Monthly Archives: January 2016

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear – Book Review

You know Elizabeth (Liz) Gilbert, because I know you have seen and/or read Eat Pray Love – that’s her book. And though you may only associate her as the woman who found herself through her time  eating in Italy, meditating in India and loving in Indonesia; what you may not be as aware of as I am is that Liz Gilbert is an earth-bound angel sent to help us capture inspiration and liberate our creativity in our daily lives. I’ve listened to her talks and interviews and read other works of hers and her words always touch me at my core; it’s the same story with her most recent memoir, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

In Big Magic, Gilbert touches on many different aspects of creativity and the undeniable human instinct that we have for it. For the book, Liz draws on experiences from her own life, stories from others, and the wise words of many different types of memorable people. It is, in short, a discussion of creativity, its importance to us and our world, and how we should go about treating it, cultivating it, and living it.

Now, I am not going to launch into some 10 page essay breaking down every facet of the book and dropping quotes left and write; you don’t need to read much more from me, you don’t need more words to process, you just need to go and read the damn book. The book manages all at once to be informative, educational, comical, thought-provoking and, well, inspiring. You’ll love it!

With that said, if you’d like to read on, I would like to share a few of my biggest, personal takeaways from my read of Big Magic.

idea

Inspiration and Ideas are often external forces – Gilbert theorizes that the inspiring thoughts and ideas that come to us do so in the literal sense of the phrase – they come to us from somewhere else, outside of ourselves. In a sense, she discusses the intriguing possibility that the ideas that spark us to create are their own beings of energy and light floating around, and they seek a vessel – a person – through whom they can be brought into the physical world. Ever had an idea that you thought, “Huh, that’s really cool!” but you never acted on it, and then a month, a year, or even a decade later you see that idea come into reality by someone else and you think, “Hey! That was my idea!” but you accept it as a mere coincidence? I know you have, we all have. Well, you probably did have that very idea. That idea probably chose you to try be born through, but you didn’t do anything with it. And so, it left you and moved onto someone who could and would bring the idea into reality.

I found this discussion in Big Magic to be incredibly intriguing. I had heard Gilbert discuss this topic before in this TED Talk, and at first I wasn’t sure what to make of it. After reflecting a bit, I’ve come to realize that I totally and completely agree with this concept of the external idea. Have you ever had a thought or idea that when you first thought it up you believed it to be the greatest idea ever, but then you didn’t write it down fast enough and no matter how hard you try you simply can’t remember what that idea exactly was? We’ve all had it happen; the poem or song you dreamed up but didn’t pen down and now you can’t remember how it went in your head, the storyline of the epic novel that would be riveting but you didn’t draw it out fast enough and now the storyline isn’t as strong, etc. I have had ideas – flashes of inspiration – but I didn’t eternalize them fast enough; and when I go to remember them, no matter how deeply I rack my brains, I simply can’t remember them at all! I have lost great ideas and tore myself apart in search of finding them again, but I can’t. Why? Because they are nowhere to be found within me; they have literally left my body and my conscious and moved onto a person that will act on them more quickly and birth them into the mortal world where they can touch others.

This is not to say that this theory discredits people who appear to always be brilliant in terms of creativity and may even be called geniuses. Rather, the theory supports the idea that some people are great vessels or instruments for catching the ideas that are floating around in the ether, working with them, and developing them into something truly amazing. We can be creative people, but we just have to be open to reaching out into the universe and catching the right ideas that we can then work with to create. As you can tell, this was a hugely important part of the book for me; I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.

personal-freedom

Stop putting requirements and expectations on your creativity – In Big Magic, Liz implores us to not burden our creativity with fantastical expectations and goals. Translation: stop telling your creativity that it must make you X amount of dollars so that you can leave your day job, stop telling your creativity that it must make you famous and adored, stop telling your creativity that it must produce more than the art you are making it for. This type of energetic thinking does no one service; it limits your creativity, it creates stress and longing within yourself, ultimately leads to sacrifice on the part of the creativity, which eventually leads to frustration and disappointment. There is no point to this! Be kind to your inspiration and creativity and do it simply for the fact that you feel compelled to do so without any attachment to the end result!

