Thursday, October 29, 2009

Squash inflamation, and your spaghetti

I've been having big squash cravings lately.  Winter squash are deliciously sweet and have tons of fiber, vitamin A and potassium. Squash are an anti-inflammatory food and are particularly helpful at healing the lungs. Maybe I'm craving them to purify all the lovely exhaust I breathe everyday.

I bought this spaghetti squash recently, but wasn't sure how I wanted to fix it up.

Years ago I used to live in Ft. Greene with my friends Geneve and Sarah. It was an amazing apartment. Two floors, a garden, and a basement with a washer and dryer! The kitchen was huge and had a beautiful old Garland stove. Sarah and Geneve are both great cooks, and I learned a lot from them about building meals around simple fresh ingredients. One night Geneve made me a pasta dish tossed with a sage butter sauce. It was so delicious, that I still remember it to this day! The browned butter has a wonderful nutty taste and the cooked sage turns fragrant and crispy.

I decided to try it on my spaghetti squash.

I had never cooked spaghetti squash before, but it was really easy.

Here's the recipe (from Seasonal Eating):

1 medium spaghetti squash (about 3 pounds)
3 T butter
1 T minced fresh sage leaves
1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Make several slits in the squash with a paring knife to allow steam to escape while cooking.
Bake on a baking sheet until a knife slides in easily about 75 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.
When the butter stops foaming, add the sage and cook for about 1 minute, until butter is golden brown. Remove from heat.

Slice squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a spoon.
Drag a fork through the flesh to remove it strands.
Toss the strands in a bowl with the cheese and sage butter.
Add plenty of salt and pepper and serve immediately.

And... enjoy!

Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Feel the burn

A few weeks ago I was talking to a yoga teacher that I met by chance at a health food store. She said something to me that has stayed with me. She said, “In yoga there are the strivers and there are the coasters. The strivers bring it, each and every class. The coasters just do what they need to do to get by.”

I hate to admit this, but I have a tendency to be a coaster.  I don’t like pain!  And I don’t like doing things that I am not good at. I am blessed that I am pretty good at a number of things, so for the most part I have been able to just build my life choices around my skills. 

Recently, I have begun to challenge this pattern in my yoga practice, in my career, and in my relationship. Slowly but surely, I have been inching my way closer to the things that are hard for me.

This morning I took a Physique 57 class (Yes, I do actually work sometimes and don't just take exercise classes and go on retreats).  I have another name for this class;  I call it Torture. It is so hard. Basically it’s a series of moves that are somehow perfectly designed to isolate your muscles and tax them until they feel like they are on fire. It involves a ballet bar, a ball, loud music and an insanely fit instructor who cheers you on.  This morning’s instructor, Tanya, kept saying, “Move towards the burn - That’s where you are going to torch calories and transform your body. Move towards the burn.”
Afterwards, as I was riding home on the subway, my body feeling like jelly, I couldn’t help but see that I am feeling “the burn” in a lot of areas of my life right now. My romantic relationship pushes me to compromise and (at times) admit when I am wrong. In this past year, my career has challenged me like never before. Venturing out into the world to build my own counseling practice, I have had to learn new skills in business management, finance, and marketing.  Even writing this blog can sometimes feel uncomfortable as it forces me to put myself “out there.”  I am experimenting with striving.

When faced with these challenges, my first instinct is to run in the other direction. I want to go back to when life was comfortable and predictable. The challenges are painful. They bring me into uncharted inner territory, where it’s no longer a given that I will be successful.  Intuitively, though, I know I must move towards “the burn”. Just doing what I was good at worked for a while, but it’s not enough anymore.  I want to see how far I can really go in life. As a teacher once said to me, “This is actually your life. It’s not a dress rehearsal.” 

I strive.

Taking it in:

Where is the burn in your life right now? Are you moving towards it or running away? What would it mean in your life to really strive for something? What are the fears that come up?

Next time an uncomfortable feeling arises in your life, be it anger, fear, shame, pain, etc., see what happens if you actually just let yourself feel it, and perhaps even move towards it.

