Quote



“As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world
To keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to trim the lamp of wisdom, and keep our mind strong and clear. Water surrounds the lotus flower, but does not wet its petals.”
The Buddha -- Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Fava bean

If i don't go to farmer's market the chance is i would have never known fava bean, except when it's presented to me in the restaurant as an accompaniment to the a main ingredient.

The first time i saw fava bean pods was in Santa Monica farmer's market.  I have to say they are kinda ugly. The pods were big and most of the time they did not have a 'clean' look like green bean, string bean, snap peas.  Intrigued by the look i bought some and i found out that it's one of the most beautiful vegetables that i have known both in look, the bean itself, and taste.

When i split open the pots the bean look like they were cradled in a case lined with a thick layer of soft cotton, pristine and even jewel-like.  It sure commands my admiration :-)

Fava bean

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I gently took the beans out of the pods, they reminded me of the sugar coated almond candies that i used to adore when i was a kid.

Fava beans

Then i steam the bean with the shell on.  When the shell is taken off, the bean is shown in a beautiful bright green color.

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I could not resist munching on them until they are gone :-).  But sometimes i make sucotash

Sucotash with fava bean

However,  i still prefer to eat the bean right out of the shell with it's flavorful unadorned wholesome goodness.

One day i visited the Learning Garden in Venice high school and i saw the plant and a bean pod and this time i think the pod is pretty good looking :-)

The Learning Garden - fava bean










Friday, May 31, 2013

Yin Yang at play


In reading the fascinating book "The Tao of Physics" i learned that opposites qualities are complementaries part of a mutual whole. As part of the Tao, they are merely two aspects of a single reality. I find this thought-provoking and the idea really dawned on me when i looked at my flowering cactus plant.

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The plant is solid and the thorn is painful to the touch, having the masculine characteristics like rough, strong, hard.

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The flower is quite the opposite.  The petals, filaments, anthers, stigmes are so light that when i touched them i could hardly feel their presence.  They have the feminine qualities like soft, delicate, yielding.

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The flower bud is probably the ugliest bud i have ever seen.  The first time i saw a bud i thought it was a fungus and almost cut it off the plant.


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yet the flower is one of the most gorgeous

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The contrasting qualities of the cactus plant is another thing that amazes me about the natural world and i can't help wondering what are the yin and the yang within each of us.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Butter

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When i first came to the US in 1975 one of the things i noticed was the butter did not have any taste (same for some other food which i will write about later). 

Being from Viet Nam which was the former colony of France i had tasted butter imported from France since childhood and being a food lover since my young age i distinctly remembered how the butter i had in Viet Nam tasted like. I tried so many kinds of butter here, Land O'
 Lakes, Challengers,  Strauss ... and none could compare to the butter i had in Viet Nam. I always wondered what the difference between the butter here and the French butter was but could not figure out and since Google was not available back then i kinda gave up my quest for the answer.

One day, about 4,5 years ago, i went to Whole Foods, saw this butter , and bought it. The reason i bought the butter was because of the words 'pasture' and 'limited edition may - september'. I assumed that this butter must came from the cow that grazed on fresh grass from may to september and it sounded great to me :-). When i opened the cover i saw the color of the butter was more yellow, good sign :-). Then i tasted it, lo and behold, it tasted like the butter i had in Viet Nam! Awesome! ... althought i had to admit that the flavor was not quite as pronounced but i was so happy that i finally found a butter made in the US that i like :-). I begin to wonder what makes this butter more flavorful than others? No clue until one day i was kinda staring at the metallic green cover and i saw the word 'cultured' which i didn't remember seeing in other butters. This word turned out to be the key to the mystery. I started Googling and found out that French butter was more flavorful because it's cultured.

What is the process of culturing in butter making? here it is

This also explained why pastries in France tastes better than pastries in the US for me.  The butter makes a huge difference in flavor, imho.  

I love croissant and again i was in constant search for a good croissant here in the US, the one that matched those i had in France but i always get disappointed time and again.  Until i run into this one which made me smile :-)


Croissant from Anisette

Croissant from Maison Giraud

Why? because the chef Alain Giraud used imported French butter :-).  However, based on my last trip to Paris i have to say that texture-wise the best French croissants that i'd tasted are still a step above the best ones over here.  This i will discuss in an other post :-)

I find out that cultured butter is becoming more popular here in the US.  Artisanal maker like this one in Vermont are churning out small batches of very good  butter and i hope that more bakeries, pastry shops will start using this kind of butter in their kitchen.


If you are a butter lover please look for the word 'cultured' in the package. 