This was a very important takeaway for me. Look at this blog, Johnny La Pasta, for instance. This blog is one of my creative endeavors; through it, I pursue my creativity namely in relation to cooking, yoga, and lifestyle all through the medium of writing. Lots of other people do this too, and many of them make money for it – like lots of money for it. And so, I have at times placed expectations on my work for this blog that it will earn me a larger income than what I currently make, allow me to work from home, afford me more funds and time to travel, etc. When I have placed these bar marks on my work for Johnny La Pasta, I have noticed that my writing becomes more difficult and I become more stressed – especially when I am not seeing the high expectations that I created met. Now sure, the goal of turning my blog into a fiscally viable line of work is a decent and respectable goal, but I now refuse to make it a requirement of my work here. I create the posts and stories that I do because I have a passion for writing and the topics that I am writing about. I cannot burden my writing and artistic impulses with grand schemes. Instead, I will continue to create what I do because I feel compelled to and because I want to!

So, create because you feel it is something that you need to do, and do it without attachment or expectation. Enjoy the process, enjoy the result, be not disappointed by any of it!

splatter

Humans are meant to create…SO CREATE! – History tells us that humans have a deep need and will to create. Ever since ancient people figured out how to make scrapes on cave walls, we have been creating. We have been creating even at times where it doesn’t even make sense to create. When there is famine, plague, and terror; logically you would think that all creative endeavors would stop because there is a greater need to focus on tasks that support survival, but still, people continue to write and draw and paint and sculpt and weave and more throughout all of it. Creativity is nearly as a basic a need for people as food, sleep and sex. As a collective species, we have an insatiable desire to create and so we do.

In Big Magic, Gilbert tells us to follow our creative impulses when they come. Creating is good for us on many levels; it’s like a vitamin for the mind and the soul. And anyone can take that vitamin.

For some reason, we have come to believe that to create you must be creative, creative in the Pinteresty sense of the word. We have come to believe that if you want to create you must be a genius or a prodigy in one medium, only then can you actively and often create. The truth is, however, that anyone can be creative at any time. We can all be creative in big and small ways on a day to day to basis. This does not mean that what you create has to publishable or producible or worthy of a nomination. You create whatever you want simply because you feel the need on any given day; no one has to see or know about it, you don’t have to judge and critique after the fact. All you have to do is enjoy the process of it!

Look at children. They take a piece of paper and some crayons and just go for it. They aren’t attached to the end result. They aren’t worried about winning an award for it. They just see pretty colors in the crayon box, inspiration strikes them, and they ride that wave and create. The tree they set out to draw might end up looking like deformed purple octopus; but who cares? They certainly don’t. They are creating for the hell of it, and that’s beautiful. Let’s be more like that.

Are you a plumber with a poem ringing through your head? Write that poem! It doesn’t matter that you are a plumber, if you’ve got the inspiration, act on it. Even if it turns out as ghastly as some of the jobs you encounter in your plumber duties, just get it out of you and enjoy it for what it is! Are you a mechanic with music radiating between your ears? Pick up and instrument and play and sing it loud! It could be great, it could be okay, it could sound like cats dying; it doesn’t matter! Are you a screenwriter with a silver screen idea in your mind’s eye? Write that damn screenplay without concern of whether or not a studio executive would buy it or even like it. Ski that slope of creative energy for as long as it goes.

Okay, I’ll stop now, you get the picture. The point is, Big Magic was a reminder for me that creating is fun and it is healthy and it is accessible at some level to all of us at all times; so we should do more of it.