How to do this? Let's say your boss says something that offends you or makes you feel put down in some way. You feel hurt and insecure. In the past you might have started running away from this feeling pretty much immediately. You would have called your friend and started bitching about your boss. Or, maybe you would take a walk to get some air and somehow find  yourself in line at Starbucks ordering a latte and a piece of cake... 

I'm asking that you try not to do this. Instead, make the choice to face your feelings. Feel hurt. Just sit there and feel. Breathe. Acknowledge that you are hurt, angry, frustrated, etc. See what happens. In all liklihood the feeling will fade. You may still need to take an action to rectify the situation, but that action will come from a place of clarity and reality rather than fear. 

Try it today, even with something small and then post back and let us know how it went!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yoga and coconuts

I am lucky enough to have just returned from a yoga retreat at Kripalu in the Berkshires (Run by Lesley Desaulniers from Prema Yoga). I spent the last four days with 14 women, meditating, doing yoga, and reflecting on ancient yogic texts and how they can help us live a more powerful and authentic life.

I feel sleepy and sore, peaceful and content.

Here are some pictures from my experience.

My hope is that through viewing them you can have your own virtual retreat experience.


"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to pray in and places to play in, where nature may heal and give strength to the soul."

-John Muir, American Environmentalist.



At the end of our last yoga session, Lesley spoke to the group about how it can be difficult to transition from a retreat experience back into everyday life. To assist us in the process she gave each of us a coconut, and the following instructions: Over the course of the next week,  kick the coconut around your home, and while doing so, silently ask, "may this house be free from..." and then insert whatever feeling or pattern you want to let go of.


"May this house be free from grief." 

"May this heart be free from judgment."


As the coconut rolls around the floor, it symbollically absorbs and holds these feelings within its shell. At weeks end we are to go to a remote area, and when we are ready, throw the coconut backwards over our heads without looking, and listen for it to crack. Once you hear the crack, you simply walk away, and never look back.

I have happily welcomed the coconut into my life for the week. Though today it is being driven around by Brian. I left it in the car when I had too much to carry in last night.  I was going to go and get it but my car had trouble starting* during the retreat, so I figured the car can use some time with the coconut as well!

So, dear readers, to complete your retreat, I would like to offer you this virtual coconut. May you let it roll through your mind, your heart and your home, allowing it to absorb that which you are ready to let go of.

*Special thanks to Harvey and Jan Zimbler who hosted me during the retreat. And to Jan who picked me up late at night when my car wouldn't start!

P.S. While I do love the sound of crickets chirping, I would love to hear your voices as well! Please  post a comment and let's create some community!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In. Wellness Dines Out

(Those of you who get this blog via email - please click on the link above to ensure the proper formatting with pictures, etc.)

Living in New York City, I am lucky to have so many incredible restaurants around me. Much of my social life revolves around going out to dinner.
Earlier this week I went with some friends to Roberta's Pizzeria in Bushwick. (

Yum! The pizzas were really thin and included interesting toppings like brined kale. One of our favorites had thinly sliced onion, guanciale (bacon) and jalapeno peppers. They have a rooftop greenhouse outside where they grow many of the vegetables they use.

We were all really hungry and ended up splitting 4 pizzas between the four of us. (They're thin, people.)

This meal is what I like to categorize as an "indulgent" meal. I go, I eat, I enjoy. I like to have indulgent meals once in a while. We only live once. I believe that enjoying food is healthy. My rule is that when I indulge, I walk out guilt free.

However, I usually go out for dinner a few times a week, and if I ate like this at each of these meals I wouldn't fit into my jeans by the end of the month. So, when I am not eating "indulgently" I try to eat "healthfully".

When I speak to friends, clients and participants at workshops, there seems to be a real need for more information about how to do this.

Here are some simple tips that I use:

1. When people eat out they tend to order an appetizer, main course, drink and dessert. Try to choose a main course (which can be an appetizer), and then just choose just 2/3 from the rest of list. Want a drink? Skip dessert.

2. Soups are a great healthy and low calorie appetizer or meal. A hearty soup can really fill you up! Cream-based soups are higher in fat and calories than broth-based soups. Remember, just because you are ordering light doesn’t mean you should have extra servings of bread or dessert.

3. Look for items on the menu that are baked, grilled, dry-sauteed, broiled, poached, or steamed. These cooking techniques use less fat in the food preparation and are generally lower in calories.

