they are frozen, they are like little file folders and can stand up, tucked conveniently in the fridge for whenever you need vegetable broth.

PREPARING FOR THE MAIN EVENT

from MoveSleepEat.comYou will have about six cups of soggy cooked veggies in your colander and strainer. Combine them and let them sit to drain over that big bowl for a few hours, or overnight. You’ll probably have at least another cup of broth that drains out. I save that in the fridge for future sauté-ing, or any other recipe that calls for broth. Onward. Divide the veggies into 2-cup portions, and pop the containers into the freezer.

THE MAIN EVENT: SAVORY VEGGIE PANCAKES!

These pancakes are absolutely delicious as a side dish or a main course. They are vegan, gluten-free, Nutritarian, and very low in fat. I added just the teensiest bit of coconut oil to the batter to make them brown nicely, and used some cooking spray on the griddle to minimize sticking.  This recipe makes ten (10) scrumptious and savory pancakes. Here we go!

The Ingredients:

2 cups leftover broth veggies
1/2 cup chickpea flour (gram flour)
1 Tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash, Spike, or other no-salt seasoning blend
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon coconut oil, or other light vegetable oil
Reserved: 1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable broth

from MoveSleepEat.comIn a food processor or sturdy blender, place 1/2 to 3/4 of the leftover cooked vegetables into the container, and process until smooth. Transfer this mixture, and the remaining vegetables, into a large mixing bowl. It will look kind of gross, but don’t worry.
Fold in the flour, seasoned rice vinegar, spices, and oil, until well combined.
Begin to add the vegetable broth, a tablespoon or two at a time, and continue to combine. Add broth until the mixture is the consistency of chunky pancake batter.  Even if you like your regular pancakes a bit on the thick side, you want this batter to be a bit more thin, yet not runny. Thinner pancakes will heat all the way through.

Heat the griddle or a large pan until a few drops of water will spatter on it. Spray it with cooking spray (I used Trader Joe’s organic coconut cooking spray).
Use a 1/4 cup measure to pour the batter onto the griddle. Use the back of your ladle, or your pancake turner, to flatten them down a bit.
from MoveSleepEat.comLet the first side cook for about two minutes. When the edges begin to sizzle and firm up, flip each pancake to cook the other side.
Be patient. If you try to flip the pancake too soon, it will stick to the griddle AND fall apart. I dip my pancake turner in a container of water between turns to cut down on the stickage. The second side will cook a bit more quickly than the first.

Remove pancakes from the griddle to a serving plate, and keep warm. Using a scant 1/4 cup of batter per pancake, I got 10 pancakes out of this batch.

Serve with your favorite savory topping. I served them with cilantro pesto (my fabulous no-added-oil pesto), some tamarind chutney we happened to have, and Sriracha!

VARIATIONS

Use any kind of flour you like. The texture and flavor will be a bit different, but hey, that’s what keeps things interesting, right? Likewise with the oil, although be sure to use the smallest amount possible. I think a lighter flavored oil would be best, in any case.

You could also vary the seasoning profile, using ginger, soy, and garlic instead of the original spices, and top with Thai-style peanut sauce.
Another variation could be Italian spices (oregano, thyme, basil) and serve with a chunky tomato sauce or basil pesto.
I think the next time I prepare this, I will use garam masala and go all South Asian up in here. The chutney, or (non-vegan) a lovely yogurt raita would be fantastic.

Lots of possibilities. This is a new favorite at our house. If you try it, let me know what you think!

[For additional inspiration on this theme, Check out Helyn’s Vegan Zucchini Corn Fritters. It uses fresh veggies instead of leftovers.]

Want to Sleep Better? Practice!

Image via Wikipedia. From MoveSleepEat.comIt is a Friday afternoon, and the weekend is starting early. Clouds have rolled in, thunder rumbles in the distance, and much-needed rain begins to fall on my part of Houston. If I weren’t involved in multiple projects and deadlines, it would be a good time for a nap.

The great comedian W.C. Fields said, “The best cure for insomnia is to get a lot of sleep.” It seems obvious, and yet sleep eludes many.

