Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vive la France! Jeudi

I just spent five of the most delectable days in Paris with my sweetheart. Good fortune arrived in the form of a hassle-free flight and it was, quite honestly, the most delightful time I've ever had at an airport (une victoire given the volcanic ash debacle). We waited to board our plane at a great little wine place in Newark Airport called Vino Volo where I sipped the most delicious Cabernet from Obsidian Ridge Vineyard. The only reason I remember the name is because it's printed on the coaster they give you...ingenious! I can't believe I'm raving about an airport depot but trust me, it was that good.

Once at Charles de Gaulle, we hopped on the RER and rode it straight into Paris....the fastest (and at 8,50 euros, the cheapest) way to go. Even a confident french speaker can get flustered post-international flight, so I brushed up on the train information before we left. Our beloved hotel was happy to greet us and only a five minute walk from the Saint-Germain metro stop. Hôtel Verneuil is nestled on rue de Verneuil, a quiet street two blocks from the Seine. It feels removed while still being in the heart of the 6eme. The rooms are teeny-tiny mais tellement charmants. The hotel boasts post and beam ceilings, classic decor and genuine warmth. Je l'adore!

Lunch hit the spot...warm goat cheese tartines served over salad. Divine. We meandered around Saint Germain and stopped by La Grande Épicerie de Paris on rue de Sèvres, as it's always ideal to browse a french grocery store after you've already eaten. This store is impeccable - a feast for the eyes dotted with bottles of wine and beautiful displays. Speaking of wine, I especially loved their collection of demi-bouteilles (half-bottles) and I'm inspired to seek them out at home. The cheese department at Épicerie brings a whole new meaning to the word department. I've never seen so much cheese in my life. Brilliant!

Bon Marché, my favorite department store of all time (and sister store to La Grande Épicerie), is located right across the street. This Parisian landmark is beyond chic and a must-see on your tour through la Rive Gauche. I bought some more Chanel lipstick (I'm on a lipstick kick) and wandered through the home goods on the third floor. It was orange, orange everywhere...definitely the color of the moment.

On our way back to the hotel we passed by Deyrolle, the famous taxidermy shop on rue du Bac. It reminds me of a french Natural History Museum where you can buy everything from gardening tools to books on butterfly collectors. After the devastating fire in 2008, Deyrolle has emerged from the ashes as the always beautiful house of curiosities.

A hidden flower shop on rue du Bac caught my eye. Have you ever seen anything so gorgeous?

That evening we stumbled upon our new favorite restaurant, Le Bistro de Paris, on rue de Lille (one street from our hotel). I can't say enough about this gem - in fact, you're allowed to go but just don't tell anyone else! The food was exceptional, the ambiance typiquement francais and the service beyond compare. Our waiters made the experience so memorable that we returned every evening for dessert and wine and good cheer.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ode to Olio Lusso

Linda Rodin turns out to be my long-lost soul sister. We both adore shelling, scouring the flea markets for treasure and red lipstick. I met Linda when I discovered her luxurious face oil, Olio Lusso, which has been a savior to my sensitive skin. The elixir is made up of 11 essential oils and smells divine. I'm eternally devoted. I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with Linda in her eclectic and loving home for a glass of vino (screw top Pinot Grigio served in small vintage glasses) to chat about home, passions and (of course) Olio Lusso.

Opening the door to her apartment, Linda greeted me wearing a St. Jame's-inspired striped shirt and skinny jeans...her hair swept back, her face fresh and her lips bright. There's an effortlessness about her, which seems fitting given that this woman was a fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar and has been freelance styling for more than 20 years. Her home is colorful and airy and full of shiny objects ("Glitter is good!" she says). It's a veritable feast for the eyes, with trinkets and photos and objets d'art. "I'd rather be home than anywhere else. I'm not necessarily a lighthearted person--I think a lot--but I think life is beautiful and I want to be surrounded by beautiful things. I want to be inspired by what I see."

I asked Linda what inspires her and she immediately responded by saying "a fresh face!" Her visage is the example; Linda never wears makeup...just red lips. I was so inspired by this look that I bought Chanel lipstick (Rouge Coco #34) and copied her style for the ASPCA Bergh Ball. She also insists on a great pair of jeans (her favorites are made by UNIQLO). "Just be as natural as you can be. That's the credo of my oils...'Be the best you can be naturally.' "

And that's exactly what they do. Olio Lusso was developed on Linda's living room floor à la chemistry class and the results of her efforts were given to friends at photo shoots and runway shows until the word spread and she was making 100 to 200 bottles a weekend. "I really didn't expect this to become a business," says Linda, but she knew she needed to make her homegrown oil official. "My nephew helped me measure my recipe, pouring each oil into vials until we were able to replicate it perfectly. It's the same combination I've used since the very beginning." My devotion to Olio Lusso is bhakti at its best. Her oil has become my go-to elixir for a healthy, radiant glow.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Home Practice - Parsva Bakasana

Ah, spring...the perfect time to embrace change, scrub your home clean and wring out your organs with some twists (what a lovely trilogy). There's no reason why we can't combine them all into one practice. The correlation between housework and yoga is as yet undetermined, however I feel a strong connection to my abdominal obliques while vacuuming the dog hair off my antique oriental rug. This preparatory work leads nicely to Parsva Bakasana, an arm balance with innumerable opportunities to examine and even surmount your aversion(s) to change.