4. Think veggie. Stay healthy by selecting items with vegetables as key ingredients, it
will ensure your meal is full of dietary fiber and nutrients. A salad is typicallya good choice, but be aware that cream based dressings and toppings like cheese and croutons can add fat
and calories. The Chicken Caesar Salad can have up 48 grams of fat! That’s 75% of your recommended fat intake for the day.

5. Portion control. One of the simplest and easiest ways to make your dining out experience healthier for you, is to simply cut down on your portions. Go ahead and treat yourself to your favorites, just eat less of them. Here are some tips on how to do this:
  • Order a la carte (i.e. two enchiladas instead of three).
  • Take a slice of bread and then give the basket back to the server.
  • Ask for an extra plate with your dinner. When your food arrives, cut it into a half-portion and place it on the other plate and immediately ask for it to be wrapped up. If it looks like you don’t have enough food to fill you up, ask for a side of steamed vegetables or salad.
  • Use chopsticks. Using them slows down your pace of eating so you feel fuller while eating less.
  • If you are full and you don’t have enough on your plate to take the rest home, eliminate the temptation to keep nibbling and salt the rest of your dinner heavily or pour on the hot sauce.
6. Ask for it on the side. Restaurants often drench dishes and salads in high fat dressings and sauces. As a rule, if the sauce or dressing is cream based, ask for it on the side. Dip your fork in the sauce and then stab your food (not the other way around).

7. Alcoholic beverages can be very high in calories. Here is a sampling of some popular drinks and their calories:
a. Margarita = 450 calories
b. Mojito = 240 calories
c. Beer = 100 for a light beer up to 200/250 for darker heavier beers
d. Wine = most red and white hover around 100 calories/glass

Tip: Go ahead and have a drink, but try to alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of sparkling water with lime. This will keep you hydrated as well.

8. Calorie Price Tag. Overall, try to think of your food as having a “calorie price tag”. You wouldn’t order the filet mignon on just an average night of the week, same goes for those high calorie options, save them for a special occasion. Did you know?
  • A large cinnamon roll has over 800 calories and more than a half a stick of butter?
  • One "loaded" nacho has more than 100 calories?
  • A mocha coffee contains more than 300 calories?
  • A large fountain drink has 300 calories?
-Healthy Dining Guide, Dr. Lichten

9. Being Difficult: Many people have a hard time asking for special requests when dining out. Remember this scene from When Harry Met Sally?

But there are ways of doing it well. Try saying to your waiter, “I really hate to be difficult but I am trying to be health conscious and I would be so appreciative if the chef would make some slight modifications to help me. Would it be possible…” And then ask for whatever it is you need (no extra butter on the bun, sauce on side, substitute mustard for mayo, etc.).

10. Handling social pressures around food. There is nothing better than enjoying a good meal with friends. These days, most people’s social life is totally entwined with food. If you give up going out for dinner, you might never see your friends. Enjoying food with other people can both help and hurt us. Sometimes it keeps us accountable – you might finish that carton of ice cream if you were alone in your apt. where as you wouldn’t in front of friends. But sometimes eating with friends can harm our eating. We are more prone to break our diet for fear of being seen as difficult or picky. We may also worry that friends will feel personally judged if we opt not to share the nachos appetizer with them… Plus, studies show that we sub-consciously match our eating habits to those around us, and tend to eat more in groups then we would alone. (Herman CP, Roth DA, Polivy J., Effects of the presence of others on food intake: a normative interpretation.)

So, how do you navigate these social pressures? A good rule is to tell your friends that you want to make the dinner health conscious before you sit down with them. Letting them know ahead of time that you aren’t eating bread, or drinking alcohol will allow them to manage their own expectations of the night, and they will be more apt to support you when you sit down at the table. Plus, letting them know ahead of time increases your own accountability and makes you less likely to be tempted astray.

Taking it IN...

Spend a moment thinking about your dining out habits. What's your dining out personality?

Are you someone who obsesses over your order and it's calorie content? Perhaps to the point where you don't even enjoy your food?

Or, are you someone who eats out most nights of the week and never even thinks about it?!

