Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chicken Noodle Soup

I have a cold. You know, the kind where you feel awful all over but sadly still good enough to function (not that many of us have a choice). When I was little, my Mom would make homemade chicken noodle soup and I would drink Coca-Cola from a plastic cup shaped like an ice cream sundae. Unfortunately I don't have my trusty sundae cup anymore, but I'm grateful for the unbelievable pot of chicken noodle soup I made yesterday. "Must keep going" is the mantra I chanted to myself as I hovered over the stove yesterday, knowing that the reward would be well worth the effort.

Great soup starts with a great stock, and there's nothing better than homemade. It's one of those things you can quickly prepare and then let simmer on the stove while you go on with the rest of your life. You can make it in advance and store in the freezer, or you can enjoy it right away. There's no right or wrong combination of ingredients, so use this list as a springboard to explore your own flavors. As an aside, your home will smell out-of-this-world.

Homemade Chicken Stock

-1 whole chicken
-handful of carrots
-handful of celery
-1 turnip
-2 onions
-1 head of garlic
-fresh italian parsley
-dried thyme
-generous salt and pepper

Don't even bother peeling the vegetables. Cut them in half and throw 'em in the pot. Add enough water to cover the chicken and most of the veggies. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer and leave uncovered for anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. Drain through a colander and then through a fine sieve. You can skim the fat off the top before either pouring it into freezer-proof containers, or back into the pot to make soup on the spot!

The chicken will literally fall off the bone. If you're planning on freezing the stock, reserve the chicken for sandwiches and salads. If you're making soup right away, add the chicken back to the broth.

Chicken Noodle Soup

-use chicken from making the broth OR roasted chicken breasts*
-handful of carrots and celery, peeled and cut
-noodle of your choice

*Place bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts in a baking dish and rub with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Cover and roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn down the heat to 350 and roast uncovered for another 20 minutes.

A note about the noodles: you can certainly cook them in the broth, but I've found that they soak up all of the liquid and you're left with less stock. Bad news. I suggest cooking the noodles separately and adding them to the bowl before serving. Storing the stock and the noodles separately ensures that you'll get to enjoy all of that precious broth for days to come!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Hole in the Sidewalk

I have literally spent the last three weeks trying to compose an inspiring "New Year's" post. Every word has felt like pulling teeth and it's quite clear that even though my topic is definitive (and now, arguably outdated), I have no idea what I'm trying to say. I've tried writing in the morning, before the influence of caffeine. I've tried writing late at night, after the influence of Pinot Noir. Neither scenario has helped me to nail down a point. I've tried to just let it go—"So I won't say anything inspiring this January. Who cares!"—but I can't seem to move on. For fear that my poor blog might collect dust all year while I remain immobilized by writer's block, it seems that my only choice is to try and give birth to whatever it is that lies restless in my heart.

I feel ambivalent about New Year's because while I believe in the process of change, I'm hesitant to get behind the idea of New Year's resolutions—to lose five pounds, to find the perfect relationship, to achieve a specific goal—if said resolutions promise to hold the keys to eternal happiness. While I wholeheartedly believe that we should take advantage of a new beginning, when anything and everything feels possible, the pressure motivating us to "get there" implies that where we are right now is complete crap. And so I feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place because the act of seeking contentment and the art of being content appear to come into direct conflict with one another. Hence my writer's block.

In my fervent quest to find something inspiring to say, I happened upon a poem by Portia Nelson entitled "Autobiography In Five Chapters." I've always loved it because of how simply and poignantly she describes the process of change. She uses the analogy of falling into a hole in the sidewalk and when I read it aloud in my classes, it struck a chord with so many of my students that I wanted to share it here.

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost ... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

I feel especially drawn to chapters 2 and 3. Chapter 2 is that place where I acknowledge my desire to change a pattern. Chapter 3 describes my seemingly uncontrollable return to exactly the pattern I claim to be so desperate to change. My first instinct is to blame others for being stuck ("She pushed me in. He made me jump!") but unfortunately I know better. The truth is, I choose to be there. And yet, when I'm in my hole, all I can really think about is getting out. I peer over the edge and imagine what life would be like when I get "there"—that place where everything will be okay—and suddenly I'm convinced that the only way I'll find contentment is by climbing out of the shadows and into the light.

Carrie Owerko often quotes BKS Iyengar in class, telling us that he believes that the weakest, tightest parts of a pose are the brain of the asana. This mode of thinking has changed the way I look at my yoga practice. I'm no longer interested in "getting there", because as long as I choose to do a pose for the sake of achieving it I will continue to miss the point. The study of my postural imperfections has allowed me to identify and apply the appropriate strategies to effect change on my mat and, while this entire paragraph may seem tangential, it dawned on me that perhaps a similar approach could be applied to that dark, cozy hole in the sidewalk. Maybe the hole's the place to be?

Determined to find out for myself, I dove into my hole armed with a fine-toothed comb and a pocket knife. As it turns out, you can only get to know the space if you're willing to turn on a light. The view was shocking but educational. Rather than following the usual protocol of strategizing an escape, I did something radical (for me, at least): I put up wallpaper, bought some throw pillows, and decided to reside in exactly the space I had vowed to avoid.

As you can probably imagine, parking oneself in the shadows of one's mind is no picnic, but as the yoga community continues to tell me that I should try to dwell in a place of love and light, I feel compelled to suggest that you do the exact opposite. The answers are written on the walls of that deep, dark hole in your sidewalk. Sutra 2.7 states, "Attachment is that which follows identification with pleasurable experiences." Whatever belief we water by returning to the hole is actually the brain of the entire operation. The process of dismantling those beliefs, one by one, is what catapults us forward into chapter 4, or better yet, chapter 5. Until we cultivate a tolerance for what "is"—an ability to soften in the face of darkness—we'll always believe that life could only be brighter if we get "there". I consistently have to remind myself that once I get "there", it will only end up being another "here". And so they say, "Wherever you go, there you are."

If, by this time next year, I'm still stuck in my hole, I'd like to think that I'll be able to rest down there with more ease and equanimity. Unraveling my beliefs has been the best yoga I've practiced in a long time, but it takes work. To quote BKS Iyengar again, "Practice (abhyasa) is a dedicated, unswerving, constant, and vigilant search into a chosen subject, pursued against all odds in the face of repeated failures, for indefinitely long periods of time. The discarding of ideas and actions which obstruct progress is vairagya [detachment]." My weakest links, my tightest parts, my holes in the sidewalk ... these are my chosen subjects, and my yoga is to find the courage to abandon the erroneous impressions which make me believe that I don't have a choice. To know that it is a choice is extremely empowering. Perhaps the act of seeking contentment is the practice of acceptance, because in a place of profound acceptance, earnest, lasting change can occur. I feel certain of one thing: the only way to embrace the brilliance within is to brave the darkness and turn on a light.