The best solution for sleeplessness, and in the long run, the easiest, is to change your lifestyle to one which supports you in your desire to sleep well. Most people would rather take a pill, or purchase a gadget or special bedding, or eat a miracle food that will help them to sleep. Changing your lifestyle seems a bit daunting. What would it take?

It’s easier than you think. One of the best things you can do for yourself to improve your ability to sleep is to re-purpose your morning and afternoon coffee breaks. Instead of drinking a cup of coffee, or having a sugary snack, take that time simply to sit quietly, by yourself. Close your office door, even lie down on the floor if you can. Set a timer to go off in 10 or 15 minutes. Close your eyes and get comfortable. Observe your breathing for several cycles. Chances are, you will be awakened by your timer! This quiet time, whether you go to sleep or not, will “unplug” you from your daily stress cycle. Do this twice a day, and you will be much less stressed at the end of the day. Lower stress levels during the day lead to improved ability to fall asleep at night.

When people ask me for help in this area, and I describe this little experiment, I usually hear protests. “That is so hard! I can’t break away from my work for that long! What will my colleagues think if I’m not hanging around in the break room with them? I’ll be out of the loop!”

And you wonder why you can’t sleep?

I teach a series of powerful pro-sleep techniques called the Sounder Sleep System®, which elaborate and expand upon this theme of quiet time-outs during the day to lower your overall stress and promote a good night’s sleep. As a practice becomes part of your lifestyle, you begin to make room for what once was perceived as an intrusion or an inconvenience. The value of a practice grows over time: the more you do it, the better you become at it. You wouldn’t expect to be able to play the piano well after just one lesson, would you? However, practicing the piano each day supports the intention of one who wishes to become a pianist. Likewise, when you create just a little space during your day for quiet and calm, that supports your intention to have a good night’s sleep.

Your lifestyle creates a certain set of conditions, the results of which can be seen in your overall health. If your lifestyle creates the conditions for sleeplessness, you can’t expect that continuing to do the same things will lead to a different outcome. Try my suggestion for a week, and let me know your results!

Know Thyself

from MoveSleepEat.comBefore you start ANY kind of transformation project — personal, home, career, WHATEVER:
Consider the famous words that appear at the entrance of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

“Know Thyself.”

In my years of teaching and mentoring experience, it still amazes me that so many people neglect themselves in this way. The idea of taking time to be quiet each day, to leave space for the spontaneous action to take wing, to reflect rather than just plan, seems absurd. “But I can’t do that!” They protest. “I’m too busy!”

If your results are satisfactory, then, great! Keep on keeping on. What you are doing is working, on some level.

However, if what you are doing is not working to your satisfaction, it might be time to take yourself on as a project. Get to know thyself.

For centuries, humankind has devised practices and processes for the purpose of developing self-knowledge. Find one.

“Know thyself” is not a course you take, and then you are done. “Know thyself” is also an ongoing process. Check in with yourself each day to observe your own personal climate. Knowing thyself (the process) brings a new calm and a new dynamic to life, as you make progress toward your transformational goals.

Choices

In the past couple of days, my creativity has bubbled out in the form of creating new images from free stock photos. I add a quotation that “moves” me, and BINGO — something nice emerges that I can share.

Image adapted from Pixabay.com, created by MaryBeth Smith and MoveSleepEat.comI like this quotation because it resonates with a theme throughout the Feldenkrais Method® — that the ability to make choices is an aspect of our full human-ness. We have choices as we alter habitual patterns in the tiniest movements, to our largest actions. We make choices about how to spend our time. Did you choose to just be quiet and still for a few minutes today? We make a choice to stay on the computer creating images (ahem!) or to shut things down and go to bed. And, we make choices at the grocery store, the restaurant, and in front of the fridge.

This free stock photo from pixabay.com really appeals to me. I like the metaphor of the key: keys open doors and treasure chests and hearts, they start cars, they “unlock” concepts and ideas. They also lock to hide, keep safe, or imprison. So many choices!