Whichever personality you are, try this week to change it up. Obsessing type? Go out and order whatever you want form the menu and enjoy it. Never think about it type? Make an attempt at eating "healthfully" during one of your dining experiences. Study the menu and figure out what you think might be the healthiest option. See if you can find a way to enjoy this way of eating as well, knowing that you are caring for your body.

Want to Watch Calories When Dining Out?
By Sheila Weiss, R.D.

Healthy Dining Guide
Dr. Jo Lichten

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bliss happens: The non-pursuit of happiness

The past few days I have been thinking about what I wanted to write about for this post. I have a long list of topics I am excited to cover: how to prepare various grains, repairing your digestive system, natural remedies for sleep difficulties...... but none of them felt right for right now.

So, then I asked myself, well what are you thinking about right now in terms of your own wellness, Nora? And the answer is happiness.

This picture was sent to me by a friend.

I have long been interested in happiness. What makes a person happy? Why are some people happier than others?

I was pretty miserable in college. Just never really felt like I belonged. I would go to parties and sit there and watch everyone else letting loose and having fun. I would pretend that I didn't care and that I just considered myself above it all. And this was partly true, I did have different interests and ideas of what was fun. But at the end of the day, I couldn't escape the fact that these people were happy, and I was not.

Thankfully my 20's and now 30's have proved much more enjoyable for me, and I can say that barring a few rocky patches, I am a pretty happy person.

The past two weeks I felt especially happy, like I was sucking on a lozenge of bliss! I felt passionate and alive and like I am living the life that I want to lead.

Then suddenly, today, I woke up and just like that, the feeling was gone. In it's place were those familiar rumblings and judgments of my life... if only this... or if only that... Aargh! I hate those feelings! And the worst part is that they seem to feed on themselves, generating new criticisms and disappointments at record speed.

So today I have been trying to figure out, what makes for happiness and how do you sustain it?

About two or three weeks ago I was in Manhattan, on the phone, and ran across the street just as the light was changing. My timing was a bit off, and I narrowly escaped being run over by a taxi. It was close enough to scare me, but not so close that I suffered any post-traumatic stress.

Mostly, it left me thinking, "I don't want to die that way!" I was also flooded with thoughts and desires for wanting to see where my life would go... I remember feeling an intense desire to be a grandmother! To see future generations of me's grow, and to see what I looked like with gray hair.

I am not Buddhist, but I have been to a number of Buddhist meditations, and I know that meditation on death is very important in this tradition.

"Buddhist teachers strongly advise their students to meditate on death and impermanence, since they are powerful counter-agents to the short-sighted concern with the present situation and one's own transitory happiness."
From Chapter 10, of Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism by John Powers Snow Lion Publications, Ithaca, NY 1995

Perhaps it was my nearish death experience that jolted me into those two weeks of bliss. In looking back, I do see that one thing that was different was that I was not asking my life to be different than it was. I tried to see the circumstances of my life, much like I see the weather. I may not be happy that it's raining, but I recognize that there is nothing I can do about it except get cozy with a book and cup of tea. With the weather, we accept it, and adapt ourselves to it. But when it comes to our life situations, we somehow think that our struggle and fight will do something to change it!

What I found was that in my few weeks of accepting life as it was, it opened up a space in me to feel more joyful. Instead of spending all that energy judging myself and my various life situations, I took the time to appreciate things more. Nothing had changed, and yet I was happier.

When I woke up today, I thought, "Oh no! I've lost it! I had it and now I've lost it!"

I have long had this fantasy that somehow I will just arrive at happiness and then I can coast through life from there...

I now realize that this is never going to happen. It's not going to be sunny every day, so when the rain comes, it is simply time to get cozy again.

Happiness takes work and discipline. Buddhists don't do their meditation on death once and then they're done! It's an ongoing practice. And meditate or not, we must each figure out how to remind ourselves of what is important on an everyday basis. We must learn to relish our moments of bliss, and figure out how to adapt to the rest.


Bonus: Food therapy!
New research is indicating that omega 3 fatty acids help to reduce depression! So next time you are feeling blue try eating salmon or walnuts ( walnuts also contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that supports the functioning of serotonin - a chemical in the brain that is associated with mood). Happy Munching!


Check out this workshop I am conducting next week at the fabulous Fit for Life NYC!