Props required:

golden retriever (for advanced practioners)
ironing board and iron

Preparatory poses:

This prep pose is extremely effective if vacuuming a small rug (4x6 to 5x8), where you will need to stabilize the rug with your feet to prevent it from sliding. Visualize pulling the sides of the rug together with your feet, which requires you to adduct your thighs - the same action necessary to squeeze your legs together in our peak pose. Bend your knees and draw the navel towards the spine to stabilize your lumbar. Use long, aggressive strokes and be sure to alternate sides as you vacuum (15-20 times per side).

An excellent workout for your abdominal obliques. To maximize your results, let your floors get really dirty so you'll have to do some serious scrubbing (for the advanced student: using eco-friendly cleaner is good for your home and your abdominals). Again, equal strokes on both sides.

This is a perfect restorative cool-down. Gentle twisting motions pair beautifully with the japa (repetition) of ironing, eliciting a relaxation response. Scenting your linens with a lavender spray adds a soothing aromatherapy component.

Parivrtta Parsvakonasana
A fantastic prep pose for Parsva Bakasana. Adducting your thighs will help to align the pelvis and stabilize your sacrum. Take your time shimmying into the pose, using the inhale to lift the ribcage away from the front thigh and the exhale to deepen your twist. Press your front knee into your tricep and visa versa, simulating the connection necessary in our peak pose. A block can be used on the outside of the foot when exploring the final posture.
(Modifications: back heel at wall for stability, block on inside of front foot for space).

Parivrtta Trikonasana
Straight legs and an asymmetrical foundation make this pose an excellent lesson in finding the compactness of Parsva Bakasana. Strongly firm your outer hips in. Broaden the collar bones and exhale to rotate the torso. Hint: If placing your hand/block outside the front foot, move it behind your ankle which allows you to anchor your bottom forearm against your front shin. This provides both stability and leverage.
(Modifications: same as Parivrtta Parsvakonasana. Prasarita Padottanasana with a twist for beginners).

Peak Pose: Parsva Bakasana

There are many ways to come into Side Crow. I first learned this posture from Pasasana (twisting in a deep squat, ankles and knees together) with blankets under my heels. Blankets allow you to be there for a while and work the twist. Better yet, place those blankets a foot away from a wall (Pasasana with right hip facing wall first) and use your fingertips on the wall (nine o'clock and one o'clock, race car style) to aid in the rotation of your trunk. Repeat to the left. Bring those discoveries to the center of the room and place your hands on the floor (fingertips pointing in the direction of the twist). Squeeze your thighs together in the same way you practiced while vacuuming your rug and climb your knees as high up onto your arm as possible! Look forward, exhale and we have lift off!

Another entrance is via Marichyasana C. Sit up on at least two blankets, which (once your hands are on the floor) allows your knee to climb higher up your arm. Stage one is to lift the pelvis off the blankets - the beauty of this transition is that students can access the abdominal work necessary to one day practice Parsva Bakasana, regardless of whether or not their feet are off the floor. Assuming we're doing the right side first, stage two is to step the left foot in slightly and rest on the ball of the foot. Stage three is to lift the right foot off the ground and the final stage is to place the left leg on top. Voila! You'll find the pose in every stage.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Musical Mats

I've noticed that finding a spot for one's yoga mat in a crowded class is like trying to sit at the cool kids' table during lunch. It's the bane of a yogi's existence, both for those who've already found their place in the room as well as for those who must navigate the sea of stoic bodies. The battle of the mats sets a tone for the class and before you know it students are vying for spots at the wall and full ownership of props. I once took an Iyengar workshop where a woman barked at me for accidentally taking her bolster ("that's mine!"). Curious. I was under the mistaken impression that A) the props were the property of the studio, B) that they are, to the best of my knowledge, not monogrammed and C) that sharing might be considered (to some) a pillar of yoga. These bullet points arose through heated and well-rehearsed inner monologues subsequent to this little showdown...a good 48 hours later, to be exact, but I can tell you that a lecture on aprigrahah (non-hoarding) was definitely part of my script.