And with that, I hope I inspire you to read Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

big magic 2.jpg

Adapt and Embrace Yoga Class

If you have read any of my previous yoga posts on this blog, then you will know that I am a firm believer that yoga is a great way to exercise not only the body, but also the mind and the spirit to strengthen and prepare for what goes on in life off of the mat. In yoga classes, or at least the ones I teach and take, we often theme the class – the sequence of postures, the music, the spoken words, and the energetic intention – to correspond with other aspects of life and the self.

Recently, I was meant to travel to Denver to visit with my good friends for the weekend. I was all packed and ready to go when just a few hours before my flight, I learned that an unusual snow storm had begun to blanket the Denver area and that because of it I would not be able to make the trip. Now, my first reaction was one of deep disappointment and even a bit of anger. I had been looking forward to the visit for months and now it was all off! Understandably, the circumstances darkened my mood.

I remembered, however, that life flows like water and you never know when the current is going to shift. Sometimes, you simply have to adapt, go with that flow, embrace it and see where it takes you while keeping an open mind. I decided to practice what I preach and shift my perspective about the Denver trip cancellation. Firstly, I was able to rearrange the trip for just two weeks later so it wasn’t like all my hopes for Denver and seeing my friends were ruined; they were merely delayed. Secondly, I decided to look at my now free weekend as a blessing; I could now go to lunch with my cousin whose schedule and mine hadn’t been lining up for a get together, I could now work on writing projects I hadn’t had as much time to dedicate to as I would like, and I could simply relax. Once I took this mindset – once I adapted, embraced and went with the flow that the universe was pushing at me – all was well; it ended up being a great weekend in its own way with lots to be grateful for.

I took the experience as inspiration for the below yoga class. In this class, I talked to my students about adapting to the present, accepting and embracing what is, and going with it with a light sense of peace for it all. On the mat, this can mean adapting to how your body is feeling during the yoga practice, accepting how the body is doing without judgement or resistance, and simply continuing forward through the class as best as you can and with a sense of peace with where you are at that day. No solid plans to come in and nail a handstand or get that cool new posture you’ve been working on; simply coming in with an open mind to the practice and going with what comes. I then encouraged my students to take this off the mat as well by exploring where that adaptability and ability to go with the flow could be applied in their everyday lives.

The sequence is meant to representative of all of this and provide challenges that you must adapt to as they come; strange and unexpected transitions like Tibetan rolls, Baby Birds of Paradise as a peak posture – a rare but equally challenging and fun variant of the classic Birds of Paradise Pose, and a literal change in the direction of the class as this class was a Mandala flow – where you begin facing the front of the room but eventually end up facing the back of the room. From the feedback I received, my students really enjoyed the class for the sequence and the theme.

Here is the sequence that you are more than welcome to try and/or borrow!

IntegrationSun ASun BCore and Strength Part 1Strength Part 2Cool Down

Vegan Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Red Bean Chili

As an avid supporter of Meatless Monday and the concept that we can eat less meat and also go about the cultivation of the meat that we do eat in a more sustainable way, I am constantly looking to try new and exciting vegetarian and vegan dishes. I love eating at vegan restaurants and seeing what they’ve come up with and I myself really enjoy making vegan and vegetarian dishes; in fact, some of my most popular recipes are vegan like Johnny’s Tomato Soup.  I do, however, often get stuck in a rut when it comes to cooking vegan for myself. I usually rely on another cook’s book or blog to tell me what to do. One day, however, I decided to be adventurous and experiment in the kitchen using ingredients that I love and crossed my fingers that a great vegan dish would be born from all of it. Lo and behold this chili happened!

What I love about this chili is that it is incredibly hearty in texture, flavor, and feel when in all reality; it is an extremely light and nutritious veggie packed dish. Chunks of Portobello mushrooms mimic chunks of beef that you might find in one chili. Finely chopped cauliflower emulates ground meat that you might find in another chili. Other veggies and spices give the stew a rich and warming flavor profile. The result is a chili that is thick and filling while also bringing the nutrition without any animal products.