Btw, if you go to France, please check out the lovely Bordier butter (i bought it from LaFayette Gourmet)

This site shows how to make your own cultured butter




Friday, March 22, 2013

Yoga

OM
 
 
When i started to learn 'Yoga' about 5, 6 years ago in a community class i thought Yoga was an exercise that would make me flexible and strong.  In 2011 i took an Ayurveda class from my chiropractor i found out that Yoga is much, much more than an exercise. From the Ayurveda class i first heard about Patanjali Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. Out of curiosity i asked my chiropractor's recommendation for books on these two subjects. What a revelation these books gave me on Yoga and in my humble opinion they are must-reads for all Yoga practitioners.

In reading these books realized i did not know what Yoga is about at all!  Yoga is not an exercise but a profound philosophy which teaches one to achieve self-realization and liberation of the soul.  Yoga philosophy also teaches one to cultivate oneself to serve humanity through a set of rules for character building and spiritual development.


The exercise or series of postures called asanas as practiced in Yoga studios  is merely the third of eight limbs mentioned in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  Although practicing asanas will make one flexible and strong, the main purpose of the asanas is to quiet the mind to prepare one for meditation which will eventually lead to self-realization, and union of individual and universal conciousness.  According to BKS Iyengar, probably the greatest yoga teacher alive, "Yoga is not a therapeutic science at all.  Yoga is a science for liberating the soul by bringing the consciousness, the mind, and the body to a stage of integration".   Mr. Iyengar also considers practicing the asanas as meditation in action. Therefore,  if we just approach Yoga as a mean to bring about physical fullfillment then we might have short-changed ourselves, imho.

When i was writing on Ayurveda i mentioned that i would write a post on Yoga and i thought i would finish one very soon after but months have passed until now. The reason was that the more i learn about Yoga philosophy through reading books, articles, and practice the less courage i have on writing about this profound subject. Somehow i think that anything i write about Yoga could be very misleading unless i became a real yogi, which is unlikely to happen in this lifetime :-).   According to Mr Iyengar " All may be able to do yoga but only one in a million is fit to be called a yogi."   Therefore all i like to do is to share with you the writings about Yoga philosophy, written by yogis, that have inspired me in my practice.

I love to hear from you :-)

Namaste


Books (more to come)

How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali
Bhagavad-Gita: The Song of God
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Tree of Yoga (Shambhala Classics)
Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika
Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga

Note:  Regarding yoga asanas, I like to  follow the form created by BKS Iyengar.  The reason is because it pays great attention to detail on how different parts of the body should be precisely aligned in order to get maximum benefit and minimize the chance for injury.   Iyengar yoga (based on Hatha yoga) frequently uses props such as blocks, strap to help the body ease into the posture.   Iyenga teacher training is demanding and from this report there are 3892 Iyenga yoga teachers in the world and according to NAMASTA (North American Studio Alliance)  in 2005 there were 70000 people holding teaching certification in the North America alone.  In the US there are currently only 925 Iyenga teachers so in many parts of the country it is not easy to have a teacher close to where you live but if you could locate one  i strongly suggest that you  take the class if possible.  I am taking two classes, one Iyengar which concentrates on techniques, and one non-Iyengar which provides a flowing sequence like a workout.  I find this works best for me from the exercise standpoint.

Titbits
In 2005 NAMASTA determined the figure of 70,000 yoga teachers based on both an estimate of the number of teachers who received training and readership surveys by the major yoga publications. The estimate includes people who might no longer be teaching and teachers who have received different levels of training. 

The picture at the top of the post was created from this photo using Photoshop ( i had so much fun! :-) )

Outer light


Light

 
becomes inner light

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two aspects of the same reality

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Farmer's Market


Going to the farmer's market is an eye-opening and spiritual experience for me.  I discover wonderful new vegetables, fruits, fragrant, texture everytime.  I love farmer's markets because there are so many kinds of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, at the peak of ripeness and beauty, which  i never saw at the super market.   Before discovering the farmer's markets i get bored going the the supermarket because all year-round i kept seeing the same kind of vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, carrot, potato, tomato apple, banana ... over and over, with no varieties.   The farmer's markets show me what each season has to offer.  Every kind of fruits and vegetables comes with so many varieties which could be a feast for the eyes and taste bud.  I also get to meet the farmers,  ask them questions directly which they would be happy to share information about what they grow, from which i could feel the passion and love they have for their products which transforms into a deep apprieciation for these stewards of the land and the nourishing bounty from mother earth.

Have you ever seen these lovely bunches of fragrant lavender in the supermarket?

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the delicate squash blossoms

Squash Blossoms

or this huge beautiful organic head of lettuce :-)

One big, beautiful organic lettuce head!

and these gorgeous heads of lettuce, radicchio

Lettuce, radishes, Treviso radicchio

So many kinds of peppers,

Peppers

tomatoes

Tomatoes

eggplants

Eggplants

How about these vegetables?