Anyway, back to the bit about finding a spot for your mat. For those in the trenches strategizing your approach, you must size up your fellow practioners in order to locate a willing (read "weak" for "willing") volunteer who might consider moving a few inches to the right. The possibility of a conversation (where one could ask relevant questions pertaining to willingness and spacial relations) is out of the question. A plan must be orchestrated ahead of time, especially since you're pretty sure that those already established in the room want you dead. Having found your "in", you walk unobtrusively (keep your head down) towards your spot only to be greeted with expressions of utter distain. To be fair, you were expecting this, but you still feel small and slightly guilty for disrupting their space. By "their space", I mean the magnetic field that surrounds their mat and extends at least five feet past the perimeter. You quickly glance into their eyes to judge your next move - a critical step. It's all very National Geographic. You're pretty sure you're experiencing a fight or flight response (luckily for you, you're in a yoga class). If you're really lucky they'll quietly move to the right, but more often than not they'll flash you a look of disgust so that you're absolutely, positively aware of your own ignorant audacity. Once seated, don't make any sudden or extraneous movements. Just sit there, dammit, and keep quiet. That same person who wants you dead is now going to warm up before class with a few handstands and an arm balance. Now look who you've chosen to reckon with. Way to go.

I've been "that" girl far too many times than seems appropriate for the yoga world, but I've also been the one whose universe has been rattled in the name of making space. It's only fair to defend the other side by saying that some yogis' approach in asking for a few extra inches seems far more like a fanny pack-sporting American in Paris than a polite, unassuming comrade. Is it that we feel they're only looking out for themselves? Do we see them as unconscious and communally-challenged practioners, like someone whose poor parallel parking job has cost you two potential parking spots? Or is it possible that having once been the victim of an obnoxious mat smack-down, we're more motivated to stand our ground? Perhaps, in our minds, their presence threatens to encroach on our experience. We fear that the precious time on our mat will be spoiled by the breathing of another. I think it's this fantasy of the perfect experience that gets us into this mess in the first place, because yogic perfection is just that - a fantasy. As proof, let me just say that I've traveled all the way to the jungles of India in quest for truth from a yoga guru only to have him interrupt me so he could answer his cell phone. The desire for space is valid, especially in a crowded studio, yet it presents us with an opportunity to practice our yoga...yes, our asana but really, our yoga. If sun salutations and inversions can't better equip us for life on the outside (or in this case, the inside), then why are we there? Yoga is skill in action. Acting in the spirit of yoga in a yoga class (novel, really) requires great skill. I know it's hard - trust me, I know. I encounter the same karma on Amtrak, where the loud and crude seem to always find the seat next to mine, despite my attempts at making it look occupied or by pretending to be asleep.

I've taken the liberty of offering you some mantras to aid you in this dog eat downdog world.

For the yogi happily settled on their mat:
Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings everywhere be happy and free. May my thoughts, my words and my actions contribute in some way towards happiness and freedom for all, even the people who open their yoga mats with a big loud smack during OM.

For the yogis in the trenches, strategizing their entrace:
Om gam ganapataye namaha
Please Lord Ganesh, take your elephant trunk and get these people to move their mats so I can practice my yoga today. Thank you.

Embracing your sangha (community) may come with some surprise benefits, not the least of which is meeting people who share the same passion for yoga. You may find that there are others who struggle with inversions or who can't figure out Downdog. Maybe you find a true friend. I've seen many deep and sincere friendships develop from the shared experience of this practice. I even know a couple who recently got engaged after having met in a yoga class. Who knows...your graciousness may even spread to the movie theater, Amtrak regional trains or the airport. Flash a smile to your yogi neighbor and see what happens. We will all appreciate it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Party

I threw an Easter extravaganza/birthday dinner for my Mom on Sunday, which was a blast...great food and great people. I had had grand visions of eating upstairs on my 9 foot farm table, which usually serves as my desk (I sit at one end, little me and my tiny laptop dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of what feels like a very droll piece of furniture). Fortunately for my vision, eleven people can only fit in one place...around a 9 foot farm table.

I bought a piece of linen from Gray Line Linens (an entire blog post will surely be devoted to this store...just wait) to create an earthy, casual feel. Mason jars, new and old, housed tulips and ranunculus which looked beautiful in small bouquets. I mixed-matched plates and silver. My grandmother's old green peacock dessert plates looked so festive and springy underneath my homemade apple and pear crumble.

I committed to keeping the menu simple, learning from past mistakes of cooking too many dishes and using recipes that required last-minute preparation. My new mantra goes something like this - if you're not having any fun, your guests definitely aren't having any fun. Less is more and organization is key. You have to be truly present...in the moment, with your guests and in the kitchen.

Homemade Rosemary Parmesan Crackers

Ham and Biscuits
Shrimp and Creamy Rosemary Polenta
Cold Pesto Pasta Salad
Roasted Carrots and Asparagus

Apple and Pear Crumble over Vanilla Ice Cream
Ginger Cookies

The rosemary parmesan crackers are delicious. Use a fork to combine a stick of softened butter with 2 cups of grated parmesan. Add 1 t of rosemary, 1/4 t salt and a 1/2 t of pepper. Pristinely clean hands can gradually mix in the last ingredient, 1 1/4 cups of flour. Roll into a long log and freeze for 15 minutes. Slice into 1/4 inch crackers and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until golden brown. I know what you're thinking, but one cracker with a glass of cabernet never hurt anyone.

Recipe inspired by Ina Garten.