I loved this chili so much; I made it two weeks in a row and knew that I had to share it with you! I hope you enjoy this new vegan friendly dish from yours truly. Buon Appetito!

Vegan Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Red Bean Chili

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • ½ a green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • 1 large Portobello mushroom, big diced
  • 3 cups cauliflower, chopped into tiny pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Heat the olive in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrot, celery, and bell pepper with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, cook until tender, another 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cook 1 minute. Add the cauliflower and sage, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the chili powder, paprika, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Coat the veggies in the spices and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes, and vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

 

Quick Health Tips

As we continue forward into the New Year, there is an extreme emphasis on health and fitness with many, many people resolving to pursue better health and fitness for themselves in 2016. Now, if you have read my latest post MODERATION-BALANCE-LIFESTYLE, you will know that I believe in finding a kind way to get one’s self into a greater state of wellness with a more healthful lifestyle that one can sustain over a long period of time. If you hadn’t read that post, please do.

I am, however, fully aware that many of you would like quick health tips to adopt into your life to obtain a better shape and hopefully build a healthier lifestyle overall. And so, I am happy to share some of those with you here. Many of these will be tips that you have heard before, but I repeat them here because in my experience, they work. I will keep them short and sweet so that they are easy to remember and refer to.

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True Food Kitchen Newport Beach

Last month, I revisited one of my favorite restaurants in Orange County: True Food Kitchen. Located at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, CA, True Food Kitchen is one of twenty restaurants spread out across the country. As the name suggests, True Food Kitchen emphasizes quality food that is healthful and nutritious as well as seasonal, sustainable, innovative, and delicious.

True Food Kitchen is one of those restaurants that at once makes you feel healthier just for being present in the building while also getting you excited for a truly fantastic meal. The space is open, warm and inviting. A color scheme of bright green, soft yellow and honey woods help to convey the focus on fresh and healthy. The open dining room with high ceilings is set up to feel all at once collaborative and communal while also spacious enough for diners to enjoy conversations privately with their friends and family. Large wood islands stacked with vibrant produce and ingredients divide the diners from the visible kitchen, allowing guests a chance to see the ingredients they will be eating, the preparation of said ingredients and the chefs that make all of the magic happen. I can’t speak for the other True Food Kitchen locations, but the Newport Beach location also offers two different private dining rooms which can be rented out for private parties and events as well as a very nice, semi-private outdoor space complete with heating lamps and fire pits. The restaurant also boasts a beautiful full bar in one half of the dining room, making it easy to grab a drink while waiting for your table or to simply stop in for a cocktail and an appetizer. It’s all very casual and comfortable, but also classy and fun, and it possesses a very clean, organic feel. At any rate, I feel right at home here!

PLEASE EXCUSE THE PICTURE QUALITY – FORGOT CAMERA THAT NIGHT AND USED IPHONE!

Now, let’s get to the part you’re all waiting for: the food! One of the best parts of True Food Kitchen and its concept is that it offers a seasonal menu. So the menu options change several times throughout the year and highlight the foods that are in season and at their very peak for freshness and flavor. Remember my article on seasonal eating, its importance and why we should practice more of it? Well, True Food Kitchen has the same beliefs as I do and they help to make it easier for diners too.

I took my mom with me to True Food Kitchen for dinner before our annual Fashion Island Christmas Shopping date. We were there in mid-December so the menu being offered was the “Volume One: Winter” menu. Fall and Winter foods are my favorite: the root vegetables and hearty greens, the earthy herbs, and the warming braises and stews; so this menu was right up my alley!