Amaranth

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I first saw fresh fava bean at the farmer's market and it is one of the best discoveries

Fava beans


I used to disdain the sour, scent-lacking strawberries in the supermarket until i encounter the sweet, juicy, fragrant, melt-in-your-mouth strawberries from Harry's Berries.  They are not cheap but totally worth my hard earned money.  Btw, i don't get anything from them for this advertisement :-).  They ran out fast so make sure you come early. 


Harry's Berries

How about some fresh sunflower seed

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These cute lemon cucumbers are really juicy!

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Giant sweet onions from one of my favorite stands owned by a young couple in the Santa Monica market

Onions

During the summer the best stones fruit like apricots, peaches, nectarines could only be found at the farmer's market, imho, because the best tasting fruits are quite delicate, they bruise easily and not suitable to sit for long the supermarket shelves.   These are the mouth-watering fruits from the Ferry Building market in San Francisco

Fruit stand at the San Francisco farmer's market


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and you get to taste them too :-)

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You could also get grass-fed meat

Grass-fed beef


Here in Southern California, there are many very good farmer's markets. The best known ones are Santa Monica (Wednesday, Saturday), Beverly Hills (Sunday), Hollywood (Sunday). Santa Monica is probably the best, imho. The Wednesday market is huge, it's almost twice as big as the one on Saturday. Many farms only sell at the Wednesday market and many chefs show up to get the best offerings.  

Do you go to farmer's market?  i hope there's one near to where you live, you check it out, and let me know what you find :-)

And please stay away from GMO food!

Since i am an organic-food freak, these are some of my favorite Farmer's Markets in Southern California

Santa Monica Wed/Sat
Hollywood
Beverly Hills
Long Beach

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sunset



Huntington Beach


Yesterday i went to Huntington Beach to walk by the water and at the end of the walk i stopped near the pier to watch the sunset. The sun was going down, quickly. I started seeing that the people around me all looked in that same direction. Everybody seemed so still and mesmerized by what was going on even when they were trying to take pictures. As the sun slowly disappeared in the horizon bringing with it the last shine of the day, a sense of tranquility seemed to take over. About 5 minutes after the sun completely left the day, the cloudy sky started to take on a bright reddish glow and this went on for another ten minutes before the color faded. Suddenly i felt a peaceful togetherness in the air, i felt connected with all the people around me because we were all seeing the same thing. We were all in the 'being' with the sunset, experiencing that magical moment together. I felt love all around me. Can't help thinking about one of my favorite quotes
'Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.' --- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I wonder if more of us took time to watch the sunset, wherever we might be, would this world become a more harmonious, loving place?

Please share your feeling in watching the sun goes down. or up :-)

In every winter there is a trembling spring,
Behind the veil of each night, there is a smilling dawn.
Kahlil Gibran

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Julia Child

I used to watch Julia Child's cooking shows on television and always enjoyed the way she performed.  She seemed so comfortable, having lots of fun, even sloppy sometimes, and her love for cooking was contagious.

So last year when a friend told me about Julia Child's book 'My Life in France'.  I read and loved it.  Her adventures with food in France, her love for the land and people made me want to go back for a culinary tour.  "Oh, how I adored sweet and natural France, with its human warmth, wonderful smells, graciousness, coziness and freedom of spirit."

Besides the food, the other fascinating thing about 'My Life in France'  to me was the friendship between Julia and Avis De Voto which resulted from a letter that she wrote to Avis's husband, the historian and journalist Bernard De Voto in responding to his Harper's article about the sorry state of stainless steel knife in the American kitchen.  Avis De Voto answered her husband's mail to Julia and this sparked a 35 years friendship. Avis also played an important role in having Julia's revolutionary 'Master the Art of French Cooking' published. 

This friendship led me to the next book 'As Always, Julia' which is a collection of letters between Julia and Avis from 1953 to 1988.  In reading this book i found myself continuously underlying/checking/noting, just like when i was in college.  This book is not only about food but about culture, people that make great food possible, the unyielding effort to make excellent dishes but also a peek into American history after WWII such as the hipocrisy of the McCarthy's era and the changes that were taking place in the American kitchen.  

A great meal could change one's life, according to Julia Child in 'My Life in France', and I cannot agree more.  A great meal to me is more than satisfying the taste bud.  Taste is only one part of it.  A great meal gives me a sense of gratitude toward the chef for expressing his/her love for the ingredients and respect where they came from.  The ingredients, sourced from farms tended with labor of love from the stewards of the land really connect me with mother earth, the one that nourishes us.  I could not help appreciating and consider eating as a sacred act and reading Julia Child's books re-enforced this thought in me.

"The pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite — toujours bon app├ętit!" --- Julia Child

Additional Readings:

"The Paring Knife at the Crossroad' - Bernard Augustine De Voto