Moshe Feldenkrais knew that we create the reality we experience through the choices we make. That’s some food for thought, right there.

Learn and Live

from MoveSleepEat.com, created by MaryBeth SmithWhat does learning mean to you?

For most people, “Learning” is what happens, or happened, in the course of formal education. School, classes, memorization, papers, mountains of reading, drilling French verb conjugations. sitting still through boring lectures — that is learning. No wonder so many people are eager and relieved to be done with it!

I grew up knowing that the learning in school was only one aspect of learning. My parents instilled in me the desire to learn — to learn about anything and everything that captured my interest. The pastor of the church I attended during high school wrote me a lovely note just before I went off to college. The most memorable line said, “Don’t let your education get in the way of your learning.”

It seems inevitable that I would become a teacher. These days, I love teaching people how to be able to learn on their own. The practice and process of experimentation, exploration, observation, and reflection is something that seems far away from the learning we all had to do in school, yet so satisfying. Sometimes, you need a guide to help you to reconnect with your ability to learn things, important things, on your own. There is nothing quite like the feeling after a light bulb goes on, a penny drops, dots are connected.

My dear departed vocal mentor, Dr. Thomas Houser, was known for saying, “Learn something new every day, or something old in a new way.” We do learn something every day, whether we realize it or not. It’s never too late to learn. new things, new ways of being, new attitudes, new habits.

That’s dynamic!

Disruption and Adaptation

FAA diagram of William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) ...

FAA diagram of William P. Hobby Airport (HOU) in Houston, Texas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I write this afternoon, I am seated in the sunny kitchen of a beautiful home in York, PA.  It is a day away from home, and a day that is far from my routine.

Life is full of disruption! Yesterday was a travel day. Up WAAAAAAYYYYY early to get to the airport. My exercise for the day consisted of schlepping my suitcase and backpack through Houston Hobby, DFW, and BWI airports. Too much sitting to fly, and then to drive, I can tell that I need to MOVE. There is a treadmill in the upstairs bedroom, which I will use later. I’m planning a walk in the neighborhood after dinner. It is what I can do, and it’s the best I can do — so that is the solution for today, and probably for the next few days.

Sleep is disrupted as well. I function best on 7.5 hours of sleep each night. My internal alarm clock is reliable. However, two short nights — the night before travel, and then the long settling in process last night in a different bed — and I can tell I am under-slept. Since I am on vacation, there’s the tantalizing possibility of a nap later in the afternoon. I’ll get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight,  and perhaps that will hit the internal “reset” button and tomorrow will be better.

Since I started following the Eat to Live plan eleven months ago, I have been able to create a food environment at home that is supportive of my health goals. Since I don’t travel for a living, I don’t really have routines and systems set up so that I can eat constructively when I do travel. However, so far I have been able to stick with the plan while I am at my cousin’s home. I had a glass of wine (or two) last night while visiting, and that was my splurge. We’re going out for a family dinner tomorrow after my aunt’s memorial service, and I will probably have another small splurge — a glass of wine, or a bite of dessert. It helps me to tell myself, “It is easy and convenient to stay on this plan, even when I travel. It is easy to make good choices 90% of the time.” If I instead told myself, “This is so hard! How will I ever do it? There are so many temptations!” I would be completely focused on what I don’t want, instead of what I DO want.

It is not my intention to say, “Am I not amazing? Look how resilient I am!” However, perhaps people would feel better, stronger, and more in-control of their lives if they would say that to themselves. Humans have survived as a species because we are adaptable to a wide variety of circumstances and environments. Our internal regulatory systems strive to bring us back into balance — homeostasis — so that life systems can continue. Emotional shocks, or threats to the comfortable and familiar, are sometimes less easy to take in stride. Moshe Feldenkrais spoke and wrote extensively about the various adaptations, positive and negative, that individuals devise to “get through” particular situations.  To do the best you can with what you have to work with in any moment — that’s the best you can do. Surely, when I remind myself that I do have the capacity for resilience, and I do have the resourcefulness to adapt, each day can be enjoyed for what it is: a gift of opportunity and possibility.