True Food Kitchen Roasted Seasonal Vegetable Board

Roasted Seasonal Vegetable Board

For our first course, along with our wine of course, we split the Roasted Seasonal Vegetable Board. A literal board of roasted winter vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower, beets, mushrooms, and Brussels Sprouts, served with two different dipping sauces: an avocado green goddess dip and a pimento cashew cheese spread. To be completely honest, I could’ve eaten this entire board by myself and called it my dinner. These winter vegetables, which again are my favorite, appeared to be dressed with little more than olive oil, salt, and pepper, but were roasted to absolute tender perfection which intensifies the natural flavors of the vegetables. The dips were fantastic compliments to punch up the produce just a bit more. The pimento cashew cheese spread added a nice heat, but the avocado green goddess dip was just phenomenal as it added a nice sweet richness because, avocado. Vegan and Gluten-Free, this is a dish anyone could eat with a very happy heart.

True Food Kitchen Braised Bison Short Rib

Braised Bison Short Rib – Split Plate

Next, we decided to split the Braised Bison Short Rib. When it’s Winter and cold outside, I love a good, hearty, braised dish that fills me and warms me from the inside out. This was the dish for exactly that on a rainy and unusually cold Newport Beach night at Christmas time. A large bison short rib braised slowly with lots of flavorful cooking liquids (I think there was red wine in there) to the point where the meat was so tender it shredded at the slightest touch of your fork and dissolved in your mouth, served with a creamy and savory cauliflower mash and earthy sautéed Swiss chard that acted as the perfect light sides to the meat. This entrée was masterfully done. Honestly, I like bison, but it does sometimes taste a bit gamey and plainer than say a beef short rib; but you could not tell at all with this bison. The dish packed tons of rich and developed flavors that hit all the marks of a good braised meat dish. A generous portion, mom and I were glad we split; and the best part – they split the dish for us ahead of time so we didn’t have to fuss with it at the table! That is a great point about True Food Kitchen, they cater to all needs; these guys are more than happy to split your dish, omit an ingredient, substitute, add, whatever you want! Even the pickiest and neediest of eaters can find or create something here.

True Food Kitchen Flourless Chocolate Cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake

You cannot go to such a restaurant and not have dessert, right? Right. A Gluten-Free Flourless Chocolate Cake was our choice this night – we are chocoholics. This decadent and moist cake is made of nothing more than cocoa, eggs, and almond butter, baked till warm and gooey and topped with a touch caramel and sweet vanilla bean ice cream. Dear Lord, Dear God. This dessert was simply perfection; it had all the things I love in a dessert and with very little guilt. Couldn’t have been happier! You simply must get dessert when you come here, they are all great and innovative, ideal with a cup of fair-trade coffee or tea that True Food Kitchen also offers.

All in all, our experience was yet again wonderful. A warm and healthy atmosphere with delicious seasonal foods that are both nutritious while also pleasing to the tongue and stomach. I adore True Food Kitchen and am a regular guest there; it really has something for everyone. Omnivores and carnivores, vegetarians and vegans, gluten-frees and special needs, the folks at True Food have something for you, and if they don’t, they will make something for you. It’s affordable for a nice-ish dinner out; great for a catch up meal with friends, a casual date, a quick cocktail and appetizer, or even a celebration. I would recommend True Food Kitchen to anyone! Here’s to hoping there is one by you!

You can learn more about True Food Kitchen here.

Moderation – Balance – Lifestyle

Ciao friends and a very Happy New Year to you! And with it being the New Year, I know that there is a definite focus and even craze around New Year’s Resolutions; specifically health and fitness based resolutions. It seems to be the same story every year. On the one hand, it’s great; it’s wonderful that folks can look at the beginning of a New Year as a time of renewal and a time to make changes. On the other hand, however, I find that New Year’s resolutions, especially those around health and fitness, lead people to be unkind to themselves in the pursuit of their goals and more often than not end up abandoning the journey towards those goals a month or two into the year. I mean not to sound arrogant, but because I do appear to live my life, eat well, and remain in good shape, every year around Christmas and New Year’s my friends and family, my colleagues, my students, and even complete strangers ask me for advice about how to become fitter, healthier, and remain that way. So today, I am going to talk a little bit about how I have found success and offer you some tips into how you may as well!

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